Your guide to surviving the I-5 mess
Starting Friday night, 19 days of road work will close some lanes of northbound Interstate 5 south of downtown Seattle. There are some other ways to get around.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Go west of I-5
To try to keep traffic moving, signals will be retimed to make green lights longer along major northbound routes into Seattle. These corridors include Airport Way South, First Avenue South, Fourth Avenue South, Highway 99 and East Marginal Way South.
• One lane of Airport Way South will be reserved for buses, van pools and trucks, which can detour off I-5 at the Airport Way exit to continue north.
• The First Avenue South Bridge drawspans will be off-limits to tall boats for the busiest 10 ½ hours of the day to avoid highway backups. The low-level West Seattle Bridge drawspan will also stay shut at peak times, so trucks from the Port of Seattle can cross uninterrupted, along with other traffic.
• Traffic leaving West Seattle will be a mess, but police will be posted at the First Avenue South exit from the West Seattle Bridge into Sodo to guide motorists. A few blocks east, a new left-turn signal will let drivers go directly from South Spokane Street to northbound Fourth Avenue South.
• Drivers are likely to try neighborhoods east of I-5, but Beacon Avenue South has only one northbound lane and lots of pedestrians. On Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, light-rail construction blocks a lane in spots. Rainier Avenue South signals will be retimed, but the street is often clogged, and accidents are common.
• In Renton, a railroad bridge project will force short detours from Rainier Avenue onto side streets through Wednesday.
• The Seattle Mariners play nine home games during the project, compounding traffic problems south of downtown. Night games will be held Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday and Aug. 27 and 28; day games are Wednesday and Aug. 19 and 29.
Staying on I-5
Miles of backups predicted
Officials can't predict how bad the backups will be. Traffic models show that freeway jams will reach well south of Seattle, that every detour will be congested, and the morning commute will blend into the evening peak, so there will be no midday relief.
Not only will I-5 be reduced to two or three lanes in the construction zone, but the open lanes will narrow to 10 feet and there will be no shoulders for stalled cars. For several days, only one regular freeway lane will be open, while the other open lane will also handle exiting and merging traffic for downtown and Interstate 90.
Lane reductions begin at about Michigan Street, a mile before the construction zone. At that point the high-occupancy-vehicle lane opens to general traffic. State troopers warn motorcyclists not to weave between lanes of cars.
To look at real-time traffic conditions before you go, see the state Department of Transportation's congestion map at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/seattle/
The DOT is counting on at least half of northbound I-5 commuters to take vacation, ride transit, van pool, car pool, change work hours or take different routes.
If people rise to the challenge, congestion will be about the same as on an ordinary weekday.
Special rate this month
Van pools registered with transit agencies may use the designated bus-and-truck lane of Airport Way South. An eight-person van costs $652 a month for an average 55-mile round trip, or $81.50 per rider. For August, a special rate of $45 per person is in effect for new van pools affected by I-5 construction. Metro provides the van, gas, maintenance and insurance.
For more information, go to transit.metrokc.gov/tops/van-car/vanpool.html or call 206-625-4500.
Might save minutes
There will be no high-occupancy-vehicle lane in the one-mile construction zone, and general traffic will merge into the HOV lane before reaching the work zone. However, car poolers might save minutes by taking the HOV lane to Michigan Street and exiting there to reach northbound arterials.
Car pooling might save time in the HOV lanes of Interstate 405, Highway 167 or the First Avenue South Bridge, where spillover traffic is expected to be worse than normal.
Try a trail
The Green River Trail leads toward Seattle from Kent and Tukwila. But an obstacle emerges at Seattle: Airport Way South, a signed bike route near the trail, is going to be filled with more buses and trucks. Consider riding a bit farther northwest to the Duwamish Trail, then across the low-level West Seattle Bridge to reach the bike lane at East Marginal Way South, to Pioneer Square.
Bike trails are available across the Interstate 90 Floating Bridge from the Eastside and on the new Chief Sealth Trail in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood.
The Bicycle Alliance of Washington can give advice or connect novices with an experienced "bike buddy" at 206-224-9252 or www.bicyclealliance.org; the site gives links to cycling maps. The Cascade Bicycle Club may organize group rides; see www.cascade.org for details.
Extra buses on standby
King County Metro Transit won't add bus trips to its schedule but says it will put 15 buses on standby to use in case of severe crowding or delays. Metro runs 21 routes that will detour from I-5 to Airport Way South or other roads. Buses will be full, officials say.
Metro Transit bus information is at transit.metrokc.gov or 206-553-3000.
Sound Transit will put nine buses on standby for express routes serving Pierce County. Riders are warned to expect delays of up to one hour in reaching Seattle.
Rider alerts are at soundtransit.org or 1-888-889-6368.
On a normal day, many park-and-ride lots fill up, but the DOT says there's usually room at South Hill, Bonney Lake South, Tacoma Dome, Twin Lakes, Federal Way/320th Street, Federal Way Transit Center, Auburn, Redondo Heights, and the Kent/James Street lots. Temporary parking will be added in South Seattle at the General Services Administration, near the 4700 block of East Marginal Way South.
Sounder adds a trip
Standing-room-only crowds are expected.
Starting Monday, Sound Transit will add one round-trip train to its weekday commuter-rail service, starting in Puyallup at 6:17 a.m. That's in addition to four trains that start in Tacoma at 5:45 a.m., 6:20 a.m., 6:48 a.m. and 7:10 a.m. Other stops are Sumner, Auburn, Kent, Tukwila and King Street Station in Seattle.
The last southbound train still leaves Seattle weekdays at 5:40 p.m. — too early for some workers — so BNSF Railway can resume freight trips in the evening.
Extra park-and-ride spaces for Sounder will be added at the Tacoma Dome station, at Sumner High School a half-mile from Sumner Station, and near Kent Station. For full schedules, go to www.soundtransit.org.
In the afternoon and evening, Amtrak Cascades trains go from Tacoma to Tukwila to Seattle; check www.amtrakcascades.com.
Early runs added
The Elliott Bay Water Taxi will make an additional weekday crossing from West Seattle to downtown at 6:10 a.m., before the usual weekday trips at 6:50, 7:30, 8:10, 8:50, 11 a.m. and noon to Seattle. The boat goes from Seacrest Marina to downtown Seattle at Pier 55. Bicycles are allowed at the captain's discretion.
At peak times, Metro will add a second free shuttle van, Route 773, between the water taxi and the Alki, Admiral and Alaska Junction neighborhoods. Fares are $3 each way, or free for transit-pass holders. More information is at transit.metrokc.gov or 206-553-3000.
Washington State Ferries will boost passenger-only service between Vashon Island and downtown Seattle, including an early sailing out of Vashon at 5:50 a.m. weekdays. The Bremerton-Seattle service will be modified, with more space for walk-ons and less room for cars. More information is at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
Fares going up
The city of Seattle has waived the $28 flat rate from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to downtown, so cab drivers can earn a living amid congestion. A 40-minute delay would boost the fare by $20.
The Port of Seattle is asking travelers to share a taxi when they leave the airport. A "starter" will call out a destination, so two or more customers heading to the same hotel or neighborhood can hop in together.
As for getting to the airport, Shuttle Express asks travelers to arrange to be picked up earlier than usual, to allow for delays. More information is at www.shuttleexpress.com or 425-981-7000.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published August 6, 2007, was corrected August 6, 2007. The boat goes from Seacrest Marina to downtown Seattle at Pier 55, near the ferry terminal.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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