Fare Thee Well, Viaduct

Jan 11, 2019 | Feature, Featured, Town Crier

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is closed forever tonight. Viadoom, we’re calling the traffic problems we’ll now have for a few weeks and months now that it is no more. Viaductpocalypse, we’re calling it. Here’s the Seattle TimesSurvival Guide for it.

The October 4, 1924 issue of the Town Crier was crying about traffic problems in a piece entitled, appropriately, “Traffic Problems.” “The rapid increase in numbers of the automobile has created a nation-wide traffic congestion,” it laments. “The pressure is growing constantly greater. Take a look at the Bothell Highway or the Seattle-Tacoma road on a Sunday afternoon for a hint at what the future is likely to bring.”

The future brought it. “Money, study and cooperation are necessary to the solution of the problem,” the writer says. “Money is required to build new roads, more roads, better roads, and wider roads.” The writer continues, “City planners and road-builders with foresight and the necessary money a century or more ago would have solved our problem before it arose. It is doubtful whether we will have the foresight and money to solve the traffic problem in the future.”

When the first phase of the Alaskan Way Viaduct opened in 1953 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said, “The viaduct looms like a royal necklace across the bosom of the Queen City of the Pacific Northwest.”

The Alaskan Way Viaduct in 1956. Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 53373

The viaduct was completed in full in 1959—a triumph of engineering and civic team spirit to solve Seattle’s traffic woes.

By the 1970s the viaduct was considered an eyesore. By the 1990s it was considered a safety threat. An earthquake at a magnitude 7.5 or greater would undoubtedly bring the whole thing down. It was also overworked. The structure was designed expecting to carry 65,000 vehicles a day, but by the 1990s its load was averaging 110,000 vehicles a day.  

What will happen once the tunnel that replaces the viaduct opens? We’ll find out soon enough. “Cooperation,” the Crier noted, “is most essential in the untangling of our transportation jam. Those that must cooperate are the motorists, the pedestrians and the street car systems.”

We hear you, Crier. Let us all do our best to untangle.

(In remembrance of the viaduct, Town Hall’s own Jonathan Shipley has been documenting his travels across it on Instagram)

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