I-5 work not done, but is helping traffic

EVERETT — After enduring delays and bumps for a few years, drivers seem to be cruising through Everett along I-5 widened with new carpool lanes.

Crews are on the home stretch to finish the most expensive highway project in Snohomish County’s history. State officials say that the $263 million work, scheduled to wrap up in August, is already helping commuters save time along the busy freeway.

In late April, the state finished adding new carpool lanes along the freeway between Highway 526 and Marine View Drive. That helps Ralph Worley* cut his commute time. The Marysville man rents a Community Transit van and carpools with others to Seattle.

“It has helped that they opened up lanes, but (traffic) bottles up at the Snohomish River bridge” north of Everett in the afternoon, Worley said.

Morning commuters southbound on I-5 spend an average of two minutes traveling from Marine View Drive to 41st Street these days, according to the state Department of Transportation. That’s down from six minutes they used to spend driving the two-mile stretch of the freeway in 2005.

Afternoon commuters heading northbound on I-5 now can drive eight miles on the freeway from 128th Street to Marine View Drive within 10 minutes. That’s down from 18 minutes in 2005.

About 170,000 vehicles use the freeway in Everett daily on average, said Patty Michaud, a

transportation department spokeswoman.

The Everett I-5 widening project, funded by gas tax hikes in 2003 and 2005, is considered the third most expensive highway project in the state’s history. The two other projects are the Tacoma Narrows bridges at $771 million and the Hood Canal Bridge project at $471 million, in today’s dollars, Michaud said.

More expensive projects are being planned.

About $2.4 billion could be spent for improving the Alaskan Way viaduct in Seattle to fix a key corridor that otherwise could collapse in an earthquake, according to the transportation department.

Replacing the Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington — if it’s ever approved — is expected to cost nearly $4 billion. In Snohomish County, overall improvements for deadly U.S. 2 are expected to cost more than $2 billion.

Construction for the Everett I-5 project started in September 2005. It was originally scheduled to begin in 2009, but state lawmakers expedited the schedule in anticipation of heavy traffic during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.

“By moving the project ahead, we save $20 million to $30 million,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. Haugen is in charge of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Haugen said she would like to extend the new carpool lanes from Everett to Smokey Point, but the state doesn’t have the money.

The time and cost of the Everett I-5 project show the need to develop alternatives to highways, such as light rail, Haugen said.

“It was a good example of how costly it is to build a highway,” she said.

Crews came a long way to finish the Everett I-5 project last summer. In addition to the new carpool lanes, they added new lanes to move vehicles from ramp to ramp without clogging traffic in other lanes. They widened or built 23 bridges.

At its peak, the project created 354 jobs, Michaud said. That’s when crews scrambled to open the Broadway flyover in June 2006 as well as getting started on a new 41st Street interchange. Now, the interchange is almost complete with three ramps set to open soon.

Earlier this year, the state had to close a middle lane along southbound I-5 to replace a girder that supports the freeway over Pacific Avenue in Everett. An truck carrying an excavator struck and damaged the girder. The repair work was completed in April without major incidents.

Daniel Collins, 20, wonders if the I-5 project will ever be over. It’s been going on for a long time.

“No matter what, there’s always going to be construction going on I-5,” said Collins, who attends Everett Community College.

Just as the new carpool lanes seem to have improved traffic flow along I-5, rising gas prices are discouraging him to drive.

“This summer, I might be getting a bike or something,” he said.

Worley, who drives a Community Transit van to commute, said he’s glad the project is finally wrapping up. Worley, an electrician at the University of Washington, has put up with traffic backups since crews started expanding the freeway.

But rush-hour traffic doesn’t concern him anymore.

“Friday is my last day,” said Worley, 65. “I’m retiring.”

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com

By the numbers

The state is set to finish the Everett I-5 widening project this summer. Here are some facts, by the numbers:

$263 million was set aside for design and construction.

6 miles of northbound carpool lanes was added from Highway 526 to U.S. 2.

4.6 miles of southbound carpool lanes was added from Marine View Drive to Highway 526.

170,000 vehicles use the freeway in Everett daily on average.

Up to 31.5 feet the Broadway flyover runs over the roadway.

23 bridges were widened or built.

11freeway exits and onramps were improved.

72,000 cubic yards of concrete was placed.

12 million pounds of rebar was used.

180,000 tons of asphalt was placed.

More than 470,000cubic yards of dirt was excavated or placed.

470,000 linear feet of roadway was striped.

15,000 gallons of paint for striping was used.

354 people were employed by the design builder during the busiest period of the project.

*Correction, May 30, 2008: This article originally misspelled Ralph Worley’s name.

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