May 1, 2016

Viadoom II

I can’t even remember for how long we in Umeå have waited for “The Road Package” to be decided on and built. The main purpose for the package is to finally direct all the transit traffic through the city center of Umeå to routes outside town. E4 (European highway 4) used to pass through Umeå until just a few years ago, and although it doesn’t anymore, people still, out of habit maybe, prefers that often slow route. We had actually improved a bit, but since February when IKEA established and opened it’s blue and yellow box just outside Umeå, the downtown traffic has increased again.

Anyway, there are traffic problems and there are traffic problems.

The Seattle Road Package includes the demolition of Alaskan Way Viaduct, a part of Highway 99 that runs alongside Elliot Bay, ending downtown at the waterfront to the west. The replacement for the Viaduct will be a tunnel, and that’s a story by itself. The years leading up to the decision about the viaduct and the tunnel were at least as many as the ones in Umeå, and the debate even more infected.

In October 2011, commuters endured a nine-day viaduct closure as the state tore down the south end section of the aging, earthquake-prone structure. Traffic remained sluggish throughout the week of Viadoom and at the end, the backup on Interstate 5 stretched for 10 miles. It was pretty bad.

During the following years a gigantic drill named Bertha, has, even more sluggish, worked it’s way through the difficult Seattle underground. Well, that’s really an over statement since Bertha most of the time has been stuck in mud, not able to move at all.

Now though, Bertha is going to chug her way the next 385 feet of the future Highway 99 tunnel under the viaduct. Which will be closed for two weeks. Two whole weeks. And 90 000 vehicles a day will have to find different routes to transit through Seattle. Since October 2011 Seattle has gained 45 000 people. Good luck.

At Viadoom I 2011, Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom wrote: “Traffic entering Seattle on I-5 was stop-and-go from Shoreline to downtown, starting as early as 3 p.m. and continuing past 6 p.m.,” He added: “Drivers had a hard time leaving South Lake Union in late afternoon, as actual gridlock — cars stuck at intersections blocking the cross-traffic during a green light — spread from Mercer Street to Denny Way.” 

In other words, 2011’s Viadoom sounds like 2016’s nearly-every-day doom, as a growing economy, a construction boom and rising population stress Seattle’s transportation infrastructure. Add on that Viadoom II.

How does Seattle cope with a two-week traffic crisis? By starting the business day at 6 a.m. 

It seems like Seattle is a bit more prepared for Viadoom II though.Eight downtown office buildings, including the 76-story Columbia Tower, will run their heating and ventilation two hours longer during the shutdown of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, to make the workday more flexible for as many as 15,000 employees and clients. King County government is encouraging its 13,000 employees to use networking software and video at home or outlying areas where that would improve productivity. And Mayor Ed Murray will allow many of the 10,000 city staff to make teleconferencing arrangements with department supervisors, so long as customer service and operating hours are maintained.

Two dozen Seattle police traffic officers will aim to keep intersections and bus lanes moving. King County Metro Transit will pay 22 transit operators to drive 11 more buses than usual on weekdays. And 2016 light rail extends from the University of Washington to downtown and all the way to SeaTac airport. Hopefully that will help.

But the two coming weeks will be an experience for sure. Thousands will try a bus, train, water taxi or the adventurous bike lanes. Some will work from home. Or spend even more time in traffic. Viadoom II is here.

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