UPDATE: 6:38 p.m. | A King County Metro bus driver drove the wrong way onto the Interstate 5 express lanes with an articulated bus full of passengers Wednesday afternoon.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt.
The Route 41 driver hesitated on the on-ramp near the Northgate Transit Center for a few seconds after passing a clearly marked “Do Not Enter” sign, then continued southbound onto the expressway, said Thad White, who was sitting near the front of the bus at the time.
The state Department of Transportation tweeted Wednesday afternoon that it had “confirmed that the signage and all that was correct.”
The lanes had just changed over from southbound to northbound, so the bus didn’t meet any oncoming traffic until it reached the Northeast 45th Street overpass, White and Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer said.
“Then you could see this wall of cars,” White said.
At that point, the bus pulled over onto the shoulder, its passengers panicking, White said.
A Washington state incident-response truck helped divert traffic until State Patrol troopers and the driver’s supervisor showed up, White said. The driver, who wore a “20-year safe driver” badge, told White that he expected to face suspension along with a drug test and mandatory retraining, in addition to a ticket.
State Patrol troopers shut down the express lanes, and the bus — then driven by the supervisor — attempted a giant U-turn to exit at the Northeast 42nd Street offramp, but the articulated bus couldn’t make it all the way around. So, a State Patrol escort led it to Mercer Street, where it exited the freeway and a trooper wrote the driver a ticket.
The bus then took its passengers to Jackson Street, where it let them off.
Switzer called the incident a “very, very serious safety infraction” and said he was glad no one was injured.
King County Metro is investigating, Switzer said.
The ordeal over, White caught another bus to the Convention Center, where he was working an optometry convention. He had already texted his girlfriend and called his boss to tell him he’d be late.
“It was a complete scene out of ‘Austin Powers’ — but with a bus,” White said.