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Traffic patterns are changing with the new Seattle tunnel

(KIRO 7)

We’re more than three months into life with the new Seattle tunnel. Our traffic patterns are changing on this portion of SR 99. What have we seen so far?

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While it’s too early to say “we have reached our new normal,” we are picking up on some subtle changes. Our new pattern likely won’t be truly known until the tolls start later this year and our summer vacation season comes to an end. The Washington Department of Transportation reports that 5,300 vehicles are using the tunnel during peak hours on weekdays. That’s about the same number on the SR 99 corridor with the Alaskan Way Viaduct over the last few years.

But here’s what I am seeing each morning. The patterns that started during the three-week closure before the tunnel opened have stuck around. The commute, especially on northbound I-5 from Southcenter to Seattle is starting earlier. The director of mobility for the City of Seattle, Heather Marx, sees the same thing.

“Instead of the peak hours being from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., we’ve seen it creep a little earlier and creep a little later,” Marx said.

It has also changed the times for the ebb and flow of congestion that we were all used to. I’m seeing a lot more heavy traffic from Northgate to Seattle than I ever used to. Is that diversion from SR 99? Can’t say that for sure. Has Marx seen anything unexpected?

“I wouldn’t say we’ve seen seen anything that was shocking,” she said. “Folks are still getting used to timing for their trips because the hot spots have changed.”

For example, both ends of the Seattle tunnel can be much more congested than we saw on the Highway 99 corridor with the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

“We have a hot spot at First and Dearborn, which that wasn’t even an intersection before, and we’re seeing a hot spot at Dexter when you get out of the tunnel,” Marx said.

The southbound SR 99 drive into South Lake Union is now far worse than it used to be, especially in the afternoon.

“There is a lot of construction happening at the North Portal, and that’s not going to end for probably another year,” Marx said. “It’s going to be bad until the construction is done.”

So what’s the take-away? Our traffic patterns are in flux, and it might take a few years to figure out our new normal, considering all the construction that will be going on in Seattle over the next five years.

“We are building the infrastructure for the city that we have already become,” Marx said. “While we’re doing that, it is going to be really painful.”

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