We're posting live updates during the third commuting day since the Alaskan Way Viaduct was permanently shut down. Seattle Times journalists will provide coverage from various spots in the city.
What you need to know:
- Seattle is experiencing the longest highway closure in city history. The Alaskan Way Viaduct closed permanently on Friday night, and the new Highway 99 tunnel isn’t expected to open until the week of Feb. 4 after crews pave ramp connections in and out of the tunnel.
- With 90,000 daily vehicle trips and 30,000 bus riders detoured, expect a ripple effect on traffic even beyond the Seattle city limits. Here are resources to help you navigate the congestion.
- Traffic was manageable during Monday’s and Tuesday’s rush hours, but transportation officials warn that longer delays could be in store later this week and for the next two weeks. We have live updates for you below.
Wednesday, 6:45 p.m. — Rush hour winds down on another manageable day
As the evening commute winds down, Wednesday marks a third business day since the permanent closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, with several traffic snarls but no major crises.
The morning started with a stalled train blocking Spokane Street for more than 30 minutes — an incident BNSF says was unusual — and ended with some delays on the Eastside. But several collisions that caused backups on Interstate 5 were quickly cleared and routes returned to normal travel times.
Transportation officials are urging commuters who have opted for alternate travel modes or times to not revert to their old habits later this week.
Rain is expected throughout Western Washington from Wednesday night through early Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
Want to share your commuting stories? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a voicemail at 206-464-2003.
Wednesday, 6:10 p.m. — Most routes normal, except leaving Bellevue
Most highway trips in the Seattle area are taking the usual amount of time during tonight’s evening commute, but drivers leaving Bellevue should expect delays, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Travel times are about 10 minutes longer than average from Bellevue to Bothell, Everett and Lynnwood.
Wednesday, 5:55 p.m. — Delays on Sound Transit Express routes 577/578
Sound Transit Express routes 577/578, which have stops in Federal Way and Auburn, are running about 30 minutes late due to heavy traffic.
In Seattle, traffic leaving downtown is slightly slower than usual.
Wednesday, 5:15 p.m. — Eastside travel times back to normal
After delays early in the afternoon commute, traffic on the Eastside is mostly back to normal.
Travel times from Bellevue to Everett and Bellevue to Federal Way are both currently back to average, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Wednesday, 5:10 p.m. — Suburban drivers heeding advice to stay home
Fresh data from the Washington State Department of Transportation suggest that the manageable traffic congestion Monday and Tuesday resulted mainly from thousands of drivers as far as Everett, Mukilteo, Federal Way and Issaquah avoiding trips.
All-day vehicle volumes on Tuesday were down 5 percent, or 5,200 fewer, drivers southbound on I-5 through south Everett, compared with typical weekday averages. On the other end, 8,200, or 7 percent, fewer drivers passed northbound on I-5 through SeaTac, and 3,100, or 4 percent, fewer left Issaquah toward Bellevue and Seattle.
A few spots increased, notably Yesler Way, with a 2 percent bump each direction, that officials think is a reflection of Highway 99 drivers being displaced a mile east to I-5, in this first commute week since the Alaskan Way Viaduct closed Friday night. Close-in checkpoints at downtown Bellevue on I-405 and Overlake on Highway 520 stayed normal.
Maan Sidhu, a WSDOT traffic engineer, said those who do drive continue to leave earlier, so that heavy congestion comes and goes sooner in the day.
Federal Way slowdowns have shown up as early as 4:30 a.m. and caused delays up to 30 minutes longer than normal. But on Wednesday morning, Traffic Lab reporter Michelle Baruchman drove from central Federal Way to South Lake Union in a mere 60 minutes after 7 a.m. Overall, Sidhu and others say 10 minutes of added congestion are typical regionwide.
King County Metro has also seen 10-minute slowdowns routinely, with 25 to 30 minutes in a few spots, spokesman Jeff Switzer said midday Wednesday.
All in all, the data indicate that travel changes over a vast area are compensating for the temporary highway reduction — and that as officials warn, delays will become worse if vehicle trips return to average patterns.
— Mike Lindblom
Wednesday, 5 p.m. — I-5 backup clearing
The backup causing delays on Interstate 5 southbound near Southcenter is subsiding. Travel time from Seattle to Federal Way is now 48 minutes, just slightly above average.
Wednesday, 4:40 p.m. — Six-mile backup on southbound I-5
A collision on southbound Interstate 5 near Southcenter is causing a six-mile backup, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. Trips from Seattle to Federal Way will take about an hour.
Wednesday, 4:20 p.m. — Northbound I-5 back to normal
Travel times out of Seattle on northbound Interstate 5 have largely returned to normal.
In Seattle, traffic is moderate on downtown streets and heavy on eastbound Mercer Street, both directions of I-5 and the eastbound lanes of the West Seattle Bridge from State Route 99 to I-5, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Wednesday, 4:05 p.m. — BNSF Railway says Wednesday blockage was an odd event
After a freight train blocked Seattle traffic for half an hour Wednesday morning, the BNSF Railway said crews will try to avoid repeating what a spokesman called an unusual event.
