Crews pay special attention to ramps when it gets cold

Donn Franklin of Lake Stevens writes: For some time now there has been water running across the exit ramp going from I-5 north to eastbound U.S. 2.

The water runs onto, and often across, the entire lane even on dry days. This occurs just at the entrance of the excessively sharp right hand swing from north to east. I don’t know if the water is always present, but lately, my usual exit on that ramp includes trying to find the path with the least water to avoid spray and dirt.

What is a nuisance in warm weather might well be a hazard when temperatures drop. Is anyone planning to re-route the water before it becomes the source of a long ice patch? Now, tires pick up the water and spread it into a long wet streak. When things freeze, those tire smears can build up that serious icy patch. It is too easy to envision a series of cars sliding right past the corner and piling into the earth embankment. I am hoping you might help get a fix in before any problems become reality.

Bronlea Mishler, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, responds: With all the rain we’ve had lately, it’s a challenge for our crews to pinpoint the source of the water Donn noticed. Our maintenance crews went out to take a look at the water, but couldn’t find anything obvious. If we get a dry day or two, our crews will revisit the area to see if they can track down the source. The ramp also is sloped so that the left shoulder is higher than the right shoulder — that causes water to run across the ramp and improves drainage especially during heavy rain. That slope is likely causing the water runoff that Donn notices.

Maintenance crews do keep an eye on this ramp during the winter. We always pay attention to on- and offramps whenever the temperature drops below freezing. We typically pre-treat the ramp to eastbound U.S. 2 (and all freeway ramps) with liquid anti-icer, which forms a barrier between the road and the water and prevents it from freezing and causing slick patches. When it’s cold and potentially icy, crews monitor all the ramps — and the highways — and treat them with a sand-salt mix or liquid deicer to keep them safe for drivers.

Guy Palumbo of Snohomish writes: The four lanes of Highway 522 merge into a two-lane highway at the intersection with Maltby Road. Traffic backs up here constantly.

Instead of waiting for a big project like an Echo Lake overpass, why don’t we just allow turns from the shoulder at that intersection? If need be, pave over a few hundred feet of the rumble strips on the shoulder at a minimal cost. Many people ignore the signs and illegally drive on the shoulder anyway to make turns but they risk getting a ticket.

Mishler responds: Guy makes a good suggestion — and in some areas (like the U.S. 2 trestle) we can use the shoulders to help traffic flow better and reduce congestion. But in this area, simply paving over the shoulder isn’t enough to make it a viable right-turn lane. Even though some people do drive on the shoulder to make the turn, we can’t make it a dedicated lane because that part of the highway just isn’t designed to handle turning traffic.

Anytime we add lanes to a highway, we have to meet current guidelines that tell us how wide the lanes need to be and how much room we have to allow for a shoulder. In this case, we’d need at least a 12-foot-wide lane, a minimum of two feet for a left-hand shoulder, and a minimum of four feet for a right-hand shoulder. Even if we adjusted the existing lanes to fit a turn-lane in, we’d still be at least six feet too narrow to meet the guidelines. We’d have to widen the highway a bit, which would also mean looking at possible wetland impacts and drainage requirements, and that wouldn’t be cheap.

We do appreciate the suggestion, and we’ll continue to look for low-cost ways to help improve traffic flow in the area.

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