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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

Safety first: Alaskan Way Viaduct has been demolished and a NO on I-912 promise kept

It’s finally gone.

With the exception of a few single deck sections near the BNSF Railway tracks, the Alaskan Way Viaduct no longer stands, WSDOT declared today.

The antiquated, seismically vulnerable structure has been successfully demolished, removing a major eyesore from Seattle’s waterfront and greatly improving the safety of the neighborhood that borders Elliott Bay. By completing this work, WSDOT and its contractors have averted the possibility that the structure could have collapsed in an earthquake like the Cypress Street Viaduct did in Oakland.

Collapsed Cypress Street viaduct

A USGS photo taken after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, providing an aerial view of collapsed sections of the Cypress Viaduct of Interstate 880. (Photo: H.G. Wilshire, U.S. Geological Survey.)

The Alaskan Way Viaduct’s replacement — a bored tunnel underneath Downtown Seattle — opened to motorists back in February and has carried State Route 99 below the city’s Financial District since then. The tunnel provides right of way for thru traffic, while travelers needing to access the center city can use surface streets, including Alaskan Way, which is itself slated to be reconstructed.

About fourteen years ago, I stood at one of the entrances to the Alaskan Way Viaduct and made the case for the rejection of Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson’s I-912, explaining that it would gut the funding for the viaduct’s replacement. Together with other progressive activists, we held up a sign that said: “WARNING! ENTERING I-912 DISASTER AREA. TO FIX THIS ROADWAY, VOTE NO 912. ”

Our message in opposition to I-912 was simple: “Safety First”.

Voters listened and handily rejected I-912, preserving the Legislature’s 2005 Transportation Package and allowing work on the viaduct’s removal and replacement to proceed. It took over a decade, but a plan to replace the viaduct was finally agreed upon and implemented by WSDOT.

There were lots of hurdles that had to be overcome, including showstopping problems with the tunnel boring machine, Bertha, which paused tunnel construction for many months. Some pundits and observers predicted the tunnel would never be finished. But it was, and today it is open to motorists.

Now the viaduct is finally gone and the waterfront has been opened up.

Seattle is entering a new era… an era in which its downtown will be properly connected to its waterfront again, without the hulking viaduct in the way.

To celebrate this momentous accomplishment, WSDOT has been posting videos depicting how the viaduct was safely brought down.

In this six minute clip, you can go inside the work zone for a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

If you liked that, there’s another behind the scenes montage you can watch:

There are also some great timelapse videos, like this bird’s eye view one:

Or this one from near the stadiums:

This clip shows the removal of the Marion Street pedestrian overpass.

Again, congratulations to WSDOT on reaching this huge milestone.

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