The Final Chapter of the Viaduct

The 66-year reign of the Alaskan Way Viaduct has officially come to an end. I can’t say that I’m sad to see it go because it was an ugly, inefficient and unstable piece of Seattle’s infrastructure. But like many other pieces of the city’s history, it creates a small void when it’s suddenly gone. I was one of the 30,000 people who came to say goodbye to the Viaduct and be one of the first to travel in the new replacement tunnel in the Tunnel to Viaduct 8K earlier this month.

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The racers gathered at the Seattle Center campus and entered the north end of the new tunnel. As we ran south, the tunnel sloped down before angling up towards the surface as we neared the stadiums at the other end.

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The tunnel seems much longer than the Viaduct because there are no exits to downtown Seattle. While the tunnel is currently free, “tolling could begin as early as summer 2019,” according to WSDOT, and will exceed $4.00 at peak hours if you don’t have a Good to Go! pass.

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Demolition of the Viaduct’s north-bound upper deck had already begun when we ran along First Avenue in Pioneer Square – most likely to prevent people from sneaking onto the structure for one final goodbye. On the final day that the Viaduct was open to traffic, drivers parked on the highway, honked their horns and got out of their cars to take photos long after the official roadway closure time. Even after the highway was closed, people have been sneaking onto the Viaduct despite WDOT’s safety warnings.

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The Battery Street Tunnel was already falling into disrepair, even after only a few short weeks of disuse. Several light bulbs were burned out or flickering, there was water dripping down the walls, and chunks of the concrete walls had fallen to reveal the steel rebar underneath. Maybe it was always this shabby and I was just driving too fast to notice, but getting to explore it on foot was very cool!

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While the official 8K race route was travelling north through the south-bound side of the Battery Street Tunnel, several people slid back the heavy fire doors on the dividing wall to walk down the empty north-bound tunnel. Last year a local group of artists, designers and architects called Recharge the Battery was petitioning for the decommissioned Battery Street Corridor to be reused for sustainable projects. But despite hearing ideas like a mushroom farm, public park space or sustainable wastewater infrastructure, the Seattle City Council decided in May 2018 to just fill it with rubble and seal it off.

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Seattle has been talking about taking down the Viaduct since 2001, but I’ve only been writing about it since 2013. Check out the previous chapters here for the full story:

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