The I-5 Bridge Joint Repair survival guide

 by Cara Mitchell

Whenever we can, we work at night so motorists can get where they need to go during the day. Once in a while, a project comes along that doesn’t allow night work exclusively. Mid-September in Olympia is one of those times.  Mark your calendars, because over the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19, a planned I-5 expansion joint repair near Olympia’s Capitol Lake will require day and night lane and ramp closures. Traffic models show that even with up to 30 percent of motorists going elsewhere those two weekends, we can still expect to see miles-long backups on I-5 and on US 101 approaching I-5.  This work is weather dependent. In the event of rain, the weekend of Sept. 26 is a backup weekend for the work to take place.

The intersection of I-5 and US 101 is the site for the bridge expansion
joint repair project planned for the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19.
Best advice?  Avoid the area!  If you must drive on I-5 through Olympia during those two weekends, come through before 10 a.m. (the earlier the better), or wait until after 8 p.m. (the later the better).  In addition to the backups, expect narrowed and realigned lanes and closed ramps. Closure details can be found on our project website. Here’s why the work must be done.

Construction details
Our construction crews are repairing a 28-year old expansion joint that spans the width of northbound and southbound I-5, and some ramps, near Capitol Lake in Olympia. The concrete surrounding the joints has deteriorated and has already led to some events in which the steel in the expansion joint caused damage to vehicles.  The synthetic rubber seals that are meant to keep the joint waterproof are also broken, allowing water to leak through the joints and cause other concerns. Over those two weekends, we will remove and re-pour the concrete headers around the expansion joint and, in subsequent nights, replace the old rubber seals with a silicone-based seal.

Expansion joints are a critical part of a bridge’s infrastructure. The joints allow the bridge to move and flex with changing traffic and weather conditions. Around the state (most recently, in the greater Seattle area) we have been working hard this summer to repair or replace failing bridge expansion joints. As with our highways, the expansion joints are aging and need attention.  If ignored, failed expansion joints can result in emergency lane closures at very inopportune times.  We want to repair these joints under scheduled closures before they fail.

Keep traffic moving

We are asking motorists to avoid this area of I-5 and US 101 in Olympia.  Over a typical Saturday and Sunday, this stretch of I-5 is traveled by more than 276,000 vehicles. Mix in multiple lane closures in both directions, with motorists trying to get to sporting events, concerts or even a quick trip to the mall, and suddenly  too many vehicles are traveling on too little pavement. The outcome is - you guessed it -gridlock resulting in miles-long backups.

We need your help during the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19. At the risk of repeating ourselves, avoid using I-5 and US 101 in Olympia.  If you must go, plan ahead. If you know the back roads, take them, but keep in mind local side streets around the work zone will see an increase in congestion too. If you’re traveling from south of Olympia north to Tacoma or Seattle, look at alternate state routes such as SR 12, SR 7, SR 702, US 12, or US 101. If you must take I-5, plan on traveling before 10 a.m. or after 8 p.m. to avoid lengthy backups. If you’re heading south to Portland, or to the coastal beaches, the same advice applies.

Our goal with every project, including this one, is to get the construction work done as quickly and safely as possible with the least effect on the traveling public. This particular type of work requires that concrete be removed, re-poured and cured in the same timeframe. After careful consideration, we determined that condensing the work into two admittedly difficult travel weekends was still the best work method that would have the least impact on traffic.

What if I can’t change my travel plans?
Let’s be frank – things are going to be rough. In addition to exploring alternate routes or taking alternative modes of transportation, expect to sit in long backups for both north and southbound I-5, and eastbound US 101 in Olympia. Make sure your gas tank is full or your battery fully charged before heading out. If traveling with kids, be prepared to hear the classic question, “Are we there yet” multiple times. Pack your patience and avoid road rage.

We will have additional Incident Response Teams pre-positioned in the work zone to clear any collisions that might occur. The Washington State Patrol will also be on scene to keep an eye on things.

Stay engaged with road conditions over both weekends. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to WSDOT’s GovDelivery to receive information via email or text on current traffic conditions.

Visit our I-5 Olympia Expansion Joint Repair website to learn more information.