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Originally published Sunday, October 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Bumper to Bumper

Why no warning before 520 bridge?

Q: Diana Brement of North Seattle says she's long been curious why there is no "last exit before bridge" warning for traffic headed east...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Q: Diana Brement of North Seattle says she's long been curious why there is no "last exit before bridge" warning for traffic headed east on Highway 520 before the Montlake Boulevard East exit.

A: There's no regulation that requires such a sign, says state Department of Transportation engineer Darrel Whyte. So, the state doesn't always post them. "In instances where we do, it is done through our own initiative outside of conventional standards," he said.

But there is one for westbound traffic on Highway 520, just before the 92nd Avenue Northeast exit on the Bellevue side. It says, "Last Eastside Exit."

Whyte says he's found no record of why that sign was installed. Perhaps it's because the state thinks there's much more east of the Evergreen Point Bridge than the short portion of Highway 520 west of the bridge.

A westbound motorist can choose from five exits along the seven miles between 92nd Avenue Northeast and Redmond, he noted. "A driver could be more apt to misjudge their position within a longer corridor with multiple exits."

"It should also be noted that compared to many other types of sign requests [the state] regularly receives, we get very few requests for a "Last Exit" sign prior to bridges," he said.

Q: Along the eastbound lanes of Interstate 90, near the Rainier Avenue South exit and approaching the Mount Baker tunnel and Lake Washington Floating Bridge, an electronic message sign over highway lanes at times flashes estimated travel times to Bellevue and Issaquah.

Dear Reader


Got a traffic-related question or comment? E-mail bumper@seattletimes.com or call Charles E. Brown at 206-464-2206. Please include your name and city if you agree to publication.

"The problem as I see it," said Catherine Hall of Seattle, is that the sign is positioned too late for anyone to make any change in travel direction. By the time you see it, it's too late to get off." So, what's the benefit of the sign?

A: Kevin Mizuta, the state transportation department's freeway-operations engineer, says the state installed that electronic sign to let drivers know when the tunnel or bridge is closed. That sign is useful in directing drivers to the express lanes when mainline lanes are closed for an emergency or for maintenance or repairs, he said. "We selected the location for this sign to best achieve this top-priority purpose," he said.

As a courtesy to drivers, the state also displays rush-hour travel times on that sign, he said. But admittedly, he added, that sign may not be as helpful as electronic signs at some other locations.

"However, drivers tell us they also use the information to manage their schedule. For example, they contact their day-care provider if heavy traffic is causing unusual delays during their commute after work." Mizuta said drivers also report using the travel information to plan future commute trips by comparing typical travel times from day to day.

Bumper note

Since 1999, there have been more than 250 collisions along Highway 18 between Highway 167 in Auburn and Weyerhaeuser Way in Federal Way, and most involved vehicles trying to pull around slow-moving trucks up a steep hill in that two-lane stretch near Peasley Canyon, according to the state Department of Transportation.

To cut down on the risk of collisions, the state has just opened the new two-mile long westbound "truck climbing" lane along Highway 18 between Auburn and Federal Way — an $18.5 million project. Construction barrels were removed on Wednesday to open the stretch.

Passenger vehicles are now able to avoid trucks by using the two left lanes. The state says nearly 100,000 vehicles use that stretch of highway each day.

Along with the new lane, new shoulders have been added in both directions of Highway 18 so that there's room to clear blocking collisions or stalled vehicles faster.

In the next few weeks, the state says, four new traffic cameras will be activated, and the transportation department's congestion map data for Highway 18 will be extended from Interstate 5 to Highway 167.

Information about the project is online at: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR18/Truck ClimbingLane/.

Bumper update

Drivers who have long complained about lighting inside Interstate 90's Mount Baker Tunnel and in the Mercer Island Lid along the highway should be able to see a difference.

State transportation crews this week performed routine maintenance along I-90 between Seattle and Mercer Island, including replacing light bulbs inside the tunnel and the lid.

Bumper recap

New peak-hour traffic restrictions along Third Avenue in downtown Seattle are outlined on the Seattle Transportation Department's Web site — www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/Small DowntownCIP%202_1.pdf — and on Sound Transit's Web site — www.seattletunnel.org/Sept12-DSTT-driver advisory.pdf.

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