I-5 traffic flowing as smoothly as possible

SEATTLE – After weeks of warnings, the state Department of Transportation has begun construction on a stretch of Interstate 5 through Seattle that could back up traffic for 30 miles in a worst-case scenario.

Crews began working late Friday night in an area between Spokane Street and Interstate 90, just south of downtown Seattle. Besides repaving 1.13 miles of northbound I-5, they will replace or repair deteriorating expansion joints that connect concrete freeway deck slabs.

Work crews are expected to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, through Aug. 29.

In the first stage, scheduled through early Monday morning, two of the four northbound lanes will be closed, along with four freeway ramps. There will be no access to eastbound Interstate 90 from northbound I-5.

As of Saturday night, DOT officials reported that work was progressing well, and traffic was flowing with only occasional slowdowns and minor backups. Drivers apparently took the warnings to heart and used alternative routes, as engineers estimated that traffic on the stretch of freeway was about 60 percent lighter than a normal Saturday.

However, rain showers were forecast for Sunday. The contractor planned to use a giant, trailer-mounted blow dryer to dry the roadway if rain fell, so paving material could be applied.

Traffic engineers, communication specialists and other transportation experts were gathered at a conference room in the north Seattle suburb of Shoreline to collect data and make decisions to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible.

“This is kind of like the brain of the system,” regional administrator Lorena Eng said Friday.

The operations center includes seven computers, 13 phones and several video monitors in a conference room usually used for board meetings. All information coming from the news media, the public and government agencies will be monitored in theconference room.

The big challenge was expected to come on Monday, the first full commute day of the project.

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