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Chinese President’s Visit Expected To Cause Numerous Unpredictable Traffic Jams

Elaine Thompson

The visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping will cause especially thorny and unpredictable traffic tie-ups. Transportation officials are asking drivers to plan for delays, or better yet, stay off the roads.

President Xi will be traveling around Seattle and the I-5 corridor, but we won’t know when or where until the last minute. Security is tight for his visit, and that means not revealing his schedule.

Credit AP
Chinese president Xi Jinping

Travis Phelps of the Washington Department of Transportation says that will be the reality through Thursday, so this week’s traffic problems could be worse than what usually attends a visit by, say, a U.S. president.

"Typically, when the presidents come to town it’s usually a much shorter duration and typically a much shorter distance. We do have the president of China visiting Everett, folks on the Eastside over on the Microsoft campus as well as Tacoma. So that’s a large area," Phelps said.

WSDOT hosts a traffic-flow mapthat's updated in near-real time, which they suggest commuters use as their first port of call in tracking the traffic disruptions. Officials also urge drivers to consult the homepages of transportationand transit agencies, as well as local media

Here’s one certain part: A chunk of downtown will be completely closed to vehicle traffic for as much as three days. It’s the area bounded by 4th and 7th Avenues, and Lenora and Olive Way.

That will force Metro and other transit agencies to re-route buses, which will likely cause disruptions to ripple throughout the system. A Seattle Department of Transportation official says the best way to avoid gridlock is, for those who can, to simply telecommute or take the day off.

Transportation officials note that the entire system is already taxed by growth in the region, making it slower to rebound. They note how an overturned fish truckon State Route 99 in March slowed traffic across a huge area to a crawl.

“We’re hoping for a couple of days where were free of any other significant disruptions to the system,” said Mark Bandy, director of transportation operations at the Seattle Department of Transportation. "In other words, let’s hope we don’t have another fish truck.”

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.