Floyd Kolmer’s commute to downtown Seattle from his West Seattle home is taxing under normal circumstances. He’s not about to endure the tangled traffic nightmare for the next three weeks as the Alaskan Way Viaduct shuts down for good.
So Kolmer, president of advertising and media strategies firm Ad Mark, decided to close his company’s office near Pike Place Market until the highway is realigned into an underground tunnel. He is temporarily moving his firm and several of his seven employees into a longtime vendor’s conference room in West Seattle. His other workers will telecommute.
“I don’t know what we would have done had we not had that,” says Kolmer, who has several employees who live in West Seattle. “I knew this was coming, but when I saw the sign that the viaduct was closing, I thought, ‘Oh, crap.’"
The longest major highway closure in the Puget Sound region’s history begins Jan. 11. The $3.1 billion Highway 99 replacement tunnel project, which is three years behind schedule and more than $200 million over budget, has created consternation across the city as employers feverishly work to minimize disruption.
Like Ad Mark, several businesses have taken some creative approaches, according to Commute Seattle, a public-private partnership funded by the Downtown Seattle Association and the Downtown Transportation Alliance. Commute Seattle has worked with more than 50 businesses in anticipation of the closure.
JPMorgan Chase is urging employees to work at branch offices in their neighborhoods. Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen — which operates 23 food-based businesses across the city, including 18 restaurants — has opened a lounge in its administrative offices to encourage employees to commute during non-peak hours. Amazon Inc., the world’s largest online retailer, is covering the cost of multi-person ride-sharing and has added private shuttle routes. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has increased parking rates for single-occupancy vehicles and has upped employee incentives for public transportation and carpooling.
“Every employer, whether a giant tech company or a small mom-and-pop restaurant, can do something to lessen the burden of traffic for the next few months,” says Madeline Feig, a transportation specialist with Commute Seattle. “Obviously, it would be better if everybody would telecommute, but we understand that’s not a solution for everybody.”
Delivery companies, particularly, have few options. Pagliacci Pizza recently sent an email to customers asking them to “please be patient” as the company strives to stay within quoted delivery times. The notice suggested that customers who live near downtown Seattle avoid delivery and pick up their pizzas instead.
Though Kolmer plans to move back into his company’s offices once the tunnel opens, he’s skeptical that it will do much to alleviate traffic congestion, especially because it will have no downtown exits.
“I don’t think the city is prepared for what is going to happen,” he says.