Bike, board a bus or telecommute to avoid I-90 hassles

June 30, 2009

State transportation officials urged Eastside commuters to consider bikes, buses or telecommutes ahead of the July 5 shutdown of the westbound Interstate 90 floating bridge. DOT officials believe fewer drivers on the road will mean a less congested commute when the bridge shuts down for two weeks.

Travel times between Issaquah and Seattle could balloon beyond 60 minutes during the shutdown. During the morning commute, all westbound traffic will be funneled to the express lanes — reducing the number of available lanes from five to two. The westbound afternoon commute will be cut from three lanes to two.

Engineers predict the worst traffic will be from 6-11 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. on weekends.

DOT officials encouraged commuters to plan ahead for the closure. With the shutdown only a few days away, transportation officials suggested employees and supervisors talk about working alternate schedules or telecommuting to avoid peak travel times. King County Metro and DOT officials also advised for commuters to consider mass transit and car- and vanpools as options.

Though the westbound mainline will be closed for around-the-clock construction until July 20, cyclists and pedestrians will be able to use the bridge. Crews constructed two temporary bridges at each end of the floating bridge. Cyclists will have to dismount and walk across the temporary bridges.

“If we had to close the bike lane, that would only put more people on the roads,” DOT spokesman Jeff Switzer said.

Switzer urged commuters to check a DOT project Web site for frequent updates.

DOT officials initially said the shutdown would last three weeks, but the agency paid about $500,000 to the project contractor as an incentive to finish the $8.5 million project in two weeks. The contractor, General Construction Co., of Poulsbo, completed work on the bridge in May ahead of schedule.

Switzer said lessons learned during the May shutdown allowed DOT officials and the contractor to negotiate a compressed schedule for the July closure.

In May, during the first phase of construction, commute times from Issaquah to Seattle doubled from the usual 30 minutes during peak times.

About 71,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day. Officials warned drivers that congestion would be severe during the shutdown. Expect bad weather and accidents to swell commute times as well.

During the shutdown, crews will install a pair of new expansion joints weighing 65 tons each. Joints — some of the largest in the world — allow the bridge to bend with traffic, weather and the water level in Lake Washington.

When the westbound span is closed to vehicles, four 12-person demolition crews will work 10-hour shifts to remove the existing, cracked joints and install new joints. Crews are already cutting into the concrete roadway to prepare for the project. The westbound span will be reduced to a single lane nightly from 11:30 p.m. until 5 a.m. through July 2.

Other construction preparations will cause daytime lane closures. Crews will close the express lanes from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. through July 2. The northern express lane will also be closed from 3-10 p.m. through July 2 near East Mercer Way.

During the full-fledged shutdown, two temporary bridges will allow cyclists and pedestrians to bypass the construction zones at the eastern and western ends of the roadway.

Cascade Bicycle Club launched the Bridging with Bikes initiative to educate commuters about getting across the bridge by bike. John Mauro, director of commute programs for the organization, said the shutdown presents a chance to get more commuters out of gridlock.

“Cascade’s Bridging with Bikes program is about making the physical connection for people during the construction to avoid major gridlock,” Mauro said. “But it’s also about making a longer-term and healthy lifestyle connection to the bicycle. Programs like Bridging with Bikes help us all stay fit and save money while building a stronger sense of community and having a lasting impact on the region.

“And it starts with a simple decision,” he added. “Begin the morning with a smile on a bike — and beat traffic on the bridge.”

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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