Ode to elevation

Road Trip #3

COMPARED TO your average American male, I don't drive much. I don't like being in the car; I never have. I didn't learn to drive until I was 27. For 25 years, I've commuted to work on Metro. Since I moved to Seattle in 1977, I've never held a job outside of the city limits. I wish that Washington were as archaic as Oregon so I would never have to pump my own gas or check my own oil or radiator fluid. On those rare occasions when my beleaguered wife convinces me to drive any distance for recreational purposes, I am beset with a host of psychosomatic ailments.

But I love the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

On Seattle Weekly's designated road trip day, as soon as I hit the viaduct on-ramp, my spirits elevated as high as the roadway. It's the view, of course. Even from the lower deck, the beauty of Elliott Bay—with its sailboats, ferries, and container barges, the piles of colored containers with orange crane dinosaurs lurking above them—West Seattle's hill, Bainbridge Island, the peninsula, and the Olympic Mountains beyond is astounding . . . and deadly. It threatens to send me hurtling into the guardrail because its beauty is so distracting. The only time I like looking at the skyscrapers and stadiums of the city is against a great cloud bank as I whiz along at 50 mph.

In all my years of driving the viaduct, I've never been stuck in traffic on it. Today is no different. The state Department of Transportation confirms that backups for through traffic are unusual on the viaduct. This is despite the fact that the viaduct carries 110,000 vehicles per day, around one-quarter of all the north-south traffic flowing through downtown. (Note to the Transportation Department: You clearly don't need to increase general lane capacity when you replace this grand old structure.)

Sadly, the viaduct has to come down. It's unsafe and may collapse. The roadway clearly should be put underground. The viaduct is horribly unsightly when you're not driving on it. What it does to the waterfront and the lower sections of the Market is unforgivable: The noise is deafening, and the views from all along downtown are spoiled.

My heart is not swayed by these reasons, however. I'll miss driving the viaduct terribly, especially when I pay a toll to enter some long dark tunnel.

George Howland Jr.


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