Sunday, November 09, 2014

Alaskan Way Viaduct

[View Larger Map]

Here are a couple of photos of Seattle's fugly Alaskan Way Viaduct, which carries Alaskan Way (State Route 99) right along the downtown waterfront. This structure is not long for the world; the viaduct is of the same basic design as the Cypress Street Viaduct that collapsed during San Francisco's Loma Prieta quake in 1989, which was a clue that the Seattle edition wouldn't do well in a quake either. When it sustained damage in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, the city finally decided they maybe ought to do something or other about it.

Even after realizing the viaduct needed to be replaced, Seattle spent close to a decade agonizing about what to do. For much of the time, the city and state wanted to replace it with a new viaduct, in the same place but even bigger and uglier than the current one. A more expensive proposal suggested building a tunnel. There was a precedent for this with the city's 1980s-era bus tunnel through downtown. A third suggestion, favored by some activists, would have torn it down and replaced it with nothing, the idea being that the downtown core would adapt to become less car-oriented than it is now.

They eventually settled on the tunnel option, in part because the lure of all that freed-up real estate along the waterfront was too shiny to ignore. That and the fact that the thing's incredibly ugly, and mars any photo you take of the city from a boat, and the proposed new viaduct would've been even worse. So at long last they planned it out, and contracted for the world's largest tunnel boring machine to dig it. Unfortunately, "Big Bertha" (as it was named) stalled out not long after construction began, and tunneling has yet to resume. The viaduct here will still go the way of the Embarcadero Freeway at some point, but exactly when is anyone's guess. So I still get to make fun of Seattle's transportation woes for a few more years.

The sole saving grace of the viaduct is that it does a decent job of keeping rain off the parking spaces beneath it, which is nice if you're playing tourist and going to the Seattle Aquarium, or having lunch at the original Ivar's on the waterfront (instead of an unscenic one in the 'burbs).

No comments :