New charts from the Washington State Department of Transportation illustrate what people crossing Lake Washington already know: there was a dramatic drop in highway use for the first two weekdays of a big construction job on I-90.
Traffic volumes have plunged as much at 60 percent during some of the busiest times.
This chart shows that only 1,500 cars crossed the East Channel Bridge westbound between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Monday, instead of the usual 3,800. A similar dropoff occurred in the afternoon.
So far, traffic on today has also been light through the work zone, where only a single westbound lane is open. Workers are replacing a cracked steel expansion joint until 5 a.m. Friday.
Many citizens have said in comment threads and blogs, such as this Publicola column titled “Carpocalypse Never,” that if the state and its commuters can adapt for two days, they ought to be able to break the freeway habit permanently. Additional evidence comes from recent gains in transit use from West Seattle to downtown when lanes were reduced, and in the Highway 520 corridor as tolls took effect.
On the other hand, schools are on summer break, giving young families more flexibility than usual, while reducing bus and staff trips. Population continues to grow year-round, and the metro area still ranks anywhere from fourth to eighth in various congestion lists.
The WSDOT’s blog post by Bart Treece mentions, “With previous closures, we’ve seen drivers return to their old habits after a few days, which results in longer travel times and bigger backups. Hopefully, everyone will keep doing what they’ve been doing so come Friday, life can return back to normal.”
The worst delay so far was about 15 minutes and three miles, at 6:35 a.m. Monday, as commuters headed to work early.
Slight congestion showed up Tuesday afternoon on the Highway 520 toll bridge, but that may have other causes, besides diversion from I-90.
The next test will be a repair shutdown of the Alaskan Way Viaduct for four days, Aug. 23-26. Crews will remove the Broad Street overpass and fill the space beneath at South Lake Union; fix a damaged expansion joint at the Seneca Street offramp; and replace broken concrete panels just north of the West Seattle Bridge.