Thursday, September 11, 2008

Beep! Beep! Road widening in Issaquah

You may have heard about the big traffic snag on SR 900 in Issaquah last week. Drivers sat in traffic for up to 45 minutes on a trip that usually takes less than 20.

Flaggers temporarily stop traffic on SR 900 to allow a truck safe access to the work zone. View more SR 900 construction photos.

Our phone lines lit up with calls from drivers wanting to know the cause of the delay and what WSDOT was going to do about it.

We learned that crews from WSDOT, Puget Sound Energy and the City of Renton were all working along SR 900 at the same time. Not to mention it was the first week of school for the Issaquah School District.

Within 24 hours we held an emergency meeting with the City of Issaquah and came up with a plan to coordinate lane closures and keep traffic moving.

Here is a blog entry about the work we are doing on SR 900 so you can get a better understanding of the project and how it will affect and benefit drivers.

– Broch Bender, WSDOT Communications

Two things pop into my mind when I think of Issaquah: Salmon Days and traffic congestion. While our traffic engineers may know little about how to pull off a famous festival, they do know a thing or two about how to reduce the notorious traffic bottleneck on SR 900 near I-90.

About 36,000 vehicles travel on SR 900 to and from I-90 each day. In 2004 our crews widened the roadway, and provided some congestion relief for SR 900 drivers through Issaquah until they reach Newport Way.

Now road construction crews are back on SR 900, also known as Renton-Issaquah Road SE, to finish the job.

(Another big project just down the road is steering Renton drivers to the already popular route, at times adding to construction backups. More on that later.)

We're on track to add a lane in each direction, doubling capacity on SR 900 from Newport Way to just south of Talus Drive. This will make it easier for traffic to get to and from I-90.

The widening project is expected to take about a year and a half to complete. We know a lot of drivers depend on this road to travel through Issaquah, so we are working to limit lane closures and traffic slowdowns.

This month, crews are expanding the bridge over Tibbetts Creek about a half-mile south of Newport Way. We're also building a retaining wall just north of Talus Drive.

Drivers can expect to see flaggers.

A couple times an hour, crews will funnel traffic into one lane at both locations weekdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. while construction trucks and equipment move in and out of the area.

Look for electronic message signs at both ends of the project for current wait time information. Delays are expected to last no more than five to ten minutes at a time.

Crews also will close the southbound right-turn lane to Talus Drive for the next month or so to help create a safer work zone for our orange vested folks.

Our closures have not affected traffic too much. However construction crews from the City of Renton have closed Duvall Avenue NE/Coal Creek Parkway to traffic between Sunset and SE 95th Way for approximately one year as part of the City of Renton’s Coal Creek Widening Project.

A lot of drivers are taking SR 900 as an alternate route to avoid Renton's ripped up roads.

On top of all that, utility and tree service crews within a mile or two of our work zone, near May Valley Road, also are conducting periodic lane closures. This might cause northbound SR 900 traffic slowdowns weekday mornings after 9 a.m.

At the end of the day, Issaquah and the surrounding areas are growing by leaps and bounds and we need to widen our roadways to accommodate this growth by increasing capacity and hopefully speeding up drivers’ commute times.

Besides wider roads for commuters on two legs, in a few weeks we'll make things better for commuting salmon. All this with Salmon Days just around the corner on Oct. 4 and 5.

We'll replace an aging, narrow culvert beneath the roadway at Clay Pit Creek at the south end of the project. In its place, a big, new fish-friendly culvert will be installed. When we say big, we mean BIG. This thing is 47-feet long, 8-feet wide and 6-feet tall, about the size of a semi trailer.

Check back in two weeks for the next slap of the fish tale and the upcoming temporary road closures.

Drivers can find out more about the SR 900 widening project and related lane closures by visiting .

September 22, 2008 - UPDATE - Due to changes in the project construction schedule, The SR 900 crew have postponed their fish culvert replacement at Clay Pit Creek until spring 2009. I'll keep you posted. --Broch


Anonymous said...

