Right now, Seattle is undertaking a huge project to put its waterfront freeway underground. Using a giant boring machine known as Bertha, the city will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a double decker tunnel.
And then the Alaskan Way Viaduct itself will be no more.
This change will probably be a good thing for the city; the viaduct currently cuts off Seattle’s waterfront from the rest of downtown, and the city needs an upgraded and more earthquake resistant highway as well.
But I’d nevertheless like to take a moment to remember and reflect on the viaduct.
Seattle was the first city I ever flew to. In the summers growing up, my family went there to visit my paternal grandparents, and my siblings and I all wore matching dinosaur shirts that my mom made.
We spent much of our time in Seattle with family, but when we went out we visited the waterfront. We had fish and chips from Ivar’s, saw the mummies at Ye Olde Curiosity shop, and caught a ferry to Bainbridge Island and back.
And the viaduct framed that entire scene. The double decker highway opened in 1953 and is small by today’s freeway standards. (It’s actually part of State Route 99). And because it’s in Seattle and everything is green in Seattle, it’s covered in vines and shielded by trees. There’s parking underneath.
In general, elevated freeways running through the middle of cities is not a good thing. They act as a physical and psychological barrier, cutting off certain parts of the city and impeding access.
I suspect the Alaskan Way Viaduct is no different, but I nevertheless have fond feelings for it. Walking from downtown to the waterfront, the viaduct feels like a gateway. And when you’re on the waterfront, it looks in places like a vertical garden.
Seattleites have debated and discussed the viaduct for years, particularly in light of its impending demise. I obviously don’t presume to know as much or have the same stake in the issue, but I can say this: the Alaskan Way Viaduct was a key physical feature in my first travel experiences, and for all its problems a part of me will miss it.
— Jim Dalrymple II