The Tunnel Is Worse Than We Thought

Did you know they're putting an eight-lane road on the waterfront right above it?



I remember one Seattle mayor who tried to call attention to this. The powers that be laughed him out of office....


Is this news to you? These plans have been public for years. It's a working waterfront, not a recreational waterfront. It's been a working waterfront since Seattle was founded in 1850. One of the driving (pun intended) reasons they built the viaduct was to alleviate commuter traffic so commercial traffic could easily get in and out of the waterfront. Did you think it was just going to be one big pedestrian park?


We should've torn down the viaduct, built this road, and connected it with the Battery Street Tunnel for Hwy 99, whole project could've been $400m instead of $4b and been done in two years instead of twenty. The lack of doom these weeks shows we don't need a second downtown freeway, a 30mph arterial with bus lanes connected to the downtown grid is plenty and more useful than a stadiums->lower Queen Anne tunnel.


Let me guess, you'd tear it down and build a farm. You wanted bike lanes, transit lanes and guess what, everyone got what they wanted. Who needs the Ship Canal bridge? It's an eyesore, remove it too.
1. The deep bore tunnel was the only option that allowed AWV to remain open during construction, imagine a 2-3 year Viadoom instead of 2 weeks.
2. A new 2-way protected bike lane? Tree lined pedestrian promenade? 2 bus only lanes?
3. The Overlook Walk will go over the new roadway, "No traffic would have to be negotiated because by the time it’s built, the main trunk of a re-built Alaskan Way — Elliott Way"


man so much contempt at what is progress, which is always one step at a time. If you are balking at $4b spent, you think you'd feel better about $6b price tag to add public transit? Car lanes are the simplest just to finish the project, then in a few years they can raise money to add public transit or convert a few lanes into grass areas based on how bad traffic is. I also think they need that much asphalt for cars to get on the ferry boats. The real value is the added view from all the buildings, stores, and restaurants that are now going to start using that whole hill more productively.

If you want to see a real messy public works project look up all the stuff in San Francisco. For example the bay bridge estimate went from $1 billion estimate to $13 billion with faulty parts from China since they ended up outsourcing so much, and ended up taking 10 years longer than projected. Its the unfortunate nature of massive infrastructure projects. Just imagine what the $5b estimate wall would end up costing in reality...


Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes.


The only thing the politicians were selling with the tunnel was the price tag.
$4 billion government dollars meant that the politicians and their friends were going to take a very big treasure bath in public funds, and all walk away much richer. That was what was so important about the tunnel.


@7 You are in the richest country in the world with ready access to a huge public network, and yet you are fully unable to scrape together an intelligent idea, thought or opinion. Congrats, millennial.


Looking for someone to blame for the size of that road?

Look in the mirror.

We drive too much. Too many people in their cars.

Plain and simply.


Wait! What???
Thought we were promised a Waterfront homeless encampment / safe injection site.


A reminder that the monorail project serving this same West Seattle to Ballard corridor was slated to cost $2B and would have been finished years ago, if officials hadn’t ignored four previous public votes in favor of it.


Arg, The Stranger. An incredibly bloated Alaskan Way is indeed a horrible idea, but the draft Environmental Impact Statement came out in 2015, followed by a public meeting, and the public had until that August to submit comments. I first heard about it from the Seattle Bike Blog, who apparantly scooped you by over 3 years:

I'm with The Stranger, but man, if you wanted to mobilize people to fight it, you are super, super late. Although, maybe it wouldn't have mattered if you had weighed in when it mattered. I contacted my then-city councilmember (Bagshaw) about it in 2016, and she never bothered to reply. Maybe instead tell us more about how The Stranger recently discovered this great show called "Almost Live."


@10: Drive too much? Tell that to the truckers servicing our ports. As @2 describes, we can't just have a quaint little two-laner.


flying cars people. FLYING CARS!


My understanding is that the sea wall, which needed fixing in the first place, actually represents a pretty huge portion of the price tag.

