Happy birthday, SR 99 tunnel
One year ago today, WSDOT opened the State Route 99 tunnel and watched it quickly become a fast, easy way to bypass downtown Seattle traffic. Traveling SR 99 through Seattle is much safer than it was pre-tunnel, when the Alaskan Way Viaduct carried SR 99 through the city. Drivers now travel underneath Seattle inside a tunnel designed to survive strong earthquakes, with state-of-the-art ventilation, fire suppression and intelligent traffic systems.
The Alaskan Way Viaduct has been demolished in the year since the tunnel opened. Seattle’s central waterfront has transformed, both visually and audibly - it’s hard to describe how much quieter it is to walk along the water today without two decks of highway traffic roaring overhead.
With the viaduct out of the way, the City of Seattle is building its waterfront of the future. One of the first elements of that project will open later this winter: a new, two-way bus route on Columbia Street to connect thousands of bus commuters between Third Avenue and points south and west of downtown.
The SR 99 tunnel now averages more than a million trips each month. To no one’s surprise, the busiest travel times are the peak hours – weekday mornings between 6–9 a.m. and weekday afternoon/evenings between 4–7 p.m. Tolling started in November 2019, and 83% of drivers using the tunnel today have a Good To Go! account, which means they pay the lowest toll possible ($2 less than having no pass or account). The tolls help pay back construction bonds and pay to keep the two-mile-long tunnel running safely and smoothly.