I-5 work diverts cars east

Express lanes will close, I-405 traffic to double

By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

It won’t just be I-5 causing trouble for the next few weeks. Local highways that connect the Island with the rest of the region are expected to have major congestion for most of the rest of the month because of the around-the-clock repairs that began on Interstate 5 last weekend in Seattle.

In addition to the I-5 closures, the express lanes of I-90 will be affected both by the construction work and special events already scheduled. Various closures are planned during the next two weeks. This Saturday, Aug. 18, the I-90 express lanes will be reversed for westbound traffic from 2 to 7 p.m. for a Mariner’s baseball game at Safeco Field. The following day the lanes will be closed from 6 to 11 a.m. for the Danskin Triathlon. Next Tuesday, Aug. 21 the express lanes will be closed from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for scheduled bridge maintenance.

Traffic on I-405 is also expected to double because of the closures. According to the state department of transportation (WSDOT) estimates, the amount of daily traffic on I-405 is expected to increase twofold. Approximately 70,000 vehicles travel daily on northbound I-405 between Tukwila and the I-90 interchange. WSDOT is estimating that an additional 65,000 vehicles will be diverted onto that span of 405 because of the I-5 closures. Roughly 260,000 vehicles travel daily on the portion of I-5 that is getting worked on and WSDOT estimates most drivers will use alternative routes.

While drivers should expect delays and congestion on the local highways and roadways for the rest of the month as traffic is diverted away from I-5, the state has provided the contractors with incentives to finish early. According to WSDOT, if the contractor finishes early the state will pay the company $100,000 for every day completed ahead of scheduled. And for every day the project runs over, the contractor will have to pay the state $100,000 per day.

The total cost of the project is around $15.5 million, with most of that coming from the statewide gas tax approved by the legislature in 2005.

I-5 will remain open at some times but with only one lane in each direction. Speed limits near the construction area will decrease from 60 to 55 mph, and decrease to 45 mph through the work zone. Work crews will be repaving over a mile of northbound I-5 between Spokane Street and I-90 near downtown Seattle, and replace or repair deteriorating expansion joints that connect concrete freeway deck slabs.

The suggested alternate routes include Airport Way S., Fourth Avenue S., First Avenue S., Alaskan Way S., SR 99, I-405 and East Marginal Way. During the five separate phases of the project, drivers will likely find lengthy, all day backups and significant delays on these freeways and city streets. The DOT estimates the congestion will last from 4 a.m. to midnight and will be the worst during the morning rush hours.

Semi-trucks are also encouraged to use I-405, East Marginal Way S. and Airport Way S., adding to the congestion and delay on those roadways. During the 19 days of work, some freeway ramps will also be closed, including the Spokane Street and Columbian Way on-ramps to northbound I-5 and the northbound I-5 exit to Fourth Avenue South.

Drivers are encouraged to ride the bus or bike to work and carpool during the closures.

For more information go to the project’s Web site at

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