Also, where will freight go?


@3 Agree.

$4B so people can, errr... skip downtown Seattle? We've been through this all before, but Goddamn what a waste. That money would have gone a long way toward congesting-relieving, density building public transit.


@16 I think you're right. I stand by my point, but I'll walk numbers back a little.


Fine job of it, Lester. Thank you.


Did Lester just move here or something? We had these arguments years ago.

Yeah, it sucks. Thanks for reminding me, I guess?


I think what you left out is that the reason the road is 7-8 lanes south of Yesler is because there will be two dedicated lanes to bus transit (last time I checked, that was a good thing) and queuing for the ferry (yes, those are cars, but you can't build a waterfront and just ignore the fact that there are ferries coming in). I think you may also have overlooked the dedicated bike lane, promenade, two new pier parks, and pedestrian bridge from Pike Place Market to the waterfront. But all those things wouldn't really fit your narrative.


Those 8 lanes at street level are not that big of a deal. What is the length of this? Less than a mile? The West Side Highway running the entire length of the west side of Manhattan is 8 lanes + a decent sized grass/concrete median. There are ample crosswalks and stop lights and you get a great glimpse across the Hudson River from either side of the street. You can't please everyone but being able to keep the flow of traffic going through there at street level is acceptable to me.



Between Pier 48 at the south end and Smith Cove to the north (essentially the entire shoreline parallel to downtown) and with the arguable exception of Coleman Dock and the Louis Dreyfus grain elevators, it's pretty much all a "recreational waterfront" full of retail shops, tourist attractions, restaurants, pleasure craft marinas, hotels, and a waterfront park. The working waterfront you seem to believe exists there hasn't for decades. So, yeah it would rather make sense that any new reconfiguration of the existing infrastructure take that into account, particularly when one considers that slapping a six-lane arterial between the waterfront and downtown will actually make it more difficult for people to easily move between the two than did an elevated freeway that put the bulk of the traffic above the pedestrian access.

@14: There is literally no reason for semis servicing the Port to be using this stretch of - whatever they end up calling it. All the major POS facilities are south of Yesler Way, with direct access to I-5, I-90, and Highway 99 south of the stadiums. The only ones I would expect to see on this stretch are delivery vehicles servicing the hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments along the waterfront, and those making the Bainbridge or Bremerton crossings on the ferry.


Back in 2011, The Stranger was deep in the tank for anti-tunnel loser McGinn. Looks like The Stranger remains mired in its failed past.

I’m looking forward to my first bike ride along the dedicated bike path the author of this piece conveniently forgot to mention. There will be no hulking mass of crumbling grey concrete to block sunlight or my views.


WE HAVE ONLY TO BLAME THE DEMOCRATS AND THE IDIOTS WHO INSIST ON VOTING OF THEM FOR THIS SHITSTORM. The Democrats can lie to our faces and the idiots who vote for them will only respond "But at least they're not Republicans."


Seattle is PEAK WHITE LIBERALISM. Thousands of homeless children in this area, but white liberals be like



wow, this thread really got the russian trolls mo-tivated


Gosh, looks like It turns out that the 2,607,263 vehicles that travel annually on WSF from Bainbridge/Bremerton need some way to get to/from the ferry dock. Or did the Stranger think the tunnel had a Bainbridge exit?


Sadly, any public recreation area near the waterfront will be taken over by homeless people and other street dwellers. Just like Victor Steinbrueck Park, the only non-crazy people around there will be unsuspecting tourists.


David Cole's screed about this issue was somewhat more entertaining--the guy is an architect but still can't seem to understand what he is looking at in renderings.


@24 Any building on the waterfront that houses for-profit businesses means it is a working waterfront. Could be industrial or commercial. It's not one big long beach with apartments and condos along it. That was my point, but I do see how one could think I only meant the port or old factory terminals. Thanks for pointing it out.


