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Temporary 520 fix might save bus riders 5-6 minutes into Seattle

(KIRO Radio, Chris Sullivan)

There’s a public perception that the Washington Department of Transportation is slow to respond to users’ needs, but that isn’t always the case. The state is about to make a small tweak recommended by daily users that should shave a few minutes off the westbound drive on 520 in Seattle.

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I see the backup every morning. During the height of the morning commute, the westbound direction of 520 bogs down right at Montlake. There are a few reasons for that. The first being that we lose a lane through that area. The other is that the ramp to Montlake fills in and backs up onto the main line.

“It’s a heavily traveled ramp — 70-75,000 vehicles are using 520 every day, and 30-percent of those are using the Montlake interchange,” WSDOT’s Steve Peer said. “We’ve got a chokepoint there.”

While sitting in that daily backup, bus riders noticed there was a little extra room on that ramp to Montlake and wondered why it wasn’t being used.

“They are all on their Twitter accounts and taking pictures,” Peer said.  “We looked at it and said ‘Hey, we can use this for the next six or seven months and allow buses to use that.”

WSDOT will stripe-in a new shoulder bypass lane for buses to use this weekend, if the weather cooperates.

“It essentially takes the shoulder there which will allow them to jump the queue,” Peer said. “It will probably save them three maybe four light cycles. That probably equates to six or seven minutes in a morning commute.”

Drivers probably won’t like it because buses will be moving up to the front of the line, but it’s possible that cars will pick up a little time as well. Peer said it’s a little tweak, driven by users, that should help the daily commute.

“We listen to our users, the taxpayers that use this road,” he said.

But this is only a temporary fix. This transit shoulder lane will only be around for a few months. It will go away early next year when the next phase of the 520 project begins. That is the complete redesign of the Montlake interchange. When construction begins on that, all eastbound drivers will be funneled onto the westbound lanes of 520 between Montlake Boulevard and the floating bridge. It’s going to stay that way for a few years.

We still have about a decade of work left before the 520 Project will be considered finished.


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