Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Expect big I-5 traffic delays over last two weekends of July in Olympia

By Doug Adamson

If you drive on northbound I-5 through Olympia, most of the time you likely zip along at freeway speeds. You may not even notice the little "bump...bump" as you drive over the small northbound I-5 bridge at Pacific Avenue. Despite that small cue, the bridge needs a big repair.  That repair will take place over two weekends at the end of July, and it will help preserve the highway and avoid more costly repairs down the road.

Over the weekends of July 21 and July 28, northbound I-5 will be reduced to two narrowed lanes around the clock, from Friday night to each Monday morning. During the daytime significant backups are expected.

What are crews doing?
Contractor crews will repair two key elements of the bridge's infrastructure. Workers need to rebuild what is called a bridge approach slab. The slab is a piece of concrete that connects the northbound lanes with the bridge over Pacific Avenue. This approach slab continues to bow as material under the highway surface settles. In this project, the existing slab will be demolished and removed. Crews will then shore up the material under the highway and replace the roadway surface.

The second effort will be to replace a bridge expansion joint. The joint allows the bridge to move and flex with changing traffic and weather conditions.

Here is the bridge expansion joint that needs regular repairs. Workers will replace half of the joint and approach slab during the first weekend. Crews will finish the second half during the second weekend.

Why can't you do this work at night and during the fall/winter?
In western Washington, Mother Nature dictates when this and other types of highway construction can occur. We need mostly dry and warm weather in order for the concrete to set well. We are very likely to get poor weather during fall, winter and even early spring.

As for why this work can't be done during overnight hours, once crews start they must continue until it's complete. There will be times when there is no roadway to use. This kind of work also requires concrete curing time. The new roadway surface needs to harden before vehicles can drive on it, which means there may be times when drivers see closed lanes with no crews on site.  It means working through the entire weekend.

Keep traffic moving
We are concerned this work will create miles-long backups and we need your help.  We're asking all northbound I-5 drivers through Olympia to plan ahead.
  • Plan on traveling before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. to avoid lengthy backups
  • Make sure your gas tank is full before heading out.
  • Please drive carefully. Collisions within the backups would exacerbate the situation.
We will have additional Incident Response Teams pre-positioned in the work zone to clear any collisions that might occur. The Washington State Patrol will also be on scene to keep an eye on things.

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Carol Neeley said...

I'm wondering how bad the delays were this past weekend. I'm trying to decide whether or not to take my elderly mother to a family reunion in Portland. We'd have to drive back to Seattle on Sunday, and she can't sit in the car for long periods of time.

WSDOT said...

Carol Neeley, during first weekend of construction, traffic backed up at least several miles. We are expecting the same to occur this weekend. At the same time, we did see lighter traffic before 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday July 22-23.

Carol Neeley said...

Thank you! Do you know how much extra time it took around 11 a.m.? We probably wouldn't be getting to Olympia much before then.

WSDOT said...

Carol Neeley, I don't have the exact travel times, but it was stop and go traffic for miles. It's also very difficult to predict what will happen at that time this weekend. I wish I could give you specifics, but I can't.

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