It will be interesting to gauge citizen's response to the tunnel after it has been open a couple of years.
I suspect one big factor in that is how well the north and south exit/interchanges work.
If they feel dangerous, claustrophobic and confusing that will influence whether folks hate using the tunnel.
Probably a bigger factor than the tolls.
I never even consider the tolls on 520 because it is such an improved roadway.
If those downtown exit/entrances work smoothly than the whole project might seem worthwhile.


Lester. You're missing the big picture, The wealthy land owners and developers who own property near the viaduct will become ever richer. Once that eyesore is gone, their property values will go through the roof. It's a win win situation, A win for the developers and a win for the phone progressives who run our government.


Someday the Seattle Progressives have to stop blaming the evil corporations and start taking personal responsibility for their actions.


"Thousands of homeless children in this area"

Really? Haven't seen any urchins begging down on 1st avenue yet and sleeping in gutters.

Maybe you're confused with Calcutta?


You forgot the part about the new Waterfront Park next to this massively dystopian arterial will cost $800,000,000. Before cost overruns.



Well, most definitions of "working waterfront" (including how the Port Of Seattle uses the term -, use it specifically in the context of shipping and other water-related industries. It's something of a stretch to include places like The Edgewater, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, The Seattle Wheel, El Gaucho's Aqua restaurant among those, for the very simple reason that they could be located anywhere else besides the waterfront and still be able to engage in their trade. A container port, or ferry terminal, or marina, or boatwright shop, not so much.


Old NEWS! Build a bridge and get over it! Better yet, we built a tunnel already! Get Under It!


What are you, new?

Anyway, the statement you wrote "WSDOT decided to charge just $1 in off hours and increase the toll to $2.25 during peak hours. That means a bus ride in this city ($2.75) will be more expensive than taking your private car in this tunnel, and sometimes a bus ride will cost almost three times the price of driving your car into the city. How does that make sense?" ITSELF makes no sense. How do those folks driving into Seattle use the tunnel to get into the city when, as you state in this piece in the most lamenting manner, there ARE NO EXITS in the city?

If you stop to take a breath and think about the arguments you are making, perhaps some would take your concerns more seriously.


I heard we are contractually obligated to reinstate Mike McGinn as Mayor For Life because he was right all along.


"Both of those estimates come from Sound Transit."- bwahhhahahhaaa!!!!!

@27- care to back up that "thousands of homeless children" claim with some data or are you satisfied with histrionics.


The Stranger's position on the tunnel has been tiresome and ill informed since Day One. I see that nothing has changed.


@42 Don't you realize that the "homeless" count now also includes people with a warm bed and a roof over their heads? Like when me and old lady spend a romantic night or two at the Four Seasons downtown, by King County's standards, we're "homeless".


Yes, everybody knows this. What if I told you there is already a road on the waterfront in addition to the viaduct?!


Hahaha! Check out the picture Nickels' office put out at the time he was pushing the tunnel.
And don't forget, Seattle politicians are, at this very minute, making questionable public transit decisions.


Why is every urbanist I meet yet another white, woke suburbanite? I've never met one who actually grew up in a city.


Seattle actually does have thousands of homeless children, over 4,000 in Seattle Public Schools


I predict that this new configuration is going to be a big boon for businesses down by the water, because anybody on the west side of town who needs to come into downtown from the north or the south will likely be riding on this road, which means that more regular Seattle residents will drive by these businesses, remember they are there and patronize them (more people on busses will also ride past these businesses--same outcome).

It'll be much harder to avoid this part of town moving forward. It's like when they opened Westlake plaza back to car traffic. The sky did not fall. It was better for retailers. That's why Nordstrom pushed so hard to make it happen. From I can see, they were not wrong about that. I expect this will be the same.

It's true that Seattle's waterfront is going to become increasingly less a waterfront for shipping containers and more of a waterfront for tourism. Much like San Francisco's waterfront by its port. This will undoubtedly include more cruise ship traffic down here too.

