EVERETT – The latest piece in Snohomish County’s transportation puzzle was to be dropped into place early this morning.
Road crews were set to open a new right-hand I-5 exit to northbound Broadway in Everett, and closed the 38-year-old left-hand exit.
The new configuration will help ease a dangerous traffic bottleneck on one of the county’s busiest exits, state officials say.
“This is about public safety,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire, flanked by orange-vested contractors at a ceremonial ribbon cutting on the one-lane overpass Monday afternoon.
Construction work on the Broadway offramp took 10 months and is part of the state Department of Transportation’s $260 million I-5 widening project in Everett.
Gregoire joined other lawmakers in praising the project for its potential to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion.
“There’s no better way for a community to plan and grow than to invest in infrastructure,” she said, before leaving for a series of local meetings and a planned speech to Snohomish County Tomorrow, a regional planning organization.
State Department of Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald said that the pace of construction is noteworthy.
Girders were put into place in early January. Since then, a new one-lane bridge over I-5 has been erected.
“Six months ago, there was no steel on this bridge, now we’re driving on it,” he said. “We are cranking in Snohomish County.”
He said the offramp’s traffic benefits should ripple across much of the I-5 corridor, including the cities of Everett and Marysville.
The Everett I-5 expansion project is slated for completion in the summer of 2008 – before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said the Broadway offramp, along with the new 41st Street interchange, will help smooth interstate commerce and cut commute times.
“Being a poster child for regional traffic woes wears on a mayor,” he said. “I look forward to hearing fewer rush-hour traffic reporters singling out the Everett I-5 corridor as a congestion hot spot.”
County Executive Aaron Reardon said highway improvements will pay dividends for the county’s fast-growing economy.
“These are big time efforts,” he said.
To prepare drivers for the change, the state Department of Transportation placed signs early this month, asked area businesses to adjust the directions they give to customers, and notified Mapquest, the popular online directions Web site.
The old Broadway exit is scheduled to reopen for carpools and buses in 2007.
Capt. James Lever with Washington State Patrol said the project should improve safety, but he said exiting on the right may take some getting used to.
He pointed out that northbound drivers still have two other chances to exit in Everett north of Broadway.
“If you miss the exit, don’t panic,” he said. “Continue and exit at Pacific.”