Along the Mother Road | KUOW News and Information

Along the Mother Road

Traffic is shown on Aurora Avenue North on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

State Route 99 is an iconic roadway — a relic from Seattle’s early days when the city dreamed that free and easy travel by car would attract people to its center, and later, help them bypass congestion downtown.

But what sped by was time. The road is better known today for its seedier side — prostitution, homelessness, discount stores and car dealerships.

Seattle’s growth is bringing changes and tensions to the throughway some call Seattle’s “Mother Road.” We look at what it tells us about where we came from and where we’re going.

Ericka Frodsham 2018
Mike Kane for KUOW

In 2015, photographer Mike Kane met Ericka, a sex worker on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle. Ericka was selling sex to support her heroin and meth addiction, and she was so weak she believed she could be dead within a year. She was estranged from her three young daughters and spent many nights on the street. 


A street sign on Aurora Avenue North, part of the historic highway 99
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Over the past few months, a team of KUOW reporters has explored the impact of growth along Highway 99 from North Seattle down to Tukwila. Reporter Joshua McNichols told Kim Malcolm why they followed this road and what they learned along the way.

Mike West has watched Tukwila change from his spot beside the (former) highway 99 since 1971.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Mike West likes to watch for someone from out of town to walk by on Tukwila International Boulevard. He leans out  the door of the auto shop he's occupied since 1971.

"Hey, you want to see something?" he asks.

He's semi-retired now, so he has a lot of time for this kind of thing.


Ali Jama stands behind the counter of Havenice Day Jewelry on Thursday, April 19, 2018, in Tukwila.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Meet Ali Jama. He owns a jewelry store with a clever name: Haveniceday Jewelry.

“A simple name that everybody can remember and say it without having any difficulties," he said. 


These three women are among hundreds of seniors moving to Tukwila International Boulevard, a stretch of the former highway 99 once known for crime and prostitution.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The city of Tukwila has spent years trying to turn a section of old highway 99 into a dense, walkable neighborhood. But it’s not easy to redefine a road. Now, Tukwila is getting some help from an unlikely population: seniors. 


Victoria Marshall is one of hundreds of seniors who live in subsidized senior housing just off Aurora. She has a view of the lake, but says she feels profoundly disconnected from civic and cultural life.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Victoria Marshall was born in 1945, and she’s full of stories. She can talk about the four years she was homeless, about raising kids, or about her deep knowledge of animals, which she sometimes shares with people at the zoo.


Men exit the Abu-Bakr Islamic Center after prayer on Friday, April 20, 2018, in Tukwila.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

For years, Tukwila’s stretch of highway 99 was known for its crime: drug sales, prostitution, burglaries and violence. Then one morning in 2013, hundreds of police officers raided the old motels where most of those crimes were happening.

Mohammed Jama ran a small shop next to the motels. He’s part of the large Somali and refugee community centered around the Abu Bakr mosque in Tukwila. 

He told us the raid changed his life.


De'Sean Quinn shows his prized possession: the key to one of the motels that used to dominate Tukwila's stretch of the old highway 99.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Everything had to work perfectly.


This stretch of 99 is looking more walkable today because Tukwila took it from the state.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

It started with street trees. Tukwila wanted to plant some along state Route 99 to slow down traffic and beautify the area.

But the state said no. Trees, it turned out, were not safe, at least not as safe as lamp posts. 


Tukwila International Boulevard, which was once highway 99, is at the heart of our Tukwila reporting.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Tukwila, a small city of about 20,000 people, punches above its weight.

That's partly because it's willing to throw elbows around, seizing property by any legal means necessary in order to turn an aging remnant of highway 99 into the dense, walkable neighborhood many officials want. The technique is effective, but it can leave bruises.


Hector Casador works at the South Transfer Station in South Park
KUOW photo/Kate Walters

When you throw away a piece of trash, do you ever wonder where it goes and who deals with it? If you live in the city of Seattle, there’s a good chance that your garbage ends up at the city’s dump in South Park, right off Highway 99.

Courtesy of Joyas Mestizas and Nohemi Gardea

Drive south on Highway 99 and you’ll go straight through the middle of Seattle’s South Park neighborhood.

KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

When Highway 99 becomes a tunnel and the Viaduct comes down next year, Seattle starts work on the waterfront of its dreams. There’ll be a bike corridor, a walk-up to Pike Place Market — even a play area for kids.

And one special group of property owners is being singled out to pay. 

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is shown on Friday, March 9, 2018, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Kim Malcolm talks with reporter Carolyn Adolph about the risks faced by the state of Washington as it considers tolling the Highway 99 Tunnel. 


From left, Abdi Adan and Tawfik Maudah read over the  demands that they will make before entering Tukwila City Hall with community members and business owners on Thursday, April 19, 2018, in Tukwila.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Business owners and community members marched to Tukwila City Hall last Thursday to deliver a letter protesting a proposed police station and courthouse that would displace two dozen small businesses, most owned by East African refugees.

