Evening commute travel times along northbound I-5 between Everett and Marysville. (WSDOT)

Evening commute travel times along northbound I-5 between Everett and Marysville. (WSDOT)

Red brake lights line I-5 from Everett to Marysville

Population growth and the proximity of four ramps contribute to the congestion, says WSDOT.

EVERETT — A group of sixth-graders recently reminded me why I wanted to become a journalist. I’m an inquisitive person: Questions just tumble out of me. And at The Daily Herald I have an excuse to keep asking “why.”

Now that I have the state’s Department of Transportation on speed dial, really the equivalent of whatever that is for email, I had a few inquiries of my own to send their way.

Many nights leaving the office, as I merge onto I-5 heading south, I’ve noticed northbound traffic begins to backup before Exit 192. Red brake lights flash as drivers, who minutes before had no obstacles in their way, slow down. A colleague used to take that trek home to Marysville each night. It would often take her 45 minutes, most of which was spent on I-5.

Since 2012, at the peak of the evening commute, average travel times between this exit and Marysville have grown by more than 40 percent, which has added about six minutes to the drive, according to WSDOT data. The bottleneck starts early, around 1:30 p.m., and lasts until the end of the evening rush.

At other times during the day, the trip usually takes less than 10 minutes.

So I posed to WSDOT: What causes this slowdown? There’s a lane lost at exit 192. Is that one of the reasons?

The short answer: booming population growth and the nearness of several ramps.

Four ramps are close to each other in this particular area: exit 192 to Broadway and 41st Street, the on-ramp from 41st Street, exit 193 to Pacific Avenue and exit 194 to U.S. 2.

A high number of vehicles want to use the right lanes for the exits along this stretch, and that causes congestion to spread to adjacent lanes. Adding to that is the weaving that occurs as drivers who use the on-ramp from 41st Street move to the left lanes.

It’s also important to note how much the area has changed. The population of Snohomish County has grown 137 percent since 1980, and the growth of The Boeing Co. has led more vehicles to join the northbound afternoon commute. All of these factors contribute.

“We currently do not have funding for any projects that would address congestion in the area. Reconstruction of the U.S. 2 interchange with a two-lane exit similar to exit 192 could relieve congestion by spreading the volume across two lanes, but this is not something that has been funded,” said Joseph Calabro, a spokesperson for WSDOT, in an email.

Got a question? Email me at streetsmarts@heraldnet.com or call 425-374-4165. Please include your name and city of residence. Street Smarts is now collecting questions about Community Transit’s Swift Green Line set to open March 24.

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