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Tolling Points

Infrastructure Week 2019: Major Infrastructure Investment in Seattle

Bill Cramer

An IBTTA member agency is taking center stage during Infrastructure Week this week, with an IWeek Podcast shining a spotlight on the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for completing one of the world’s biggest tunnels to replace the downtown Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.

The project opened in February, and everything about it points to an engineering marvel, said WSDOT Deputy Program Administrator-Operations David Sowers, in an interview with podcast host Zach Schafer. “It’s one of the world’s biggest bored tunnels, made possible by a 57.5-foot-diameter device that was the world’s biggest boring machine when it was built. As well, its sophisticated sprinkler and ventilation systems make it one of the safest tunnels in the world,” says Sowers.

You can listen to the audio podcast here.

The Alaska Way Viaduct Replacement Program is massive in its own right, consisting of more than 30 projects along the Seattle waterfront.

And in contrast to communities that must sometimes wait decades from initial idea to final ribbon-cutting for major transportation projects, work on the tunnel began in 2010, and the facility opened in 2019.

Toll rates for the SR 99 tunnel, finalized last October, range from $1 to $2.25, and take effect this summer. They’re set to increase 3% every three years beginning in July 2022. The tunnel already serves about 75,000 users per day, Sowers said, but the real measure of community support was the 100,000 citizens who came out to walk the tunnel and the soon-to-be-dismantled viaduct on the day of the ribbon-cutting.

Sowers says removal of the 1950s-era viaduct is 10 to 15% done, and its disappearance will trigger another massive change: a waterfront redevelopment featuring bus lanes, cycle tracks, sidewalks, and park features for a downtown area that had been cut off from the rest of the city. The net result: A modern, safe, attractive cityscape that will be “much more accessible to the public, to tourism, to the citizens who live and work in Seattle,” he said.

“It’s really going to transform the downtown area. It’s really going to transform Seattle significantly, by taking all that traffic and infrastructure and putting it underground.”

Meet the people who make engineering marvels happen and keep them in operation! Attend IBTTA’s Maintenance and Roadway Operations Workshop, June 23-25, 2019 in Norfolk, VA.


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