Monday was first workday traffic test of 3-week viaduct closure

SEATTLE - The City of Seattle is thanking commuters for changing their schedules to help ease the traffic for the next three weeks before the expected opening of the tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The city is also warning commuters that just because traffic volumes weren’t terrible today, it doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way if people go back to their old ways right away.

It was a perfect, sunny January day to soak up the sunset along the Seattle waterfront.

“It’s very nice and quiet,” said one tourist in Seattle for the first time.

Along the waterfront, quiet is a new word, to describe this new phase.

“It’s not just quiet it is cleaner,” said Jason Parker, co-founder of Copperworks Distilling Co., located right next to the structure. “There’s not that smell of the traffic, the diesel and rubber coming off and in fact it’s a lot quiet,” he added.

Parker says his own commute in from west Seattle was likely his fastest ever without the average 90,000 cars commuting the viaduct and the people who took alternate ways to get around town.

“I got here in 10 minutes for a seven mile drive which normally takes me 30-45 minutes,” said Parker.

It’s commuters that planned ahead who are getting praise from Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan.

“I want to say thank you to the people of Seattle for changing your habits,” said Durkan. “Don’t think that today went well so you can go to your usual ways tomorrow. Don’t do it.”

On this first workday after the viaduct closed, morning sailings for the water taxi were doubled with 1,350 passengers, according to Jeff Switzer with King County Department of Transportation. “

We put 23 standby buses into service, helping maintain schedules or address crowding on RapidRide E Line and Route 120. Ride2 West Seattle carried 156 trips on the first-last mile shuttle. Buses faced bottlenecks on I-5 and southbound Aurora Avenue, causing delays. Across the system this morning the worst delay was up to 30 minutes. We’re still asking people to pad their schedules and allow 30-60 minutes additional travel time for the next three weeks to account for traffic and unpredictable travel delays,” he said.

Traffic on the first workday of the viaduct closure was fairly smooth.

“Monday is a pretty typical light day for traffic, it's the Wednesdays and Thursdays we're looking at where we see longer drives,” said Bart Treece with WSDOT.

Having been through a few viaduct closures in the past, back at Copperworks, Parker says those longer drives are coming.

“As we move further into the week and the next couple weeks it’s going to get worse and worse,” said Parker.

For now, he’s savoring the unexpected good business.

“Today was surprisingly busy. I warned my staff to expect it to be dead, like nobody, but we had a full room,” said Parker.

He says after the demolition of the viaduct and seeing less of it from the distillery, he’s looking forward to permanently feeling how the tourists are describing the waterfront.

“It’s just very peaceful,” said one tourist visiting Seattle for the first time.

Now that the viaduct is closed, WSDOT says they have increased security substantially around it and say their crews will contact police to take appropriate action if people trespass.

Seattle Police say trespassing the structure is something people can be arrested for. They also warn the viaduct is a construction site now and unsafe for people to be on.