Community Transit has started work on a $5 million project to add bus lanes on 128th Street in south Everett approaching I-5. The goal is to get buses across the overpass or onto the interstate faster and with more reliability. General traffic heading westbound could also benefit by being able to use the new lane to turn right onto northbound I-5. (Community Transit graphic)

Community Transit has started work on a $5 million project to add bus lanes on 128th Street in south Everett approaching I-5. The goal is to get buses across the overpass or onto the interstate faster and with more reliability. General traffic heading westbound could also benefit by being able to use the new lane to turn right onto northbound I-5. (Community Transit graphic)

Hated choke point on 128th Street to get help — thanks to buses

Driving along 128th Street over I-5 in south Everett during the afternoon can be a slow-moving nightmare.

On a recent Tuesday, it took Patricia Prentice 45 minutes to travel the 1.5 miles from Eighth Avenue to McCollum Park.

“At many lights, it took three to four cycles to cross the intersection. Sometimes only two cars could proceed,” she said. “Is there a plan to relieve this situation?”

The true solution would be to rebuild the overpass to add more lanes. But that’s “prohibitively expensive,” according to state transportation folks.

As in, $180 million prohibitively expensive, according to a recent Community Transit-sponsored review of the options.

But Community Transit is moving forward on a $5 million bus project that could provide a little relief for drivers such as Prentice.

As part of its Swift Green Line project, the transit agency will be adding bus lanes on either side of the overpass. The goal is to help its buses get over the overpass or onto I-5 more quickly.

Swift bus lines are designed to get passengers to their destinations more quickly with faster load times and fewer stops.

Choke points work against that goal, and the one at 128th Street and I-5 is a doozy, said Martin Munguia, a spokesman.

“It can take anywhere from 3 minutes to 17 minutes just to get across that overpass. It’s hard to stick to a schedule when you don’t know how long it’s going to take any given time of day,” Munguia said.

So the transit agency is adding bus lanes in both directions on 128th Street approaching the overpass.

This will allow buses to get onto I-5 on-ramps more quickly. Special traffic signals also will give buses heading straight a green light before other traffic, giving them a “queue jump” onto the overpass. (Small merge lanes on the overpass itself will give buses a place to wait if traffic is still backed up to the light — which often happens.)

“It should save anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes on average for any bus to get across that bridge. It should cut that variability in half,” Munguia said.

Especially on the east side of the overpass, the changes could also help regular vehicle traffic.

On the east side of the overpass, the work will carve out the existing sidewalk and some land by a hotel and gas station to create a lane for buses — and any other vehicle turning right onto the ramp to northbound I-5.

Currently there are two lanes in that location. Drivers wanting to turn onto the on-ramp must use the right lane, shared with through traffic. The bus lane, by being open to right-turning traffic, effectively adds a third lane.

“That will help keep a lot of people from getting frustrated,” Munguia said.

The benefits for general purpose traffic will be fewer on the west side of the overpass, where the added lane will be for buses only. A right-turn lane for traffic heading onto southbound I-5 already exists there.

Snohomish County PUD crews have already been in the area, preparing for the work.

Construction should happen over this summer, starting in mid-June.

Daytime work will be limited to shoulders and the immediate work area, keeping existing lanes open to traffic. Lane closures will be limited to weekends and 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekdays, as needed.

That’s an accelerated schedule. Community Transit initially thought it would have to break the work apart over two summer construction seasons. The contractor said it can get both sides done this year, Munguia said.

“That’s great. It means there’s going to be a lot of activity there this summer, but the good thing is it will be done by October this year,” Munguia said. “Everyone will get to see the benefits of that earlier.”

Melissa Slager: streetsmarts@heraldnet.com, 425-339-3432.

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