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I-90 merge traffic
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Drivers will have to endure I-90 lane configuration for months

Traffic backs up as drivers wait to merge onto northbound I-5 June 5. (WSDOT)

The No. 1 question I get about the “Revive I-5” work through Seattle has nothing to do with the actual project. It has everything to do with the new lane configuration in the collector-distributor lanes connecting westbound I-90 to northbound I-5.

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When will we get our normal lanes into downtown Seattle?

If you haven’t driven westbound I-90 into Seattle recently, here’s what the state has done: 1,000 feet of lane was removed after the Madison Street exit. That’s 1,000 feet that drivers used to merge into the lane that continues to northbound I-5. Madison is now an exit only lane. That small tweak has caused daily 20-minute delays on I-90. Some days it’s worse.

Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Tom Pearce said it’s going to stay that way for a few more months.

“We’re going to keep this configuration through the summer, and it is possible it could carry on longer,” he said. “We’re going to keep an eye on it and make adjustments as necessary.”

Why so long? The paving project on I-5 is now competing with other projects for closure time and with other events in Seattle. The weekend closures or lane restrictions are only going to happen once a month now.

A full closure is scheduled for July 14-15. The state will reduce the freeway down to two lanes Aug. 11-12. Additional closures may be needed.

A lot of drivers have asked why the state simply can’t re-stripe this each time so daily commuters don’t get penalized when work isn’t underway. The state says it makes more sense to get it set that way until the project is done.

Other drivers have asked why the state can’t get rid of the barrels that block the second lane from merging onto I-5. Pearce says that is a safety issue.

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“We need to have two lanes coming out of the collector-distributor,” he said. “That works great on a weekend when the mainline is closed. When the mainline is open, that left lane that we have barreled off, it comes into the mainline at such an angle it’s an unsafe merge. It would be dangerous to have that lane open.”

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