When you’re a big-time city, things get a lot of attention in other places. Subway derailments in New York are big news elsewhere even if no one is injured. Mayoral elections in Chicago are widely reported, even when the predicted outcome is not seriously in doubt. We know the details about the construction sink hole in Boston known as the Big Dig and that city’s 17-year-long search for local mobster Whitey Bulger (brought down by a former Miss Finland who once was the sexy blonde cooing “Take it off” in those iconic Noxzema shaving-cream TV commercials). Last summer’s Carmageddon closure of Interstate 405 through part of Los Angeles for a bridge project got insane publicity around the world.
Poor Seattle. Part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, one of Seattle’s only two north-south freeways, is shut down for a full 10 days and the world yawns. Even the local nickname–“Viadoom”–hasn’t caught on outside of Puget Sound, maybe because it sounds more like a bizarrely named ED product.
The viaduct, which runs along Seattle’s Puget Sound waterfront, was closed Friday night so part of it can be demolished and replaced with a temporary road, which itself will be replaced when a tunnel is built someday. Like a giant treat, the road is scheduled to reopen on Halloween morning. Since I am still New To Seattle, I will leave it to others to debate the wisdom of a multi-billion-dollar tunnel project in the middle of an economic downturn, especially when ordinary maintenance on regular Seattle streets is so elusive.
By any measure, this closure promises to be a lot more disruptive than Carmageddon. That was only during one summer weekend, when a lot of people were away and schools weren’t in session. Viadoom is over a full work week in the very busy fall. Thanks in part to its location on a narrow isthmus wedged between Puget Sound and Lake Washington and laced with bottlenecking lakes, waterways and hills–Seattle has a perpetual traffic problem. With 80% of the region’s population outside the city limits, there’s a mad rush each work day toward the downtown area, a dash that the few limited-access roads can barely handle as it was. Residents of some neighborhoods are steeling for commutes double or triple the normal time as occupants of 110,000 cars search for a different way to get from here to there.
The run-up to Carmageddon generated huge buzz around the world. “Carmageddon: L.A.’s weekend nighmare,” screamed a headline in the normally sedate Globe and Mail of Toronto. I know some of that buzz because I was still living in the Los Angeles area for most of it, and got inquiring calls and emails from friends in far-flung places.
So far, no one has contacted me about Viadoom.
Its impending arrival has created a level of world interest I would best describe as nonexistent.
While there undoubtedly will be some, I haven’t been able to find significant coverage yet in online editions of print publications elsewhere. A Google search I just ran of the word Viadoom yielded 28,500 hits. Carmageddon’s count: 4.35 million. (Both were dwarfed by the 74.6 million hits mentioning Seattle’s own Amanda Knox, now the world’s most famous 24-year-old acquitted murder suspect.) Almost all of those Viadoom hits are regional, with little I can see from abroad or even east of the Rocky Mountains.
Aside from its size, Los Angeles, of course, is a magnet for silly media coverage where we know more than we need about such important topics as the shopping and sleeping habits of Hollywood stars. But far-away interest is an interesting gauge of a city’s importance in the scheme of things. Seattle has the same population as Boston, and 50% more than Atlanta. But I would wager those two cities get far more media coverage. Even when they’re not under construction, all roads don’t lead to Seattle.