Crawling through the bog of brake lights from Everett into Marysville brings few joy.
Commuters know the backups can form as far south Highway 526, also called the Boeing Freeway, and continue well past the ramp to U.S. 2 east and over the Snohomish River.
But when you finally reach that first exit to Marysville and are ready to head east on Fourth Street/Highway 528, the signal doesn’t allow right turns on red. It’s a perplexing experience for Bart Rehmer of Marysville.
Eastbound traffic from Marine Drive in Tulalip has one lane under the freeway, which then turns into a left-turn lane onto I-5 north and a through lane to Fourth Street/Highway 528. His point is that vehicles, of which there were about 17,000 every day according to state data, coming from I-5 north in the far right turn lane onto Fourth Street/Highway 528 have a lane that appears to be theirs for the taking — except it isn’t.
“It is frustrating to wait for cars lined up at the end of the off-ramp, waiting to turn right onto Fourth (Street), when they should be able to flow freely,” Rehmer said in an email. “Do you know why the city does not make this a free right hand turn, with better striping and signage?”
The city isn’t responsible for the intersection; the Washington State Department of Transportation manages it because two state-managed highways intersect there. State traffic engineers have prohibited the red right turns there because of safety concerns for eastbound drivers.
“… A free right turn at the northbound I-5 off-ramp to eastbound SR 528 isn’t possible in the current configuration,” WSDOT spokesman Jordan Longacre wrote in an email. “There would be a safety issue at the intersection with eastbound travelers, who have the right-of-way, potentially swerving to avoid the northbound vehicles taking a right-turn if they are not required to stop, which would be the case in a northbound free right-turn scenario.”
Rehmer said the problem is the lane striping, which, if done correctly, could keep eastbound drivers coming from Marine Drive in the middle lane and allow drivers from I-5 to turn into a separate lane.
The I-5 off-ramp’s center lane could make this all the more complicated because it allows drivers to turn right, as well. Another factor is curb ramps from the road into nearby businesses, such as the gas station and convenience store just west of Beach Avenue. If someone was heading east from Marine Drive and wanted to get there while traffic from I-5 is pouring onto Fourth Street/Highway 528, it could be a challenge.
Instead of allowing both lanes the right turn on red, the state prohibits both. But even that may not be well marked, except for a signal mounted on a post (as opposed to the higher ones that hang from a bar) that displays a red right arrow on the north side of the road.
But relief could come someday in the distant future. WSDOT, the Tulalip Tribes and Marysville are studying improvements at the interchange that could see work begin by 2023 or 2024. The Tulalip Tribes are leading the $35 million project, similar to the interchange at 116th Street NE.
A 2015 study by Marysville into diverting traffic from the railroad found an elevated interchange at Fourth Street cost prohibitive and too disruptive to businesses along the corridor, city spokeswoman Connie Mennie said. Instead, the study identified Grove Street as the best option, but the project is estimated to cost $24 million and is not yet proposed for construction.
Until then, we’ll just have to sit patiently irritated with the other off-ramp drivers.
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Corrections: This story has been modified to reflect the nature of the Highway 528 interchange project, which is not expected to circumvent the rail crossing and that drivers may turn right at the red light after stopping and yielding to eastbound traffic and people using the crosswalk.