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Sea-Tac cell phone lot
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Chokepoint at Sea-Tac Airport cell phone lot is finally being fixed

Sea-Tac Airport's cell phone lot. (Atomic Taco, Wikimedia Commons)

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is making changes to the cell phone lot to eliminate one of the biggest chokepoints for those waiting to pick up their loved ones.

The orange cones went up around the cell phone lot a few weeks ago, and the heavy machinery is being moved in. The Port of Seattle, which manages the airport, wants to make it easier to get into and out of the lot, which is along the airport expressway.

Right now, drivers exit to the left of expressway and go down to a signal at 170th, but that signal creates a chokepoint where drivers have to wait for oncoming or turning traffic.

“That presents a conflict between those two flows, and that’s something we want to address with this project, to really separate those two flows of traffic so that when people come into the lot they don’t have to wait for folks leaving the lot, and visa versa,” SEA Landside Development Manager Peter Lindsay said.

This project will build a new access ramp to the cell phone lot. It will split off from the current exit, go over 170th, and circle into the lot from the south end.

“You’ll be exiting like you would to 170th, and then it will be its own access ramp into the lot,” Lindsay said. “That’s a big change.”

Those exiting the cell phone lot will do what they do now, exit to the north onto 170th and back into the terminal approach. Lindsay said there will also be transit and pedestrian improvements as part of this project, and more signals will be added along 170th to smooth congestion.

Lindsay hopes to have the ramp completed and in operation before the winter holiday season. Final completion of the signals should come in February 2022.

In the meantime, there will be changes because of construction. It is vital that you pay attention to the changing message boards.

I was in the cell phone lot on Monday, and there was a no left turn out of it, marked by cones and signs. A left turn is the easiest and most common way to get back into the terminal, but you can get there from by taking a right. Most people don’t realize it because they don’t go to the airport that often. A right on 170th, a right on International Boulevard, and then a right into the terminal.

Lindsay said most people trust their eyes, which tell them they’re going the wrong way by taking a right. That right turns feels like you’re going away from where you want to go.

“That’s where the signage comes in, and a little bit of trust as well,” Lindsay said.

I’ve done it. It’s not that difficult. Don’t make an illegal left turn just because you’re confused.

Sea-Tac Airport’s renovated North terminal to begin reopening

And one more piece of advice if you are dropping off or picking up passengers: Think opposite. I’ve talked about this before, but I experienced it last week while picking up my son. The terminal roadway was backed up more than a mile, all because people were trying to squeeze into the arrivals deck of the terminal while the departures deck was wide open.

“It almost feels like they (drivers) think as they see the signs that they’re going to go to two different areas of the airport when you go left and right, but in reality it’s just a building with two stories,” the airport’s Perry Cooper said.

Thinking opposite is the way to go. Pick up your passengers at departures. Drop them off at arrivals.

“If you stand on the top of the airport garage on any given evening, you can look and see it,” Cooper said. “It’s kind of crazy. Everybody thinks they’ve got to go down to that arrivals drive, and the departure drive is wide open up on the top. You just sit there and think, ‘gosh, how is that not simple enough that everybody can’t figure that out.'”

Just a little reminder that you don’t have to be stuck in traffic at the airport, if you don’t want to be.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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