Street Smarts: Carpool ramps taunt solo drivers

EVERETT — Margit Merlin would like to avoid driving more than 2 miles out of her way to get to the park-and-ride lot at 112th Street SE and I-5 in south Everett.

Unfortunately, she and other drivers who are alone in their vehicles can’t — legally, that is.

The issue at the park-and-ride is a unique one in Snohomish County. The lot, located in the I-5 median, has its own ramps providing direct access to and from the freeway for carpools and buses. However, unlike other lots with direct access from the carpool lanes, no nearby on- or offramps are available for single occupancy vehicles.

Drivers who are alone, even if they are picking up or dropping off people riding buses from the lot, may not legally use the ramps at 112th. The fine for violations is $124.

To reach I-5 they must go north to Everett Mall Way or south to 128th Street SW. Drivers must take 112th either to Highway 527 to the east or to Seventh Avenue SE or Fourth Avenue W. to the west to reach these I-5 access points.

Merlin, of Marysville, works a graveyard shift in Mill Creek and sometimes likes to take the bus to Seattle in the morning. The Ash Way park-and-ride lot, the one closest to Mill Creek, is often full, she said, while parking is often available at the 112th Street lot.

“It seems like a waste of gas and time if single drivers cannot exit from I-5,” Merlin wrote to Street Smarts recently.

The $32 million, 400-space lot at 112th opened last November. It was built to provide an alternative between the Mariner park-and-ride lot off 128th and the Eastmont lot off E. El Capitan Way near the northbound exit to the mall, officials said at the time. The lot also was built on land already owned by the state, saving taxpayers money, officials said. It resulted in 112th being widened, with the city of Everett pitching in on that project.

A wide ramp was built connecting the lot to 112th. Signs leading to ramps to and from the freeway are clearly marked as being for transit and carpools only. Single drivers have been cited for using the ramps, said Trooper Keith Leary of the State Patrol.

It’s hard to tell from citation records which drivers were stopped for using those ramps, but last month, 13 drivers were ticketed for carpool lane violations on I-5 within a mile of the park-and-ride, Trooper Mark Francis said. Nine others were given warnings, he said.

Street Smarts has received several questions about this park-and-ride lot from readers, running the whole spectrum of concerns. A couple expressed frustration at not being able to legally use the ramps though they are dropping off or picking up people at the lot. Another said she sees single drivers using the ramps and asked about enforcement. Another asked if vehicles with two drivers or more may use the ramps even if they’re not using the lot (the answer is yes, according to the State Patrol).

Allowing exceptions for single drivers who use the lot would be too difficult to enforce fairly, said Bruce Gray, a spokesman for Sound Transit, which designed the lot and ramps.

“You don’t have any way to tell who’s doing what,” he said. “The ramps are there for (carpool) users to get to and from those lanes faster.”

It’s not likely that the state Department of Transportation will come to the rescue by building new ramps there anytime soon, spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.

“Even if we had something planned, I’m not sure we’d have the funding for it,” she said. “What is there right now is going to be there for the near future.”

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