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Is the Alaskan Way Viaduct Creating More Problems?

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on February 12, 2019

The Alaskan Way Viaduct was an elevated freeway system in Seattle that carried drivers on a 2.2-mile section of State Route 99. This double-decked freeway ran north and south along the waterfront from its opening on April 4, 1953, until it was closed permanently on January 11, 2019. This section of roadway saw an estimated 91,000 vehicles per day in 2016, and will be replaced in February of 2019 when the replacement tunnel project is completed.

The viaduct has been a source of concern for decades. It was first considered to be a barrier between the waterfront and the downtown area as early as the 1960s. But what became more troubling for the residents of Seattle were the potential safety issues.

Why the Alaskan Viaduct Is on Its Way Out

Viaducts have always presented a certain level of risk in the event of an earthquake. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco caused severe damage to the Embarcadero freeway and killed multiple drivers on the Cypress freeway in Oakland. This caused even more worry over the safety of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

During the Nisqually earthquake of 2001, the Alaskan Way Viaduct suffered only minor damage, but engineers determined that a total collapse would be possible in a stronger earthquake in the region. The state and city governments then sought options for replacing the somewhat antiquated viaduct and eventually settled on a tunnel. In January 2009, it was announced that the viaduct would be replaced with a tunnel. The boring of the tunnel began on July 30, 2013, and was expected to be completed in December 2015. Several delays, including one lasting two years, pushed the opening of the new tunnel back to January 2019.

The idea of a tunnel was met with a great deal of opposition, in spite of the fact that many residents wanted to see the viaduct removed. Residents worried about the cost, the impact on the environment, and even the tunnel’s impact on the downtown area. But all the while, the Alaskan Way Viaduct developed larger cracks and sunk as much as six inches in some areas.

Will the Tunnel Present New Dangers?

While the replacement tunnel, dubbed the SR 99 Tunnel, provides a brand-new road surface for drivers, there are a few things to keep in mind. Enter the tunnel at a safe rate of speed and allow time for your eyes to adjust to the lighting. Also, be aware of the posted speed limit, which could be lower than surrounding streets. Drivers should avoid sudden braking in the tunnel, as that is very likely to cause a chain reaction accident. If you are involved in a collision in the tunnel, be careful when exiting your vehicle, and seek a safe area away from traffic immediately. And finally, always be aware of your surroundings.

What about Seattle pedestrians? In some areas of the country, pedestrian walkways in tunnels and viaducts are considered to be unsafe, even during the daylight hours. There is little or no natural light in these tunnels, and that makes pedestrians easy prey for muggings and other violent crimes. In Chicago, twin 15-year-old brothers were attacked in a tunnel in the middle of the afternoon. The boys fought back against the robbers, but one boy was shot in the chest. He died at the scene a short time later.

Pedestrians and motorists alike need to be aware of what is going on around them in the tunnel. Motorists need to watch for stopped traffic and keep to their lanes. Pedestrians also need to be aware of anyone loitering or following them in while in the tunnel. Walking in a small group is a good way to increase safety.

If You Collide in the Tunnel, Call a Car Accident Lawyer

Residents of Seattle are mostly pleased that the eyesore viaduct will soon be demolished, and that access will be restored when the SR 99 Tunnel is completed. But along with any change comes potential for new danger. If you are involved in a crash in the new tunnel, you should speak to a Seattle car accident attorney. Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., can answer many of your questions during your free initial consultation to determine if you have grounds for a lawsuit against another driver or the City of Seattle due to unsafe road conditions. Call (888) 228-3860 and let us put our decades of experience to work for you.

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