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City workers adapt to commute
Future closures on I-90 and SR-520 expected
By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter
Despite the highway closure in Seattle that began nearly two weeks ago, city staffers who commute to work on the Island have made do so far.
Joy Bueling, the city’s communication coordinator, said the I-5 closure has not seriously affected city staff. People are making it to work and on time for the most part, she said.
However, some staff members have altered their schedule in order to do so. One of the Island’s firefighters, Trever Kissel, an 11-year veteran, changed his schedule to avoid the mess. For the rest of the month, he plans to drive from his home in Olympia on Sunday mornings and work a 72-hour shift. Firefighters usually work a 24-hour shift, then have 24 hours off before working another 24-hour shift.
“I’ve just squeezed another day in between my normal two shifts,” Kissel said. “It condensed my drive so I only have to [commute] once for three days of work. Plus, I start on the weekend, which made a heck of a lot more sense.”
Kissel also said he has carpooled with another Island firefighter from Olympia. The drive usually takes an hour and a half. He still takes I-5, which has been open on Sunday mornings so far, he said.
Kissel has lived in Olympia for more than a year after moving from West Seattle. He plans to return to his normal schedule when the construction is finished.
“I couldn’t work a 72-hour shift all the time. That’s a long time to be away from your family,” he said.
More work is ahead
The work on I-5 may be a warm up or learning experience for Island commuters. Road work on I-90 expected to take place next summer or the following—or both—will require commuters to adjust again.
The state department of transportation (WSDOT) expects to close lanes on the westbound floating bridge from Mercer Island to Seattle to do repairs similar to the I-5 work. That work will be mainly to replace large connection joints that have been cracking for years.
Theresa Greco, the I-90 manager of the WSDOT Urban Corridors Office, said the department of transportation has not made specific decisions for a closure but did say the repairs are needed. While an exhaustive replacement of these joints would require closing the entire westbound bridge, including the express lanes, the timing and severity of the closure have not yet been determined.
Greco said WSDOT still needs to find out from the manufacturer if the joints are available for a complete replacement. Otherwise, some work could be done in 2008 and the rest the following year.
Additional I-90 damages are being monitored on the East side as well, over the Mercer Slough. According to the most recent quarterly report issued by WSDOT, ongoing lateral movement of the 60-foot-thick peat deposit over the past 40 years has resulted in damages to the support structures and a major waterline that runs parallel to I-90. On several occasions, emergency repairs were conducted to maintain structural integrity.
In June 2007, an automated data collection monitoring system was installed at 20 different locations along the bridges over the Slough. This monitoring program provides automated collection of the superstructures, including real-time remote monitoring and automated alarms when superstructure movement exceeds thresholds.
There are other bridge replacements throughout the state that must be completed soon as well. There are 30 bridges statewide that have been identified for future repair and overlay. Currently, there are nine bridges under construction, and there are three bridges scheduled to begin construction in 2008. From July 2007 to July 2009, WSDOT will spend $27.8 million to repair and overlay 12 bridges.
According to the state’s biannual Bridge Replacement budget, June 2007 to June 2009, there are also 31 projects valued at $260.5 million.
The single largest project makes up more than half that cost. The Hood Canal Bridge, SR-104, is estimated to cost $156 million.
WSDOT inspects nearly one-half of all traffic bridges every two years.
Federal funds for new 520 bridge require tolls
Using federal monies for replacing the 520 bridge would require a toll, according to the announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation last week.
Last Tuesday, the USDOT announced it would provide an additional $127 million in federal funding for projects related to the SR 520 bridge replacement.
The toll would begin no later than September 2009, according to the agreement between WSDOT, USDOT, King County and the Puget Sound Regional Council.
State lawmakers and Mercer Island City councilmembers will be watching the debate regarding tolls in the coming year. Tolls may also be instituted on I-90. Tolls are expected to be a hot issue in the next legislative session, which begins in January.
Under terms of the federal grant, the county would receive up to $41 million to purchase 45 new buses and make other transit improvements. About $86 million would be used to develop and implement traffic management and traveler information systems. The grant would also bring up to $11.6 million for improvements to Puget Sound ferry service.