So long, Seattle Squeeze

Tunnel set to open Monday


The Alaska Way Viaduct has given way to a tunnel, opening Monday.

Nina Doody

The Alaskan Way Viaduct was an iconic element of the Seattle skyline until recently. Originally built in 1950s, the Viaduct was approximately two miles of elevated highway, a part of State Route 99.

When the Nisqually Earthquake hit in 2001, the Viaduct was damaged. It was repaired and deemed safe enough for everyday commuters after the quake, but later city officials determined it could collapse should another earthquake or natural disaster occur. Now, in 2019, it is finally getting replaced.

In 2009 the city of Seattle announced its plans to construct an underground tunnel that is four lanes and two miles long. The tunnel was to be dug by a tunnel boring machine, eventually known as “Bertha,” after Seattle’s former mayor Bertha Knight Landes. The name of the machine was a contest for kindergarten through 12th grade students. Specifically designed for Washington State Department of Transportation to dig the Viaduct’s replacement, Bertha had a 57 foot diameter and was a massive 8,000 tons.

After two years delay, Bertha began tunneling in July 2013. It took four years for Bertha to finish digging. It wasn’t always glory for Bertha. While digging they unexpectedly distributed soil that lead to buildings in Pioneer Square sagging down and cracking. All buildings remained standing, but had to be inspected for safety.

After Bertha had completed tunneling and contractors finished the construction of the tunnel, the Viaduct closed on January 11. Seattle already has a high magnitude of traffic, and with the partial shutdown of a major route, many people called it the “Seattle Squeeze” or the “”ViaDOOM.”

On the day the Viaduct was set to close many stopped on the shoulder to take pictures and honor the legacy of the Viaduct. Drivers honked and soaked up the last few minutes of the Viaduct’s life. The day after when it was closed to traffic people swarmed the Viaduct on foot, despite warnings and and no-trespassing signs.

Now, 25 days after the longest major highway closure in Seattle’s history the tunnel is set to open Monday February 4.  The tunnel will not only be a safe option but will offer a simpler route from Seattle Center to the stadiums.