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Transportation

As an Elevated Highway Closes, Seattle Braces for Traffic Hell

By closing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle ushers in a period of short-term commuter pain for long-term waterfront redevelopment gain.
End of the road: Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct is set to be demolished, clearing the way for an ambitious waterfront redevelopment.
End of the road: Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct is set to be demolished, clearing the way for an ambitious waterfront redevelopment.Elaine Thompson/AP

The view from the deck at Pike Place Market is postcard Pacific Northwest: Moody gray clouds hover over ferries slicing their way through cobalt Puget Sound set against a snow-capped Olympic Mountain backdrop. There’s just one wrinkle—the streams of traffic from a double-decker highway running so close to the market that its famous fish throwers could nail a Subaru with a sockeye.

The dull roar of cars and trucks on Alaskan Way Viaduct, a 2.2-mile stretch of Highway 99 that runs along the city’s waterfront, has been a feature of downtown Seattle since 1953. That era ended Friday, when the elevated eyesore closed for good. The viaduct was deemed seismically unsafe after the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, and its scenic-but-white-knuckle driving experience falls well below 21st century highway safety standards.