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Ramp closure, construction create backups at I-90/ICW

Vehicles line up along S.E. 27th Street for the eastbound Interstate 90 on-ramp in downtown Mercer Island on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. Since the closure of the HOV on-ramp to I-90 from S.E. 80th Avenue, traffic through downtown has been busy in the evenings. - Chad Coleman/Staff Photo
Vehicles line up along S.E. 27th Street for the eastbound Interstate 90 on-ramp in downtown Mercer Island on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. Since the closure of the HOV on-ramp to I-90 from S.E. 80th Avenue, traffic through downtown has been busy in the evenings.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Staff Photo

It was a perfect storm of traffic complications. Last week, the eye of the storm was directly over the intersection of S.E. 27th Street and 80th Avenue S.E.

On Jan. 23, a key ramp used by buses to re-enter the I-90 center lanes, after exiting the Park and Ride, was shut. The ramp closure meant that buses from the Park and Ride had to turn left from 80th Avenue S.E. onto S.E. 27th Street, through a four-way stop, to get to the Island Crest Way on-ramp to I-90. Turning a 60-foot-long Sound Transit bus onto S.E. 27th Street during the Island’s evening commute is no small feat.

Adding to that, construction on both sides of the lanes on the ICW I-90 eastbound ramp and beyond backed up cars onto S.E. 27th Street. Complicating the situation further is the notable increase in traffic ostensibly avoiding tolling on SR-520 and the related increase in single occupant vehicles coming onto the Island from the express/center lanes. SOV drivers must exit on the 77th Avenue S.E. ramp, then turn onto S.E. 27th Street in order to re-enter the mainline I-90 eastbound lanes at Island Crest Way.

Blocked intersections, late buses and frustrated commuters were the result. The new traffic lights on S.E. 27th did not appear to help the situation.

On Friday, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) moved about 300 feet of barrier around and beyond the Island Crest Way on-ramp to increase volume and ease backups leading to the ramp and the I-90 merge. Noel Brady of WSDOT said they are waiting to see how effective that change is at relieving congestion for drivers getting onto I-90. Going a step further on Monday afternoon, WSDOT decided to re-open the-80th Street off-ramp to the center lanes used by buses during peak afternoon hours. WSDOT will have flaggers at the 80th Street ramp in order to expedite traffic flow for the buses there.

The 80th Avenue S.E. reversible I-90 express lanes ramp closed Jan. 23 and will remain closed to all traffic for up to four weeks. After some alterations, WSDOT ramp crews will be moving barriers and re-striping pavement to realign the ramp and connect it to the new eastbound outer roadway HOV lanes. When the ramp work is done, the ramp will no longer be reversible. It will serve as an on-ramp only to eastbound I-90 for transit and HOV traffic, exclusively.

WSDOT plans to continue this arrangement to alleviate traffic backups for one or two weeks until the contractor schedule requires closure of the ramp to build the barrier between the center roadway and  the ramp’s new connection to the eastbound mainline (and HOV lane), Brady explained. Completion of the ramp will also signal the completion of what WSDOT calls stage 2 of the I-90 project, which adds an HOV lane to I-90’s eastbound outer roadway from 80th Avenue S.E. to Bellevue Way.


 

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