The Associated Press October 24, 2011, 2:13PM ET

Seattle 'Viadoom' traffic congested but moving

Commuter traffic was congested but moving slowly in Seattle on Monday morning as drivers undertook the first weekday commute following the closure of one of the city's main north-south highways.

Authorities began a nine-day closure of the elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct on Friday. The aging, earthquake-vulnerable highway, which normally carries 110,000 vehicles a day, was being partially demolished as part of a $3.2 billion project to replace it with a tunnel under downtown Seattle.

Transportation officials and drivers have worried that the region's freeway system would be hopelessly clogged during the project -- the shutdown of the highway has been dubbed "Viadoom."

Monday morning's commute started off with heavy rains and two collisions on Interstate 5 -- the only other north-south highway through Seattle. But some drivers appeared to have delayed their commute into the 8 o'clock hour, said Kris Olsen, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Transportation.

Transportation officials reported heavier than usual traffic on arterial streets in Seattle and other freeways in the region as commuters sought alternative routes.

"When you take a north-south corridor out of commission, you throw a lot of traffic on different highways," Department of Transportation spokesman Travis Phelps said. "We expected a regional impact and we did see that."

Backups in the city's West Seattle neighborhood were especially noticeable for drivers, who saw a long line of taillights when they pulled onto the West Seattle Bridge in the 7 a.m. hour. Buses were full, and other commuters rode bikes or took the water taxi across Elliott Bay. Early sailings of the water taxi to downtown Seattle quickly filled up, with many more commuters waiting on the dock.

West Seattle accountant Diane Cryder usually takes the bus but hopped on the water taxi for the first time Monday, hoping to avoid the traffic.

"We don't move traffic on a good day," she said, who decided going by boat would be the quickest way to get to her downtown job.

Tanya Baer, who lives in West Seattle, was so worried about traffic Monday that she packed a bag Sunday and went to stay with her sister-in-law in Ballard, a neighborhood north of Seattle's downtown. She planned to take the bus Monday morning to her job.

"I can't afford to get to work late and I feel really concerned that it's going to be awful," said Baer, 36, an executive assistant. "If the commute is not that bad, I'll come home mid-week."

Transit officials added extra spaces at park-and-ride lots near public transit, put more buses on the streets and encouraged people to stagger their work day or work from home.

The city's Cascade Bicycle Club urged people to dust off their bikes and warned of the "second-coming of `Carmageddon'" -- the nickname for the weekend closure of a freeway in Los Angeles in July that brought fears of widespread tangled traffic. Drivers largely kept off roads, however.

Austin Hill heeded warnings and left for work an hour early Monday morning. Taking two buses from West Seattle, he got to work without a hitch.

"I imagine it will get worse later in the week, but so far, so good," said Hill, a software engineer.

Extra state and city transportation crews were scheduled to be out on the streets early Monday to help vehicles that get into trouble, Phelps said. And more police officers were to help direct traffic in some areas.

Transit officials warned motorists not to become complacent this week.

"Motorists shouldn't have a false sense of security based on this one morning," said Rick Sheridan, spokesman with the Seattle Department of Transportation. "One commute, we all managed to survive. But we need to anticipate significant backups due to this closure."


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