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July 7, 2009

6 things bus riders should know about July’s I-90 lane closures

Work has now begun on westbound Interstate 90 across Lake Washington, and the normal five lanes of traffic have been narrowed to two across Mercer Island and the lake as crews replace the expansion joints on the westbound floating bridge. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is warning all motorists that the traffic delays could last an hour or more and stretch from Issaquah to Seattle. On the first two mornings of the closure, the backups have been shorter than that, but still significantly longer than the normal commute.

The work should be completed by July 20. In addition to WSDOT’s warnings for all motorists, here are a few things King County Metro Transit wants bus riders to know about transit delays and reroutes:

Delays – Expect delays in bus travel times, because all vehicles will be using the HOV express lanes across the lake into Seattle. This restriction does not end until you reach the west side of the Mount Baker Tunnel.

WSDOT says delays will be most disruptive westbound from 6-11 a.m. and 3-7 p.m., or when there are major events in Seattle. Also, eastbound traffic in the afternoon will be slower than normal, because there will be no HOV lanes in that direction across the lake until the project is completed. Expect related slowdowns on State Route 520, Interstate 405 and Interstate 5.

Metro is making every effort to add buses to maintain departure schedules on east-west routes across I-90. Still, bus travel times may take longer than normal due to traffic delays and backups. Most buses serving the Eastside make multiple trips across the lake in a single day, and congestion on one leg of the trip will create ongoing delays for individual buses.

There are more than 19 Metro and Sound Transit bus routes operating in the I-90 corridor, including routes: 111, 114, 202, 205, 210, 211, 212, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 225, 229, 981, and 989, plus Sound Transit Express routes 550, 554, 555 and 556. But, the congestion could also delay other routes and transit service.

Bus travel is still a good option for crossing I-90. Transit service, vanpools and carpools will be subject to delays, but at least you help get one more car off the road and can relax while someone else does the driving.

Bus riders are encouraged to travel early in the commute if possible. Use existing schedules to plan your trip and give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination.

Reroutes – Because westbound traffic congestion is expected to be severe, Metro is currently rerouting all Seattle-bound service that travels westbound on I-90 from Snoqualmie, Sammamish, Issaquah Highlands, Issaquah and Eastgate. This has little impact on bus boarding locations, except for two inbound stops.

Westbound buses that are headed for the I-90 floating bridge are routed off of I-90 at 142nd Place Southeast at Eastgate and re-enter near Bellevue Way. This diverts buses around several anticipated I-90 choke points and gives them a queue jump onto Mercer Island.

Routes 111 and 114 coming from the Renton Highlands are also avoiding some portions of I-90. Mercer Island routes 202 and 205 have a short reroute on the island to enter I-90.

Eastgate boarding – The reroutes could cause some confusion for people who board buses either in the bays at the Eastgate Park-and-Ride or the Eastgate freeway station above I-90 just west of 142nd Place Southeast.

All buses that currently serve bays at the Eastgate Park-and-Ride continue to do so. The bus routes detouring around Eastgate do not stop at the bays.

Two bus stops do not have Seattle service during the reroutes: the westbound Eastgate freeway station above I-90; and the stop southbound on 142nd Place Southeast near the Eastgate skybridge.

Passengers who use the westbound freeway station should board northbound on 142nd Place near the back entrance to Bellevue College. Watch for signs directing you to that stop, and please use caution crossing the street. The eastbound freeway station stop has regular service.

The buses serving the southbound 142nd Place stop are currently boarding all passengers in the bays on the main level of the Eastgate Park-and-Ride.

South Bellevue traffic – Many routes are detouring without stopping through the bus lanes at the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride in order to access I-90. But, only the regularly scheduled service boards passengers there.

Both pedestrians and motorists are urged to use caution traveling to and from the South Bellevue lot because of the increased traffic.

Other disruptions – Bus passengers should be aware of other projects and events that could slow I-90 bus service from July 5-20.

The city of Seattle continues repaving Second Avenue in the central business district. Most of the I-90 routes travel on Second Avenue when leaving Seattle, and continue to experience delays downtown particularly during the afternoon commute.

I-90 routes that normally use the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel are affected by closures of the tunnel due to preparations to start up Link light rail service. The tunnel is closed to all transit at 7 p.m. each night from July 6-10, and then closed to buses on the weekend of July 18 and 19.

Special events in Seattle are expected to attract more westbound I-90 traffic July 6-12 for the Mariners, July 11 and 18 for the Sounders soccer matches, July 18-19 for the opening of light rail, and July 17-19 for the Bite of Seattle.

New tools – Both WSDOT and Metro are offering new tools for tracking travel conditions during the I-90 lane closures.

King County’s “Eye on Your Metro Commute” offers commute-time updates on transit disruptions Monday through Friday from 6-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. For more significant widespread disruptions, Metro customers can subscribe to KCMetro-Alerts. Information about both services is available on Metro Online.

WSDOT recently added new tools to its Web site to help drivers plan their commutes and help avoid severe congestion on Puget Sound freeways in July. They include new traffic cameras, estimated travel times, travel-planning guides, and real-time traffic updates. 

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