Structure Type: built works - infrastructure - transportation structures

Designers: Kiewit Infrastructure West Company (firm); Seattle Tunnel Partners (firm)

Dates: constructed 1950-1959

2 stories

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Alaskan Way and Seneca Street
Waterfront, Seattle, WA 98101

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Building History

Construction on the Alaskan Way Viaduct took place in three stages. The initial portion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct--from Battery Street to Pike Street-- began on 02/06/1950 and was completed in 07/1951. Later extensions of the first segment were finally finished on 04/04/1953, with a large celebration heralding the roadway's opening. The first stage cost $8,164,000. The second stage, the 2,134-foot-long Battery Street Tunnel, began in 09/1952 and finished in 06/1954; a second city celebration took place on 07/24/1954 at the tunnel's north terminus. The price of the second stage came in at $2,839,000. The final nearly two-mile-long section, the so-called "Spokane Street Extension" or "Southern Extension" was started in 10/1955 and finished in 04/1959. A completion ceremony for the Spokane Street Extension happened on 09/03/1959. This portion cost about $7,626,100, bringing the cost of all three sections to $18,629,100.

Not everyone in Seattle supported the viaduct's construction. The outspoken architect Paul Thiry, Sr., indicated his strong opposition to the project. At a 1960 conference on the future of Seattle's waterfront, Thiry "...declared that the relationship of uptown to the waterfront is poor; that the Viaduct has further split the two areas where they should be closer related; that far more people would visit the waterfront if properly developed." (See Jennifer Ott,, "Shaping Seattle's Central Waterfront, Part 2: From 'Back Alley' to 'Front Porch,'" HistoryLink essay 10666, appeared 11/13/2013, accessed 02/24/2016.) During the 1960s and 1970s, American cities began to rediscover their neglected waterfronts. Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, repurposed in the mid 1960s by Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons, demonstrated the viability of rehabilitating a decrepit waterfront factory into a tourist attraction. The redevelopment of the obsolete Hovden Cannery into the Monterey Aquarium in 1977 also drove home the point. Waterfronts presented opportunities for cities to draw visitors and gain tax money from new retail enterprises designed to maximize connections with harbors and rivers. The "festival marketplace" phenomenon, exemplifed by the commercial success of Baltimore's Harborplace (and the nearby aquarium) and New York's South Street Seaport underscored the validity of this trend on a national scale. The Port of Seattle built its own aquarium on the waterfront in 1976 on the vacant Pier 59. In this context of historic rehabilitation and festival marketplace building, pressure to redevelop Seattle's majestic Elliott Bay waterfront grew irrestistible by the 1990s.

San Francisco's removal of the earthquake-damaged Embarcadero Freeway in 1991 highlighted the possibilities of removing a seismically-vulnerable, double-decker highway. The city's Embarcadero took on new life and attracted new development following its demolition. Between 1995 and 2010, parallels between the highways in Seattle and San Francisco were drawn frequently and efforts mounted to remove the Alaskan Way Viaduct and restore the connection to the underutilized and commercially-promising waterfront.

Building Notes

Portions of the Alaskan Way Viaduct suffered structural damage in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake. Some have estimated that portions of it might have collapsed had the shaking lasted 15 seconds longer. (See Knute Berger, Crosscut, first appeared 03/27/2008: <http:"" mossback="" 1014="" the+riddle+in+the+middle+of+seattle's+crumbling+viaduct=""> Accessed 11/11/2008) In 12/1960, Seattle City Engineer Roy W. Morse received permission from the Seattle Board of Public Works to hire architects to help design capital improvements in the early stages of design. Perry Johanson of NBBJ was one of the earliest to be hired for the planning of the Spokane Street Viaduct. Alaskan Way was first known as Railroad Avenue, because of the concentration of Great Northern (and earlier) railroads in the area. Its name changed to Alaskan Way in 1936.


The Nisqually Earthquake of 2001 caused $1.7 million worth of damage to the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Wear and tear also contributed to the structure's poor condition by the 21st Century; what was designed to carry 65,000 vehicles per day actually accommodated 110,000 c. 2007. Replacement of the 1953-vintage Alaskan Way Viaduct spurred great debate in Seattle and the State of Washington between those who advocated building a new viaduct and those who wanted either a four- or six-lane tunnel. Regardless of which solution was agreed upon, state transportation authorities in 2008 needed to shore up some sections of the structure; the State of Washington was set to spend approximately $1 billion to repair sections of the span, at its north and south ends (leaving a large middle section, referred to as "the riddle in the middle"). The north section work (running from approximately 2001 Western Avenue to the Battery Street tunnel) would tentatively occur between 2008-2010. The southern end work (between King Street and Holgate Street) would happen slightly later, 2009-2012). This viaduct portion will be removed and a surface street built, creating a connection from Highway 99 to Interstate 5.


Demolition of the first section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct occurred between 10/212011 and 10/31/2011. This was the first stage in the transition from the Alaskan Way Viaduct to the $2 billion deep-bore tunnel. (See "Ready to start razing the viaduct," Seattle Times, 10/14/2011, p. B1.) In 2016, the majority of the viaduct continued to be used, as the demolition project became intertwined with the timetables for a new Seattle Sea Wall (replacing the one built in 1936) and the automobile tunnel that would replace the highway. Progress on the tunnel was stymied by the problems with Big Bertha, the massive tunnel-boring apparatus developed for the Washington State Department of Transportation by Hitachi Zosen Sakai Works of Osaka, Japan.

In 05/15/2018, the firm Kiewit Infrastructure West had its bid to demolish the Alaskan Way Viaduct officially accepted by WSDOT. The cost of the Kiewit's bid was $93.7 million. The price included demolition of the concrete and steel structure and carting it away, as well as other tasks. A Seattle Times article of 05/17/2018 described the scope of work: "Contractors will also fill the Battery Street Tunnel with viaduct rubble, regrade the lower Aurora Avenue North as an urban boulevard, and build east-west crossings of Aurora at Thomas and John Streets, next to a Harrison Street connection already prepared. Demolition crews must cut and break apart brittle concrete within 25 feet of tech offices, a homeless-service center, historic brick buildings and a new apartment tower. Screens or curtains are required, as are methods to limit ground vibrations. The state wouldn't release technical details until a final contract is signed and more engineering is done." Travel on the viaduct was to end in Fall 2018, before the opening of the new tunnel by approximately three weeks. Kiewit will be busy tearing down the roadbed beginning in 01/2019 and continuing for several more months. The writer for the Seattle Times, made the following forecast for life in Seattle post the Alaskan Way Viaduct: "...The future will bring a quieter waterfront for visitors, wider spaces to walk and more congestion while driving to Ballard." (See Mike Lindblom, "Cost to demolish viaduct: $93.7M," Seattle Times, 05/17/2018, p. B1, B4.)

PCAD id: 5482

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