Dual road projects snarl East Sunset Way

August 17, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Flaggers help drivers navigate the East Sunset Way construction site as state crews widen the temporary, two-lane approach to the Interstate 90 interchange. By Greg Farrar

Drivers must steer through a construction gauntlet along East Sunset Way during the weeks ahead, as separate projects add space to the cramped street.

Construction crews in safety orange and heavy equipment line the road from Interstate 90 to Second Avenue to complete state and Issaquah School District plans.

Crews started shifting soil in June for the state Department of Transportation project to remake the approach to the interstate. The stretch from Sixth Avenue Northeast to the interstate can be a white-knuckle experience for drivers as tractor-trailers and buses maneuver through a tight curve bracketed by concrete barriers.

The school district started construction last week to reduce traffic congestion at Sunset Way and Second Avenue — a bottleneck on weekday mornings and afternoons during the school year. The price tag: about $185,000.

District Capital Projects Director Steve Crawford said the project should result in more efficient traffic flow through the corridor.

The project requires street parking to be removed from Second Avenue to Third Avenue Northeast, and both sides of Second Avenue Southeast from Sunset Way to Southeast Andrews Street.

Plans call for another lane to be added on westbound Sunset Way to create a left-turn lane — plus a combined through and right-turn lane — at the intersection. Crews plan to re-stripe Second Avenue between Sunset Way and Andrews Street to add a northbound right-turn lane.

City Public Works Engineering Director Bob Brock said the project adds needed capacity for more vehicles at a busy intersection. The city hopes the effort reduces the number of drivers cutting through downtown neighborhoods along Sunset Way.

The project also adds a sidewalk along the north side of the street — but no bike lanes. The enlarged lanes butt against street-side properties.

Crawford said major construction should be completed by Aug. 31, the day students return to school. Crews might continue to clean up the site after the scheduled completion date.

Brock said the timeline is tight, but he said the team should be able to meet the deadline.

“I do have my fingers crossed,” he said. “I’m going to be optimistic.”

Meanwhile, Bellevue-based Tri-State Construction is due to finish the Sunset Way interchange approach by mid-fall. DOT spokeswoman Jamie Holter said final road striping must be completed by the Oct. 15 deadline.

The project aims to add the final piece of the I-90 interchange completed in 2003.

Construction zones bracket East Sunset Way between Sixth Avenue and Second Avenue. By Dona Mokin

The state left the $117 million interchange unfinished in case the city decided to build the Southeast Bypass across Tiger Mountain.

Instead, the City Council nixed the proposed 1.1-mile roadway in a contentious 2008 decision. Opponents cited potential damage to the environment and increased traffic congestion as reasons to halt the planning process after $4 million and a dozen years.

Plans call for the curved Sunset Way to be widened from a single lane in each direction, bracketed by concrete barriers to wider lanes bordered by shoulders, curbs and a sidewalk. Workers also built a permanent support to replace a temporary retaining wall fashioned from dirt and high-density fabric.

The department budgeted $3.5 million for the project, but benefited from the recession-depressed construction climate. Tri-State Construction submitted the successful $1.3 million bid.

Though the initial plan called for up to 60 nighttime lane closures, flag crews limited the brief closures to the daytime through last week.

Brock credited the state transportation agency for taking steps to limit the impacts to motorists headed to and from downtown Issaquah.

“From a driver’s standpoint, it’s been almost invisible,” he said.

Prepare for detour

Plan ahead for a detour in downtown Issaquah next week during the East Sunset Way widening project.

Westbound traffic on the street will be detoured from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. Aug. 23, and possibly Aug. 24, as crews repave the road.

From Sunset Way, the detour will take a right turn onto northbound Third Avenue Northeast, a left onto westbound Northeast Alder Street and a left onto southbound Second Avenue Northeast to East Sunset Way.

Crews posted signs to alert drivers to the repaving and detour. Revised dates will be posted if weather delays the roadwork.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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One Response to “Dual road projects snarl East Sunset Way”

  1. Steve on August 18th, 2010 8:04 am

    I agree with Bob Brock’s comment on traffic impact. These projects had the potential to be a several weeks-long traffic disaster, but they have been well managed to mostly avoid that.

    I used “mostly” because there have been several times when the traffic light at the top of the interstate approach has been “stuck” for three minute (no exaggeration) red lights with no approaching traffic.

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