Puget Sound drivers can expect worse-than-usual traffic congestion this week when Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting.
Xi is expected to land at Paine Field on Tuesday morning and travel back and forth between the Westin Hotel in Seattle to Tacoma and Overlake. Xi will leave Thursday for Washington D.C. where he will meet with President Obama.
The Washington State Department of Transportation said that motorists should be prepared to endure full-directional closures on the highway, according to The Seattle Times. However, the closures won’t be made public until shortly before Xi’s motorcade approaches.
The City of Seattle is working with local and federal agencies to manage traffic Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“The visit will have a huge traffic impact. What I’m hearing is several orders of magnitude bigger than a typical visit by a head of state. So we are treating it as seriously as we can,” said Seattle Transportation Director Scott Kubly.
Kubly said that SDOT is encouraging people to switch up their routine to work around the Chinese president’s visit.
“Encourage people to telecommute, encourage people to maybe take a day off work and run local errands. Anything that we can do to minimize the amount of people traveling into downtown,” Kubly said.
Intermittent closures of freeways, regional arterials and downtown streets will happen, according to the City of Seattle. The flow of buses and cars in downtown Seattle and around the region will be disrupted.
Vehicle access to the area bounded by Olive Street, 7th Avenue, Lenora Street and 4th Avenue may be limited all three days. People entering the area should expect delays and additional security screening, according to the city.
Seattle Department of Transportation said it will change signal timing and set up an emergency-operations center.
Buses on surface streets in the north part of downtown will be rerouted — potentially affecting as many as 20 routes. King County Metro hasn’t yet announced plans. The South Lake Union Streetcar will continue to operate, but the stop at the Westlake Hub at McGraw Square will be closed. The downtown transit tunnel is expected to remain open.
Fans attending the Seattle Sounders game at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Century Link Field should expect significant traffic delays and allow more travel time than usual.
“Seattle is honored to host President Xi and his delegation during his visit to the United States,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “With an international visit of this stature and the accompanying federal security requirements, we want all travelers to be advised of the impacts to business as usual. Everyone needs to be patient, reevaluate their commute plans, add in extra travel time, and monitor traffic alerts for the latest information.”
Traffic around the Puget Sound
Wednesday is going to be the busiest day of the president’s visit, as he bounces from Boeing in Everett, to Microsoft in Redmond and Lincoln High School in Tacoma.
Traffic in the region will be difficult to predict that day, because no one knows exactly which routes the president will be taking.
“That’s the wild card. For security purposes, we don’t have the actual route itself,” said Travis Phelps with the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Phelps said that during the Chinese president’s visit, drivers need to be engaged “all day long, and pay attention to media all day long, because this is going to ebb a flow on a very flexible schedule and it’s crossing a large portion of our interstate system.”
Impacts of I-405
In addition to long delays expected in downtown Seattle, drivers will have to adjust to new striping on I-405 between Bellevue in Lynnwood. The changes are in preparation for the new Express Toll Lanes, which open on Sept. 27.
Once installed, the new double white lines will limit HOV access to designated entry and exit points on I-405.
Chris Sullivan contributed to this report