WSDOT has this site detailing eight options for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. The plans differ pretty remarkably, from a “low capital” surface-option with little built to deep-bored tunnel, and even a covered four lane elevated structure, with a sky-bridge and development underneath the roadway. Definitely view the plans, and check out the interactive flash map.

Each option seems to include either the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the “Central Streetcar” line on First Avenue, with the exception of option ‘d’, the new elevated highway. I don’t actually know if any of these options include funding for these transit improvements. Option ‘e’ is doubling down on the viaduct, with a truly massive, super-structure on the waterfront. I’m partial to ‘b’, the surface-transit option.

Which do you prefer? What is the worst? Let us know in the comments.

H/T to the estimable Gordon Werner.

47 Replies to “Viaduct Replacement Options”

  1. If you read the summaries of each plan at, you’ll see that Option B includes what looks like all of the proposed Seattle Streetcar lines, new RapidRide along Delridge, Lake City Way, and the Ballard-U District corridor, and many transit improvements downtown. Its computer graphics show the Waterfront Streetcar there with the historic trolleys… but it’s not clear if that’s part of the plan.

  2. I’m definitely leaning towards the couplet of Alaskan/Western (Option ‘C’).

    This could very well be our last chance to have any sort of central park in downtown. This gives the waterfront the most open space. Plus, it has more lanes than the surface boulevard options (A&B) and spreads the traffic out which would reduce congestion and noise on the waterfront.

    Second choice would be the cut and cover tunnel (option ‘G’). This opens up a huge amount of open space in Belltown, which is almost as good as open space on the waterfront. Plus, it provides the bypass our overly-subsidized port so clamors for.

    Third would be option ‘B’, obviously for the excellent transit improvements. Although, I can’t for the life of me see why they wouldn’t include those with ‘C’.

  3. Guess I’m partial to scenario H the lidded trench. I’m least partial to scenario E the great wall of Frank Chopp.

  4. I’d like a C-B hybrid. Build one-way streets, but also build up the streetcar network. Both are great ideas and I don’t see why they can’t be built together.

      1. Are you kidding? There’s a deep buried tunnel option on there, as well as a freeway sky mall. Streetcars are really cheap compared to those.

      2. I have a feeling that there are some options there for political reasons and are way too expensive to actually build. But if we can afford it, some combination of B and C would be great.

  5. One function of the current Viaduct that is missing from a lot of the analysis is it’s function as a downtown bypass. Me and my wife (we carpool) are certainly not the only ones who use the Viaduct in this capacity as we see many other cars each morning heading from the WS Bridge or further south of downtown to north of downtown.

    1. My main argument against this is that it’s a terrible place for a highway. We’ve built up our country as a concrete shrine to the car, and the Viaduct is a prime example of this.

      How will people bypass the city without the Viaduct? They’ll use I-5 or they just won’t bypass it.

      In the short term it will be frustrating, since it’s tough to change habits.

      In the medium term people will modify their behavior. Maybe they won’t run south to Costco anymore and start heading north to the other Costco, or perhaps take fewer trips. Maybe they’ll find that taking a bus to a Mariners game is a bit faster (and much cheaper) than driving.

      In the long term, people will tend to find jobs that are a reasonable journey from their homes. The end result is less driving, which I think we can agree is a good thing.

    2. The only difference will be the speed; most of the views would be lost anyway by the solid barriers on any new elevated roads (required by the Feds, if we want their money).
      I can’t get excited about spending tons of money just so a few people can speed past downtown at 55+, so I vote for option “C” which makes better use of the existing Western Ave and Alaskan Way and –
      Gives us 6 lanes of road, a dedicated bike lane, and parking
      Brings back the Waterfron Trolley
      Seperates the 2 directions of traffic by a block, so you’re not stuck with a full 4 or 6 lane highway on the waterfront. This will also ease traffic management for cars entering and leaving the southbound lanes.

    3. Mike, I think a lot of folks recognize that is one common utility of the Viaduct. However, Seattle finds itself in a unique position. The main force behind the surface/transit option has been those concerned with the environment.

      It is great that you carpool, but constructing a new highway — even if it only matches or is actually under current capacity — only further subsidizes an unsustainable reliance on the personal automobile. The choice not to continue this is not a punishment but rather a recognition that our tax dollars can be better spent.

      The hope is that you will be able to either use transit, move closer to your destination, or travel another route. And the hope is that enough people do one of these three things as to create a slightly different Seattle that emits less CO2, has a vibrant and accessible waterfront that is safe for pedestrians, and focuses its infrastructure investment in smart urban design and fixed-guideway mass transit.

    1. I think waterfront is relegated to tourist functionality — it’s not really a tool for commuting. I think that’s a good use for it, actually.

      1. Not after this. I think that seattlites will rediscover the waterfront and it will no longer be relegated to touristy stuff.

      2. What I mean to say is that not many people will be using that line to get to home or work… So the demand may not justify double-tracking it. The single-track looks pretty quaint.

