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I-5 backups not as bad as predicted so far at Stilly bridge
ARLINGTON — Motorists crossing the northbound and southbound Stillaguamish River bridges since July 8 have likely noticed that each direction of I-5 has been reduced from three lanes to two. This has caused extended backups.
Todd Harrison, assistant regional manager for the state Department of Transportation, explained that this was implemented to allow crossover lanes to be built, north and south of the river, to shift southbound I-5 traffic onto the western lanes of the northbound bridge in time for the morning commute of Tuesday, July 22.
By putting both directions of I-5 onto what was exclusively the northbound bridge, contractor crews working for WSDOT can replace the 81-year-old deck of the southbound bridge.
Although traffic already has been reduced from 70 to 55 mph, Harrison reported that the weekend of July 11-13 saw only a 15-minute delay in peak traffic, as opposed to the 35-minute delay that he’d been expecting.
“That’s pretty good, considering that we had regional events like the Arlington Fly-In that weekend, but there’s no guarantee that the delays will remain that brief,” Harrison said.
Harrison advised commuters that the best times to traverse the bridge remain before 9 a.m. and after 8 p.m., while the worst times are posted on WSDOT’s website at wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I5/StillaguamishBridgeRehab/TrafficVolumes.htm, and will be updated over the course of the project.
In the meantime, Harrison warned drivers to look for southbound I-5 to be reduced to one lane from 10 p.m. on Monday, July 21, to 5 a.m. the following day, to allow crews to re-stripe the interstate and guide traffic through the crossover.
“This is all weather-dependent, of course,” Harrison said. “But once the crossover is in place, the clock is ticking for the contractor. Every day will be a working day for them.”
Mowat Construction will have a window of 120 days to replace the southbound bridge deck, and some of the steel frame underneath, with an incentive of $50,000 a day to finish early, up to a cap of $500,000. Harrison added that there would be a similar “disincentive” financial penalty for each day past that window.
Although Harrison expects traffic on both bridges to be restored to three lanes by November, he noted that one part of the job will need to wait until the spring of 2015.
“That’s when we expect to lay down the permanent new striping,” Harrison said. “But that requires better temperatures and drier weather.”
For those who wish to skip the traffic slowdowns on I-5 during construction, Harrison recommended Pioneer Highway to the west and Highway 9 to the east, and encouraged all motorists to check http://wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I5/StillaguamishBridgeRehab regularly for updates.