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Post-Viaduct Alaskan Way will be 102 feet wide, but it won’t last forever

The road will narrow after light rail expands

Alaskan Way Viaduct over Alaskan Way. CenturyLink Field is visible in the background. Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Alaskan Way will become a massive 102-foot highway with 8 or 9 lanes after the tunnel opens, but only for a decade or so.

Erica C. Barnett at C is for Crank first broke the news that when the West Seattle light rail line opens around 2033, the road will narrow from 102 to 79 feet at its widest point between South Washington Street and Yesler Way. The decision is part of a settlement between the Alliance for Pioneer Square and the city, state, and county.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) estimates that the new Alaskan Way will be completed in 2023, ten years before the light rail.

The idea behind the decision is after rail runs to the West, RapidRide lanes along Alaskan Way will no longer be necessary. The 20 feet and change would be turned into sidewalks or landscaping.

79 feet is still a pretty wide road, but not uncommon for a pedestrian crossing distance—for context, it’s about as wide as Mercer Street at the underpass near Sixth Avenue.

The waterfront project that includes Alaskan Way is of the Viaduct Replacement Project, which also includes the tunnel.

While this particular challenge was issued back in November after the state released an environmental impact statement, what to do with Alaskan Way and the waterfront after the viaduct comes down has been a point of contention for quite some time.

While settling on an option for a viaduct replacement—which ended up being the deep bore tunnel—surface highway was studied as an option. One group advocated not replacing the viaduct at all, but instead improving surface streets and transit in the area.

Eventually, this wide highway, wider than the six lane highway originally looked at as a viaduct replacement, came to be due to conflicting needs from Washington State Ferries, King County Metro, and others. The ferries need lanes for ferry traffic, for example. Metro needs bus lanes.

The settlement won’t address everyone’s concerns about the project—and with six years left to go until completion, more issues could arise. But we can start to picture the future of the road as the project takes shape, even if we’re looking 16 years ahead.