Smokey Point to get new I-5 ramps

ARLINGTON — A little more traffic relief is on the way for Smokey Point.

People who drive through the busy intersection of I-5 and Highway 531, otherwise known as 172nd Street NE, can expect construction to begin as early as March.

Over the next two years, a new two-lane loop ramp from westbound Highway 531 to southbound I-5 is scheduled to be built.

The loop is designed give westbound drivers a free right turn onto southbound I-5, reducing backups at the interchange and improving travel times, said Aurora Jones, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

The $30.5 million project also includes widening all the existing ramps to and from southbound and northbound I-5 and construction of new right-turn lanes on Highway 531.

The project should add to the improvements completed in 2006, when the two-lane Smokey Point Bridge over I-5 was replaced with a new six-lane bridge, Jones said.

The Department of Transportation this week awarded Northwest Construction Inc. of Bellevue the contract for the congestion-reducing project. Funded primarily from the 2005 gas tax package, the project is scheduled for completion in late 2010.

“This project is an excellent example of how we can reduce congestion by adding capacity to existing infrastructure,” Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said in a news release. “Improving traffic flow at this interchange will help keep people and businesses moving on I-5 and in the surrounding communities.”

City officials are pleased about the project for a couple of reasons.

“We’re very excited that this project is moving forward into construction this year,” Arlington spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said. “When completed, the addition of the loop onramp should help alleviate congestion in the Smokey Point area. It also should reduce the number of accidents that we respond to there.”

The state estimates that 40,00 drivers use the interchange each day to get on I-5. Recent population growth, along with retail and commercial development in Smokey Point, has led to increased traffic backups, Jones said.

The congestion routinely causes long lines on weekends and during peak commute hours, she said.

The new, wider bridge has helped reduce congestion for drivers traveling on the highway over the freeway, but improvements to the I-5 ramps should reduce backups, Jones said.

That’s the belief of Becky Foster, longtime Smokey Point businesswoman and advocate of improving the area’s traffic congestion.

“The construction project should help immensely and with minimal disruption to the community,” Foster said. “The new overpass was a Band Aid, but the new loop should really cut down on the pressure on 172nd.”

Paul Graves, president of the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce, said he is glad the state is willing to take on a project during difficult economic times.

“This transportation investment is money well spent, and our hope is that it is being planned and executed with the proper foresight to ensure improved traffic flows for many years to come,” Graves said. “The chamber is always glad to see tax dollars being reinvested in infrastructure that benefits our local business owners and citizens.”

The city of Arlington anticipates that after the interchange project is complete that the state will begin work on widening Highway 531 (172nd Street) all the way east to Highway 9, Banfield said. A study to prepare for that project is under way, she said.

Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or gfiege@heraldnet.com.

On the Web

For more information on the 172nd Street and I-5 interchange project at Smokey Point, go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr531/i5loopramp.

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