New 116th Street overpass coming to Tulalip-Marysville

“A traffic nightmare.” That’s how Greg Miner of Tulalip — and many of his fellow commuters — describe the traffic on 116th Street at I-5.

“The left-turn lanes are short, holding only a few cars. Cars waiting to access I-5 often have to sit in the through lanes, thus blocking traffic,” he wrote. “Any relief in sight?”

Your timing is impeccable, Greg.

Relief is finally on its way to 116th Street as the Tulalip Tribes takes bids on a $25 million project to rebuild the bridge over I-5.

The new interchange has been a “long time in coming,” said Debra Bray, project manager for the Consolidated Borough of Quil Ceda Village. “We have for nine years been putting the project together.”

The Tribes already spent $9 million on design of the project and getting all the necessary permits and other requirements in place.

It is now pumping in 64 percent of the funding for construction of the new bridge decks, although the Washington State Department of Transportation will retain control of the roadway when it’s done.

Construction is expected to begin in mid-April and be done within 18 months. The interchange would remain open to traffic. The south bridge deck would be built first. Traffic would then be redirected there while the existing overpass is demolished and a new north bridge deck is built, Bray said.

The Puget Sound Regional Council and Snohomish County also are funneling money to the project, totaling $9 million.

Meanwhile, the groups have been shopping a final $15.2 million phase of the project to lawmakers in Olympia.

The final phase would widen and reconfigure the ramps on and off the interchange to a “single point urban interchange,” combining the two ramp terminal signals into a single signal with more capacity. High-occupancy vehicle lanes and ramp metering also would be added. Finishing touches include safer pedestrian and bike connections.

The existing diamond interchange was constructed in 1971, more than three decades before the outlet mall was built. Structurally, the bridge has plenty of life left, but functionally it’s at the “end of its design life,” according to earlier state documents.

“The interchange is not just congested. It needs maintenance. It’s in really bad shape,” Bray said.

Congestion is the key driver, however.

One-quarter of the 100,000 vehicles that travel that stretch of I-5 each day get off at the 116th Street interchange — to travel east toward Marysville, or west toward the tribe-owned Seattle Premium Outlets.

Backups on the northbound off-ramp often extend onto I-5. In early project documents, designers wrote that the new interchange would reduce that backup to as low as 300 feet at peak hours. Average vehicle delay would be reduced from 10 minutes to 54 seconds by 2040.

In pitching the project to lawmakers, proponents also stress the economic boosts, including 7,000 new direct jobs in Snohomish County for the project’s development.

“Our goal is to choose local companies that can keep the jobs local,” Bray said.

Two earlier phases of work set the stage for the new bridge.

Quil Ceda Boulevard was extended north in 2007, at the northwest of the interchange by the park-and-ride. Following that, 116th Street was widened west of the interstate, with a fish-friendly culvert added to serve nearby Quilceda Creek. The new overpass is the next step, followed by the ramps when the money is secured.

“When we’re done with this one, we’re going after 88th,” Bray said. “We’re not done yet.”

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