Seattle U Community Gears Up for the Viaduct Shutdown



Amid the Alaskan Way Viaduct shutdown, members of the Seattle University community find themselves affected by the structure facing demoltion. Students and faculty alike have been anxiously anticipating this oncoming obstacle.

It is no argument that the aging set of fissuring monoliths has to come down—cracks started to develop in the structure after an earthquake in 2001. Additionally, the earthquake simulation produced by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) shows a potential reality that, in the case the Cascadia Fault Line finally lets go of the seismic energy it has been building up for over 60 years, the Viaduct will turn into a treacherous parkway while sending flaming concrete projectiles towards anyone so unfortunate to be working near it at the time.

It is a graphic scene, and it is reportedly a conservative estimate of the damage potentially wrought by the intersection of The Big One and ailing, aging infrastructure. The viaduct has been contentious since it was built and it is not so controversial that it has to come down.

“It is really bad timing,” Kimbro said. “Biking is cold and dangerous at this time of year, and public transit just cannot keep up.”

The commentary about the United States’ issue with keeping up essential public services like infrastructure aside, there are material issues with this massive construction undertaking that Seattle individuals will be dealing with in coming weeks.

In the next three weeks, 90,000 cars will be directed onto alternate routes, especially towards downtown Seattle streets. I-5 and bus routes will be redirected as well.

Students and Staff Consider What They Will Trade for Longer Commute Times

Third-year student Naod Sebhat says his overall goal is to avoid traffic. Last quarter, Sebhat sometimes left his house at 6:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. class so he could use his time to study instead of in standstill morning traffic. This quarter, however, he is considering crashing with a friend who lives off-campus so he can attend his 7:45 a.m. class while city drivers adjust.

During his way in on Friday morning he saw how backed up it was on the Viaduct.

“I’m not looking forward to all those cars being diverted onto my route,” Sebhat said. Sebhat is an environmental science major, and he says he understands why the city is taking down the viaduct, but from an environmental standpoint it will cause serious damage. He also is concerned that the tunnel will not have the capacity the viaduct did.

Sebhat mentioned how his family is going to be affected by the shutdown. They work near Seattle U too, but they also drive his sister to school and cannot avoid the traffic by driving in before anyone else is awake.

“My dad has been very vocal about his dislike of the situation,” Sebhat said.

In the Commuter Link, a community space for first- and second-year commuter students, Joanna Wong, a premajor student, also spoke about the relationship between the viaduct shutdown and small surface streets. She is particularly concerned about the West Seattle bridge.

On Thursday morning, she spent 30 minutes just on a local street, heading towards the on-ramp for this bridge. Diverted traffic will push cars back onto that street, intensifying an already extensive commute.


Scenes of I-99 on its final day in Seattle.

Courtney Baker, Student Government of Seattle U’s (SGSU) commuter representative, has been trying to plan for the potential challenges that commuter students might encounter. She says that the majority of what students have brought up involves what they are going to do to make time for their commutes.

Already having to navigate home-life-academic balance, some students may stay on campus late after their classes in the coming weeks in order to avoid the worst of the wait times. The hours at the McGoldrick Collegium, a community space for graduate students and students over 25, have been extended to 8 p.m. to accommodate the adjustment students are making in their transit schedules.

Baker is particularly worried about the time span of this endeavor, as city construction projects are notorious for blowing past their scheduled end dates. After all, how long has Lynnwood been waiting for their light rail stop?

The palpable traffic anxiety might just be due to frenzied media coverage, Baker suggests, but the conversations are important regardless.

“Professors have been receptive to considering distance learning for students on a case-by-case basis, but it’s still really important for learning to happen in class,” Baker said.

Sleep Deprived Redhawks

Enyu Zhang, a professor in the Asian Studies department, also suspects the media focus on the viaduct shutdown might be artificially heightening traffic anxiety for Seattle residents, but still expects to have to adjust her alarm clock during the construction period.

The viaduct was not a part of Zhang’s commute. Zhang is a part of the cohort that will be driving in on the I-5, where diverted viaduct drivers will inevitably end up, hoping to circumvent the several-square-block parking lot that downtown might become.

The traffic is already bad, and Zhang already leaves her residence early to avoid Seattle’s typical morning traffic challenges on the way to instruct an 8 a.m class, sometimes as early as 6 a.m. She says she will just have to give up sleep to accommodate the longer commute.

Professor Marinilka Kimbro is also navigating a changing commute. Her commute on the morning of the Viaduct shutdown was 1.5 times longer than usual, on a day that does not typically present major traffic challenges for her. Her commute will also be one of those affected by the ripples resulting from the construction events downtown.

In her role as an accounting professor, she has made it clear to her students that they should come to class even if they are going to be late, as it is better to take part in a little bit of class than none at all.

She was surprised some students were encountering this obstacle.

“I thought, for my undergraduate class, they would live on campus, but [around] 30 percent commute.”

Kimbro also remarked on the economic effects of the shutdown. The municipality of Seattle benefits massively from exponential growth. The revenue incentivizes the approval of constant construction, but the municipality is not keeping up the infrastructure needed to accommodate that growth.

“Seattle is much larger than it was just 10 years ago,” Kimbro said, “but we have the same roads.”

She asserts that to preserve the health of Seattle residents and those to commute in, the municipality must provide alternative options for the next city-wide infrastructure undertaking.

“It is really bad timing,” Kimbro said. “Biking is cold and dangerous at this time of year, and public transit just cannot keep up.”

Because of that massive growth and public service and infrastructure neglect, Kimbro asserts that the shutdown will most acutely affect those who are economically disenfranchised in and around Seattle.

Those who experience the worst traffic will likely be those who have been displaced by gentrification in Seattle neighborhoods and must commute to the city for work.

Kimbro does not believe the municipality has anticipated the impact on health and productivity this event will cause.

Kimbro tried to articulate what many individuals may be thinking about the Viaduct shutdown.

“I am trying to prepare for this–I don’t want to say trauma–“ she pauses, “Learning experience. I don’t know if anything I do will help.”

Staff members and students both have to factor in the myriad of events that will be affected by intensified traffic patterns, such as getting kids to school and doing errands on top of school and work commitments.

A group of staff members remarked that a lot of Seattleites just did not know what is coming for them or how to adjust, both over long and short term. They mentioned that it will change the commute from West Seattle to downtown permanently as the tunnel built to replace the viaduct is not prospected to have any off-ramps downtown. Anyone doing this commute will be up on surface streets, congesting the downtown area for the foreseeable future.

Many who commute from North Seattle do not know the conditions they might encounter on the way in, and therefore, they do not know how to prepare.

“I’ve just told my boss I’m just waiting to see,” one staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “We don’t know what is coming.”

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