Why can't the construction workers work at night when there's minimal traffic instead of doing working during the busiest time of the day holding up traffic?

Anonymous said...

...because there are residences nearby. The City won't let contractors work at night if there are houses or apartments in the area. They'd rather piss off the commuters than inconvenience the citizens.

Anonymous said...

How are the Salmon getting upstream in Tibbets Creek during construction if the stream as been diverted through an 8" hose?

Broch Bender said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I keep hearing that crews can only close lanes starting at 9 AM however I travel the road each day at 8 AM and on many occasions they have already managed to snarl and stop traffic. Has there been any attempt to review the congestion and see if there are other solutions besides having thousands of commuters sitting in their cars.

Broch Bender said...

Road construction can be unavoidably noisy, especially for nearby residents. For this reason, it is true that the City of Issaquah has noise ordinances in place preventing road construction crews from working at night.

SR 900 is a well-traveled commuter route so we also have an agreement with the city to stay off the roads during peak commute times.

Our crews are only authorized to reduce lanes on SR 900 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., however crews from other agencies, such as Puget Sound Energy and the City of Renton, are also working along SR 900 at the same time. These agencies may have different agreements with the city and may be allowed to work earlier or later than our construction time window, causing more traffic backups on the highway.

Now onto the second question...

I spoke with WSDOT fish biologist, Andrew Gross, to find out about salmon using Tibbetts Creek while it is being diverted through an 8-inch to 10-inch hose.

Andrew explained how we work with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to only divert the stream when we know the adult salmon are not swimming in it.

The fish experts at WDFW provide our construction crew with a "fish window permit.”

The permit allows us to divert the stream during a very specific window of time when there are no migrating salmon using the creek.

According to the WDFW fish folks, the adult salmon run in Tibbetts Creek begins in late fall. Our fish window permit expires on September 30. We plan to remove the creek diversion hose and release Tibbetts Creek next week when our fish window permit expires.

julianprichard said...

My comment is that I can't understand why the abomination known as Talus was ever built in the first place before any road improvements went into place? Given the number of units they've constructed it doesn't take a lot to figure out that Talus would utterly screw up traffic.

Of course, the best solution would've been to not build Talus at all. That was a lovely forest before.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure someone considered that although these lane additions may help, they will also move the bottle neck a little farther south, to happen just after Tallis, moving the bottleneck from the Newport stoplight to the Tallis stoplight.

Anonymous said...

I understand that lane closures are necessary during construction. But please restrict lane closures to times outside of the peak commuting/school schedules. The Issaquah High School starts 7:25 AM all days except Wednesdays when they start only at 9:40 AM. So please delay Wednesday lane closures until after 10 AM. And flaggers please show some consideration to motorists, we are trying to get to work or get our kids to school or keep an appointment. Don't always flag us down immediately to always yield the right of passage to construction vehicles.

Meghan Soptich said...

I'm sorry that you experienced backups during this morning's work. We saw especially heavy traffic today because drivers were using SR 900 to avoid snow on SR 18 at Tiger Mountain. This week crews are closing lanes as they prepare to install a new water line. You can check our construction update report for more up-to-date closure information:

Anonymous said...


I had a specific proposal, i.e. delay lane closures until 10 AM on Wednesdays. I think it is a fair thing to ask. What is the WSDOT response?

Anonymous said...

The Issaquah School District bell times can be found here. You will note on Wednesdays schools serving the area Issaquah Middle, Pacific Cascade and Issaquah High start at 9:52 AM, 9:55 AM and 9:40 AM respectively. Please delay lane closures to until after 10 AM Wednesdays.

Meghan Soptich said...

Thanks for your patience during our widening project on SR 900. I spoke with our project engineer this morning about our closures for the water pipeline work. We have asked the flaggers to try to prioritize school traffic on Wednesday mornings. However, in order to give our crews as much time as possible for their work, we will not be changing the start time for the closures. You can expect intermittent closures on SR 900 with delays of 5-10 minutes. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any other questions or concerns (

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