Alaskan Way Viaduct project: Now the back-ups begin

Alaskan Way Viaduct project: Now the back-ups begin »Play Video
A crew readies a huge bridge piling for installation.
SEATTLE - Road crews have reached another milestone in the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project - but it means more back-ups for commuters.

The elevated span is off-limits all weekend, then opens Monday with fewer lanes and the promise of a better future.

The closure and traffic back-ups caught many people off-guard on Saturday.

A group headed to the waterfront for a scuba diving class got caught in the mess - and suited-up a lot later than they intended.

"They were supposed to meet me after 11, and then I got a phone call, like 11:30, saying, 'I'm stuck,'" said scuba instructor Mary Jachetta.

Another motorist, Scott Thomason, said, "It was pretty bad - took 45 minutes to get from Wallingford over to (SoDo). Should have taken about 10 minutes."

The installation of massive steel pilings are the newest addition for the viaduct replacement project - and a big reason for the delay.

They are being driven down hundreds of feet into the ground to form the foundation for the new southern bridge of the viaduct replacement project.

"This is the first major traffic shift for the main line itself," says Mark Preedy of the state Department of Transportation.

Highway 99 is now shut down from the West Seattle Bridge to the Battery Street Tunnel - and stays that way through the weekend.

The highway will reopen Monday at 5 a.m., but will be down to just two lanes in each direction - with a third reserved for buses for part of the way.

Andy Farashahi, whose Persian rug shop sits underneath the span, says the detours, closures and confusion are keeping customers away.

"People - they don't want to come down to Pioneer Square or down by the waterfront. It's affecting businesses like me that have been in the neighborhood for 20-plus years," he says.

Crews demolished a section of road near South Holgate Street - a column will go there to support the replacement span.

But when Mary Jachetta's scuba class deals with the limited lanes for the next few years - "It's going to be a nightmare for everyone," she says.

The work is a matter of safety and must be done. So anyone who uses the viaduct during their commute should plan for longer travel times on Monday.

The state DOT chipped in for extra King County Metro service - and hopes commuters explore options like the West Seattle water taxi.