Monday, November 17, 2008

Whither, Viaduct?

So, if you like traffic porn, here is the site for you - Eight different scenarios under consideration for replacement of the SR 99 Viaduct and Seawall along the Seattle waterfront.

I've mellowed about the viaduct over the past few years. In the wake of the Nisqually Quake, my attitude was we need to replace it now, darn it, and with something that won't fall over! Since them (with a fortunate lack of calamities (touch wood)), I have moderated my view.

First off, I don't think that the current viaduct is an eyesore. No, I'm serious. From out on the sound, coming in by ferry, it has a model-car track feels. And it keeps the city from spilling all the way to the shore. It doesn't block a whole bunch of "sound views" since the city climbs up the hill from that point, giving great views ABOVE the road line. In fact, if we build more structures on the remains of Alaskan Way, then more views will be lost that are currently there.

Plus some of the best views in the city come from the viaduct itself, which actually encourages me to use it. Just saying.

The current elevated structure also provides a needed commodity downtown - parking. Not only does the shadow of the viaduct provide (relatively)cheap parking, but also the location for small retailers that would have no place in a heavily mauled/malled main street. Small art galleries and places that sell Doc Martens and real grinding skate stuff. I'm just surprised that there isn't a comic book shop down there. All of that - small shops and warehouses and parking, all go away (And may go away regardless of the choices - sigh - but whatever choice is made needs to replace lost public parking).

And looking at these proposals, I think that the big question in my mind is - what is the purpose of the SR 99 corridor? If it is to feed the downtown district, a surface street option makes sense, with the note that this will increase traffic flow through not only these streets but the other north/south roads as well.

I, at the moment, favor the idea that the purpose of the viaduct is not to get people INTO Seattle, but rather to get the PAST Seattle. To facilitate the northern suburbs to get to SeaTac and the southern ones to get to Everett. The exit off the current viaduct in midtown just drives me crazy, and I don't feel we should keep that particular error should we decide that the viaduct is to get us past the city.

So I can grove behind an elevated replacement, with a lidded trench as a second choice. The surface street options make me raise an eyebrow, and I think that full-bore (heh) tunnel may be a bit risky below the water level (remember, this area is mostly fill over the years - the fact that it is a structural nightmare is born out by the state of the current viaduct).

But it does look like a cool gathering of options (and includes changes to I-5 and the Mercer Mess, so take a look.

More later,