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Expect Seattle's own 'Carmageddon' during 9-day viaduct closure

King County's passenger-only ferry service to West Seattle has become a hit among downtown commuters. It's adding five round-trips a day during the weekdays of the upcoming viaduct closure.
Bellamy Pailthorp
King County's passenger-only ferry service to West Seattle has become a hit among downtown commuters. It's adding five round-trips a day during the weekdays of the upcoming viaduct closure.

It’ll be the longest full closure of a Seattle area highway the region’s ever dealt with. In less than two weeks, demolition begins on the south end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Several miles of State Route 99 will be closed for nine days starting Oct 21st

The state says all commuters will be affected – but none more than those near West Seattle.

West Seattle already affected

Construction work on the south end of the viaduct is already causing traffic jams near the join to the West Seattle bridge. Just ask commuters who’ve discovered the passenger-only water taxi. Ridership on the West Seattle route has seen a huge spike in recent months. It was up 70% in September compared to last year.

"It's just so much easier to head down to the water taxi and take it over," says Erin Im, who started using the water taxi this spring because she was "sick of taking the bus" for her commute downtown.

"It's so much more pleasant than sitting up in that traffic, and faster than the bus," says Gregory Pontecorvo, gesturing toward his view of the viaduct from the ferry dock.

James Adams says he pretty much only rides ferries now when he wants to leave his neighborhood.

"When you try to drive from West Seattle, it's pretty bad," he says, describing the traffic around the Spokane Street bridge as "a goat rope."

And Dorothy Thomas says the passenger-only ferry will be lifeline during the viaduct closure. "It's going to be the only alternative. You're not going to be able to get in and out of West Seattle without it," she says.

Water taxi service expanding

The King county ferry district that runs the water taxi is expecting more riders – and adding five round trips a day during rush hour on the weekdays of the viaduct closure. It’s also making more parking available near the West Seattle terminal and expanding the shuttle service that connects to the water taxi. Ferry District Chair Joe McDermott says they’re expecting exponential growth in ridership that week.

“And after that, I hope that service has an opportunity for people to really discover the water taxi, realize that it’s reliable, efficient service and that they come back and keep using us,” McDermott says.

But even if the west Seattle water taxi attracted the 2,000 extra riders a day it could accommodate during the closure, that’s a tiny fraction of the 110,000 cars that use the viaduct every day. 

Other alternatives to solo driving

Transit officials have added capacity to bus lines, but say they can’t accurately predict what the closure’s impact will be. Some have said bus riders should expect travel times to double.

“We hope that people will change their habits somewhat, so for example, if you can, don’t travel during the peak period, try to travel during the off-peak period,” says Metro Transit general manager Kevin Desmond.

He and other officials are also recommending anything but solo driving during peak times. Among the other options:

  • Light rail
  • walking and biking
  • carpooling and vanpooling
  • telecommuting
  • taking time off work Oct 21-30

Desmond says Metro is rerouting 11 bus lines during the closure and the ripple effects will be widespread. Traffic jams are predicted throughout downtown and on I-5 for the duration of the closure.
Stay informed

Metro has set up a special web site, called We’ll Get You There, to keep transit riders informed about changes, both for now and after the nine day closure is over. They want riders to sign up for special alerts via email or text message, in case there are last minute changes.

“Be an informed commuter. Do your best to know in advance, it’s going to take a little bit longer, it could take a lot longer, perhaps. At least you’ll know what you’re up against and you can plan accordingly,” Desmond says.

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