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Seattle SR 99
Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct offers drivers one of the city’s better waterfront views. But not for the next two weeks. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Shortly before 8 a.m. on Friday, Seattle radio station KEXP played Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic” in a knowing nod to listeners facing day 1 of “carmageddon.”

The planned 2-week closure of the city’s Alaskan Way Viaduct began after midnight on Friday as SR 99 closed in anticipation of Bertha the tunneling machine beginning a phase of its journey that will take it directly beneath the aging elevated highway.

The Washington State Department of Transportation says 90,000 vehicles use the Viaduct on a daily basis. As those commuters look for alternate routes through Seattle, some local companies are providing analysis on what to expect as well as technological help in coping with traffic headaches.

The popular consensus is that it’s not going to be pretty on the roads anywhere you go. With that in mind, Kirkland-based INRIX, a leader in traffic analysis and information, had lead scientist and traffic analyst Greg Hallsworth take a “high-level” look and break down how the closure will impact movement in the city.

Hallsworth said that drivers should expect several routes to be more congested than usual, including I-5, where commutes could take up to 50 percent more time. A travel time map provided by INRIX (below) shows which areas are likely to be worst affected by increased traffic volumes, with the worst congestion prevailing in the blue zone (journey times up to 50 percent longer) and some level of disruption also likely in the red zone (journeys up to 20 percent longer).

INRIX map
(Via INRIX)

Seattle-based Glympse, makers of an app that allows users to share their location in real time with people they trust, wants to help eliminate the need for “Where are you?” text messages during the closure.

The free Glympse app allows anyone to share their location temporarily, for up to four hours. Those on the receiving end open a link in a mobile or web browser to see their friend’s movements on a live map, including an ETA.

Glympse app
(Via Glympse)

“Glympse is the perfect companion for those times when traffic is an issue,” said Bryan Trussel, co-founder and CEO. “Those of us in Seattle know that getting around is unpredictable at the best of times and sending a Glympse removes the temptation to text ‘I’m still in traffic’ along the way. The app enables you to answer all the ‘Where are you?’ questions without having to divert your attention from the road.”

With the Seattle Mariners in town this weekend as well as the Sounders FC, users of the Glympse service can keep one eye on an empty stadium seat next to them and another on a friend moving through Seattle traffic.

Aside from what these two companies are doing, a variety of government agencies are tasked with getting as much traffic information as possible in front of drivers during the closure period. WSDOT’s 99 closure website offers resources and links in a number of different directions.

Twitter feeds and web cams are sure to have more eyes on them as the region’s roads and highways take on a gloomy shade of red during peak travel times.

An update on the WSDOT site said that the morning I-5 commute heading into Seattle was heavier than normal for a Friday and that it looked more like a Monday morning commute. The northbound I-5 drive into Seattle peaked with a 6-mile backup between 7 and 10 a.m.

WSDOT also reported that First Avenue South and Fourth Avenue South experienced heavier than normal traffic. Drivers and bus riders on Fourth Avenue South between South Spokane and South Washington streets also experienced delays. The West Seattle Water Taxi reported substantially higher ridership than a typical Friday morning.

As for Bertha, WSDOT said that Seattle Tunnel Partners spent the early hours of Friday restarting and testing the machine from its position in a planned maintenance stop. The machine begin moving again around 9 a.m. and had to first dig through 10 feet of concrete to exit the maintenance stop location before entering the soil at Yesler and Alaskan Way.

WSDOT says Bertha will move deliberately throughout the weekend as crews carefully monitor the machine, surrounding ground and Viaduct. Tunneling forward and the building of tunnel rings will reportedly pick up speed next week and will continue around the clock throughout the closure.

Bertha tunnel
A rendering from December shows Bertha’s path as it headed toward the maintenance stop area. This area is where Bertha will restart during the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure. (Via Flickr)
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