The aged elevated highway that famously borders downtown Seattle along its waterfront is set to officially close this Friday as part of the city's multi-pronged tunnel replacement project. The two-mile Alaskan Way Viaduct, also known as State Route 99, has blown past its recommended lifespan and has long been considered a major hazard to the city and its drivers. Its upcoming closure marks the beginning of a new transportation system for the whole city, but the saga leading up to this point has been harrowing. After a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Seattle in 2001, causing widespread panic about the then 48-year-old highway’s structural safety, the city and state began more seriously studying options to replace the viaduct. The Washington State Department of Transportation settled on a plan in 2004 that would include the build-out of a shallow, six-lane tunnel, but opposition soon arose over the project’s exorbitant cost and lengthy proposed construction timeline. After years of arguments, the most dangerous part of the highway, which sat south of downtown, was eventually demolished in 2011. Two years later, Seattle began making way for the tunnel, but the boring machine used to burrow the tunnel’s diameter broke down four months into its 1.7-mile journey underneath the city. It took another two years to repair the machine and digging began again in late December 2015. Despite more setbacks, including a large, unexpected sinkhole, the tunnel boring project was completed in spring 2017. It’s expected to open up to vehicular traffic in four weeks. Next steps include the demolition of the remaining standing viaduct and the construction of a street-level boulevard along its footprint. Dubbed the New Alaskan Way, it will line the edge of Elliot Bay. Once that's complete, the entirely revamped highway system will stretch northbound in two directions starting from Seattle’s major sports stadiums, CenturyLink and Safeco Fields, which are situated south of downtown. The SR 99 tunnel route begins adjacent to the arenas and runs northeast underneath the city toward a northern portal near Seattle Center, the home of the Space Needle. Drivers will be able to bypass downtown through the tunnel or the waterfront street-level surface highway or simply exit onto city streets. The decision to build both an underground highway and an elongated boulevard is an unconventional approach to mid-century transportation replacement projects. Cities around the country are currently grappling with similar situations revolving around dilapidated infrastructure, but Seattle’s struggle has been on the global stage for quite some time. After all, the Alaskan Way Viaduct should have come down decades ago when experts first saw signs of damage. It’s interesting to see a major metropolis, one sitting at sea level no less, choose this multi-project plan that for years created a mess of construction chaos and citywide debate. Though the pedestrian-friendly New Alaskan Way will likely do wonders to connect downtown Seattle with its industrial waterfront—a much-needed intervention—at a total of $3.3 billion it’s hard not to see this decision as both a big win for the city's future and a big burden for its present.
Posts tagged with "Elevated Highways":
The Toronto City Council will vote on June 21 on whether to remove a one-mile elevated section of the prominent but crumbling Gardiner East Expressway in the city’s downtown. Mayor John Tory wants to rebuild the road, but his staff, including chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat, are advocating for removing the highway and replacing it with a pedestrian-friendly boulevard. It is unclear what the 45-member council will do. The mayor is advocating what he somewhat dubiously calls a “hybrid plan,” which would rebuild the road with some modifications to its ramps and structure. He told the Toronto Star that "I didn’t get elected to make traffic worse. And let’s be clear, removing that piece of the Gardiner will almost certainly make traffic worse.” Proponents of the teardown want to build a widened road along the city’s waterfront. They say that the mayor is wrong about traffic, as evidenced by Toronto’s successful removal of another section and put in a similar at-grade road. It would compliment the recent plans for the nearby Harbour Landing waterfront, designed by West 8. “It’s very clear removing is in the best interest of... [the] long-term vision, as articulated in our official plan,” Keesmaat told a group of landscape architects. “This is an opportunity for us to create a grand boulevard that weaves together the waterfront with the rest of the city, and opens up new development parcels, allowing us to create complete communities within walking distance of the downtown core.” According to polls, 45 percent of residents want to tear down the road, while 33 want to save it. Advocates of the at-grade option say that it will be 96 million dollars cheaper to build, and will save $458 million over the course of 100 years to lower maintenance costs. For the hybrid option, upwards of $100 million would need to be raised just to complete the project. Advocates of removal say that the impacts of their plan are being overhyped. According to experts, only 3 percent of commuters into the core of Toronto use the road. They say that the hybrid proposal would have similar effects on traffic as removal, because in both cases people would find other ways to go, travel at different times, or just avoid the area altogether. Construction on the project would start in 2018.
[beforeafter][/beforeafter] The Massachusetts Department of Transportation wants to transform a gritty site underneath Interstate 93 in Boston into a public space that people actually want to visit—or at least park their car. BostInno reported that the $6 million project, called “Infra-Space 1”, is part of MassDot’s wider initiative to give new life (and lighting) to vacant lots underneath the city’s elevated infrastructure. [beforeafter][/beforeafter] Curbed Boston noted that the initiative has already 235 “well-lighted” parking spots. “Infra-Space 1” will upgrade an eight-acre, notoriously-dangerous site in Boston’s South End neighborhood. Now, obviously, a planned 175-car parking lot doesn’t necessarily scream urban renewal, but there are aspects of this project that could actually activate the space. The plan is essentially to first clean up the site and then prep it for possible programmatic elements. Alongside the parking lot, which has 24/7 security, the DOT wants to install “innovative” lighting systems and create an environment for art installations and performances. As BostInno noted, MassDot is fairly bullish on what else is possible at the site. The completion of the project would also include a plaza, green space, a sports facility, dog park, and a connection to an eventual section of the Boston Harborwalk.
First proposed in 2011, Brooklyn's Silent Light installation has finally become a reality. Located at the intersection of Park Avenue and Navy Street under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) in Red Hook, the series of gates frames a pedestrian walkway that passes through an area of heavy vehicular traffic. The structures are covered in LED lights activated by surrounding noise from cars to create fleeting light shows of various colors and patterns. The project was conceived and executed by Valeria Blanco, Shagun Singh, and Michelle Brick who together form the Artists Build Collaborative. The trio collaborated with the Department of Transportation's Urban Art Program, the Brooklyn Arts Council, and the Red Hook Initiative to fund, construct, and install Silent Lights. The arches are intended to provide nocturnal aid to pedestrians navigating a potentially hazardous stretch of sidewalk. More broadly, the Collaborative hopes that by dramatically visualizing the issue, the installation will call attention to problems of noise pollution that plague the neighborhood by virtue of the BQE.
Connecting two existing waterfronts—Battery Park and East River Park—the rehabilitation of the East River Esplanade has been a catalyst of renewal along Manhattan's East River. The latest phase of the plan—by SHoP Architects and Ken Smith Workshop—extends the current three-block-long Esplanade north, adding recreational amenities and addresses the challenges of building a new landscape beneath an elevated highway between Catherine Slip and Pike Slip in Lower Manhattan.. The so-called "Package 4" aims to create a "front porch" for the Lower East Side by introducing new street furniture such as conversation benches, bar stools, lounge chairs, picnic tables, and swing sets hanging from the FDR highway overpass. The new plan also includes the prospective installation of amenities such as elevated exercise platforms, a skate park, games tables, a synthetic turf field, waterfront fishing docks, and multiple bike paths. The project’s designers wish to integrate a significant amount of perspective and dimension on the site by conserving already-existing open lawns, installing light fixtures under the FDR highway overpass, building multi-leveled seating and benches, and planting a diversity of foliage. Pending approval from the New York City Council and City Planning, the project should be complete by Spring 2015.