Having a significant arterial will support all this stuff better than what we have now. Better bike lanes will be a plus too. It's easy to forget all the parking under the viaduct now, which creates challenging bike route through that area. I'm sure it'll be much better to bike through there when this is finished.

People who need to get north and south in a hurry will pay the toll and use the tunnel. Others will use this road.

I know this seems like a big investment in the car, but if you think about what Seattle's growth is likely to be and that this plan still reduces capacity, it's more like a transitional investment in a less car centric future, where our density goes from 8,300 per sq mile (what it is now) to 12k per sq mile (Chicago's current density), 14.25K/sq mile (Vancouver's current density) or 19k per sq mile (almost San Francisco right now).

It's going to be very hard to add more arterial car capacity from here. But we're likely to need cars pretty badly for at least 25-40 more years, while our transit infrastructure continues to build out.

This something so many Seattle folks forget. We are still not very dense. Manhattan is 10 times as dense. SF is over twice as dense. You need around 12k per sq mile to really support good frequent transit like they have in Chicago, SF, etc. And until the biking situation on the Ballard bridge is fixed, perhaps the best bike commuting corridor in the city remains a work in progress.

Even if our current crazy growth continues unabated until 2045, we're unlikely to get to that density. And until we do, the car is likely to have a role to play. So we need a plan that creates a bridge to the next phase without completely destroying the stuff that people depend upon now.

This plan helps us to titrate down on our car use. But it does not rip the bandaid off all at once.

So what we'll end up with here isn't perfect on any metric, but I think we'll be happy to have it, especially if you live in Burien, West Seattle, Fremont, Magnolia, or Ballard, etc. Hell, I live in Beacon Hill and I'll be glad to have it, because I need to get to Ballard regularly, and 99 is my route of choice.

That's my opinion.


What a sh*t show Seattle has become! I'm so glad I lived there when it used to be cool. Glad I left when Ballard ceased to be Ballard and became a prison camp for Millenials. Oh how ruined Seattle has become!


I think the Stranger needs to finally admit they were wrong on the tunnel. Even with 10 lanes it would be quieter than the viaduct. Acoustically it reverberated noise like a gargantuan speaker. It will have the feel of Vancouvers Coal Harbor area. There is a lot of tamed traffic on a well paved road with easy pedestrian access to the waterfront. The waterfront experience will be like night and day; quieter and more open visually.

The complaints that traffic if doing fine with 99 shut down just demonstrates how swift traffic will flow when we have it back. I predict the day and night rush hour will be gone and we will have a much less connect rush hours for the 9-5ers.


@27 is a racist.


Wait, I thought they were making that space available for outdoor shopping, with booths or carts like in Pike Place Market. And I think they planned to leave a couple of sections up and creating a green space accessible by stairs or a rock climbing sport wall. How will that pedestrian traffic interact with the new highway traffic? The traffic in that area has previously been mostly on the light side which made sense with people lackadaisically walking from the market to the piers and back. Seems like a lawsuit is on the way to bankrupt our beautiful town.


"Seattle actually does have thousands of homeless children, over 4,000 in Seattle Public Schools"

Thanks for the laugh. Must have explained the gangs of urchins I saw outside Roosevelt HS today rattling their cups and begging for quarters.


The dollars available for highways like the tunnel come from the gas tax and are restricted by the State Constitution form being used for other than highway or ferry purposes. And we are funding a second transit tunnel through downtown.


One in 13 students in Seattle experienced homelessness of some variety during the 2016-2017 school year. That means they may temporarily be couch surfing or doubling-up with friends or family.


" That means they may temporarily be couch surfing or doubling-up with friends or family. "

So not homeless, having sleepovers. Hardly under the bridge, down by the Viaduct.


The point about the transit system is more a comment on the greater sound transit area being a disjointed mess of competing and poorly organized transit services than it is on the tunnel or the fairness of the tolls.

