Friday, May 5, 2017

With deadline approaching, I-90 closure weekend could be a doozy

by Mike Allende

With just a few more weekends of I-90 directional reroutes across Lake Washington left, the end is near for of the I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations project.

That’s the good news.

The not so good news is that getting to that finish line will require work on a very busy weekend in the Puget Sound area. This isn’t ideal, but it’s necessary for us to meet our deadline of June 3 for opening the new HOV lanes across the highway and closing the express lanes to allow Sound Transit to build light rail across the lake.
Crews are getting close to finishing preparing I-90 for its new HOV lane across Lake Washington.

The biggest piece of work left is restriping the roadway to create room on the left side for the new HOV lane. After this weekend, things will look different in the eastbound direction of I-90, especially inside the Mount Baker Tunnel. Pay attention, as how the roadway looks and functions will be changing over the next month. We expect a period of adjustment both as we get ready to open the new HOV lanes and when the new lanes open and the express lanes close on June 3.

What’s closed?
The closure itself isn’t anything new, we’ve done this almost 30 times already. From 11 p.m. Friday, May 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 8, eastbound I-90 traffic between Rainier Avenue South in Seattle and Bellevue Way SE in Bellevue will be reduced to one lane and routed to the express lanes. Also:
  • The Rainier Avenue South on-ramps to eastbound I-90 will be closed. A signed detour will be in place.
  • The eastbound I-90 exit to Rainier Avenue South will be open.
  • The I-90 Trail will remain open.
  • Drivers hauling flammable materials will need to use I-405, SR 520 or SR 522.
The SR 513 Montlake Bridge will be closed for some of the day Saturday during the Opening Day of Boating Season festivities.

But that’s not all. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the SR 513 Montlake Bridge will also close for the annual Seattle Yacht Club Opening Day of Boating Season parade. The westbound SR 520 exit to Montlake Boulevard NE will also be closed. A police officer will control traffic taking left turns from the eastbound SR 520 exit to northbound Montlake Boulevard NE.

Why the closure?
We need to close the mainline of I-90 to allow crews to complete upgrading the two tunnels and to stripe the highway into its new configuration, including the new HOV lanes. Crews must often work across all lanes of traffic in doing the tunnel upgrades, and to safely stripe the highway, traffic must be kept off of the lanes. There is about 14 miles of striping to do and by closing the roadway for the weekend, they should – weather depending – be able to get most of it done.

But the special events!
Yes, this is a very busy weekend.
  • Windermere Cup/Opening Day of Boating Season is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Montlake Cut. 
  • Sounders MLS Cup rematch vs. Toronto at noon Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
  • Mariners vs. Texas Rangers at 6:10 p.m. Saturday and 1:10 p.m. Sunday at Safeco Field.
Unfortunately, there is no good weekend for this type of closure and we’re running out of weekends to get this done before our deadline. There are four weekends in May and two of them have the same Sounders/Mariners conflicts. Another is a holiday weekend. We do our best to work around as many major events as possible but in this case, it couldn’t be avoided.

Sounder train service will be a good option for those headed to the Mariners and Sounders games this weekend.

What am I going to see Monday morning?
If all goes according to plan, drivers will start to see lanes shifted to the right and the area that will become the new HOV lane taking shape. Pay attention on Monday morning because things will look different, which also means drivers may be behaving differently. Westbound drivers should expect to see similar changes after the May 12-15 weekend.

In the eastbound Mount Baker Tunnel things will be even more different. Instead of three lanes, drivers will see four lanes. Once they get out of the tunnels they’ll merge back into three lanes near the west high-rise. We realize this will be change for drivers so please pay attention to the new lane markings as well as the vehicles traveling around you. It always takes time for people to adjust to any traffic change, temporary or permanent. Ultimately the far left lane will become the new HOV lane but opening this small section to four lanes will help us keep drivers and workers safe while our crews finish work on the project.
Eastbound I-90 across Lake Washington will be detoured to the express lanes this weekend.
Why can’t you just open the lane after you’ve restriped?
Adding the new HOV lane isn’t as simple as just restriping the roadway. There’s a lot of work that needs to happen over the next month before we can open the new lanes, including signing, irrigation and putting the finishing touches on all those tunnel upgrades we’ve been doing over the past two-plus years. Our crews are working hard to get everything done so we can open the new HOV lanes on June 3.

What about tolls on SR 520?
The I-90 bridge will still be open so while traffic congestion will be higher because of the reroute to the express lanes, it will still be possible to use the highway to cross the lake. Waiving tolls on the SR 520 bridge would have a significant effect on toll revenue which is needed to cover debt payments. We have to apply tolls fairly and consistently to be sure that happens, including when we have lane closures on I-90.

What should people do?
If you’re headed to one of the events, leave as early as possible. We’re going to see added congestion on I-5, I-405 and other surrounding highways. If you don’t have to go into Seattle, now might be a great weekend to explore other parts of our state.

Another option is using transit. Sounder train service will be available for the Sounders game Saturday and the Mariners game Sunday. You can also take the bus or light rail to events at the stadium. Those going to the Windermere Cup might consider taking light rail to the Husky Stadium station. Buses are another option but be prepared for some potentially crowded routes, and it’s National Bike Month so if you’re comfortable riding, it will help you avoid any parking stress.

It’s going to be a challenging weekend but the end of this portion of the I-90 project is near and with some planning and adjustments, we’ll be able to head out and enjoy an exciting weekend.


Tommy Matala said...

Why don't you close the incomplete HOV lane on I-90E instead of creating traffic Armageddon half way across the bridge to Mercer island? You know people cannot merge!

It makes zero sense to leave the lane open, just close it from the beginning until you're done and we will just deal with the usual merge choke point at the entrance to the east bound tunnel past the Rainier exit. Seriously, people cannot merge and my commute makes me want to hug a chainsaw even more so!

Lee Legnon said...

Has anyone thought about waiting until school is out before closing down the dedicated commuter lanes? After school lets out, the traffic volumes cut down considerably and there would be less of an impact on the new East/West Commuter lanes. I'm sure there's a project plan and timeline to be considered, but what would waiting a few more weeks matter? Especially given that the train traffic wouldn't open until 2023 (or whenever)??


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