Monday, April 17, 2017

Relieving the aches and pains of an aging I-5

This is the first in a four-part series on highway preservation work starting this month on northbound I-5 from Kent to Seattle.

By Justin Fujioka

It's been a while since it cost just 5 cents for a first-class stamp, 50 cents for a gallon of milk and $20,000 for an average home.

Back in the early 1960s, color television was making its debut, Seattle's newly-built Space Needle was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River and construction of Interstate 5 through King County was in full swing.
Construction of I-5 in Seattle in the late 1960s

Much has changed since then, but the driving surface of I-5 through Washington's most populated area isn't one of those things. Sure, we do regular inspections and preventative maintenance work, but we haven't done a full-blown rehabilitation. Well, northbound I-5 from Kent to Seattle is about to get a much-needed extreme makeover as we replace much of the pavement and fix dozens of aging expansion joints.

Outliving its expectations
When this 38-mile stretch of I-5 opened in 1965, I'm not sure anyone imagined that the concrete pavement would survive largely untouched for more than 50 years. Whether it was the type of cement used, the amazing work of its builders or our regimented upkeep, one thing's for sure – the freeway is outliving its expectations, possibly by decades.

Showing its age
No matter how well you take care of something, almost everything has a lifespan. You can repaint sections of your house as needed, but one day you'll need to repaint the whole thing. That's where we stand with I-5. Despite repairs on several sections of concrete and the replacement of many expansion joints, the time has come for a major overhaul.
Aside from regular inspections, preventative maintenance work and emergency
repairs, the driving surface on this section of I-5 has held up for 50-plus years.

As many as 236,000 vehicles use this corridor each day. More than half a century of heavy traffic and Pacific Northwest weather have taken their toll. Much of the driving surface is worn out. You can feel it – from the bumps where concrete panels are broken to the backups caused by lane closures from aging expansion joints popping up. The signs are pretty obvious.

It comes down to timing and available funding
I'm sure you're asking, “Why didn't you do something about this earlier, before we got to this point?” That's a fair question. It all comes down to timing and available funding.

Although much of the Interstate Highway System in Washington state was built around the same time, each section of freeway is aging at much different rates depending on wear and tear from traffic and weather. We tackle the worst spots first using a set amount of funding we receive each year from the legislature for highway preservation projects, like our recent pavement work on southbound I-5 from Tukwila to Federal Way.
Emergency repairs such as expansion joint work have caused some traffic nightmares on I-5 in Seattle.

Between waiting for funding and juggling construction schedules that are carefully timed around the dry season, special events, other projects and hundreds of thousands of commuters, some corridors end up waiting longer than we'd like before getting some love. In those cases we do the best we can to maintain the road as well as possible with temporary fixes.

What to expect
This month, our contractor crews begin a multi-year project to rehabilitate the driving surface of northbound I-5 from Kent to Seattle. This is a huge undertaking that we expect to last 2-3 years. Some work will require weekend-long lane reductions – a cost many of us will have to budget into our lives in order to avoid huge backups while keeping the corridor safe and sound for the next 50+ years. We want to thank commuters in advance for adjusting around what we know will be some rough commutes… because we all know, traffic volumes are not at 1960s levels, along with just about the cost of everything nowadays.


Thrillsneak said...

How about we have at 3 full time northbound I-5 thru Seattle since that is a bottle neck since the freeways beginning..solve THAT problem..get rid of the Seneca st exit..

WSDOT said...

We have a project planned to add a third northbound through lane after the Seneca Street exit:

We completed design work for this project, but unfortunately, the legislature has not provided us with funding for construction.

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