Alaskan Way Viaduct: Interview with Dan Evans

  • Posted 2/23/2012
  • Essay 10040
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This is an interview with Governor Daniel J. Evans (b. 1925) concerning Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct. The interview was conducted in January 2012 by Dominic Black. 

The Interview

I'm Daniel J. Evans and I worked as a structural engineer -- junior structural engineer -- on the design of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and then of course watched with great interest much later on as governor of the State of Washington when we built a whole series of freeway systems, which did connect with, but in many cases kind of overwhelmed, the original Alaskan Way Viaduct.

DB: How did you first come to be involved in the project?

Well when I graduated from the University of Washington shortly after World War II of course we were ... I had had a graduate degree in structural engineering and was looking for an engineering job and was hired immediately by the City of Seattle -- by the engineering department -- but within six or seven months I was asked to join a special design team which had been created to actually do the design work on the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

DB: Was that an exciting thing to be asked to take part in?

Oh sure, it was much more interesting and exciting than doing tedious design work on street intersections in Seattle and that sort of thing so ... this was a big project. It was by far the biggest project attempted in the Seattle area up to that time, really, and to be part of the design team, even as a junior member, was pretty exciting.

All of the plans were drawn -- you know -- by hand -- they were technical drawings that we would be involved with. Alongside of that of course we were doing calculations on pieces and parts of the structure. The general design, of course, was laid out by the senior member of the team, and when it got down to us we were working on the pieces and parts of the structure that were necessary. And it was ... it was really kind of fun to do calculations and translate those calculations into concrete and steel requirements for columns and for the connections between the columns and the flat plates that turned into the roadways. And then to go out and actually watch early construction and see what was done with your drawings and careful calculations when they were put together by a bunch of laborers out in the field -- so it was fascinating in all of those respects.

DB: What's your view of the viaduct now then?

Well, I think the Viaduct for 50 years has served a very useful purpose. It was -- remember it was a transitional kind of structure. When it was built it was built to bypass downtown because there was no other way to get from north to south or vice versa except by city streets. This was the first attempt to bypass. Well since then of course I-5 has come about so there's a much easier way, for most of the day at least, for people to get through Seattle, but traffic of course in those intervening years has built as rapidly as the new structures have been built.

DB: How will you feel when the Viaduct comes down?

Well, mixed feelings. I sometimes wonder why we aren't capable of building structures as lasting as the Romans and the Greeks built 2,000 years ago, some of which are still standing. Some of the Roman aqueducts I think are marvelous pieces of engineering built that long ago. We don't seem to build things that last that long and I don't know whether that's a good idea or a bad idea but that's the way it is, and ... I'll be sorry to see it go because it's a piece of what I did and what I helped accomplish. By the same token I have a very strong belief that Seattle, as a city which I love -- I've lived here my whole life and intend to continue -- that we deserve to redo that waterfront and to make it into what it really could be, which is a spectacular front door to Seattle.

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