The 60-foot-high, 40-foot-wide, double-decked roadway that carries 107,000 vehicles a day along downtown Seattle’s western flank has been a part of the city’s waterfront for longer than most locals can remember.

As a visible and audible barrier to the waterfront, however, the Alaskan Way viaduct is hard to forget. As a result, State officials are studying ways to improve or eliminate the structure. Legislators included money for the study in the current state budget to address growing concerns about the viaduct’s stability and its effect on growth in the city’s core.Today, the state Transportation Commission will be briefed on the study’s progress. When it is completed in mid-2002, the document is supposed to show whether the span should be retrofitted, replaced or simply torn down.

Up for discussion today are several possibilities, including simply tearing down the viaduct, without replacing it, at a cost estimated at $118 million in a 1996 study; retrofitting it so it could better withstand earthquakes, at a cost of nearly $344 million; building a new, more earthquake-resistant span, for $530 million; building ramps to a new or retrofitted viaduct to link it to Mercer and Spokane streets; and finding ways to increase its traffic-handling capacity, or to re-route traffic if it is closed.

The viaduct, opened to traffic in 1953, extends more than two miles from the Battery Street Tunnel to South Holgate Street, forming one of the busiest stretches of state Route 99. The viaduct and the highway were the main north-south route through the city before Interstate 5 was built in the 1960s, and is still a favorite route for West Seattle commuters.

Calls for the viaduct’s removal have been heard many times over the years. A formal proposal was made to the state in 1995, when a group of engineers, lawyers, bankers and designers proposed a $1.4 billion plan to replace it with a tunnel. It was never accepted by the state.

A 1996 study by two University of Washington engineering professors has renewed interest in the alternative. The study found that the viaduct, built on fill, could liquefy and fall apart during a magnitude-7.5 earthquake.

Architects Lesley Bain and Dennis Haskell, who work for separate architectural companies, raised the notion again at a city design forum. The two say that removing the viaduct would free up about 9 acres of waterfront land, allowing relocation of Alaskan Way and the creation of a new pedestrian promenade at the water’s edge.

At least 6 of the 9 acres could be developed if the viaduct were removed, they say, creating new opportunities for housing.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Once you are an ALM digital member, you’ll receive:

  • Unlimited access to GlobeSt and other free ALM publications
  • Access to 15 years of GlobeSt archives
  • Your choice of GlobeSt digital newsletters and over 70 others from popular sister publications
  • 1 free article* every 30 days across the ALM subscription network
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM events and publications

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.

GlobeSt Net Lease Spring 2024Event

This conference brings together the industry's most influential & knowledgeable real estate executives from the net lease sector.

Get More Information


Join GlobeSt

Don't miss crucial news and insights you need to make informed commercial real estate decisions. Join now!

  • Free unlimited access to's trusted and independent team of experts who provide commercial real estate owners, investors, developers, brokers and finance professionals with comprehensive coverage, analysis and best practices necessary to innovate and build business.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM and GlobeSt events.
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including and

Already have an account? Sign In Now
Join GlobeSt

Copyright © 2024 ALM Global, LLC. All Rights Reserved.