By 2017 you won’t be able to use the I-90 express lanes
Work begins this weekend on the final stage of a project to move the HOV lanes and preparation for light rail service across the I-90 bridge.
It’s the first of up to 30 weekend directional closures of I-90 over the next 28 months, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
By the end of 2017, cars will no longer be able to use the I-90 express lanes. That center part of the floating bridge will be reserved for Sound Transit’s new light rail line connecting Seattle and Bellevue.
To get ready for that transition, the state is beginning work to extend the current I-90 HOV lanes across Lake Washington.
“Right now, the HOV lanes end about halfway across Mercer Island,” said Annie Johnson with the Washington state Department of Transportation. “This last stage of construction will take those HOV lanes from Mercer Island all the way to about Rainier Avenue in Seattle.”
Drivers won’t be losing any lanes in this change. Johnson said car capacity is going to stay the same across the bridge.
“We’re taking those two lanes that are in the express lanes, and we’re adding them to the outside. Sound Transit will do their light rail construction in the center roadway,” she said.
To make this happen, put four lanes where there are currently only three, drivers will have to deal with 11-foot wide lanes, which will make it a little tight all the way across the lake.
“We will narrow the lanes about a foot,” said Johnson. “We will also narrow the shoulder a little bit to squeeze-in that extra lane.”
Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick called this project a win for drivers, as well as transit users.
“It’s an improvement over today, since right now the center lanes only operate in the peak direction, and there’s almost as much traffic in the off-peak directions,” he said. “Having those 24-hour lanes in both directions will be a real benefit for drivers as well as transit.”
The plan is to have light rail trains running across Lake Washington and up into Bellevue and Redmond by 2023.
“We are gearing up to begin some work this year in utility relocation and start heavy construction next year,” said Patrick. “In mid-2017, that’s when construction will start of light rail in what are now the center lanes of I-90.”
Included in Sound Transit’s plan is a new tunnel through Bellevue, but before that sets up any red flags for you realize that Sound Transit has successfully built several tunnels across Puget Sound. The bigger question will be engineering a rail line that rides on the water.
“It is the first rail line across a floating bridge in the world,” said Patrick.
According to Patrick, Sound Transit designed a special bridge deck that allows the rails to move with the motion of the water.
All of this transition begins this week with anticipated I-90 eastbound HOV ramp closures to I-405 Wednesday night. This will be an eight-week closure, and this weekend begins 28 weekends of closures for the entire eastbound direction of I-90. Drivers will be diverted to the express lanes.
So enjoy those trips on the express lanes, they end in two years.