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.

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.

Cyanna DiRaimo runs for miles and miles. Sometimes, she runs along Aurora for a block or two (in order to cross), and imagines Aurora as an urban village.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

City officials have designated some parts of the aging Aurora Avenue as “urban villages” (dense, walkable neighborhoods near transit). But Aurora has a ways to go before it resembles a village. 


A section of state Route 99 near Evergreen Washelli Funeral Home that does not have sidewalks, but does have pedestrians.
GoogleMaps

This summer the state highway department plans to show Aurora Avenue North some love – in the form of fresh paving.


Tiny homes are shown on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, at the Licton Springs Tiny House Village on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

A homeless encampment sanctioned by the city of Seattle is hoping to have its permit extended for another year.

City officials say the tiny house village in the Licton Springs neighborhood is meeting its contractual goals.


Aurora, formerly the Seattle Speedway, is a relic from the early days when the city dreamed that free and easy travel by car would open its boundaries and attract people to its center.

The northbound lanes of the SR 99 tunnel are shown on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle's SR 99 tunnel will have cellular phone service, sprinklers in case of fire and a pedestrian escape route. 

A mural commissioned by the Aurora Merchants Association is shown on Monday, March 26, 2018, near the intersection of Aurora Avenue North and N.105th St., in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Aurora Avenue North is a place where you can buy a car, sell a car or get fancy rims for your tires. If your vehicle has ever been towed in north Seattle, you may have written a painfully large check to Lincoln Towing so they’d release it. For decades, Aurora’s business community has been dominated by car-oriented businesses.

That time is coming to an end. And those businesses are fighting to maintain what influence they have left.


Angel Hackman leads Ruby Oswell (center left) and her friends across Aurora's new crosswalk at 92nd on their way to school.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Before there was I-5, there was Highway 99. 


Construction continues on a new apartment complex on Monday, March 12, 2018, at the intersection of Aurora Avenue North and 109th St., in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Commuters — in 43,000 cars every weekday — see Aurora Avenue as a river. Pedestrians trying to cross from one side to the other see it as a wall. 

In coming weeks, KUOW's Region of Boom team will explore how growth is changing State Route 99 from Shoreline to Tukwila.


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

What does Aurora mean to you? Al Jawann Johnson answered that question with a spontaneous poem:

"Aurora is to me the beast in the night. It is the beauty that I see in the streetlights. It is the wayward women walking to and fro. It is the depressed joy on the homeless as they go. It is the broad city lights and cars that drive by so fast. It is the backstreets where quiet streets and houses put their heads on the pillow at last."