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Help is on the way for drivers frustrated by backups near Port

The Seattle Times

Drivers around West Seattle say they’ve never seen anything like the truck traffic that caused slowdowns and safety hazards all the way from Harbor Island to Interstate 5, most of Wednesday and Thursday.

They’re angry.

In response, police and Port of Seattle officials will try to reduce the lineups to Terminal 18, starting Friday morning.

The delays are related to a West Coast slowdown by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which is in a dispute with employers in the Pacific Maritime Association. For weeks, container ships have waited at anchor not only here, but at Los Angeles-Long Beach.

Port spokesman Peter McGraw said demand spiked because three container ships are now docked along T-18 taking loads, on Harbor Island near the low West Seattle swing bridge and bikeway. He said agricultural shippers are trying to get their products loaded for export, while they’re fresh.

“There were folks [shippers] who knew they couldn’t access Tacoma, so they try to access Seattle,” he said. He predicted another busy day Friday, with T-18 moving maybe double the average volumes.

City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, of West Seattle, said Thursday, “I was shocked to see the lineup of trucks at 5:50 this morning, when I was going to the office,” and appalled things hadn’t improved since Wednesday.

Truckers waited as long as five or six hours on South Spokane Street, just to reach the port.

Some new tactics will be tried on Friday, Rasmussen said in an email:

• Police will be stationed to clear nearby intersections 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• Vacant port land at Terminal 5, in West Seattle, will be used as remote parking for the trucks, while they wait their turn to enter T-18. (How this will work on the street is unclear. Trucks at T-5 would have to backtrack across the low bridge to reach T-18, which could create new bottlenecks.)

• Seattle Department of Transportation will add signs and alerts.

Mayor Ed Murray tweeted Thursday night: “It’s a critical corridor for thousands of workers and residents. We will monitor traffic tomorrow and take additional steps as needed.”

One problem is the port layout. The southern T-18 gate is only a few container lengths from Spokane Street, so delayed trucks block road lanes, even on some normal days.

The terminal has gates at the far north end of the island. Entry isn’t controlled by the port, but its operating tenant SSA Marine.

“They need to go onto Harbor Island, and go out onto Gates 3 and 4,” said Craig Trettevik, whose home and business are in West Seattle. Trettevik said he’s tried for years to persuade port officials to move the south T-18 gate deeper into port property, so fewer trucks spill onto streets.

Trettevik says he detoured from Sodo to Edgar Martinez Drive, took I-5 south to South Michigan Street, then crossed the Duwamish River to reach the West Seattle peninsula via West Marginal Way Southwest.

That detour, in fact, was basically what the Washington State Department of Transportation was suggesting on freeway signs, instead of taking the I-5 exit to the West Seattle Bridge.