Most of the time Highway 526 flows smoothly, says the state Department of Transportation, but during Boeing shift releases congestion builds. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Most of the time Highway 526 flows smoothly, says the state Department of Transportation, but during Boeing shift releases congestion builds. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Lots at stake for commuters, neighbors with Highway 526 plan

The state aims to release a design for the corridor this fall, with work starting in 2021 or 2022.

Most of the day Highway 526 operates without a hitch, traffic flowing smoothly down the 4.5 mile corridor, according to Adam Emerson, a project manager for the state Department of Transportation.

“But surrounding the morning and the afternoon Boeing shift release it all goes bonkers,” he told the Everett City Council at a recent meeting.

Emerson appeared in front of councilmembers to give an update on the Highway 526 corridor improvement plan, a project the city of Everett long has wanted tackled. The goal includes reducing congestion during peak times, improving access to southwest Everett industrial areas and decreasing cut-through traffic using neighborhood streets, Emerson said.

With $47.2 million to spend on the project, WSDOT has narrowed the potential fixes to eight from 32. In the end, the design might combine several different projects, which could include using shoulders during peak periods, a reversible lane using the existing eastbound tunnel to I-5, new ramps on Highway 526 or adding lanes to the interchange at I-5 and a new ramp from Seaway Boulevard to the inside lane of 526.

“The Boeing Freeway” is used by an estimated 74,000 travelers a day, according to WSDOT.

The agency predicts that travel along that three-mile stretch leaving Boeing could increase by 3 to 10 minutes during the afternoon commute by 2040.

“Because the congestion on 526 is so bad, especially in the afternoon, people are avoiding 526 and using local roads,” Emerson said.

Street Smarts reader Fabian Borowiecki suggested it might be time to write an update now that the project has entered the planning and early design stage.

And residing not too far from the Boeing Freeway, Borowiecki had another reason for the inquiry.

“Living near the possible 526 and Hardeson Road interchange, I am interested in finding out just what this is going to do to traffic on Hardeson and Casino roads. As in, will I be unable to drive out of my neighborhood or is traffic going to get even worse than it is now at Boeing shift-change?”

Back in 2009, Everett proposed adding an access ramp on 526 at Hardeson Road. Borowiecki might be glad to know that proposal is off the table, replaced by a ramp only at 80th Street.

The change was the result of a combination of how the design would affect the operation of the roads, land acquisition and how the ramps would connect into the existing infrastructure, Emerson said.

It’s too early to tell how any of the concepts would impact local streets, Emerson added, but one of the goals is to minimize the impact to the adjacent road network.

The agency is running the various designs through computer models to narrow the choices.

“We’re trying to let the data solve this problem,” Emerson said.

WSDOT aims to identify a plan by winter and present it at an open house. Work won’t begin until 2021 or 2022, when the bulk of the construction money is available from the Connecting Washington funding package, according to Emerson.

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