        For what it’s worth, I would probably be able to take the streetcar from where I work to Pioneer Square/ID — but there are only a handful of office buildings up here near the sculpture park.

  6. I really like the open space of Option C with the streetcars of Option B. That being said, I hate to say this but the transit would be possible to do later and on its own. Once we’ve committed to one of those plans and placed the street someplace we’re not moving it over 20′ or anything like that. So I guess my vote would be for Option C if it came to that.

    I’m also not very big on any of the plans that require extensive construction. I don’t wanted tunnels and such because I feel that money could be better used on the transit.

    1. It seems to me that the transit piece almost has to come before we start construction. There are a lot of people that will have to find another way to get around, and if we start with getting people in transit and off the roads this will be easier.

    2. My thoughts exactly. I like Option C best for the waterfront area, so let’s do that and then add the additional transit afterwards. C includes some of the streetcar lines. The University and Ballard\Fremont streetcar lines can be added later. But you can’t fix what you did on the waterfront from B to C later.

  7. I like teh Below grade options (all 3)… however I believe that they are missing 1 thing that should be considered a requirement, there should be the 2 GP lanes in each direction plus an aditional Transit lane in each direction, these Transit lanes should be designed to be able to accomodate Rail in the future, but be set up for bus in the beginning.

    Plase teh Transit lanes in the center, and seperate them from the GP lanes so there is no confusion, and place stops periodically between these two transit lanes.

    This would allow for the equivelent of a second paralel “bus” tunel once the existing tunel hits capacity with link.

    I would extend the “Bus” tunel portion beyound the surface portals shown, (and push it slightly to the east) and have a station below grade at the “Stadium Complex” This alignment might be well placed to become the DT portion of a future West Seattle to Ballard Link route. (probalby use a Spokane street alignment to get into West Seattle, as well as to the Link maintenance facility.

    Lor Scara

    1. G doesn’t include some of the new RapidRide lines nor the Ballard and Fremont streetcars. And I don’t want to fund a new highway, underground or not. :(

      I really, really like B but I wonder if it’s too… punitive to current Viaduct commuters. C preserves some more capacity and will make transit on Aurora much better, but it won’t expand the streetcars up to Ballard and Fremont. C also, as others have noted, makes a bigger waterfront. If I had to choose between B and C, I’d go with B simply because of the transit improvements.

      Some combination of B and C would be ideal for me. New RapidRide from Ballard to UW; new streetcars to Ballard, Fremont, along 1st ave, and on the waterfront; three lanes each direction; BAT lanes on aurora from 205th to Denny; and a big waterfront.

      1. Though strictly speaking, it isn’t new highway capacity and it’s smaller than the existing viaduct.

      2. Eric L, it’s new asphalt that we have to pay for. It’s not additional capacity, you’re right, but it’ll all work out fine and life will go on. A 20 minute commute will turn into a 30 minute commute, maybe on a bus. People will shift their patterns, others will move, and we’ll invest more in transit rather than roads.

  8. West Seattle resident here. I won’t move closer to the city b/c that would be crazy and inaffordable. West Seattle is already close! The problem is all that water and an auto-centric system that many have chosen to ignore for too long and “bing!” all of a sudden it’s a problem. LOL.

    I much prefer to see B with as much alternative transit available as possible. I don’t put much hope that it will actually reach W. Seattle though. That high bridge/low bridge thing sort of flumoxes SDOT so we are left with a bus system with no dedicated bus lanes (the latest is add a dedicated bus lane on Alaska from California Ave to 35th – a very short distance!). I have attended meetings and don’t hear much talk about transit and only some about bike lanes (which will be much improved so it seems).

    I would EXPECT that W. Seattle would get better transit service (and please spare me the RapidRide talk – the current RapidRide plan will do nothing to improve bus service in W. Seattle. It’s still going to get stuck in traffic, replaces the good route 54 and is no faster than the 54x).

    1. West Seattle may be “close” in a physical sense, but if it’s hard to get downtown from there I don’t think it’s close in any sort of way meaningful to commuters.

      The Rainier Valley is going to be 15 minutes from downtown regardless of traffic conditions very soon. And it’s more affordable than West Seattle — at least for now.

    2. I certainly sympathize with the West Seattlites. I think our best choices there are a) beef up the walk-on ferry system, and provide some way to get down to it (Seattle could use a good funicular) or b) accelerate ST3 light rail.

    3. My sympathies as well, and I agree that we really need to beef up transit to West Seattle. However, on the subject of moving closer to the city – have you looked at Beacon Hill? The hill is sunny, parts have excellent views, and access is good. Other than the recently “flipped” houses that sold for a fortune at the top of the boom, there is plenty of affordable product there. Unless you live in southeast West Seattle, you ought to not get sticker shock…

    4. West Seattle should be our focus for rail with the next ST package, for the exact reason Martin describes. So close, yet so very constrained in terms of capacity. Light rail has the capability to transform West Seattle.

