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Seattle Emerges From Tolled Tunnel Unscathed

Promises of congestion and thousands of cars spilling on to quiet residential streets proved unfounded after the first week with tolls on the Highway 91 tunnel in Seattle.
November 14, 2019, 1pm PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Seattle, Washington
Literally, cars exiting the Highway 99 tunnel in Seattle.
VDB Photos

On Saturday, November 9, drivers had their first encounter with a toll plaza charging money for passage through the Highway 99 tunnel, the closely monitored replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Jose Cortright checks-in with the Highway 99 project, finding predictions of "carmageddon" alarmist and immaterial. Cortright cites Google Map traffic conditions on a typical Tuesday as well as Tuesday, November 12, a few days after the tunnel opened, and finds free flowing traffic through both the tunnels and on surrounding streets.

Overall, if you compare these two pictures, it’s pretty clear that today’s traffic situation in downtown Seattle is much better than a typical day.  Sure, Interstate 5, the freeway to the East of downtown Seattle is congested (as it is most late afternoon weekdays)  But downtown Seattle streets, particularly on the west side of downtown are “green.” or free flowing.  Overall, there’s a lot more “green” on Tuesday’s traffic charts than on a typical day. In other words:  no gridlock or Carmaggedon here.

This isn't the first time predictions of traffic doom followed the Highway 99 project—similar predictions proved untrue when the Alaska Way Viaduct close before the new tunnel opened. And, according to Cortright, the Seattle example is not the only very recent example of the same narrative. The new bus priority granted on 14th Street in Manhattan saw the same predictions of overflow traffic on quiet side streets with the same result: relatively calm and flowing traffic conditions.

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Published on Tuesday, November 12, 2019 in City Observatory
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