WSDOT adding ramp meters to I-90/I-5 connection in Seattle

Feb 7, 2023, 5:06 AM | Updated: 12:12 pm
I-5/I-90 Ramp meter...
The new metered lights between I-5 and I-90 (Photo from Chris Sullivan)
(Photo from Chris Sullivan)

We touched a nerve last week with the possibility of eliminating free right turns at red lights, but get ready for another jolt. Ramp meters are about to go active between Interstate 90 and Interstate 5 in Seattle.

My inbox has exploded over the last 10 days. It is full of drivers asking me what is going on between I-90 and I-5.

Will banning free right turns make our roads safer?

I knew in an instant that the ramp meters must have gone up.

This is something I have been talking about for years. The Washington Department of Transportation plans to better control the traffic flow onto northbound I-5 by putting ramp meters on the collector-distributor lanes.

“It helps the congestion, in that you don’t just dump everybody on all at once,” WSDOT project engineer Shawn Wendt said. “It’s regulated, and it’s like a valve. You’re slowly opening that valve through that area.”

The most common question I received from listeners last week is, ‘how can the state put a traffic signal in the middle of the freeway?’

First, you have to understand that it’s not a freeway at that point. It is a ramp between two freeways that also includes dedicated off-ramps to James and Madison. I know that doesn’t make a difference to you, but that’s how WSDOT defines the area.

“It’s like what you would see at a regular on-ramp,” Wendt said. “It’s just a big on-ramp.”

Here’s how it is going to work, these ramp meters are just north of the James off-ramp. You will hit them coming from eastbound and westbound I-90 if you are continuing to northbound I-5 and if you’re heading to Madison. There are three lanes at that spot, and these ramp meters will help regulate those lanes onto I-5 during peak traffic.

WSDOT’s Amy Moreno wanted to make this point clear. They will only be active when there is already congestion in that area.

“It’s not going to be on when there’s no traffic,” Moreno said.

The traffic center will be able to change the signal timing in real-time to make the flow as efficient as possible.

The lights will go active in a few months.

More from Chris Sullivan: WSDOT breaks ground to fix one of worst chokepoints in WA

“Early summer is when they are going to restripe everything into its final configuration, and then those lights will go on permanently,” Wendt said.

So it’s time to start prepping mentally for this.

This isn’t the only change WSDOT is making in this area. It is also converting the Seneca exit on northbound I-5 from an exit-only lane to a through lane. You will still be able to exit, but the lane won’t stop there.

Engineers are using the shoulder areas to create 1,500 feet of new road. This will mean three lanes will continue northbound under the convention center.

WSDOT’s Moreno said the project has the potential to transform traffic through Seattle.

“This will be so huge when it all opens up,” she said. “When it’s done, it really could impact traffic flow in downtown Seattle for years to come.”

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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WSDOT adding ramp meters to I-90/I-5 connection in Seattle