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Originally published August 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 15, 2007 at 2:06 AM

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Commuters urged to stay the course during I-5 construction

As the big Interstate 5 construction project enters its third weekday, transportation officials are hoping commuters will avoid what seems...

Seattle Times transportation reporter

As the big Interstate 5 construction project enters its third weekday, transportation officials are hoping commuters will avoid what seems like a temptingly clear freeway.

"We need drivers to stay the course, or we'll be in for a very slow commute," said Mark Leth, traffic engineer for the state Department of Transportation (DOT), which is repairing and resurfacing a mile of the northbound freeway at South Spokane Street.

Back in May 2001, when the DOT repaved northbound I-5 at Northeast Ravenna Boulevard, it was on the third day that traffic jams arrived, after two days of ease. "The backups were several miles at that point," Leth said.

Contractors this week are continuing to repave I-5 just south of downtown, where two northbound lanes are closed.

Traffic increased Tuesday but remained mild, as thousands of people prevented gridlock by staying at home, riding transit or taking different routes.

There were 40 percent fewer vehicles than normal traveling through the work zone, Leth said.

A one-mile slowdown occurred about 6:30 a.m., but it soon dissolved. At the First Avenue South Bridge, a main alternative, traffic became heavy enough that city workers retimed the signals nearby to stay green longer going north. The heaviest traffic was on Interstate 405 through Renton.

Sounder commuter trains — which carried 6,719 South End riders Monday morning — served 5,820 riders Tuesday, still above normal levels, spokeswoman Linda Robson said.

More than a third are crowding into the early train, which leaves Tacoma at 5:45 a.m. "If they find it uncomfortable, or have the opportunity to take a later train, that's an option commuters might want to explore," Robson said.

King County Metro Transit reported 300 to 400 more riders than the usual 7,300 on its South End express buses Tuesday morning. In West Seattle, the Elliott Bay Water Taxi morning ridership declined from 587 on Monday to 401 on Tuesday, still far more than usual.

Washington State Ferries reported normal boat loads across Puget Sound.

Officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport announced last week that someone at the airport would help travelers share taxi rides to help with what was expected to be higher-than-normal fares through the construction zone. But because the slowdowns weren't happening, the airport plan was scrapped, an airport official said Tuesday.

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A couple of events may complicate the drive later this week:

• This afternoon, the Seattle Mariners play a 1:35 home game — "Grand Slam Family Pack Day" — against the Minnesota Twins.

• By early Friday, an additional lane is expected to close, as construction moves to its next phase. Even at Tuesday's low volumes, backups are certain if a third lane is closed, Leth said. Fortunately, there is still plenty of room on detour routes, he said.

However, project engineer Paul Johnson said rain could delay the work, which is now ahead of schedule. Crews need a dry surface to paint temporary lane stripes, and to apply new polyester-concrete pavement. "If there's a little bit of rain, it's not going to hamper us," he said. "But if there's a downpour, there could be a problem."

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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