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Originally published Friday, December 28, 2012 at 8:35 PM

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DOT decides the aging I-5 needs work now

Construction closures start Jan. 4 with weekend work on the southbound Interstate 5 offramp to Spokane Street and the West Seattle Bridge.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

WSDOT construction closures

Maps and descriptions

Go to http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/News/2012/12/27_2013

ConstructionSeasonKicksOff.htm for the state's Seattle-area construction preview.

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Rather than wait for summer, the state Department of Transportation will begin closing highway lanes for repairs immediately in 2013 — starting Friday night, Jan. 4, with a weekend closure of the southbound Interstate 5 offramp to Spokane Street and the West Seattle Bridge.

The work is needed because of the aging of the freeway, completed through Seattle in 1965.

Crews will replace 31 expansion joints over 20 weekends through April, closing different ramps in the I-5/Columbian Way/West Seattle Bridge area on different dates. Closures generally are scheduled from 10 p.m. Fridays to 5 a.m. Mondays.

In February, the DOT will grind and smooth three lanes of southbound Interstate 5 from the University District to Roanoke Street. This will cause delays on weekends between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.

In the university area, the state chose winter construction because the work will be noisy, and most neighbors will have their windows closed, said Russ East, assistant regional administrator. There also are fewer events and fewer vehicles on the streets that time of year, he said.

Farther south, DOT had to wait until after Seattle Department of Transportation finished its onramp from First Avenue South to the West Seattle Bridge on Aug. 31 instead of late 2011, as originally planned. Now that the First Avenue ramp is completed, drivers have an outlet to reach West Seattle while I-5 ramps are closed.

Expansion joints are the gaps between elevated roadway spans. Think of I-5 and its ramps as a series of viaducts rather than a continuous roadbed. The gaps allow concrete to expand and contract with the weather.

In many spots, steel covers over the joints either "ka-thunk" with passing traffic, or the DOT has removed them altogether. These will be replaced with rubber coverings, so that water runoff doesn't damage the road or trickle onto drivers below.

In other work, the state will replace a 470-foot long, timber-supported section of Highway 99 south of the West Seattle Bridge, between late January and April. One of the two southbound lanes will be closed around the clock, while two northbound lanes stay open, as workers build a new section.

Other projects are coming: In June, the state will repair expansion joints on northbound I-5 near Lakeview Boulevard alongside north Capitol Hill. Also, the northbound shoulder in the same area will be rebuilt so it can serve as a detour lane, and perhaps as a future lane for transit or general traffic to use at peak times to reach the Highway 520 bridge.

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

On Twitter @mikelindblom.

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