  9. I generally like option C best, ads it seperates the volume of traffic over two streets. But what I can’t figure out is what happend when the north-bound traffic reaches the top of the hill on Western Ave? it would be going directly between the market and Victor Steinbruck park. As anyone who has driven up Western before knows, there is a steady streem of pedestrians walking between the market and the park. How does this work is there is a large volume of traffic running right through this pedestrian zone?

    1. Looks like a cap will be built over Western Ave just at Steinbruck park. That’s the big choke point for Western right
      now. The pdf shows more detail.

  10. I’d like to see price tags, certainly… All the options seem to involve widening I-5, which can’t be cheap. C looks like the most plausible surface option, creating reasonable circulation patterns for both the Aurora and Elliot/15th corridors and creates a nice waterfront.

    I don’t like E at all, the elevated park would be very out of the way, moreso even than freeway park, and it creates a narrow pedestrian corridor not by a street as well as a narrow street, basically a bunch of north/south corridors none of which I would feel safe walking along at night. Plus the elevated park would scatter the freeway noise downward, much the way the second level of the viaduct scatters the noise of the lower level and makes the waterfront noisy. The only place I would consider an elevated park over the viaduct is an extension of Victor Steinbrueck park.

    About the transit in B… Honestly, I’m not that enthusiastic about it. Streetcars are for short trips and are really the wrong technology to connect to Ballard. And they don’t create more transit in aggregate because they are no bigger than buses, no faster, and no cheaper to run. If we’re going to invest capital in transit to Ballard, we should make something fast, not capacity limited, that actually brings Ballard closer to Seattle and would be worth transferring from local buses to. Really, the best things transit wise on these plans are the bus improvements. I’d like to see something better, but B isn’t it.

    1. Streetcars can be faster than buses if they are (1) off-street and (2) off-street. It’s mostly about getting them out of traffic.

      Theoretically buses can have dedicated lanes too, but they have to be wider.

      But good streetcars also have better acceleration and deceleration than regular buses (though not than trolleybuses). All of these advantages are lost with street running, of course.

  11. I’m not seeing how option C can work with current pedestrian traffic in the Market. Western currently bogs down with all the foot traffic a V.Steinbruck park. What am I missing?

  12. Option C works at the Market by using an underpass. The PDF shows it.

    I put an Excel spreadsheet comparing the options up here: Comparison.

    It’s just my first hack at comparing the PDFs and noting the differences. Let me know if you see anything wrong or missing.

  13. B, B, B, B.

    I actually liked the tunnel options the best, but they are the most expensive, and have just no chance of getting built. The elevated options are bad for numerous reasons, not the least of which is they will take a long time to build and everyone will be b*tching about not having their viaduct.

    The street options + transit are the least expensive, fastest (almost 1/2 the time or better) and have the least risk. I know “A” is the cheapest, but politically speaking, I think “B” is a better sell. Hard to just say “demand management” without convincingly offering alternatives. I think B is the best balance of cars, tourists, businesses, open space, transit, etc.

    You could tear stuff down and rebuild the surface roadway and all connectors in 3 years (faster if we do big public works style stuff because of our big recession). In the same time it’d be easy to do more buses and work on the streetcar/I5 improvements.

  14. Is there a dollar amount to these options? I can probably guess, but I like to have actual figures with which to work with.

    Like others, I like the tunnel option the best, but I recognize it is too expensive (unless, of course, the federal government decides to make a massive investment in highway construction funds for jobs-creation and economic stimulus purposes), so options A and B are my next favorites.

  15. The piece of the puzzle that no one has mentioned yet is freight. In my job I hear a lot about how critical the viaduct is for moving freight via trucks in and out of our two industrial areas. There’s no doubt some grandstanding involved, but I don’t think we want to hamper freight movement if we don’t have to.

    I was always a surface street supporter, until it was pointed out that truck traffic from the viaduct would then be rumbling through downtown, which seems counter to our goals for a ped-friendly, kid-friendly center city.

    From this standpoint, a tunnel seems like the best option, since anything elevated would be adding insult to our already-decades-long injury.

  16. Ok, West Seattle is not far from the city, it just seems like it because it hasn’t been subject to many transit improvements (new routes, new transit options, more frequent and legitimately needed bus service, such as adding service frequency to route 21). It only takes 10 minutes by auto (not rush hour) to get downtown or back. Of course, this is by viaduct. If buses had dedicated lanes (completely feasible BTW, if the city and Metro had the guts to implement this), then commuting would be even easier (no more rush hour backup, no more game day backup, no more viaduct traffic accident backup). It takes me only about 30-40 mintues by bicycle and the bus, due to transfers and traffic backups, and consistent waiting for the next bus to show up can often take 1.5 hours (the 21 at off-peak hours, and sometimes peak).

    I’m glad that it looks like the foot ferry will have additional funding to continue, possibly year round, very important for many West Seattleites, hopefully with an expanded shuttle service. I’m not moving due east, same distance away from the city. I can get around quite easily thank you…I’m just advocating better transit options for a forgotton and misunderstood section of the city.

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