When we schedule projects we look at a number of factors, including when doing work can cause even the smallest effect on traffic. Often though, our schedules are dictated by the nature of the job.
On Monday, June 15, we will reduce southbound Interstate 5 to one lane for six days and nights near milepost 268, between Birch Bay-Lynden Road and State Route 548/Grandview Road in Whatcom County. This will allow our contractor crews from Kiewit to build a new culvert under the southbound lanes. It’s a critical first step to improve fish passage and it must be done now when migratory fish aren’t in California Creek.
This is the first of four major lane reductions and closures north of Ferndale to replace culverts planned this summer in the I-5 and SR 548 area. The others are:
- Northbound I-5, starting in late June
- Zell Road north of Willeys Lane Road, starting in July
- The SR 548/Grandview Road and Portal Way intersection, starting in August
Building a bypass
For the past couple of weeks, our contractor has been building a bypass lane between I-5’s southbound and northbound lanes. When complete, this will allow us to divert traffic and safely build a new, larger culvert under the freeway to improve fish passage. The next phase will direct southbound traffic to the regular lanes and the crews will shift northbound I-5 onto the bypass and build a new culvert there.
|Crews from Kiewit are building a bypass lane between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-5 near milepost 268 in Whatcom County. They removed trees and are leveling the ground. When work is complete they will restore the site.|
Traffic is much less than usual
While there’s never a good time to cut a highway’s capacity in half, sometimes fate plays a role. COVID-19 led to a two-month Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. In addition, the U.S./Canadian border remains closed to all but essential travel. These events have cut traffic by more than 50 percent on I-5 near the Custer Safety Rest Areas, which are close to this project, as this chart shows:
|Average daily trips on I-5 near the Custer Safety rest areas are down more than 50 percent between late March and mid-May this year compared to the same period in 2019.|
In 2019, sharp weekend increases were the rule. This year, weekend traffic plummets. Even the midweek high points are barely half of a usual day, one year ago.
Improving fish passage in California Creek
This project is building four larger culverts with natural streambeds to replace old, narrow culverts that block fish passage. During spawning times, swift water through the old culverts kept migratory fish like salmon and steelhead from continuing upstream. The new culverts will open an additional 6½ miles of habitat for spawning salmon. It also will make it easier for resident fish to travel up and downstream.
Since gaining legislative support in 1991 for the fish passage improvement program, we have replaced hundreds of culverts that restricted or blocked access to historic spawning and rearing waters for salmon, trout and other species.