Transit should be an even dollar amount, paid once, from anywhere to anywhere that can broadly be thought of as 'seattle metro'. If you want to muck about with incriments, monthly passes, peak fares, etc. maybe that should be a monthly pass option, but even there, no. It should not require a math degree and an encyclopedic knowledge of tranfer points, and up to $15 round trip just to navigate within Seattle city limits, much less to commute from the 'burbs. Seriously, it's too complicated even for the transit operators.

I mean maybe that's something the Stranger could talk about without jist whining about how a project that has gone better than several equivalent projects is likely going to end up (mostly fine, if you pair out the exaggerated gloom).


He went to the dance but the band already packed up and went home.


I've got no skin in this game from here in Minneapolis, but I think projects like this will be relics to the fossil fuel industry in the not-too-distant future. Such a sorry waste.


@64 Out cycling today in Minneapolis are you?


@7 I appreciate the Police reference. Fitting.


@55: “I think the Stranger needs to finally admit they were wrong on the tunnel.“

You’re new around here, aren’t you?



The writer has this ll wrong.. Look are other similar cities.

San Francisco for one, did this. Torn down their ugly double decker freeway. Replaced with a roadway that goes from 6-8 lanes that includes turnouts but NO tunnel. It’s all a huge success. There are wider sidewalks , bike lanes and stunning views. Wide crosswalk areas to cross. It is not a car crazed boulevard.

FYI: you NEVER put exits out from the middle of a tunnel as it stops traffic inside as stoplights at street exits literally stop traffic. That is the whole concept of tunnels look at the ones in and out of NYC. The tunnel will act a perfect bypass downtown and will get folks through town fast.

And walking or biking from downtown, pioneer Sq or SODO will no longer be under a dark, dank dirty ugly, noisy structure.

This article has it all wrong. Many cities like SF have done this successfully. Seattle has been so backwards regarding public transit and infrastructure. They are now a major city and need to act like one. Grow up Seattle. Act your age,

If you wanted anther great Urban Park, you should have voted for the one over at South Lake Union. Instead you got anther downtown and real congested traffic mess.

In five years hardly anyone will miss the viaduct.


You are misrepresenting the current situation. UNDERNEATH the current viaduct is a road (with lots of parking on each side), this road runs parallel to Alaska Way, with the only separation being an old railroad line that is currently no longer in use. Once the viaduct comes down they have to rework both existing roads, and the result is sort of a merger. They actually will be reducing the roadway footprint, which is a key point you are missing. The pedestrian improvements are there and there will be significant spend for landscaping. Huge improvement.


Yes.... Because history shows that there was no need for roads, and they were never built, before the internal combustion engine.


I remember when dan savage said no one would ride the rail because it was so far underground. It’s packed right now as I type.


To be fair, my understanding is that a couple of those lanes are bus-only. Oh, and it is 8 lanes wide mostly to accommodate ferry backups. In general it will be like the Embarcadero, which is really not the hell hole that Aurora is -- mainly because the cars will go slow.

That being said, the whole project was stupid. It was a terrible value in all respects. It was a bad value aesthetically. Sure, it is nice to not have a freeway on the waterfront, but it would have been much cheaper to cap I-5 by extending freeway park up to Denny, since it would better connect downtown with Capitol Hill. It is a bad value in terms of moving people, because it focuses on a minor corridor, and transit investments (done right) move a lot more people. Finally, it is a terrible value when it comes to moving vehicles, because it not only lacks downtown ramps, but ramps at Western. This means traffic that has in the past gone on the Viaduct will be pushed through Fremont or Mercer (e. g. Ballard and Magnolia to the airport).

Oh, and one little tidbit no one has talked about much. The southbound exit from Aurora to downtown will be on the left side of the street. You can kind of see how that is going to work from the aerial view ( This means that buses will have to move from the right lane (where the bus lanes and bus stops are) to the left lane. This also means that someone who enters Aurora at Roy (for example) and wants to go downtown will have to quickly go from the far right lane to the far left lane. This will increase congestion, and increase the number of accidents. So yes, it is worse than many thought.


Seattle just keeps getting crazier by the day....


