Get me through Seattle!
August 19, 2007 7:25 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to drive from SeaTac through Seattle and out to the north?

In mid-October I'll be flying to Seattle, then renting a car and driving up to Vancouver (it turned to be much cheaper than flying directly, plus I'll have a car available to poke around the Vancouver area). This thread has provided some help, but I wonder if some Seattlites can help with my route planning. I-5 is apparently undergoing some crazy construction, so if my flight arrives at 2:40 PM, and I'm heading out of the airport around 4:00, should I take I-5, I-405 or some other route?
posted by aaronetc to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (15 answers total)
The I-5 construction will be done well before then, but you should take I-405 anyway... I-5 is pretty slow up through Seattle even at that time of day, whereas I-405 should be fairly clear.
posted by kindall at 7:33 PM on August 19, 2007

You can check here for the latest information, if you have access to internet machines while traveling. Me, I would just take I-5, because it's the easiest and I'm lazy when it comes to things like this. The traffic will be slow, but not stopped-for-two-hours slow.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:43 PM on August 19, 2007

Just take the I-5. The 405 is longer and just as slow (if not slower) if you are leaving at 4 pm on a weekday.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:51 PM on August 19, 2007

As a Chicago native and a Boston resident I can officially scoff at the traffic from SeaTac up north. Even during the construction it was a breeze. YMMV.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:56 PM on August 19, 2007

driving up to Vancouver

If you don't intend to stop in Seattle itself, and they're open, make sure to take the Express Lanes on I-5 -- lanes with no city exits set aside so people can (theoretically) zoom through the city without stopping.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:11 PM on August 19, 2007

Like the corpse said, it's best to check the traffic on the day of. Conditions vary with sporting events and whether you'll be early enough to avoid rush hour. And like FlamingBore I've never seen it as bad here as anywhere else I've had to contend with (Boston, NYC, SF Bay Area) -- except when it snowed (which won't happen in October).
posted by girlhacker at 8:13 PM on August 19, 2007

Yeah, take I-5 unless it's really congested— if you can, check the WSDOT traffic map (or Google Traffic, but they just scrape the same data). At 4pm you'll hit rush-hour slowdowns but the bad congestion is generally only on the cross-lake bridges. Odds are you can take I-5 with no problems. As CPB says, take the express lanes when you get to them; they're northbound in the afternoons.

You can also take SR 99 north from SeaTac. It's an arterial, but it's not a freeway: there are traffic lights and such, so it's a lot slower than a wide-open freeway. But if for some reason I-5 and/or 405 are blocked, it's a useful alternate route. Plus, you get to see many of Seattle's delightful industrial activities.
posted by hattifattener at 8:59 PM on August 19, 2007

Best answer: I'd strongly recommend taking SR-509/SR-99 up through Seattle during rush hour. It's much faster and has better views. I-5 and I-405 are pretty horrible all afternoon.

From the airport, follow the exits to "the highways". This is actually the trickiest part; SeaTac is under a bunch of construction for light rail right now.

Just outside the airport, take the big left fork to westbound SR-518. After a few miles, take the ramp to northbound SR-509. This becomes SR-99 near the city. Follow the signs for SR-99 northbound. There will be a short stretch of surface streets south of downtown, but after that, it's a big highway for 10 miles, with spectacular views.

You'll hit surface streets again far north of downtown. Take a right at 85th street (3rd or 4th light) and head east for a mile or so to get back on I-5. There will still be traffic, but you'll have skipped the worst of it.
posted by bruceo at 11:27 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Unless you have another reason for staying at the airport for a while, you could easily be driving away from there (assuming a carry-on only) 15 minutes from landing.

The earlier you can break from Sea-Tac, the more traffic you'll miss.

I'll second the route using SR-509, aka Seattle's secret highway. Shhh, keep it under your hat!
posted by Aquaman at 11:40 PM on August 19, 2007

Take the ferry to Vancouver.
posted by hortense at 11:52 PM on August 19, 2007

I disagree with the suggestion to go over to 405. 405 can be pretty ugly at that time of the day, and it's really not necessary to go that far out of the way.

Generally 99 is pretty good at 4 pm, so I would take bruceo's advice. And if you've never been to Seattle before, you'll be impressed by the view from the Alaskan Way Viaduct (99 through downtown). Just don't get too distracted and drive off the side. That would be bad.
posted by litlnemo at 12:45 AM on August 20, 2007

bruceo's advice is perfect, except for one thing: about 5 miles north of downtown, when you hit surface streets again, you want to take a right (east) at 80th street, not 85th, to get back onto northbound I-5. To get onto the entrance ramp, stay in the leftmost lane and turn left at the east side of the I-5 overpass. The 85th street route works also, but it simply cuts back to the 80th street entrance. Here's the Google Map for the relevant intersection.
posted by Araucaria at 1:20 PM on August 20, 2007

Heh, if you do that, you'll go right past my house. I'll wave as you go by!
posted by hattifattener at 1:21 AM on August 21, 2007

hortense: there's no ferry to the City of Vancouver (which is on the mainland). Perhaps you are confusing it with Vancouver Island.
posted by Emanuel at 9:09 PM on August 21, 2007

Response by poster: Just in case anybody's trolling through the archives...

We actually got into Seattle at 12:40 (I was thinking in central time when I originally posted) and the I-5 was mostly running at top speed, but we decided to poke around the city for the afternoon. We started heading north a little before 5:00, and the highway was totally clogged. We took 99 instead, which was great. From Denny Way, we took it about 10 miles through all kinds of stuff that must have been main thoroughfare businesses way back when. Traffic moved fairly well the whole time -- almost certainly better than the freeway -- and we got to see a pretty interesting part of the city. Thanks, MeFites!
posted by aaronetc at 9:07 PM on October 23, 2007

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