Workers enter ‘home stretch’ in SR 900 construction

February 23, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Afternoon traffic lines up on state Route 900 at Northwest Talus Drive on Feb. 17 as work on the road-widening project nears completion. By Greg Farrar

Frequent closures along a stretch of state Route 900 near Talus could be a memory by late spring, as workers complete the final piece in the yearslong widening project.

State Department of Transportation crews widened the road from Newport Way Northwest to the vicinity of Northwest Talus Drive and Southeast 82nd Street. Narrow shoulders bracketed the old, single-lane roadway.

Workers added a lane in each direction and a left-turn lane in the center of the roadway, as well as a bike lane and a raised sidewalk on the west side of the road.

The effort continues the long-running plan to widen SR 900. Crews completed widening a section of the roadway from Interstate 90 to Newport Way Northwest in December 2004. Lanes could open to drivers as early as next month.

“We’re definitely in the home stretch,” Project Engineer Dave Lindberg said last week.

Expect several more weeks of lane closures as workers complete the $33.9 million project. Crews worked during good weather throughout February to make up for time lost during rain-soaked January.

“If everything comes together weather-wise, we should be able to wrap up by the end of April,” Lindberg said. Construction started on the project in August 2008. Officials originally planned to complete the project in 2009, but weather delays pushed completion into this year.

Transportation planners estimate about 36,000 vehicles daily travel on state Route 900 just north of Northwest Gilman Boulevard. The earlier widening project relieved some traffic congestion from the eastbound I-90 off-ramp — among the busy interchanges in the state — to Newport Way Northwest. Construction started on the initial phase in July 2003.

But the project did little for drivers who use the section of state Route 900 just south of busy Northwest Gilman Boulevard. Planners estimated about 16,000 vehicles daily use the section under construction.

Besides a wider roadway, transportation officials plan to synchronize the timing of traffic signals in the corridor to improve flow. City transportation officials plan to tie the signal into the citywide Intelligent Transportation System — a series of traffic signals interconnected to smooth traffic flow — after state crews finish.

Lindberg said drivers could notice reduced travel times through the corridor, but he and other transportation officials emphasized the safety improvements and added traffic capacity.

“Any time you see improved traffic flow, you see reduced congestion-related collisions,” project spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.

State planners also incorporated environmental improvements into the road project. Workers replaced aging, broken culverts at the Clay Pit Creek and the west fork of Tibbetts Creek with large culverts lined with streambed gravel. The old culverts proved to be a problem for fish swimming upstream; the new fish-friendly system aims to correct the problem.

Workers also added plants along the roadway to help improve fish habitat in the creeks, as well as to prevent flooding.

“From our perspective, we’re just looking forward to the project being completed,” city Public Works Engineering Director Bob Brock said.

Project Coordinator Pam Fox, the city liaison to the project, said the DOT seemed receptive to city concerns, although the city had few issues with the project. Brock said city officials pushed for a 10-foot-wide sidewalk to be included in the project to improve the pedestrian corridor along the section of roadway. Transportation planners added the feature to the project.

Officials used money collected through a 5-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax to pay for most of the project. The city paid about $19,000 to install additional lighting along the route.

King County, Sound Transit, the Talus developer and the city helped the DOT pay for the initial widening from the interstate to Newport Way Northwest.

Brock said the completed roadway should reduce traffic headaches for commuters, including city employees, who use the route to travel between Issaquah and Renton.

“It feels like you’re driving on a freeway all of the sudden after driving on nothing,” he said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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