NE 45th Street Viaduct

Seattle's topography has always been a challenge to transportation, especially along west to east routes. A concerted effort in the 1930s to ease automobile traffic led to a series of bridge projects including construction of the NE 45th St Viaduct that would provide a direct route from Sand Point Way and Laurelhurst to Highway 99. At that time, the land at the base was mostly farmland. The project was approved in 1935 by Ordinance 65629 with major community support from the University Commercial Club. Construction did not begin until 1938. (The street designation was E 45th Street until 1961 when the directional designation was changed to NE.)

The viaduct was funded with a combination of federal Public Works Administration (PWA) dollars ($103,550), state gasoline tax revenue ($200,000), and a small appropriation in 1939 from the City Street Fund ($8,000). Other PWA-funded projects in 1938 included the Montlake Boulevard pedestrian overcrossing, 24th Avenue Southwest paving, East Madison Street repaving, and the Ballard Bridge.

The project was completed in September 1939 with great fanfare. A celebration luncheon was held at the Edmond Meany Hotel on September 28, followed by a parade that included the Husky Marching Band. The procession made its way from the Meany to the dedication ceremonies where Mayor Langlie cut the ribbon in front of several thousand spectators.

In 1955, funds were approved to widen the viaduct from two to three lanes; construction took place in 1956-1957. The construction was estimated to cost $192,000 and the funds were approved as part of a $10 million traffic improvement bond issue approved by Seattle voters in 1954. Additional funds for this project were approved in 1956, increasing the appropriation from $218,000 to $248,000. A 1956 scale of wages shows that carpenters earned $2.80 per hour in that year. The additional funds in 1956 were for a bus stop and for approaches to University Village. During the construction, traffic was limited to one lane eastbound. Westbound traffic was asked to detour to Blakely Avenue and Ravenna Place. Once the construction was finished, two lanes were designated for westbound traffic and one for eastbound. By the mid-1950s, the farmland was gone, but a Carnation plant and Shell station could be seen on NE 45th.

During a 1972 Engineering Department survey of bridge needs, it became evident that the wooden trestles on the east end of the viaduct were compromised by a 1966 fire and needed to be replaced. After two public hearings, it was determined that there would be no big changes to the viaduct. Work began in January 1976. Federal funds were used to help fund the project, and additional funds were approved in 1976 for rail replacement. In 1976, carpenters earned $8.90 per hour. For various reasons, mostly related to the pilings used and the noise of the pile-driving machine, the work took longer than expected. Neighborhood groups and businesses, as well as the University of Washington, made their concerns about the delay known to the City. The viaduct was closed from January to October 17th, 1976.

In 1983, City funds were approved for deck rehabilitation on the viaduct. Adverse weather and an initial unavailability of specialized equipment needed for the project required the completion date to be postponed until the spring of 1984. A temporary asphalt overlay was installed to enable the viaduct to be used during the time construction was stopped and restarted.

After a fire in January 1996, the viaduct was briefly closed so an inspection could be made of the supports on the west end.

In 2010, the viaduct was closed again for several months for a major project to replace the west approach. Portions of the approach dated back to 1938 and needed to be replaced for safety reasons. The project was budgeted at $30 million and was expected to last about six months.



Ordinance 65629 authorizing construction of the viaduct (Aug. 29, 1935)

Letter to Works Progress Administration (Dec. 18, 1935)

Ordinance 68414 authorizing acceptance of PWA grant (July 7, 1938)

Notice of contract award to Western Construction and cost estimate (Dec. 1938)

Ordinance 69252 increasing appropriation for construction (July 9, 1939)

Photo of viaduct construction (Feb. 3, 1939)

Photo of viaduct construction (Feb. 3, 1939)

Photo of viaduct construction (Feb. 3, 1939)

Photo of viaduct construction (April 3, 1939)

Photo of viaduct construction (April 3, 1939)

Photo of viaduct construction (April 20, 1939)

Photo of viaduct construction (June 2, 1939)

Photo of viaduct construction (June 2, 1939)

Photo of completed viaduct (Sept. 18, 1939)


Ordinance 84381 authorizing widening of the viaduct (Aug. 30, 1955)

Newspaper article about viaduct work (1956)

Ordinance 85365 authorizing additional funds for widening (Sept. 11, 1956)

Wage scale for workers (1956)

Photo of viaduct construction (Dec. 18, 1956)

Photo of viaduct luncheon (March 29, 1957)

Photo of viaduct ribbon cutting (March 29, 1957)

Photo of viaduct ribbon cutting (March 29, 1957)

Photo of viaduct after channelization (April 5, 1957)

Aerial photo of University Village area (May 14, 1962)


Ordinance 101607 authorizing preparation of plans, specifications, and estimates for the East Approach Replacement Structure (Nov. 16, 1972)

Environmental impact statement for East Approach (1972)

Memo re: need to replace portion of wood trestle (Oct. 12, 1973)

Letter to Washington Archaeological Research Center regarding geology of land (Feb. 10, 1975)

Request from City Engineer for more funds (May 7, 1975)

Approval of contract award to Dale M. Madden Construction (Oct. 27, 1975)

Wage scale for workers (1975)

Advertisement for University Village in Seattle Times (April 25, 1975)

Detour Map (1975)

Newspaper article about viaduct closure (Dec. 31, 1975)

Newspaper article about dispute over piling (March 18, 1976)

Newspaper article about construction noise (May 3, 1976)

Response to noise code violations (May 10, 1976)

Complaints and response regarding construction delays (Sept.-Oct. 1976)

Correspondence regarding rail replacement contract (1976)

Letter regarding completion of work (June 22, 1978)

Ordinance 108524 regarding funds and plans for west approach (Sept. 26, 1979)

Ordinance 109786 authorizing supplemental agreement regarding replacement of railings and walkway on west approach (March 25, 1981)

Ordinance 111176 appropriating funds for deck rehabilitation (June 13, 1983)

Correspondence regarding bid for deck rehabilitation (1983-1984)

Photo of viaduct looking east, including railings (August 12, 1981)

Photo of viaduct looking east, including railings (August 12, 1981)

Photo of viaduct looking west (August 12, 1981)

Aerial photo of viaduct (April 21, 1982)

Photos documenting west approach replacement work (2010)


Plans for E 45th St Viaduct. 25 drawings, December 2, 1938. Maps, Plans, and Drawings. Office of the City Clerk (Record Series 1802-C9), Seattle Municipal Archives

Records for E and NE 45th St Viaduct Construction, 1935-1985. Miscellaneous Improvements Records, Engineering Department (Record Series 2615-02), Seattle Municipal Archives

Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspapers

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.