Travel begins to get back to normal after Northwest earthquake

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001

SEATTLE (AP) -- People found their way to work and school Thursday in the Seattle area, but for many it took some creativity, patience and planning after the strongest earthquake in 52 years rocked the region.

Travel by land, sea and air had begun to return to normal a day after the Wednesday quake. But it was slow moving for many morning commuters in Seattle because the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the 2-mile-long, double-deck highway along the waterfront that takes U.S. 99 past downtown, was closed for inspection. That made for delays because of increased traffic on surrounding streets.

''It's quiet without that thing running,'' said Frank Smith, a mechanic with Seattle Steam Corp.'s Western Avenue plant located just east of the viaduct. ''It's nice down here. It's going to be great today. Normally you can't talk because the noise is horrendous.''

The viaduct reopened Thursday afternoon.

Engineers had feared that the 47-year-old roadway, which carries about 86,000 cars a day, could collapse in a quake with deadly results, as did Oakland, Calif.'s Cypress Viaduct in the 1989 Bay Area earthquake. The Seattle viaduct is built on fill that could turn liquid in a strong quake.

State ferries were on schedule Thursday, though inspectors were still studying the extent of damage at the Colman Dock terminal on the Seattle waterfront. A section of the terminal's automobile loading area was blocked off after the surface buckled in the quake.

Mel Phelps, special projects coordinator for Washington State Ferries, said he was unsure when inspections would be completed and repairs made.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, air traffic controllers worked out of a trailer Thursday because of damage to the control tower. That limited landings to no more than 25 an hour, compared to 40 normally, said spokesman Bob Parker.

Operations at Boeing Field south of Seattle were limited due to damage to the airport runway.

Washington 202 in east King County and Washington 302 on the Kitsap Peninsula were closed indefinitely because of landslides and slide danger. Several bridges were closed for inspection or repairs.

Freight train traffic in the state was stopped for a few hours Wednesday but had resumed operation by the afternoon, said Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Gus Melonas. He said Amtrak was resuming passenger train service Thursday.

Thursday was a busy day for cab driver Bali Brar.

''There are less cabs and the same number of passengers,'' Brar said from outside the Colman Dock terminal. ''It's taking longer to get other places.''

Mary Hobson, a toll collector at the Colman terminal, had a great view of the Alaskan Way Viaduct during the quake. She said the support columns separated ''like they were yawning.''

Hobson won't drive on the viaduct.

''It creeps me out,'' she said. ''I can't imagine the upper layer coming down. You'd be trapped for sure.''

Cody Smout, 26, was in a group of about 20 who rode an early ferry Thursday from Bainbridge Island to Seattle to beat the crowds. He and his friends were in the area from Driggs, Idaho, for a wedding this weekend, and planned to catch a shuttle to Stevens Pass for skiing and snowboarding.

''We all came out here for the earthquake,'' Smout joked.

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