If you drive on I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue, you’ve probably noticed some pretty apparent changes to how the roadway looks over the past few weeks, including a big shift of the three existing lanes to the right side of the roadway. This shift is making way for the extension of the HOV lane from Mercer Island across the floating bridge to Seattle.
The new HOV lane will open the weekend of June 3. At the same time, the I-90 express lanes will permanently close to allow construction of Sound Transit's East Link light rail extension from Seattle to Redmond.
While our contractor is working hard to get ready to make this happen, it’s also time for you to start thinking about what these changes mean for your I-90 drive.
What to look for
Over the next few weeks, you can expect to see more work in the corridor as crews make the final preparations for the new HOV lanes and the closing of the I-90 express lanes. There’s approximately 14 miles of striping between I-5 and Bellevue Way that needs to be done before we can open the lanes, as well as the final testing of the new tunnel operations system, and other work like signing and irrigation systems. As you’re driving through the corridor be on your A game and pay close attention. The roadway will be changing and in transition for the next month or so.
You can also expect a period of adjustment when the new HOV lanes open and the express lanes close. This is a big change for everyone that uses I-90 across Lake Washington. It could take months for traffic to settle into its new routine.
I cross Lake Washington on I-90 all the time. What does this mean for me?
Let’s walk through the overall changes and then get into some details for specific areas.
The existing HOV lane currently starts or ends – depending on the direction you are traveling – near 80th Avenue SE on Mercer Island. After the weekend of June 3, this lane will extend all the way across the floating bridges to Rainier Avenue in Seattle. There will be one seamless HOV lane between Seattle and Issaquah that doesn’t depend on the direction of the express lanes.
The I-90 trail will remain open and unchanged for those who use it to bike, run or walk. Buses between Seattle and the Eastside will continue to use the same routes and stops they do today.
Rainier Avenue area
- The ramps to and from the express lanes near the Mount Baker Tunnel will close.
- The express lanes HOV ramps at 5th Avenue S in Seattle will become bus only.
- The I-90/Rainier Freeway Station will remain open for bus riders heading between Seattle and the Eastside. It will continue to operate until September 2018 when Sound Transit begins construction on the Judkins Park Light Rail Station.
Mercer Island traffic
- The westbound Island Crest Way on-ramp will become HOV only. You’ll need at least two people in your vehicle to use this ramp. Solo drivers will need to use 76th Avenue SE, East Mercer Way or West Mercer Way to access westbound I-90.
- An eastbound HOV exit from the new HOV lane to Island Crest Way will open in mid-July. The existing right side exit will remain open.
East Channel Bridge area
- The express lanes ramps near East Mercer Way will close.
These are obviously some major changes on a very busy corridor. The key will be studying up on what to expect, familiarizing yourself with the changes and then paying close attention when you’re on the highway. There will be a bit of a learning curve but eventually the new normal will kick in.