S eattle, grooming to become the next Silicon Valley, was not built to handle the waves of techie newcomers flocking to the Emerald City. As a born and raised Seattleite, traffic has always been a challenge, so add in the rise in population and the closure of a major highway, and chaos ensues. Despite the faith I have in the knowledge our city holds, I was less than confident in how they were going to ease the impact of such a closure on not only the safety of commuters, but also the economy and the city’s image.

About the Project

On April 29th the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) closed the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated highway that runs along the Seattle waterfront and carries up to 90,000 vehicles per day (WSDOT), while the tunneling machine, Bertha, dug underneath the structure. The project was to replace the Viaduct that after 60 years of heavy traffic, was deemed too hazardous for drivers and vulnerable to earthquakes.

In order to complete the project safely, the Viaduct would have to shut down for two weeks. In addition to general public safety, the Viaduct was closed in order to monitor structural damage that may have occurred on the highway during the tunneling. They installed monitoring devices on the road to track and record any activity. During the project, WSDOT utilized their new transportation management center, staffed 24 hours a day, as the communication hub for the closure. (WSDOT).


control center traffic

The Impact

The closure of such a major route created a lot of stress for commuters who use the Viaduct daily and even those who use the other routes. According to an analysis by a Kirkland based traffic data company, INRIX, traffic on I-5 (Seattle’s other major highway) could take up to 50% longer since a significant portion of the 90,000 or so commuters that take the Viaduct would most likely reroute to another interstate during the closure (Q13Fox). Despite the preemptive concerns from commuters, the WSDOT and the SDOT had a plan to combat the predicted increase in traffic.

raining Traffic

seattledot tweet


The Response

Local media outlets had constant updates from traffic cameras located all over Seattle that agencies used to improve the flow of traffic. WSDOT and SDOT monitored the highway and street traffic through traffic cameras to adjust signal timing, update electronic message boards, and deploy incident response teams. Drivers could also use the information gathered to determine the best alternative routes. The constant updates and immediate access that were made available to commuters via video surveillance significantly eased the stress of the public during the closure. In addition, the WSDOT provided live camera feeds of Bertha and the construction of the tunnel on their website to provide further transparency to the public on the progress of the project.

traffice satelitesatelitte picture 2

(via King5)


camera surveillance traffic


(via WSDOT)

On May 9, 5 days before planned, Viaduct project managers determined it was safe to reopen the Viaduct because of better soil and the practically non-existent movement of the Viaduct (King5).

Without video surveillance, Seattle commuters would not have been informed of the progress the project was making or ways they could improve commutes during the closure of a major highway. The city and state will now be able to use the data they’ve collected to determine the impact of future closures.

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