Am I the last one to remember the billboard after the Boeing layoffs, back in 1969 heading out to I-5: "Will the last one to leave Seattle turn out the lights?"
I can't imagine driving through Seattle now.


The war on card s continues!


Should have read the war on cars continues


@72: The primary economic purpose of SR-99 through downtown Seattle is not to move people or cars. It is to move freight and other materials between the Harbor Island and Ballard working waterfronts. That’s why the tunnel will be a true bypass of downtown.

We can (and should) still put a complete lid over I-5 downtown; it was never an either/or proposition. Finally, anyone getting onto Aurora Avenue southbound at Roy Street who wants to exit north of downtown should get a ticket for reckless driving. It’s almost like getting onto I-5 northbound at University Street and trying to exit at Olive Way.


@77 -- OK, if the primary purpose was to move freight and other materials, it fucks up in that regard as well. Again, there are no Western exits, or downtown exits. That means every time someone tried to, say, move a bunch of beer from Georgetown to Ballard, they will take I-5. But I-5 is no better (it could be, but we spent the money on 99 instead). If they try and move goods along SR 99 through the tunnel southbound, they will have to deal with everyone changing lanes.

It is a stupid, very wasteful, very expensive project that fails at every level.


@77 tensor and @78 Ross; WOW these new developments sound horrible! Okay--now I really send my condolences for you and everyone having to drive / commute through Seattle daily, now with the Alaskan Way Viaduct torn down and the SR99 Tunnel causing so many additional traffic related headaches. My beloved little stick shift VW and I wouldn't last one day in Seattle traffic nowadays. Tunnel lane changes?? Yoiks!


The idea of going through the Frazier River underwater tunnel on British Columbia's BC99 still gives me the heebie jeebies!


@78: “Again, there are no Western exits, or downtown exits.”

Feature, not bug. Exits or entrances downtown or on Western would simply impede the flow of commercial traffic between Harbor Island and Ballard.

“...move a bunch of beer from Georgetown to Ballard,”

Georgetown is not Harbor Island (really, there are maps you can check and everything), and intracity transport of beer is not traffic directly relating to the operation of large commercial waterfronts.

“...they will take I-5.”

Why? Georgetown has good access to either SR-99 or I-5, but Ballard has much better access to SR-99.

If your argument, such as it is, claims beer will be harder to transport from Georgetown to Ballard because there are no downtown exits from SR-99, you’ve already lost. Badly.


I really don’t understand your point. You reference the cost of the West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions on something the tunnel money could have be used for... but those are not hypothetical options... they are things we are actually paying for an doing. In fact, we are investing over 50 billion into this project that I pay $400/year for which is painful but as a driver I’m actually totally cool with. The light rail project is nessesary and will bring cars off the road, reduce traffic, and lower emissions... great! But here is the deal, not everyone has a nice desk job downtown. A lot of us, particularly the working class, need to drive long distances and/or to odd places to get to work and public transit is not an option. I drive all over King and Snohomish county for work and took the viaduct, and now tunnel all the time. I’m tottaly for more transit options and happy to pay my ST3 taxes, but the tunnel is required too. Tearing down roads to make driving so miserable you have to take public transit doesn’t work, the working class don’t always have that option, you would only make our lives worse as we die in traffic. And what’s wrong with the state subsidizing the tolls? Isn’t it the governments job to pay for it in the first place so what’s wrong with them doing just that? I don’t make enough to pay $4 each way every day. Let’s have the best of both worlds, let’s have a great system of roads/tunnels combined with a world class transit system.


"a bus ride in this city ($2.75) will be more expensive than taking your private car in this tunnel, and sometimes a bus ride will cost almost three times the price of driving your car into the city. How does that make sense?"

That makes zero sense. Government should incentivize what it wants folks to do and disincentivize the reverse. That's pretty basic governance.


@Lincoln360 -- "Let’s have the best of both worlds, let’s have a great system of roads/tunnels combined with a world class transit system."

Since when? Not in our lifetime.