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Originally published Monday, November 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Confusing lines on I-405

Q: The state Department of Transportation made a rather big deal several weeks ago about demolishing the Wilburton Tunnel along southbound...

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Q: The state Department of Transportation made a rather big deal several weeks ago about demolishing the Wilburton Tunnel along southbound Interstate 405 to make way for widening the freeway south of downtown Bellevue.

Some commuters hope the state will make as big a deal about fixing the freeway's lane markings.

David Reeve, who lives in Issaquah and works in downtown Bellevue, is concerned about traffic congestion and safety.

"With the widening of I-405, the lines on the freeway [through Bellevue] have become virtually nonexistent," he said. "With the removal of the Wilburton Tunnel, I had anticipated that there would be free-flowing traffic at least [to] I-90. However, this is not the case, and I believe that it would be significantly alleviated if new lines were painted on the freeway or ... the old lines would be removed properly."

With blurred lane markings, Reeve says he finds it hard to tell where lanes should be and which lanes should be used to head east and west at the Interstate 90 interchange, south of where the Wilburton Tunnel used to be.

"I have to believe that if you throw vehicles onto a freeway without clearly delineating where the lanes of traffic are, you have a recipe for trouble," he said.

Another driver, who commutes occasionally on I-405 from her Snohomish home, says she's bothered by light-colored dash marks all over the freeway lanes where the tunnel was removed. "Driving over that pattern was hard on my eyes and caused me to have vertigo," she said. "I had to change my route and am still avoiding that area."

A: In places, I-405 was plagued by cement panels that had started to rock back and forth slightly, causing a thumping sound as vehicles traveled over them, and tire ruts in the roadway were a problem, says Steve Peer, the state Department of Transportation's I-405 project spokesman.

To repair the road, crews attached the panels together with steel bars known as dowel bars, installed by cutting slots in the pavement where two panels join and placing a dowel bar in each slot to secure the panels. Then the slots were filled with concrete. After that, a pavement grinder was used to remove the bumps at pavement joints.

The entire process is known as a "dowel-bar retrofit," and crews have been working on it for the past few months, Peer said.

Slots that were cut in the pavement are most likely what appear as light-colored dash marks, he said, but they should be barely visible now that pavement repairs are finished in both directions of I-405.

Crews have been working on lane restriping and installation of lane buttons southbound from Southeast Eighth Street in Bellevue to the I-90 interchange, said Peer. The state hopes to open two new southbound lanes between Southeast Eighth Street and I-90 by the end of this month, if weather permits. Dry weather is needed for crews to get the work done, he said.

Once the new lanes are open, southbound traffic flow should show a significant improvement, he said.

Meanwhile, the freeway lighting that's there now is only temporary. Permanent lighting probably won't be installed until next spring. After that, the state plans to start work in the freeway's northbound lanes.

Q: Not all Bumper questions are rants or even raves. Some are simply curiosity. That's probably what prompted a query from Queen Anne resident Martha Lester and her 14-year-old niece, Nina Finley, who lives in Wallingford.

Nina noticed the other day that when the Montlake Bridge is opened for boats to pass through, Metro Transit's electric trolley wires go slack and dangle so low that in the middle they appear to touch the street.

It seems all anyone would have to do to touch them is run under the red-and-white traffic gates. Even a pet could do that.

"Are they dangerous? Or is there some mechanism to de-electrify them when the bridge goes up?" Lester asked.

A: Jerry Rutledge, Metro Transit's power and facilities manager, says the wire connections on the bridge are designed so that when the bridge spans are opened, all electrical connections are de-energized and the wires across the bridge are no longer hot.

The wires and connections on the bridges are inspected regularly to ensure proper function, he said, so that when the bridge returns to the down position, all trolley wires return back to the proper location and tension.

"We experience very few problems with the trolley wires and bridge operations and have not experienced any problems with low-hanging energized wires due to the bridge opening/closing process," he said.

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