NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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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