CHOKEPOINTS

The I-90 construction delays from a few years ago are back again

Feb 17, 2022, 5:18 AM
I-90 Snoqualmie Pass...
Sun filters through the clouds highlighting I-90 as the highway winds past Gold Creek and along Keechelus Lake on Oct. 22, 2019. (Photo courtesy of WSDOT/Flickr)
(Photo courtesy of WSDOT/Flickr)

The break from long I-90 construction closures east of Snoqualmie Pass is over. Workers will return in a few months to start widening the next section on the to-do list.

Washington Democrats unveil expansive $16 billion transportation package

There have been a few summers off since the freeway was widened between Snoqualmie Pass and the new wildlife overcrossing, but now it’s back to work on I-90 between Snoqualmie Pass and Cle Elum.

Drivers will start seeing signs and construction in April and May. Workers will be adding another lane in each direction of I-90 between Cabin Creek and Easton. The Washington State Department of Transportation’s assistant region administrator, Brian White, said they will also be repairing bridges and widening culverts.

“We’re going to be doing about 12 bridge deck repairs,” he said. “These jobs are designed to fix the potholes that are in the decks so we have a better driving surface.”

Workers will return and put concrete over the repairs.

What’s interesting is that this phase of the project will not pick up at the wildlife crossing where construction ended before, and where it drops from three lanes to two. It will start about 2 miles further east, leaving a gap. White said there are too many environmental concerns on that stretch to do the work now. That means drivers will go from three lanes to two, and back to three when this part of the construction is completed in a few years.

But let’s talk about detours and the long waits, which are of primary concern right now.

White said they plan to keep both lanes of the freeway open during the weekends, but that’s no guarantee of good conditions.

“Even if we have both lanes open, if they’re shifted or there’s a car broken down on the side of the road, it just takes a few minutes and traffic starts backing up,” he said. “Our goal is always to keep people moving on the weekend.”

Drivers will see the biggest detour right at the Easton Hill. If you drove this road last summer, you might have noticed workers putting in a road in the median. Eastbound drivers are going to be moved into the westbound lanes down the hill.

“We have a transition section that will send you onto the westbound side,” White said. “You’ll be separated by concrete barrier. You’ll head down the hill, and right when you get toward Easton, you’ll be put back onto the existing roadway.”

The state will be installing another wildlife overcrossing at the top of the Easton Hill as part of this project. White said that’s another busy path for wildlife they want to keep off the road.

Workers will also be adding a new bridge in Cle Elum that will come with a detour, and there will be smaller projects all the way to Ellensburg.

“I-90 has served us well over the years, but it’s time she needs some rehabilitation,” White said. “The road is only designed to last so long, and that time is now to start working on it.”

And before you start dreaming about — or dreading — those long bumper-to-bumper drives, know that it will get even worse on I-90 next year. That’s when the state will replace the bridge deck on the Vantage Bridge. Frequent drivers along this stretch might remember the backups when they painted the bridge a few years ago. Those backups extended up the hill on either side of the Columbia River, and that was with only one lane taken for a work zone. This time, there will only be one lane open in each direction, but again, that’s not until summer 2023.

If your plans this summer include trips to the Gorge or Spokane, you need to keep construction in the back of your mind when calculating your travel time.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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The I-90 construction delays from a few years ago are back again