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July 21, 2014 at 7:10 AM

Traffic ‘free flowing’ on westbound I-90, despite predictions

Traffic merges into the left lanes along Interstate 90 under  Interstate 405  approaching the East Channel Bridge and Mercer Island. This view looks west from 142nd Place Southeast in Bellevue. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Traffic merges into the left lanes along Interstate 90 under Interstate 405 approaching the East Channel Bridge and Mercer Island. This view looks west from 142nd Place Southeast in Bellevue. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Update | 9:07 a.m.:

Among those who set out early to try to beat the traffic was Megan Ching.

She left her Bellevue home a little after 6 a.m. — 40 minutes earlier than usual — to carpool with her fiancé to Seattle. They decided to brave Interstate 90 westbound, despite having only one lane open.

“I was checking the WSDOT app and it said it was one-mile but it was a very slow one mile,” said Ching, director of marketing and sales at Seattle Center Monorail, of the backup.

After 10 minutes of standstill traffic, Ching and her fiancé decided to take 520 over to Seattle, despite the tolls.

“It would’ve been great to have a reduced rate,” she said.

Ching said she’ll leave even earlier Tuesday — 5:30 a.m. — because she fears traffic will be worse. She’ll take 520 until the I-90 lane closures lift Friday morning.

On being an early riser: “I’m not, but this week I am.”

Debra Bostic, 49, woke up an hour and a half early, also fearing the morning rush.

From her home in Issaquah, she considered taking other routes to Bellevue, but decided to brave I-90.

Not only were her fears not realized, it turned out that “traffic is actually lighter than my commute has ever been,” Bostic said.

She was an hour early for her meeting.

So she killed time by gassing up at Chevron on Bellevue Way Southeast.

“It’s OK,” said Bostic, a real-estate agent. “It’s better to be early than late.”

She said Tuesday she would try to leave a little later and sleep in longer.


Update | 8:20 a.m.:

Expansion joint construction takes up the right lanes of the East Channel Bridge approaching Mercer Island early Monday morning. Construction will continue until Friday. This view looks east from Mercer Island. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Expansion joint construction takes up the right lanes of the East Channel Bridge approaching Mercer Island early Monday morning. Construction will continue until Friday. This view looks east from Mercer Island. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

The traffic jam on westbound I-90 has virtually disappeared, after stretching as far as three miles at 6:30 this morning.

“It’s free flowing,” said spokesman Mike Allende of the state Department of Transportation.

A likely explanation is that commuters set out early, to avoid the predicted gridlock from the loss of three lanes. Only one lane is open — the high-occupancy lane, which has been converted to general traffic.

Also, it seems fewer people decided to drive, Allende said. Alternate routes, including the Highway 520 toll bridge, are flowing normally, he said.

“We’re hopeful that people don’t get too comfortable, and expect this tomorrow,” he said.  In previous, major highway closures, the opening day turns out to be fairly light, followed by a second-day surge. In the “Viadoom” closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2011, the fourth day was the toughest commute.

Plenty of space is available in the Eastgate park-and-ride garage, where bus drivers told Times reporter Alexa Vaughn the passenger counts were about normal. Katie Ross, boarding Route 212, said she came a little earlier to get to a job in downtown Seattle. “Yeah, I came about a half hour earlier than I usually do — which means I came when I’m usually supposed to,” said Ross, laughing.Rami_bikelane

This image by Rami Grunbaum, a Seattle Times business editor, shows the view from the bike lane. A worker is holding a rotary saw, ready to cut through concrete.  The job, to replace an old expansion joint on the East Channel Bridge, lasts until 5 a.m. Monday.

A fence has been set up between the workers and the freeway traffic. The main purposes are to reduce noice, and reduce the chance that debris from jackhammering operations would fly toward car windows, DOT said.

Here’s a feed of WSDOT Twitter feed and selected Times reporters covering traffic today:

[do action=”scribblelive” chatid=”738262″ template=”21021″/]

 

Update| 7:20 a.m.:

The traffic congestion on westbound I-90 has eased a bit, to a mere two-mile backup, says the state Department of Transportation.

The slowdowns happen at the I-405 junction instead of all the way out to Eastgate, according to the Twitter feed @wsdot_traffic.  This camera angle shows the squeeze at I-405, where the two remaining lanes will have to merge to one lane just ahead — and the electronic signs call for a 30 mph speed limit.

Also, there is a one-mile backup on southbound I-405 approaching the I-90 merge.

Employers are encouraged to be flexible with work schedules, to deal with lane closures that last until 5 a.m. Friday morning. In an unscientific survey at seattletimes.com, our readers were almost evenly split between sitting in traffic, detouring to the Highway 520 toll bridge, or telecommuting.

 

Original post:

It took only an hour this morning for traffic to backup for three miles approaching the I-90 construction project between Bellevue and Mercer Island, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Workers are replacing an old expansion joint on the East Channel Bridge, until 5 a.m. Friday.  Only one through lane, and only one merge lane coming from I-405, are open in the westbound direction, as shown in this map.

Times reporter Alexa Vaughn (@alexavaughn) is passing through right now and reports that congestion “is about as horrid as everyone predicted,” with cars stop-and-go from Eastgate to Mercer Island.

There is no high-occupancy lane available, so transit riders are subject to the same delays as general traffic.

How is your experience so far? Tell us in comments.

Commuting during I-90 work: traffic experts’ suggestions

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: I-90, lae closures

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