New bus-only shoulder lane to open on southbound I-5 soon

Later this month, buses are expected to have a way to escape morning backups.

Construction started Monday on a new transit-only shoulder lane along southbound I-5 that will help bus drivers bypass up to 3 miles of taillights during the worst morning commutes between Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

State transportation and local transit agency staff have been planning for bus shoulder driving on this stretch of I-5 for a number of years. They faced a delay with competition for construction crews. Project costs were originally expected to top out at $280,000. The winning bid was for $365,000. The project will be one of the first to be completed using Sound Transit 3 tax package money.

The work, which will require overnight lane closures, includes reinforcing catch basins, painting new stripes, and installing detection loops to track how often buses use the lane. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of October. McCann Construction Enterprises of Everett is doing the work.

The 1.4-mile stretch of shoulder will connect with direct-access ramps from Lynnwood Transit Center and into Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, creating a 3-mile stretch for bus access.

Community Transit and Sound Transit buses will use the lane, but only when traffic in the carpool lane is traveling “substantially slower” than posted speeds between 6 and 9 a.m. weekdays. Bus speeds will be limited to 35 mph on the shoulder.

Similar bus-only shoulder lanes are on southbound I-405, between Highway 527 and NE 195th Street, and between Highway 522 and NE 160th Street.

Community Transit buses don’t use those lanes all the time — maybe a couple times a week on average, spokesman Martin Munguia said. But they are handy when they’re needed. And there are seasonal differences. For example, on Tuesday, 10 buses used the I-405 bus-only shoulder lanes during the morning commute.

“As I-5 drivers know, I-5 is pretty congested most mornings, so those buses may get more use out of the shoulder lane,” Munguia said.

A feasibility study of other possible locations for bus-on-shoulder lanes will be complete in 2019, according to WSDOT.

Keep track of lane closures for the I-5 bus shoulder project at tinyurl.com/WSDOTI5work.

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