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  • David Doxtater

Step Forward – SR99 tunnel grand opening

Step Forward

After the unfortunate 2001 Nisqually earthquake, the Alaskan Way Viaduct suffered significant structural damage, and the State of Washington started an ambitious new project to bore a structurally-secure tunnel under downtown Seattle to carry SR99 from SoDo to South Lake Union. The SR99 Tunnel (also called the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel) was officially opened for public inspection on February 2nd, 2019. For the opening ceremony, Seattle needed a way to celebrate this pivotal project with the same incredible energy, passion, and spirit that went into its design, construction, and engineering.

The Workshop stepped in to meet this challenge. Not only was Step Forward a celebration of this world-class construction, but it also acted as a final farewell to Alaskan Way Viaduct — which had been an icon in the city since 1953. The goal was to engage and inform Seattle about the new changes, invite them to experience this incredible piece of design and construction, and propel them into the future of the city with reminders of change, history, and wonder.

This was a complex project, with multiple avenues of experience happening simultaneously. To do this, we worked with WSDOT to leverage technology and create informational tours and walks around the new project, a goodbye festival on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and an 8k fun run and 12.5-mile biking event through the tunnel and on the viaduct.

Over 100,000 people attended the grand opening, which was coordinated between The Workshop and WSDOT. The entire grand opening comprised of four core events happening at multiple entry points at various times. These events were:

· Walks and activities within the new SR99 Tunnel.

· Walks, activities, and celebrations on the soon-to-be-defunct Alaskan Way Viaduct.

· A bike and run through the tunnel and on the viaduct.

· And a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

SR99 Tunnel Walk Experience

Since this tunnel was such an impressive undertaking for the city and the state, we utilized the grand opening as a way to explore and engage with the new architecture. We wanted people to learn and understand the new tunnel — which would have real-to-life implications for them during their daily Seattle life.

Throughout three core areas (South Hub, Tunnel, and North Hub) visitors and residents could walk through the tunnel and engage in multiple activities. From STEM activities like an Excavation Station and intricate Lego models to a life-size Bertha (the machine that bored the tunnel) cutter head, there were plenty of educational activities. Walkers could also stop at multiple destinations along the way to discover where they were located compared to the city above them. Food trucks were positioned at the north and south hubs and live music played at the south hub to add layers of fun, excitement, and entertainment to this exploratory adventure.

Viaduct Walk Experience

This grand opening also served as a goodbye to one of Seattle’s long-standing pieces of architecture — the Alaskan Way Viaduct. We partnered on the viaduct festival with the City of Seattle Department of Arts & Culture, and we combined our skillsets to create a fun, entertaining, and engaging Alaskan Way Viaduct sendoff. Goodbyes can be a good thing! Over 100 regional artists created murals specific to the Viaduct, and there were live performances by prominent local bands and performance artists. The entire Viaduct was transformed into a communal festival where guests could say goodbye to the old after seeing the new. It also served as a great place to position Seattle’s relentless drive towards the future. The festival was aptly named Hello | Goodbye.

8K Fun Run & 12.5 Mile Bike Ride

Seattle is a lively city! In fact, it’s the 5th healthiest city in the U.S. So, finding a way to introduce a bike ride and run were key for us as the designers of this live experience. During this grand opening, there was a 12.5-mile bike ride AND an 8k fun run throughout the tunnel and the viaduct. We partnered with FIZZ events to create the incredible fun run, and the Cascade Bicycle Club helped put together the tunnel biking event. With WSDOT, we were able to direct both of these exciting events and forge incredible vendor relationships that create spectacular experiences for attendees. Visitors and residents could scarf down a food truck taco, listen to some live music, and then run it all off with their family and friends — all while learning the routes, structure, and design of the new tunnel.


The entire grand opening spectacle was created by positioning key technologies with critical entertainment and educational ventures. With over 100,000 people in attendance, we had to ensure that there were multiple routes and activity groups positioned throughout the tunnel. Combining the experience of gaining something profound and beautiful with losing something dear can be a complex event to create. By leveraging local artists and musicians, plenty of fun and activities, and separating the experience into two key locations (i.e., the tunnel and the Viaduct), we were able to create a unique experience that was 100% Seattle and 100% fun and educational!

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