Hard shoulder driving is coming to I-90.
New signs were recently installed along the freeway, alerting drivers that peak-use shoulder lane driving was coming to the corridor between Eastgate and Issaquah.
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The corridor could definitely use some help. Lisa Van Cise, a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Transportation, said traffic volumes have been growing.
“Close to the I-405 interchange, we have about 150,000 vehicles per day, and as you travel to the east it dips down to about 87,000 once you get close to Sunset,” she said.
And people are still moving there.
The project will cost an estimated $73 million. It was designed to be a peak-use shoulder lane; a lane you can use during the peak travel hours but is closed the rest of the time.
However, Van Cise said recent studies show a permanent shoulder makes more sense.
“It looks like the congestion would be eased close to Issaquah but pushed closer to that Eastgate pinch-point, and we don’t want that,” Van Cise said.
It would also create longer backups on the on-ramps to I-90.
The plan now is to make it an auxiliary travel lane. An auxiliary lane would create a lane between two ramps. For example, you would get on I-90 in Eastgate and stay in that lane to get off at the Sunset ramp in Issaquah, keeping local drivers from having to merge into mainline traffic. These lanes would be open 24/7, and there would be one westbound and one eastbound.
Despite the signs going up a few weeks ago, this project is far from breaking ground.
“It looks like construction will likely start in 2019, and the project should be done by the end of 2020 or early 2021,” Van Cise said.
The project was funded by the Legislature in 2015. Designers and engineers are finalizing plans. It could still become a peak-use lane, but the final decision hasn’t been made.