The aging, elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct has been sinking ever since the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. The state believes that if another big earthquake hits, the structure will sway sickeningly before pancaking into liquefied earth.
And just last week, we learned that a section of the viaduct south of Main Street sank up to a quarter of an inch last month alone. The Washington Department of Transportation tried to bury this information under happier bits of news in a Friday-night press release. None of us at The Stranger have slept since.
WSDOT assures us everything is stable, but at any point during peak hours, there are tens of thousands of people on this double-decker highway. Officials thought the Cypress freeway was safe before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, too. Kathleen Richards, who survived the earthquake that killed 42 people on that freeway, thought about the parallels between the two structures as she drove across the viaduct.
WSDOT loves not sharing data—not with reporters, not with city leaders—so in lieu of real-time settlement numbers, Sydney Brownstone tried to take her own readings of rumblings in the earth by lying on the ground next to a Seattle Public Utilities monitoring station. Meanwhile, Ansel Herz rode a bus across the viaduct to see if jumping up and down on a bus did anything to make the structure tremble.
Paul Constant investigated the seedy underbelly of the viaduct by walking the length of its shadow—a 40-minute walk. And Charles Mudede went and stood between the viaduct and the waterfront and investigated what was making him so damn cold.
And what about the people who live so close to the viaduct, they're almost able to reach out and touch it? Brendan Kiley interviewed an artist in the OK Hotel who watches "little chunks" fly off the highway and hit his windows. UW philosophy professor Paul L. Franco channeled Immanuel Kant to teach us how to think about the viaduct's best friend, Bertha, from the security of the ivory tower. And Heidi Groover tracked down some of the sunniest viaduct optimists around—those people who still want to turn the decrepit highway into a New York City–style High Line.
As for the viaduct's increasingly ominous reputation, we interviewed other local landmarks—the Space Needle, the Fremont Troll, and more—to see what they make of the viaduct's infamy. It's hard out there for a double-decker death trap.