A King County Metro Route 50 bus got stuck between multiple trains, while other buses and cars were stranded, near the First Avenue South exit from the West Seattle Bridge and Duwamish River areas into Sodo. Other buses from the Burien area were also affected — but the busiest routes such as C and 120 overpassed the spot, on their detour route overhead toward Fourth Avenue South.
Police managed to wave at some commuters to detour, while aiding others to turn around after several minutes.
“We’re trying to avoid blocking these crossings for extended periods of time,” Gus Melonas, the railway’s Northwest spokesman, said by phone hours later, while traveling near the corporate headquarters near Fort Worth, Texas. Historically, BNSF had strived to avoid closures exceeding 10 minutes, he said.
The railway will perform more work at night off-peak times, “to avoid causing gridlock,” he said, during the three-week traffic crunch caused by last weekend’s Alaskan Way Viaduct closure. A new Highway 99 vehicle tunnel is to open approximately Feb. 4.
Wednesday’s train stoppage, just before 7:30 a.m., happened because a dispatcher held the train in place, to let several Sounder commuter trains pass through the area, Melonas said. He didn’t have information about why the train was unable to reverse into the Seattle International Gateway (SIG) yard to the north, and clear out of Spokane Street. In any case, the train was departing Sodo when the dispatcher judged there wasn’t track space to keep going, he said.
“The situation is under review by local managers,” and rail officials have contacted city staff, he said.
Around midday, Matt Beaulieu, traffic engineer at the Seattle Department of Transportation, told reporters the city was striving to figure out what happened. “We’re still working to improve the relationship there and we’re hoping to have success with that.”
— Mike Lindblom
Wednesday, 3:50 p.m. — Disabled vehicle cleared
Crews appear to have cleared the disabled vehicle previously blocking part of the right lane on southbound Interstate 5 near Northeast 45th Street.
On the Eastside, trips leaving Bellevue are still delayed, with Bellevue to Everett taking about 15 minutes longer than average and Bellevue to Federal Way taking about a half-hour longer than average.
Wednesday, 3:35 p.m. — Northbound I-5 still slow-moving, but delays subsiding a bit
Travel times from Seattle to Everett have dropped a bit, down from about 100 minutes to about 70 minutes. That’s about 10 minutes longer than average.
On southbound Interstate 5 just south of Northeast 45th Street, a disabled vehicle is partially blocking the right lane. An incident response team is on the scene.
Wednesday, 3:15 p.m. — “A big mess”
If you’re heading north from Seattle, be patient. The northbound commute on Interstate 5 is “already a big mess,” the Washington State Department of Transportation wrote on Twitter.
The current travel time from Seattle to Everett is around 100 minutes, roughly twice the average.
Wednesday, 3:10 p.m. — All lanes open on I-5 at Northgate
All lanes of southbound Interstate 5 at Northgate have reopened, but traffic is backed up for about a mile, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The backup started earlier in the afternoon after Snohomish County sheriff’s Office deputies pursued a stolen car that traveled the wrong way on I-5
Wednesday, 3 p.m. — Afternoon commute starts with delays on the Eastside
After a mostly smooth morning commute, the afternoon is getting off to a rockier start.
Travelers on the Eastside will face delays, with Bellevue to Everett taking about 45 minutes longer than usual and Bellevue to Federal Way taking an extra 30 minutes due to heavy traffic at Southcenter, the Washington State Department of Transportation said.
Meanwhile, the collision on Interstate 5 near Northgate is causing a backup of more than a mile, to about 130th, WSDOT said.
Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. — Stolen car goes wrong way on I-5
Snohomish County sheriff’s Office deputies pursued a stolen car, which traveled the wrong way on Interstate 5 near Northgate shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday. The incident blocked multiple lanes of traffic and could impact the evening commute. Here’s the full story.
Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. — Another mostly smooth morning commute
Much like the first two days, Seattle-area commuters were treated to clear skies and mostly normal travel times. The commute wasn’t without a few trouble spots, including a 90-minute delay at Spokane Street because of a stalled train. Drive times were also worse for early commuters heading north on Interstate 5 but went back to near normal around 9 a.m.
While the beginning of the Seattle Squeeze has felt like anything but a squeeze, commuters shouldn’t be fooled. Rain is expected to return Thursday, which could worsen conditions. WSDOT is urging people to continue taking precautions, leaving early and using transit.
This concludes live updates from Wednesday’s morning commute. We’ll return in a few hours to provide updates on the evening commute.
Wednesday, 10:13 a.m. — Aurora bus trips exceeding expectations
Aurora Avenue bus trips between 7 and 8 a.m. exceeded expectations, despite a three-to-one lane merge alongside Lower Queen Anne Hill near the Galer Street walking bridge.
