solarbird: (tracer)

So we all went downtown to walk on the Alaskan Way Viaduct and through the Battery Street Tunnel, both of which will be gone forever soon, and for the most part, honestly? Good riddance.

A lot of people are enamoured of the view, particularly from the upper deck, and while the view of Elliot Bay was nice, I'll give it that, you can get as good or better elsewhere without driving, and the way it separated downtown from the old harbour, prevented downtown from going south past Pioneer Square, and ruined dozens of blocks with the hellish noise it made were completely not worth it.

Mind you, the new tunnel they've built will be a "correct answer" for maybe another six years, tops, just like the viaduct was. (That assumes it's not obsolete already, which it should be, but might not be quite yet.) And that's one of the oddest things about this whole project, and kind of a neat parallel if you think about it.

Everyone forgets that the viaduct was the correct answer when it was planned. It really was. And it stayed that way when it was built, and for another... four to eight years, depending upon whether you start count from 1956 (northern half), or 1960 (southern half).

That's because those downtown docks were industrial loading docks, and all the buildings facing what's now the viaduct were industrial loading points, or buildings which serviced the shipping industry. Nobody - nobody - wanted to be there if you weren't working in industrial shipping.

So the viaduct got non-freight traffic up and out of the way of the trucks, and gave that part of Alaskan Way underneath the viaduct to commercial traffic. Problem solved. It was great!

...until 1964, of course. That's when containerised shipping took over, and they'd built the new docks further south at Harbour Island and all that, making the downtown docks completely obsolete, virtually overnight, and the Viaduct no longer served its intended purpose. And now that those old docks are tourist and ferries and entertainment and science, and not industrial in the slightest, the viaduct is a huge, huge minus.

At least the new tunnel won't be that. It's out of the way and not blocking anything. You'll be able to run busses in it, if nothing else. Maybe make it commercial-traffic only, eventually - that would work. But who knows? And unlike the viaduct, this project doesn't make anything structurally worse - in fact, a lot of blocks are being knit back together, particularly on the north end, but also on the south. In particular, a fatal viaduct-ramp blockage keeping downtown from expanding south past Pioneer Square will be gone, and Pioneer Square will be surrounded by downtown, not a stub at the end of it.

(Historic districts like that generally do better when they're surrounded by, rather than stuck on the end of, modern areas. 1st Avenue South, the old original "road into town" before even 99, will be back in business, and it'll be wonderful.)

I'm really looking forward to all the side-benefits, even if the tunnel itself is a waste of money. It is a marvellous feat of engineering, I'll absolutely give it that, and that has a lot going for it.

Here are a bunch of photos. I really liked taking pictures down through the huge cracks between the viaduct road decks. Yeah. It's in that bad shape. Seriously. 10cm gaps in some places, or close to it. It was bad.

April 2019

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