Get ready for early mornings and later evening commutes when viaduct closes for good

SEATTLE - We are just four days away from the Alaskan Way viaduct closing for good.

The seismically vulnerable structure will close this Friday at 10 p.m. and when it's all demolished it will change Seattle's waterfront.

The new SR 99 tunnel that will replace the viaduct is not opening until early February meaning the 90,000 vehicles that drive on the viaduct everyday will have to go elsewhere.

From his desk in Shoreline, Chad Ross can control everything from express ramps to detour signs on our highways.

Come this Friday his job is about to get tougher.

“I am ready for the viaduct closure,” Ross said.

Ross says he and others at WSDOT’s Transportation Management Center have been training for the viaduct closure for months.

“We’ve gone over every scenario we could think of,” Ross said.

When the viaduct permanently closes there will be a 3 week gap until the new SR 99 tunnel opens to replace it.

WSDOT agrees there is no way to sugarcoat the challenges ahead.

“It’s pretty tough, it’s not just 3 weeks there are several weeks afterwards where some of the ramps will still need to open up to traffic,” Bart Treece of WSDOT said.

Call it the Viadoom or Seattle squeeze, either way it is the longest major highway closure Puget Sound has ever seen. The entire region will be impacted.

You only have to look at the past.

In 2016, the viaduct was closed for 10 days for tunnel construction. Gridlock in the mornings and evenings started earlier and lasted longer on all major highways.

“We started seeing backups on I-5 on the South end at 5:30 that’s really early,” Treece said.

Treece is talking about the morning commute back in 2016. When Q13 News asked if we could see traffic starting as early as 4:30 am this time around, Treece said it was possible.

As for other modes of transportation in 2016,  the water taxi from West seattle tripled the number of passengers.

Sound Transit commuter rail saw a 15% boost in ridership.

But since 2016 the population has grown. The Puget Sound Regional Council says between 2016 to 2018 nearly 150,000 people moved into the Seattle metro area. The area consists of King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties.

“If they can do something different to get to work, telecommuting, carpooling those are all going to help,” Treece said.

WSDOT says the reality is that road capacity is limited so they are asking everyone if they can to tweak how they get around during the closure.

“We need folks to help us out to keep the system moving,” Treece said.

If you have to drive be prepared for major backups especially if there is an accident on any of the highways.

“It depends on the severity of the incident, depends on where it is are there good alternate routes,” Treece said.

That’s where traffic operators like Ross come in. Keeping an eye on our highways and reacting the best they know how.

“Drive safe, be careful,” Ross said.