Denise Sisko said she left Shoreline at North 195th Street near Echo Lake at 7:25 a.m. and made it to Denny Way at 8:02 a.m., a mere 37 minutes.
“It seems like it’s been the same as what it was a week ago, before the viaduct closed,” said Sisko, who started taking the E Line just this month.
Jody Seibel said her Metro 5 Express bus made it from Phinney Ridge across the Aurora Bridge into South Lake Union in just seven minutes.
But for some drivers, a detour added to normal frustrations. Traffic police blocked left turns from Aurora onto Denny, waving all the Aurora drivers straight down Wall Street and forcing them to wind through downtown instead of directly up to Capitol Hill.
Mercer Street, parallel to Denny a short distance north, has been crammed much of the week, while Denny flowed this morning without car queues blocking the intersections.
One lane in each direction of the Battery Street Tunnel stays open until probably the morning of Feb. 1. Many drivers were taking advantage of that path to exit at the south end, then backtrack north to Interbay by turning right at Western Avenue.
In the Sodo end, some motorists adapted by cruising the truck-dominated East Marginal Way South, then the curved Colorado Avenue overpass known as “little h” to the stadiums. From there, drivers could veer north from First Avenue South into waterfront Alaskan Way, which was largely free-flowing.
— Mike Lindblom
Wednesday, 9:15 a.m. — “I never catch the customers I normally catch”
At the hectic crossroads of Aurora Avenue North and Denny Way, traffic police blocked left turns from Aurora onto Denny — waving all the Aurora drivers straight down Wall Street toward Fifth Avenue and the Belltown area.
Willie Jones, a Real Change vendor, said the signal change made it near impossible to sell newspapers to motorists at that intersection because the green light was “three or four minutes long” and drivers were shooed forward across Denny rather than being stuck at a red light. Also, the curved left-turn lane, known as a slip lane, was blocked by a police car — leaving just the neighborhood pigeons on the triangle to roost on Jones’ arm and eat tortilla chips.
“I never catch the customers I normally catch,” he said. “The fact is, they’re upset already, or they’re taking the bus.”
— Mike Lindblom
Wednesday, 8:55 a.m. — Early pinch felt on northbound I-5
Drivers commuting northbound into downtown Seattle felt a pinch on Interstate 5 Wednesday morning.
Trips took about one hour from Federal Way into the Seattle city center. That’s about 20 minutes longer than that trip usually takes, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. Northbound traffic moved steadily at around 40 mph at the slowest pace until SeaTac, when movement became stop-and-go.
Things were easier heading south. Drivers going from Seattle to Federal Way took about half the time to drive the same distance, cruising at speeds of about 70 mph.
Anyone carpooling with another person has the best opportunity for a quick route by using the state’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.
Despite the congestion, few drivers grew noticeably enraged or reckless, though a few drivers darted across several lanes to make a last-minute exit.
Southbound drivers from Everett experienced worse traffic after a crash blocked the HOV lane before the Boeing Freeway.
— Michelle Baruchman
Wednesday, 8:49 a.m. — Collision causing delays
A collision on First Avenue South at Olson Place Southwest is blocking lanes and causing delays. One southbound lane and one northbound lane are blocked.
Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. — Commute times are getting shorter
So far, there hasn’t been a whole lot of doom in “ViaDoom 2.0.” Commute times are mostly normal, with Bellevue to Seattle at 16 minutes, Federal Way to Seattle at 51 minutes and Everett to Seattle at 49 minutes. Rain is expected to return tomorrow, which could worsen things.
Wednesday, 8:15 a.m. — Traffic is flowing
The theme of early-morning slowing continued Wednesday, but traffic is moving with only a few minutes of added delays on northbound Interstate 5. The most significant delays are happening from Renton to Bellevue, according to WSDOT.
Wednesday, 7:53 a.m. — Peek inside WSDOT’s command center
How does the Washington State Department of Transportation keep up with the Seattle Squeeze? Here’s a peek at the command center, outfitted with 900 cameras, 112 TV screens and two dozen work stations.
Wednesday, 7:30 a.m. — Jam at Spokane Street
A stalled train blocking Spokane Street for more than 30 minutes has finally been cleared. Backups for commuters lasted about 90 minutes.
Wednesday, 6 a.m. — Heavy traffic from the south
Travel times are climbing for commutes south of Seattle into the city. The commutes from Federal Way, Renton and SeaTac to Seattle are all at least 10 minutes longer than usual.
Wednesday, 5:30 a.m. — Day 3 of the Seattle Squeeze
We’re posting live updates during the third commuting day since the Alaskan Way Viaduct was permanently shut down. Seattle Times journalists will provide coverage from various spots in the city.
Here’s a recap of the past two days.
We’re still compiling experiences from commuters as they move throughout Seattle. Share the story of your commute today by sending an email to email@example.com, or by leaving us a voicemail at 206-464-2003. (But please don’t call or write while you’re driving. Washington law forbids almost all use of handheld devices while behind the wheel. Wait until you reach your destination.)