Seattle commute times will more than double during viaduct closure


SEATTLE, Wash. - On January 11, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will close for three weeks and 90,000 drivers will be forced to find other routes. The congestion is expected to cripple the commute.

“This one will be a whopper and we have to prepare for it,” said Jonathan Hopkins who is the executive director at Commute Seattle which is a non-profit transportation management association.

Transportation agencies across the region want drivers to have a plan for closure. Experts say getting even 15 percent of drivers out of their car at rush hour will improve congestion during the closure.

If you’re wondering what traffic will be like around the region during the shutdown when the viaduct closes for good and the new tunnel prepares to open, consider this.

“It’s kind of like a planned fish truck turning over,” said Hopkins.

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Hopkins is talking about that notorious day in Seattle traffic history when a semi-truck filled with fish rolled over and blocked the viaduct for nine hours. The crash crippled traffic in Seattle and beyond.

As far as closures go, the closest example to next January's closing happened in 2016.

According to Commute Seattle, that nine-day viaduct closure doubled commute times and January’s is expected to be much worse.

“We know that congestion has probably increased by 20—25 percent since that last time, just average daily congestion,” said Hopkins.

Stop and go traffic that will be far reaching.

“Coming into Seattle from Everett or coming into Seattle from Tacoma or Federal Way or from the Eastside will impact every freeway in our region,” said Hopkins.

Businesses are starting to heed the warning.

“Right now we are planning on moving our hours to an earlier start time,” said Todd Biesold who is the CFO of Merlino Foods on 4th Ave in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood.

At Merlino, delivery times will be changed to better navigate the large volume of traffic.

“We have to work together and everybody has to do their part,” said Hopkins.

Commute Seattle is urging everyone including employers and employees to come up with a plan for the closure. Such as telecommuting, a compressed work week, car pools and public transportation.

“If business have an East Coast office and they wanted to spend three weeks opening at 6 a.m. that would be wonderful. Get to work at 6 a.m. leave at 2 p.m. and that would reduce the strain on the system,” said Hopkins.

It’s critical, experts say, that we all play a role in reducing peak hour congestion during a closure that will likely deliver a commute like Seattle drivers have never seen before.

“We are just going to have to adjust and ask for everybody patience,” said Biesold.

If you’re a business large or small and need helping planning for the closure Commute Seattle is offering free assistance in Seattle and King County.

For Seattle employers: contact Commute Seattle

For King County employers outside of Seattle

If you are an employer outside Seattle, contact King County Metro at for more information about the WorkSmart program.

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