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Mural Goes Up Before Road Goes Down

Monday, June 2, 2014

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A 62-foot section of a doomed double-deck highway in Seattle just got a bright yellow paint job, costing the city nearly $10,000 and leaving some locals scratching their heads.

Work has been underway for years to replace the seismically unstable Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel system.

Although the viaduct will be demolished as soon as construction wraps up within the next year or two, the City of Seattle recently spent $9,600 to spruce up the exterior of its eastern side in bright yellow.

The painting project is a collaboration between the city and local waterfront businesses "to identify ways to keep the waterfront active and easy to access and navigate during construction," the city says.

Alaskan Way Viaduct mural
Screen grab via

Despite plans to tear town the Alaskan Way Viaduct as soon as its replacement is completed, the City of Seattle just spent $9,600 to paint a bright yellow mural on the structure.

Built in 1953, the Alaskan Way Viaduct carries SR 99 along Seattle's waterfront and sees about 110,000 vehicles per day. The viaduct, as well as its supporting Alaskan Way Seawall, was damaged in the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake in 2001.

Complaints of Favoritism

According to the city, the purpose of the painting, which required prior approval from Washington State Department of Transportation, is "to create a strong visual connection between the waterfront and downtown."

However, some local business owners have been telling the media that the project smacks of favoritism and is a waste of resources, since the viaduct will eventually be torn down.

The word "aquarium" and arrows pointing in the direction of the city-owned Seattle Aquarium will be added to the bright yellow paint, reports.

Painting started Tuesday (May 27) and was expected to last through Wednesday (May 28). Before painting, the viaduct was cleaned and primed. News sources refer to the project as a "mural," rather than a maintenance coating project.

Screen grab via

Eventually, the word "aquarium" and arrows point to the city-owned Seattle Aquarium will be added to the yellow paint.

Calls to the City of Seattle and the Office of the Waterfront to confirm whether painting was completed were not immediately returned Friday (May 30).

Drawing in Business

Marshall Foster, Design and Planning Manager for the city's Office of the Waterfront, defended the decision, telling "So we are spending $9,600 to help public access the waterfront and support the businesses down there. We think that's money very well spent."

The aquarium is a tourist destination that draws business to the waterfront, he added.

"We've worked with property owners up and down the waterfront on how we are doing the signage, and the sense was the aquarium was a good destination mark," Foster says.

Foster told that promoting the aquarium was a "slippery slope."

"The Aquarium is owned by the city. It's a public destination, just like a public park, so we use it as a landmark to direct people," Foster says.

The yellow paint has not impressed Ken Eubank, owner of the nearby Seattle Antiques Market. "Right now, it doesn't look very pretty," Eubank told

Eubank says he doesn't think the "preferential treatment" of the aquarium is fair, so he asked the city for $250 for sandwich boards to direct people to his shop. His request was denied.

Replacement Plan

The 2001 earthquake caused sections of the viaduct to sink several inches; since then, the viaduct has required "constant maintenance and attention to stay in service," according to WSDOT, which inspects it four times per year.

Flickr / WSDOT

Since the 6.8-magnitude 2001 Nisqually earthquake, WSDOT has been working to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The structure is inspected four times a year.

A March inspection discovered new cracks on the elevated road's girders and supports, prompting engineers to schedule follow-up, "in-depth" inspections.

WSDOT has been working to replace to viaduct with a new, two-mile-long tunnel—a project estimated to cost $3.1 billion and be opened in 2016. However, work on the tunnels has been stalled since December 2013 after an issue with the seal system on Bertha, the world's largest tunneling machine.

Viaduct demolition is currently scheduled to begin in the second half of 2016, according to WSDOT. Half of the viaduct has already been torn down and replaced.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Murals; Roads/Highways; Tunnel

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