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October 27, 2011 at 11:48 AM

Viadoom commuters settle into a slow but steady routine

Seattle-area commuters this morning continued to detour, stay home or take transit to deal with the Viadoom highway closure  — instead of backsliding into gridlock as traffic officials feared.

People have settled into a routine of leaving home up to an hour early, so that peaks begin at 6:30 a.m. and start to subside by 8 a.m.

“Traffic congestion, when it was happening, was showing up like clockwork,” says Jim Bak, community relations director for the Kirkland-based INRIX traffic data firm. The West Seattle Bridge turned slow before 7 a.m., as television footage showed brake lights glowing through the fog eastbound. Even at 8:30 a.m., as some highways cleared, traffic stayed thick on inbound South Spokane Street, and First Avenue South entering the city. A drive from West Seattle to South Lake Union took 35 minutes, with some intersections too crowded to enter on green lights — not good, but tolerable. King County Metro Transit reported general slowdowns in Sodo but no major morning delays.

Traffic is delayed 24 minutes just before noon from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to downtown, KIRO TV reports.  Overall, driving does appear to still be down about 20 percent from normal patterns, Bak said.

But he won’t yet guess whether the afternoon commute will be okay.

The big wildcard is BNSF Railway train traffic in Sodo, where there were at least three stoppages Wednesday everning, according to West Seattle Blog. Will those happen again today? According to spokesman Gus Melonas, rail traffic is below normal this week, but BNSF must do more assembly of its long trains in Sodo, because its tail track north of the Seattle International Gateway yard is blocked by the Viaduct demolition. Also, traffic along waterfront Alaskan Way southbound, or leaving the Colman Dock ferry terminal, jammed for a half-mile Wednesday, and the handful of downtown streets, such as Fifth Avenue and east-west Denny Way, have been rough all week.

In related news, the northbound lanes of the old Viaduct are now permanently open from Royal Brougham Way up-ramp all the way to South Lake Union.  The route expands from two lanes to four, once cars reach the top deck — and most drivers seemed to be hitting the gas pedal then, rather than adhering to the new, lowered 40 mph speed limit.

Starting next week, the state will open a four-lane, four-year detour on Highway 99 in Sodo, to stay in place until a new stadium interchange and deep-bore tunnel are ready by 2016.

Bak warns of a “new normal,” in which Seattle commuters will face worse traffic — similar to Tuesday afternoon’s — after the Viadoom event. Ongoing construction in the central city, along with coming tolls on Highway 520, and future economic recovery, ought to boost traffic. Both the tunnel, and greater transit options, will be needed, he said.

Comments | More in General news, Traffic & Transit | Topics: Traffic, tunnel, viadoom


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