In October 2011, as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct was torn down, commuters endured a nine-day shutdown. It started OK, then got really bad. As another shutdown looms, know this: Seattle has gained about 45,000 people since 2011.
Seattle, this is a drill we’ve been through before.
Starting Friday, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)will close the Alaskan Way Viaduct for about two weeks as tunnel-boring machine Bertha chugs along below.
In October 2011, commuters endured a nine-day viaduct closure as the state tore down a section of the aging, earthquake-prone structure.
Traffic remained sluggish throughout the week of Viadoom, and then came to a head on the closure’s sixth day, a Thursday, when slowdowns finally lived up to officials’ fears. Rain on Friday brought traffic to a standstill; the backup on Interstate 5 stretched for 10 miles.
But some of the details from Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom in 2011 sound somewhat normal when you fast-forward nearly five years.
“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.,” Lindblom wrote Oct. 27, 2011.
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.”
A traffic engineer told Lindblom the freeways could not recover after a series of early-afternoon stalls and minor crashes.
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.
Since 2011, Seattle has added more than 45,000 people in the city limits alone, the Census Bureau estimates. And the airport saw a record number of travelers last year.
Despite the population increase, it seems no more people will be pushed onto Seattle streets this time than were last time. Traffic on the viaduct has remained at about 90,000 vehicle trips per weekday since 2011.
But those who are displaced from one of the city’s two large north-south thoroughfares will be entering a busier scene. For example, congestion is 19 percent worse from Everett to Olympia than it was before the recession, according to WSDOT.
In 2011, transportation officials added buses on westside routes, created more water-taxi parking, put more traffic police on duty in Sodo, added park-and-ride space in Tukwila, along with a few other changes. They asked people to avoid rush hour, and to walk, bike and take transit instead of using Highway 99. Transportation managers are planning similar measures for Viadoom II.
Last time around, the warnings seemed to have some effect. Analysts estimated driving declined by about 20 percent. One reader sent a raving review to The Seattle Times: “To my Sea-town homies and WSDOT for the way we all handled ‘Viadoom.’ It was the chillest ‘Carmageddon’ ever.”
With luck, we’ll have sunny skies and chill commuters on our packed freeways — and perhaps the California transplants that Seattle natives like to blame for gridlock will feel right at home.
Evan Bush: 206-464-2253 or email@example.com. On Twitter @evanbush