Cameras on the Highway 520 bridge take pictures of license plates as vehicles pass to assess tolls.
Flickr Photo/Wonderlane (CC-BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/9ftjw3

Drivers will have a free ride on the state Route 99 tunnel in Seattle when it first opens this fall. After a few months, however, expect to pay a toll of $1.00-$2.50 for each trip.

The Washington State Transportation Commission has proposed multiple tolling options and will present them in public meetings this spring. 


An Emergency Evacuation Route sign is shown on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, inside the SR 99 tunnel in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Soon, state Route 99 — and the rest of us —will have a new asset: a completed Alaskan Way tunnel.

The $3.2 billion tunnel provides an earthquake-safe route under our downtown. However, the state highway department says it’s taken the highway off its list of Seismic Lifeline routes


Safety representative for the Seattle Tunnel Partners, Marisa Roddick, wears stickers on her helmet for each year that she has worked on the tunnel project, from 2013 to 2018, on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in Seattle.
KUOW photo/Megan Farmer

When Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct was built in the 1950s, we didn't know much about earthquakes. California's Loma Prieta quake in 1989 opened our eyes when their viaduct collapsed and crushed 41 people. 

And when the Nisqually quake in 2001 damaged our own viaduct, it sealed the deal for officials: The viaduct had to go.

Commuters ride the E Line bus southbound on Aurora Avenue North, around 5:30 a.m., on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

The RapidRide E Line is Seattle's most crowded bus route, with more than 17,000 boardings each weekday. It connects Aurora Avenue North to downtown.

Bill Steele demonstrates of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network uses a shake table to show how earthquake forces gain power as they move away from the ground. But under the ground, it's a different story.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

The Seattle region has been growing so fast, there are now 400,000 more people here than in 2009, when we agreed to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. 

Nichole Fabre drives the RapidRide E Line bus up and down Aurora. On a recent weekday morning, she started driving around 3:55 a.m., beginning in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

The most congested bus route in King County runs down Aurora. It’s called the RapidRide E Line. The crowding on those buses brings all kinds of people together.


From left, Damaso Garcia, Jose Martinez and Justin Ducette laugh during a break on Thursday, March 1, 2018, at Evergreen Washelli Cemetery in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Have you ever wondered what it's like to work at a cemetery? Here's your chance to find out. 


An American flag is shown between rows of headstones in the Veterans section on Thursday, March 1, 2018, at Evergreen Washelli Cemetery in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle’s biggest cemetery begins with a tragic story.  

Ed Ponce owns and works at JE Wheels and Tires at Aurora Avenue North and North 145th Street.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

JE Wheels and Tires is the first business you pass as you enter the city of Seattle on Aurora from Shoreline. Here's what it's like to work on the highway.

We customize cars and give them a special kind of look on their wheels. So, the wheels are the shoes. We call them the shoes. So, you dress in an outfit, and you’ve got to have the right shoes for your outfit.

Owner of Little Amazon, Linh Nguyen, holds iguanas on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Originally, the Nguyens were fish breeders, supplying the region’s pet stores.

Aurora Avenue North was good for that: Highways are where you want to be if you distribute stuff. 


Yurie Crockett sucks up used fry oil for recycling into biodiesel. His employer will pick up congestion tolling on his work vehicle (and he commutes by bus), but believes it will hurt people struggling to stay in the city.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed a new way to reduce congestion and pay for transit this week by tolling cars coming into the city. It’s called “congestion pricing.”

But the idea of increasing costs in this increasingly expensive city raises eyebrows. Maybe try better marketing, says one expert.


Rene Reynoso, left, and Cheyenne Reynoso, right, embrace on the bunk bed in their tiny home on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, at the Licton Springs Tiny House Village on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

The Licton Springs Tiny House Village on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle differs from the other city-authorized homeless encampments

Of the six sanctioned camps, it's the only low-barrier site, meaning residents don't have to be sober to live in one of the tiny homes — spaces 8 feet by 12 feet with windows, heat, electricity and a locking door. 

See that dumpster over there? A narrow space behind it is just one of the places David Wickingstad has lived along Aurora.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

David Wickingstad is homeless on Aurora. He gives us a personal walking tour of the spaces that help him survive along this neglected highway.


Ja'Shay Macklin, 10, left, plays with a football as her twin brother Ja'Sean watches their mother Stephanie Macklin-Jones work on a rubik's cube in their room at the Everspring Inn on Monday, March 26, 2018, on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

The motels on Aurora Avenue are a throwback to a Seattle of days gone by, with their weather-beaten signs and green vacancy lights flashing.

A worker in Boise puts together an apartment bound for Seattle.
Guerdon Modular Design

The apartment complex at Aurora and North 109th Street in Seattle was built on the cheap.

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