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Expectant parents, emergency responders brace for I-90 construction backups

The replacement of aging expansion joints on I-90 over the next week is expected to cause backups of up to 10 miles during the project, prompting everyone from expectant parents to emergency responders to prepare. (WSDOT photo.)

When the dire warnings about the impending I-90 construction project started several weeks ago, they got Dan from Issaquah's attention.

The longtime KIRO Radio listener and his wife are expecting their first child in the next two weeks. For several reasons, they need to have the baby at Swedish Hospital's First Hill Seattle location. So when they heard about potential westbound backups lasting up to an hour, they began envisioning the possibility of their first child being born in the passenger seat.

"It could happen at any time," Dan says.

The couple quickly started looking at options, from staying with friends to getting a hotel room.

"My wife's been kind of worried, so we found a nice bed and breakfast in the U-District," he says. "Our doctors are at Swedish First Hill and we just want to make sure we get there with plenty of time."

While their doctors tried to calm the couple, Dan says they didn't want to take any chances. And he wonders what happens if someone else has an emergency and needs to get from the Eastside to Seattle quickly during the week-long project.

Officials with several Eastside emergency response agencies say they're well prepared for the construction project and have put a number of contingencies in place.

The Washington Department of Transportation and local agencies have been working closely on a coordinated plan to allow emergency vehicles to drive behind construction barricades and move through the construction area, says Lt. Richard Burke with the Bellevue Fire Department.

Burke acknowledges that won't alleviate all the problems, and says the department has planned for alternative routes to local hospitals including Eastlake and Swedish Issaquah.

If someone needs immediate transport to Harborview Medical Center or Seattle Children's Hospital, the agency is coordinating with Airlift Northwest to ensure medical helicopters are quickly available within the "golden hour," the time considered critical for treating a life-threatening emergency or condition.

"We have those policies in place, all of our engine companies are able to set up landing zones for Airlift Northwest, so I think we're well prepared," Burke says.

Eastside Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Bud Backer says his agency is prepared as well, and is used to dealing with traffic and relying on Airlift Northwest because it serves such a large swatch of east King County including Carnation, Issaquah and Sammamish.

"Traffic tends to pop up quite often around this area," Backer says. "It's something we've dealt with, we should be able to handle it."

Still, Dan and his expectant wife don't want to take any chances. So they'll be comfortably camped out in Seattle instead. "And if the baby decides to show up early, great."

As for other people with impending births or other potential emergencies, Burke says his crews are ready. But it's a good idea for them to plan for inevitable slowdowns.

"Anytime you go from four lanes down to one, you're going to have delays," he says. "If something goes awry, earlier is better than later to give us a call."

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