Traffic flow downtown is hampered by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line that cuts through the heart of the city. All the local streets downtown cross it at grade, leading to major backups whenever a freight train rolls through town.
Key to untangling that mess is where I-5 and Highway 529 meet just south of downtown. The idea is to rebuild the interchange, making it possible for northbound traffic on I-5 to enter town on Highway 529, bypassing the railroad tracks.
The current on- and offramps in the interchange only serve traffic going across Steamboat Slough and the Snohomish River to and from north Everett. The Fourth Street exit off I-5 drops traffic just west of the tracks, and a long train can keep traffic backed up all the way onto the freeway.
The city has budgeted $1.5 million this year for an initial design and planning proposal for the interchange project, Chief Administrative Officer Gloria Hirashima said.
That money, plus another $500,000 provided by Snohomish County, will fund the initial design work.
Mayor Jon Nehring highlighted the project in his State of the City speech last week, pointing out that the city would be able to take that preliminary plan to the state or federal government to get money to build the full interchange.
While it is still too early to put a price tag on the project, similar types of interchange expansion projects run in the $35 million to $40 million range, Hirashima said.
The City Council is expected to award a contract for the work to Bellevue-based engineering firm HDR Inc., probably this month, Hirashima said.
Over the longer term, the city also plans to investigate two other interchanges on I-5 for possible changes.
The main downtown interchange to Fourth Street needs improving, Hirashima said, and traffic backups there are also a contributor to downtown congestion.
The second location is where 156th St. NE crosses over I-5 near the north end of the city. The city’s Smokey Point Master Plan would transform 675 acres of agricultural land east of the overpass into a commercial and light industrial manufacturing center that could provide 10,000 new jobs to the region.
Transforming the overpass into a full interchange would improve access to the area and reduce the amount of traffic on 172nd Street NE that development is expected to bring.
“We’re very dependent on I-5 to move people back and forth, so we’re interested in working with the state to talk about improving interchanges,” Hirashima said.
Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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