Thursday, April 8, 2021

Spokane: Home of the Zags and five new ramp meters

By Beth Bousley

Spring is a special time in Eastern Washington, not just because of March Madness and our beloved Zags but because of the wonderful climate. As more people head out to enjoy the sun they’ll notice smoother travel through Spokane thanks to the activation of five more ramp meters along Interstate 90.

By managing the flow of traffic onto a highway, ramp meters reduce congestion and improve safety. In fact, there have been 69% fewer collisions at US 195 and I-90 since Spokane’s first ramp meter was activated at that location in 2019.

Together, these six ramp meters will work as one system to manage and balance the flow of traffic in a more flexible, responsive way along I-90 and throughout the Spokane region’s local roads.

New meters active on April 13

The first of the new I-90 meters will be activated on April 13 with the others going live over the subsequent week:
  • April 13 - Walnut Street/Monroe Street eastbound onramp
  • April 14 - Browne Street/Division Street eastbound onramp
  • April 15 - Hamilton Street eastbound onramp
  • April 21 - Browne Street/Division Street westbound onramp

How ramp meters work

Ramp meters are traffic signals that operate according to real-time conditions on the highway and ramp. The signals provide consistent gaps between vehicles so that multiple vehicles don’t enter the highway at once. Devices beneath the pavement track information like timing and speed of vehicles and adjust the signal timing as needed.
The driver will see a sign flashing “Ramp Metered Ahead When Flashing.” When flashing, drivers form one or two lanes leading up to the ramp meter, stopping at the white line or stop bar to trigger the meter. From there it works like any traffic light: Red means stop, green means go. The ramp meter will only allow one vehicle per green light.

Time to adjust

Any time we make changes to highway operations it takes time to adjust and we know this will be no different. Ramp meters have been proven to improve safety and highway flow and we’re confident that will be the case with these new ramp meters. We will be monitoring them closely and making adjustments as needed. We appreciate everyone’s patience and teamwork as drivers get used to the new signals.


Brad said...

The eastbound Walnut merge can be very hairy with only one car merging. Releasing two cars simultaneously there seems like a bad idea.

WSDOT said...


Thank you for your comment regarding the new ramp meter in Spokane at eastbound Walnut. There will be no change to the two lanes on the ramp, but there are often a large number of vehicles released onto the ramp by the City stoplight, and the ramp meter will control the flow of those vehicles merging onto I-90. If you are concerned about the two cars being released at the same time, we suggest letting the other vehicle lead when the light turns green.

Unknown said...

Both today and yesterday the metered ramps have caused nothing but an increase in commute time and potential for accidents as people get frustrated with the wait time, as I've witnessed multiple people making quick movements to get through traffic. Traffic was backed up through downtown streets and the freeway was clogged for miles eastbound. It normally takes me 20 minutes to get home, but now it's taking 20 minutes to get on the freeway. I only forsee that traffic will move off the freeway and into the center of town, causing traffic issues throughout town. I don't see how there is a "learning curve" when the amount of people commuting is only increasing as the state opens up, and people live across town from their jobs.

Pothole said...

Wow. Did not go well the first few days. All the potential freeway traffic was completely grid locked on the surface streets. Spokane drivers don't like the change and don't do well with big city traffic. We are a short 2-3 exit town. When we get parallel surface streets on 2nd and 3rd built out, this will relieve freeway traffic and get the short travel drives off the Freeway. Works well in Texas and other states. Can't believe how many Spokane drivers hit the freeway for 1 or two exits. OUr freeway thru town is maxed out with no expansion planned, ever.

WSDOT said...


Hello and thank you for your comments about the ramp meter. If you had to use eastbound I-90 between the Geiger/Grove interchange and the Freya/Thor interchange after about 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 15, there was a significant collision involving multiple drivers that blocked the two left lanes. Only one lane was getting by during this time. The traffic on I-90 was not attributed to the ramp meters at all, but the traffic was due to the collision. Had the ramp meters not been operating during this time, traffic would have still backed up onto city streets because I-90 was over capacity and nearly at a standstill throughout downtown Spokane. Nothing could have been done to prevent the backups that occurred from the collision.

On “normal” days without collisions on I-90, the ramp meters are designed to reduce collisions as drivers merge onto I-90. Before ramp meters, any number of drivers could charge down the ramp and all try to merge at the same time. We call this platooning. With the ramp meters, we are spacing those drivers out and not allowing the platoon of drivers to happen. By releasing one or two drivers at a time through the ramp meter we are creating space between drivers and allowing for safer merging.

Where we have seen issues so far is with people not utilizing both lanes on some of our two lane ramp meters. Many times people have utilized only the left lane, which then does cause further backups as drivers crowd the left lane leaving space open in the right lane. We have also watched as drivers are trying to change lanes before the ramp meter causing backups into both lanes. The other issue we have seen are drivers not pulling up to the stop bar at the ramp meter. If a vehicle goes too far over, or stops too far behind, the ramp meter will not activate and remain red. We need drivers to pull up to the stop bar and wait in order to activate the ramp meter.

Again, it is a bit of a learning curve for people to get used to and like anything else, will take time. Please feel free to reach back out with any further questions.

Todd said...

I always take the Eastbound Brown/Division on ramp and have for the last 3 years. I have never seen a single backup to get onto the freeway in all those years until the ramp meters have been installed. These things are a nightmare and do the opposite from what I have seen since they were activated. Yesterday 6/2/2021 with not accidents mind you it took me 20+ minutes just to make it from W Main to 3rd. This usually takes less than 2. The traffic coming off of 3rd to get on the ramp would not stop so traffic on Browne couldn't even get on the ramp. The ramp remained full through multiple lights. This is insane as I said it worked fine even pre-pandemic which had a much higher volume of traffic. Please stop the madness and get rid of the ramps meters or at least only activate them after 5:00 in the evening. This happened to me at 4:00 in the afternoon. The cars cause more potential for accidents as it is harder to get to speed to merge into fast moving traffic.

WSDOT said...

Dear Todd,
Thank you for taking the time to email related to the Brown/Division ramp meters. As the WSDOT Eastern Region Traffic Engineer, I was asked to respond.

On June 2, there was a crash just east of the Division EB on-ramp, and the auxiliary lane and shoulder were blocked with emergency vehicles. You might have had to work through that congestion, or the remnants of the backup caused by a slow meter rate to assist with incident management. The meter rate was slowed to lessen the observed weaving between Division and Hamilton, as well as the potential for secondary collisions. Lower metering rates will affect the surface streets, but clearing the incident congestion more quickly allows the entire system to also recover more quickly.

We appreciate your questions and your patience. Please feel free to reach out with any further questions.


Glenn Wagemann, P.E.

ATSF199 said...

It's worked well for me.. I'm not a 2-3 exit commuter though. I use the walnut east ramp every am and appreciate the added safety of merging somewhat alone.

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