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WSDOT holds first open houses this week to prepare community for Viaduct closure

Seattle skyline
Ted S. Warren
Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct is set to close soon, and WSDOT is preparing commuters with a series of open houses.

As Seattle drivers start making plans to deal with the longest major highway closure the Puget Sound region has ever seen, the state Department of Transportation is outlining plans for demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct

Highway 99 will close along the waterfront on Jan. 11, for as long as three weeks, while crews realign the highway into a tunnel. The demolition will take place once the new tunnel is open. The busy thoroughfare carries about 90,000 cars a day.

"And so, during the closure, those 90,000 vehicles have to go somewhere else," said Brian Nielsen, Viaduct replacement program administrator.

He added that the temporary closure of the Viaduct two years ago provides some insight into the potential impact this time around. Back then, the peak commute time on westbound Interstate 90 just about doubled.  

"So, it's a regional impact and folks need to be thinking about that and planning for January," Nielsen said.

Officials encourage people to telecommute, shift their hours, walk, bike or take transit.

In addition to the strain on commuters, the project also will affect people who live and work near the demolition site. To prepare them, WSDOT is holding a series of open houses, starting with one tonight:

Tonight, 5-8 p.m. at Waterfront Space, 1400 Western Ave. in Seattle Wednesday, Dec. 5, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at Waterfront Space in Seattle Monday, Dec. 10, 5-8 p.m. at Seattle Center, Armory Loft Room 2, 305 Harrison St. in Seattle

Nielsen says the viaduct teardown will take up to five and a half months. That's because they'll be doing it in the heart of the city, with buildings and traffic very close by. So, they're slowly taking the viaduct down, frame by frame.

"Depending where we are, there’s different areas where we’re going to use different methods," said Phil Wallace, operations manager for the project's contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure West. "When we get really close to a building, we’ll also be saw-cutting the concrete out. So we take it out in a bigger piece. So there won’t be that demolition activity right beside the building, it’ll be something that’s saw cut, picked up by a crane, so you don’t have any of the damage to the building.”

On the bright side of this behemoth project, officials with WSDOT and Kiewit now say they're striving to have most of the viaduct demolition work done by June 1. That should mean a much quieter Seattle waterfront this summer.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to
Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.