Seattle is Nearing the “Period of Maximum Constraint”

On January 11, 2019, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is set to permanently close the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the first step in a series of efforts to alleviate congestion but that will first make things worse for Seattleites. In what has been called the “period of maximum constraint,” movement in and around downtown will be difficult, as private and public construction will cause street closures and delays.

The Seattle Department of Transportation recently released an update on construction and what to expect from some of the biggest projects over the coming years.


WSDOT has already implemented strategies to alleviate congestion, including more public transit service on busier routes, transit priority on 3rd Avenue, new signal timing on 2nd and 4th avenues, the distribution of ORCA cards to Seattle public school students and additional detectors on traffic lights for more comprehensive traffic data. They also outlined a series of future endeavors, which include a digital platform with real-time traffic and construction data, pilot load zones for rideshare and e-bikes, business outreach, off-board fare payment with boarding from all doors on all 3rd Avenue buses (not just Rapid Ride), a northbound route for 5th and 6th avenues to accommodate buses when the transit tunnel shifts to light rail in Spring 2019, major transit station improvements and the extension of Sound Transit operations including “Seattle’s University District, Roosevelt and Northgate neighborhoods in 2021, with service to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond’s Overlake area opening in 2023.” Additional extensions are expected in 2024 with the light rail expected to “reach Tacoma and West Seattle in 2030; Ballard in 2035; Everett in 2036; and South Kirkland and Issaquah in 2041.”

Construction Timeline

Summer 2018 | Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) Construction Began

The transformation of WSCC “will provide economic and public benefits, including affordable housing, cycling, and pedestrian improvements,” and fund a study of the Lid I-5 proposal. The target completion for the project is 2021. When complete, the $1.7 billion project will add nearly 4,000 jobs to the Emerald City, generate approximately $260 million in consumer revenue, and an estimated $19 million in sales tax. It will include 225,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 60,000 square foot ballroom and 125,000 square feet of meeting rooms. More details here.


Fall 2018 | Rainier Tower Two Construction Began

Construction on Rainier Tower Two is well underway at Rainier Square and will bring office space, a hotel, residential units, retail shopping and parking to the Seattle skyline sometime in 2021.

January 2019 | Viaduct Closure

On January 11th, 2019, the WSDOT is set to close the Alaskan Way Viaduct and begin work on connecting ramps and roadways to the new SR 99 tunnel. This construction is expected to last three weeks.

Early 2019 | SR 99 Tunnel Opens

Once the connecting roadways and ramps are complete, the new two-mile SR 99 tunnel will open to traffic.

New $2.2 billion Smart Tunnel Opens

2019 | Viaduct Demo & Waterfront Construction

After the SR 99 tunnel opens to traffic, demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will commence at the waterfront. Alaskan Way street will then be revitalized along Seattle’s waterfront. The latest project timeline has a full design slated for 2020 with construction set to begin in 2021. The highly anticipated overlook walk is set to open to the public in 2022. More details here.

Spring 2019 | Buses Stop Using Transit Tunnel

The transit tunnel will shift to light-rail-only in Spring 2019, pushing King County Metro routes 41, 74, 101, 102, 150, 255 and Sound Transit route 550 onto surface streets.

Mid-2019 | SR 99 Tolls

After an initial non-billable period, tolls will be implemented on SR 99 mid-2019. Once tolls go into effect, rates will vary by time of day, ranging from $1 during non-peak hours to $2.25 at the afternoon peak.

Want to know more about how the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure and SR 99 opening will impact you? The top questions answered here.