Photos: 65 years of the Alaskan Way Viaduct
It was 65 years ago in April that Seattle celebrated the opening of a new elevated highway along its waterfront.
The highway had, in one form or another, been at least an idea since nearly the beginning of the 20th century. But it was once traffic picked up along the newly created Alaskan Way in the 1930s that congestion started to become a major issue.
Pacific Highway, then designated as US-99 (now State Route 99, though one sign still looms with the old federal highway symbol), ran from the Canadian border to the Mexican border along the West Coast. But it didn't quite run through downtown Seattle.
Drivers along the route were forced to take surface streets from Sodo to the north side of Denny Way -- a problem that will beset the city once more once the viaduct closes ahead of the new tunnel opening.
To skirt downtown traffic, drivers took to using Alaskan Way, much to the chagrin of the shipping industry along the waterfront that also used the route.
When the Seattle chapter of the Propeller Club of the United States sent a letter asking for relief from growing congestion along the waterfront route, gridlock was a common scene as trucks were advised to use the route as a through highway by signs where US-99 hit the city, according to HistoryLink.org.
The growing traffic along the route, the group argued, added increased danger to the maritime industries along the waterfront, slowed the loading and unloading of vessels and generally hurt industry.
A report from the city's engineering department recommended a viaduct for Alaskan Way.
It wasn't, however, until the late 1940s -- after World War II had come to a close -- that the city got around to planning the elevated highway. It was that and the Seattle Freeway (Interstate 5) that led the priorities list.
A plan for the viaduct came forward in 1947, but it would take years before the viaduct as we know it was fully envisioned and completed.
The first section of the viaduct, from Battery Street to Railroad Way/First Avenue South, opened on April 4, 1953.
It wasn't until six years later that the entire viaduct, from Aurora Avenue to South Holgate Street -- finally connecting US-99 from north to south -- opened.
Still, on- and off-ramps continued to be constructed until 1966, when the Columbia Street on-ramp was at last finished.
The southern portion of the viaduct has already been gone for years now, and the remaining portion isn't long for this world as its permanent closure is set for Jan. 11, about three weeks before the new tunnel is scheduled to open.
Many Seattleites will miss the viaduct as a staple of the Seattle waterfront, even if its grey concrete bulk is a bit unsightly, or the views of the city skyline and, to the west, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. Others will celebrate a renewed and revived waterfront once the earthquake-damaged viaduct is removed.