Why did it take 9 hours to open SR 99 in Seattle after truck crash? Blame the fish

SEATTLE -- It took just one overturned semi loaded with fish to shut down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and paralyze southbound traffic in Seattle.

Frustrated drivers say Tuesday evening's gridlock was unbelievable.

City leaders on Wednesday said they sympathize but that they were up against a complicated cleanup.

“People were cutting lanes and cutting in front of each other,” driver Hemant Kawale said of the traffic nightmare.

“It was crazy madness,” driver Alexandra Greenwald agreed.

The gridlock caused Greenwald to give up on getting home.

“Yes, I went back to work for like three hours,” Greenwald said.

The snarled traffic delayed the start of the Seattle Sounders game. Goalie Stefan Frei ditched his car midway and ran to CenturyLink Field.

“I got from my house to the Westin Hotel -- 5 blocks in 45 minutes of driving; I had to park the car,” Frei said.

People abandoned Metro buses and started walking down the viaduct. It took city workers more than nine hours to open the southbound lanes of State Route 99 despite two tow trucks arriving within two hours of the accident.

“It’s ridiculous,” Greenwald said.

What took the city so long?

“Sometimes you have to balance moving quickly and moving safely,” Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly said Wednesday.

But why not just drag the semi to the side of the roadway? An overhead image showed there was space.

It "would risk causing the container to rupture, spilling all the fish all over SR 99, which would have taken us into today to clean up,” Kubly said.

Officials say dragging the semi could have also damaged the roadway.

“If there is a quicker, faster way to do it next time, we will find it, but last night we did the best job we could with the resources available,” Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said.

Mayor Ed Murray is asking for $900 million to improve transportation in Seattle.
But even that kind of money isn’t a guarantee that another traffic nightmare will be avoided in the future.

Murray said, “$900 million will not change human nature when people get into accidents for whatever reason.”

Murray is hoping the Lander Street expansion and possibly changing signal times will help with future accidents.