With “Viadoom” behind him, traffic engineer Morgan Balogh was ready to relax and excited for the State Route 99 tunnel to open on Feb. 4, until the snowstorm struck and he was back into the fray.
Balogh and his team at the Washington State Department of Transportation are still dealing with the recent impacts from “Snowmageddon” and had little time to reflect on the three weeks they had been anticipating for months.
“The tunnel opened and we were all really excited,” Balogh said with a laugh. “Then there was a snowstorm.”
The SR 99 closure was the longest major highway closure in Seattle’s history and numerous state and local agencies were preparing for the worst.
“Whenever we have a major freeway closure, we try really really hard to get the word out,” said Bart Treece, Northwest Region communications manager for WSDOT.
Despite the anticipated nightmare, the congestion was manageable. According to Treece, areas saw an average travel time increase of 10 minutes at certain times and otherwise normal commutes, aside from an occasional collision and disabled vehicle.
“As we [went] into this we really [didn’t] know what to expect,” Balogh said. “[But] everybody seemed to respond really well.”
The awareness campaign and cooperation from the public played a part in mitigating the traffic impacts, Treece said. This, along with continued communication throughout the closure, contributed to the smooth transition.
“Everybody was communicating,” Balogh said. “From the [Washington] Department of Transportation to the Seattle Department of Transportation to the mayor’s office to the Washington State Patrol to Seattle police and the businesses allowing people to work from home. Everybody [worked] together.”
Currently, the SR 99 tunnel is open and will eventually see tolls in the summer. WSDOT teams are working on a comprehensive report that will detail traffic levels throughout the closure and will be available later this month.
There is still ongoing construction along SR 99 as concrete crews finish the South Dearborn Street ramp.
While Balogh looks back on the closure as a success, he said the entire process was stressful as the WSDOT teams didn’t know if the small slowdowns would turn into the “Viadoom” they were anticipating.
Every agency involved continually warned commuters to continue their efforts, whether it was busing, biking, flexing hours or working from home.
“We’ve had major closures before and we’ve seen people not respond well to our warnings,” Balogh said.
Balogh and Treece agree that the public got the message this time and made the necessary changes.
“They’re really the ones who get all the credit for it,” Balogh said. “I’m hoping that some of them realize, ‘Oh it’s not too bad taking the bus.’ I hope this continues.”