Now that the first portion of Seattle’s SR99 Alaskan Way Viaduct has been demolished, I have a confession to makeI’m going to miss that creaky old hunk of concrete. 

That’s assuming, of course, that the plan to replace the Viaduct’s central waterfront section with a $2 billion 1.7-mile bi-level bored tunnel bypasses Mayor Mike McGinn’s objections and proceeds as scheduled later this year.  

(Seattle’s overwhelmingly pro-tunnel City Council is set to override McGinn’s latest veto of the City’s agreement with the Washington State Department of Transportation on February 28.)  

Sure, I know that the nearly 60-year-old double-deck structure is an earthquake disaster waiting to happen. Even before the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually Earthquake in 2001, WSDOT applied just about every type of band-aid in the book to slow its deterioration. (Many is the time that I’ve parked beneath the Viaduct, uncertain as to what I’d find when I got back.) 

And there’s no doubt that the Viaduct is a formidable barrier to downtown Seattle’s cherished desire to become one with its Eliot Bay waterfront, at least aesthetically if not functionally. Though one can easily get from one side to the other, they seem separated by miles rather than just a block or two. 

Then there’s a need for an efficient north-south expressway alternative to I-5, which sometimes appears as if motorists who grind northward in the morning simply shift into reverse and start plodding southward later in the day, never really reaching their destination.

Perhaps I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, but my 23-year record of using the Viaduct to access downtown or get from one end of the city to the other has been near-perfect
no doubt as its postwar planners and engineers intended.
 (True, tunnel users will lose that stunning view of Eliot Bay, but Viaduct’s narrow lanes and outdated merges behoove drivers to keep their eyes forward and both hands on the wheel anyway.) 

So if the Viaduct has so many warts, why get misty-eyed over its impending demise? 

It mostly goes back to my first visit to Seattlemy first trip west of Ohio, for that matterin 1988.  

From a park at the end of the Pike Place Market on a stereotypically drippy Northwest afternoon, I could take in the downtown skyscrapers, the Space Needle, the busy harbor, the Kingdome (another bygone concrete relic I sometimes mourn, but that’s another story), the snow-capped Olympic Mountains across the bay 

And from below my vantage point came the sound of traffic on the Viaduct, bringing and energy to what had to that point been only two-dimensional images in books and postcards. That’s when I knew that, Holy Cow, I had really made it to Seattle. 

(Factor in the salt air mixing with scents emanating from the Market’s fruit, vegetable, and fish stands and…well, it’s amazing my senses didn’t crash!) 

Nearly a quarter-century of subsequent pilgrimages to Seattle have hardly dimmed this cherished memory, but they have also convinced me that it is indeed time—past it, actually—for the Viaduct to go.

So rather than attempting to block the path of the bulldozers (something I’m sure my editors at ENR wouldn’t care much for), I look forward to following the tunnel’s progress as both a construction journalist and an unabashed fan of the Great Northwest.  

WSDOT is already making it easy with its Flickr photos and time-lapse video of the recent demolition work. 

While the tunnel is taking shape, it will be equally interesting to follow the evolution of the post-Viaduct waterfront, a process that promises to be intriguing and likely not a little controversial.

Along with the inherent creativity that gave the world grunge, Jimi Hendrix, and Starbucks, planners will be able to draw on lessons learned from other urban “reconnection” projects in Cincinnati, San Francisco, and New York.

Who knows what impressions my favorite Seattle observation point will offer in 2016, the year the tunnel is scheduled to open. No doubt, the excitement  of watching the City reshape its downtown doorstep—knowing that one can still get from point A to point B just as easily as before—should prove every bit as intoxicating to the senses. 

But as long as my photographs and aging Baby Boomer memory hold out, the buzz of the Viaduct will still be there as well.