New striping at the I-5 northbound off-ramp onto 172nd Street aims to prevent drivers from using a free-right lane to make an early merge left toward Smokey Point Boulevard. (WSDOT photo)

New striping at the I-5 northbound off-ramp onto 172nd Street aims to prevent drivers from using a free-right lane to make an early merge left toward Smokey Point Boulevard. (WSDOT photo)

‘Kathy is right’: WSDOT takes up Smokey Point off-ramp issue

New paint and a sign go in at the northbound I-5 off-ramp to 172nd Street in response to a reader.

The busy area of 172nd Street NE (Highway 531) at I-5 in Smokey Point pops up frequently in this column as a target for safety issues.

Street Smarts reader Kathy Johnson, of Marysville, recently added her concerns about one side of the busy interchange.

“My pet peeve is people exiting the (northbound) freeway in the far right lane, which enters a dedicated lane with no oncoming traffic, who do stop — not to yield to people entering the lane in front of them, but because they want to get into one of the left lanes before the intersection with Smokey Point Boulevard,” Johnson wrote.

If those drivers are aiming to head north on Smokey Point Boulevard, the middle lane of the exit ramp will let them turn right into a farther lane of 172nd Street to do just that, she noted. They may have to wait for a green light. But it would save everyone some headaches.

“I travel this route several times weekly getting to work, and it irks me to have to wait because of ‘cheaters’ who won’t use the appropriate lane,” she said.

Would some kind of sign, like “Stop Not Required,” help change driver behavior? she wondered.

Traffic engineers with the Washington State Department of Transportation took a look, and they decided: “Kathy is right.”

“Drivers exiting northbound I-5 in the right lane have a free right into the dedicated right turn only lane. There was a white line separating that lane from the right-center through lane, but it’s obvious from the way the line is faded that drivers were cutting across it to get to the left turn lane,” spokesman Tom Pearce said. “After examining and discussing the issue, our engineers decided to create a painted island and to extend the white line to discourage drivers from cutting across …”

The bright new paint went down Oct. 16, with reflectors planned soon after.

But that’s not all.

“We also are planning to add signs on the ramp telling drivers that if they want to turn left from (Highway) 531 to northbound Smokey Point Boulevard, they need to use the off-ramp’s center lane and wait for the traffic signal,” Pearce said.

Street Smarts: streetsmarts@heraldnet.com, 425-339-3432

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