UPDATE, 12:10 p.m.
A sudden surge in port trucking on Harbor Island is causing extreme congestion that spills all the way onto I-5 as of mid-day Thursday, and it’s expected to happen again Friday.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is using its electronic signs to tell motorists to avoid the West Seattle Bridge exit, where lines of trucks are crawling westbound on upper Spokane Street, toward the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 18. The slowdowns are spreading all the way back to downtown Seattle, affecting outbound traffic to south King County.
Port spokesman Peter McGraw said three container ships are now docked at T-18, and agricultural shippers are trying to get their products loaded for export, while it’s still fresh.
The havoc is related to continuing slowdowns along the West Coast by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which is in dispute with employers in the Pacific Maritime Association.
“There were folks [shippers] who knew they couldn’t access Tacoma, so they try to access Seattle,” McGraw said.
Aggravating matters is the layout of truck entrances at Terminal 18. The nearest security gate is only a few container lengths from lower Spokane Street, so lines of delayed trucks soon block road lanes and ramps, even on some normal days. The terminal does have other gates at the far north end of the island, and the port owns a vacant expanse at Terminal 5 in West Seattle. The gates are not controlled by the Port of Seattle, but by private operator SSA Marine.
“They need to go onto Harbor Island, and go out onto Gates 3 and 4,” at the north end of the island, said Craig Trettevik, whose home and business are on West Seattle. On Wednesday, he had to detour north from Sodo to Edgar Martinez Drive, take I-5 all the way south to South Michigan Street, then cross the Duwamish River to reach the West Seattle peninsula via West Marginal Way Southwest. Trettevik said he’s tried for years to persuade port officials to move the T-18 gate deeper into port property, so fewer trucks spill onto Spokane Street.
McGraw didn’t know of any solutions, but said the port and SSA are in talks Thursday to address what he called a perfect storm. Besides congestion on the street, the increased volume of containers within Terminal 18 is creating a slow pace for trucks and machinery on the dock.
Drivers are venting on the West Seattle Blog, which will be posting its coverage later Thursday.