I-90 express lanes: vital for both directions

by Mike Allende

One of the most common questions we’ve received regarding the upcoming I-90 expansion joint replacement project is will the express lanes operate only westbound during the lane reductions. The answer: No.

The I-90 express lanes entrance is located well
beyond the expansion joint work zone.
There’s a few reasons for making that decision.
  • It wouldn’t really help. The I-90 lane closures end well before the express lanes start. It wouldn’t help any traffic bypass the closure or speed things up through the work zone. At the express lanes entrance, there will be three lanes open on the mainline and two others in the express lanes with traffic traveling near the speed limit. It will serve the morning commute as it normally does.
  • It would cause serious problems for eastbound drivers. Most of those people going westbound will at some point have to return eastbound. Knowing this, we operate the express lanes eastbound from 2 p.m. until 5 a.m. the following morning. If we kept them westbound during the afternoon commute, Seattle-area traffic, from transit, to carpoolers to single-occupancy vehicles, would grind to a halt. We would see serious backups both directions of I-5, spilling onto city streets, jamming Rainier Avenue and making it very difficult to get out of downtown Seattle. With lower volumes of traffic westbound in the afternoon, keeping the express lanes that direction all day would hurt eastbound traffic significantly without improving westbound.
That said, we’re flexible. We will be monitoring traffic very closely throughout the closure. If we see traffic patterns flow in a way that adjusting the express lane schedule might help without causing too much damage to eastbound traffic, we can do that the following day. But it’s unlikely that would happen during the peak commute times.

Close-up look at I-90 traffic
We are adjusting the express lanes schedule for the Sounders’ 1 p.m. game Saturday, July 19 against Tottenham, running them westbound from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and switching to eastbound by 3:30 p.m. On Sunday, July 20, the express lanes will be closed from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. for the Seafair Triathlon. It will open westbound after that until 2 p.m. Monday, which should help traffic headed to the Seattle Center for the Bite of Seattle.

If we felt changing the express lanes and running them westbound throughout the closure would help more than hurt, we’d do it. We want to keep traffic moving as well as possible throughout the I-90 work. We’ve adjusted in the past when it makes sense. But in this case, it simply would do more harm than good.