Added visibility comes to I-5 express lanes

By guest blogger Mike Allende

New flashing lights bring added visibility
to I-5 express lane gates.
The I-5 express lanes have been getting some much-needed attention during the past couple years. From automating the way we switch the directions of the lanes to new signs and important communications equipment, we continue to look for ways to help the always-busy stretch through Seattle run more efficiently and safely.

We’re in the middle of a $4.9 million upgrade to the express lanes between Northgate and downtown Seattle. The signs along the express lanes hadn’t received any significant improvements in about 20 years. We’ve already replaced five of them near the entrance at Northgate, and more are going up in December at the northbound James Street entrance. LED lights on the new signs will clearly let drivers know whether the lanes are open or not. While the express lanes normally operate on the same daily schedule, these improvements will still help guide drivers who might be unfamiliar with their hours of operations.

New LED signs let drivers know if the
I-5 express lanes are open or closed.
Besides the signs at Northgate, we’ve installed flashing lights on the directional gates. When they swing out during the midday switch to northbound, the lights will flash. When the gates are completely closed, they’ll stay red. We did this to improve safety around the gates: The lights should reduce the number of gate strikes while giving drivers another notice of whether the lanes are open or closed. The added visibility will also help alert drivers to merge if the lanes are closed, which should help ease some of the congestion southbound drivers approaching the Northgate exit know all too well.

We also replaced a variety of communications equipment near the Northgate entrance and will do the same near James Street. The equipment remotely relays information that lets our staff in the Traffic Management Center know that everything is ready for the switch. Once our road crews drive through the lanes to ensure they are clear, our TMC staff can efficiently switch the lanes with the press of a button.

New LED signs let drivers know if the
I-5 express lanes are open or closed.
These improvements come a little more than a year after we completed another major part of the project. We automated the express lanes last year, which reduces the amount of time it takes to switch directions. We also added 45 new cameras, signs, signals and communications equipment.

More than 50,000 vehicles use the I-5 express lanes on weekdays, with 60 percent of them heading north. Since automating the lanes, northbound drivers have seen about four minutes cut from their commute. Look for even more improvements with these new signs and equipment.