David Sowers, Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program deputy administrator for WSDOT, says the transportation department is prepared for the SR 99 three-week closure and reopening timeline.
David Sowers, Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program deputy administrator for WSDOT, says the transportation department is prepared for the SR 99 three-week closure and reopening timeline.
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WSDOT is closing the State Route 99 northbound on-ramp at Royal Brougham Way and southbound off-ramp at South Atlantic Street on Friday, giving the transportation department an extra week to prepare for February’s scheduled opening of the new SR 99 Tunnel from Sodo to Seattle Center.

SR 99 will close north of Spokane Street on Friday, Jan. 11, beginning a three-week timeline to connect the highway to the new tunnel, which terminates near the Space Needle. Closing the on- and off-ramps in Sodo a week earlier is meant to provide flexibility as the contractor works to excavate new ramps under the old ones and put in permanent barrier walls, said David Sowers, Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program deputy administrator for WSDOT.

While the weather in January is expected to be wet and warmer than average, Sowers said, if there is a period of cold temperatures or snow, that could cause issues with curing concrete and asphalt.

“We’re just following the weather like everyone else,” he said.

WSDOT reports 23,000 vehicles use these ramps daily, and 90,000 vehicles per day use the Alaskan Way Viaduct to get around.

If everything goes according to plan, SR 99 and the new tunnel will reopen early on Monday, Feb. 4, Sowers said, following weekend grand opening activities that include saying farewell to the viaduct with an 8K fun run and 12-mile bike ride.

He said scheduling for the project includes several days set aside for weather issues, so he’s hopeful WSDOT and its contractor will meet that deadline.

“There’s been a lot of planning,” Sowers said, “and I know there was some interest in October to get it ready then.”

WSDOT had planned to go from elevated to underground lanes in the fall, but then pushed back the timeline to January. The viaduct had its last safety inspection in October, which occur annually.

The 2001 Nisqually Earthquake shut down the viaduct temporarily, and concerns about larger seismic events in the future have pushed plans to tear down the 65-year-old structure. That will occur shortly after the new SR 99 tunnel opens to commuters, followed by a project to revitalize the waterfront.

There are no exits once inside the two-mile tunnel, and Alaskan Way South will be available for those wanting to continue downtown. A new Dearborn Street exit, however, isn’t expected to open for another week after the tunnel does.

Drivers heading northbound on SR 99 will have the option of taking an exit once through the tunnel that allows them to connect to Mercer Street, Dexter Avenue North or continue into South Lake Union.

Southbound drivers can take the tunnel to Sodo or exit left to Denny Way. The first stop is at Harrison Street, which is set to cross Aurora Avenue North for the first time in 60 years. People can turn left at a new light to get to SLU, right to head toward Seattle Center or Queen Anne, or continue south to downtown.

During the SR 99 closure, people wanting to head north or south are encouraged to either use Interstate 5 or Western Avenue, Sowers said.

The three-week closure pushes the $2.2 billion project three years beyond the December 2015 timeline set in 2009. More information is available at 99tunnel.com.

WSDOT recently released a new series of videos showing how driving will change once the SR 99 Tunnel opens on Feb. 4. You can watch them here.