Drivers are just a few weeks from losing the I-90 express lanes across Lake Washington in Seattle for good as Sound Transit takes them for light rail.
The change is expected June 3.
To make up for the loss of the express lanes, the Washington State Department of Transportation is adding an HOV lane to each direction of the outer roadways. Those HOV lanes will be on the left side of the freeway and continue from before the Mount Baker Tunnel all the way to Issaquah.
The biggest impact of this change will likely be for drivers heading east. Right now, there are two lanes in the left tunnel and one in the right tunnel. The new configuration will add another lane to the right tunnel.
It’s going to be a bit of a squeeze, but state spokesperson Travis Phelps says it shouldn’t be too bad.
“[There will be] some places where we’re forced to manipulate the lanes a little bit, just to get that extra HOV lane in there and also guarantee that we will have a shoulder where we can push vehicles off in case they’re disabled during the commutes,” he said. “Things that we’re thinking about.”
Phelps expects it will take a few weeks for people to get used to the new configuration.
Drivers will also need to adjust on Mercer Island. HOV drivers won’t have direct access ramps any more. They will have to merge to the right to get off the freeway.
“It may take a little while for drivers to understand exactly where they are; understand how and when to merge into them,” Phelps said. “It’s the same thing we see with a lot of the other traffic changes around the Puget Sound.”
We could start seeing the lanes being re-striped after the directional closure this weekend. Phelps says drivers should expect changes on a day-to-day basis.
“You may wake up … and see the lanes have sort of shifted over to the right on a certain section of I-90,” Phelps said. “And those are our crews starting to get what they can — that low hanging fruit — done to start shifting those lanes over.”
He says it’s not as simple as you might think.
“We actually have to take up to 14 miles of striping … and shift that to the right to make room for this brand new HOV lane,” he said.
The striping is weather-dependent.