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WSDOT plans to widen I-5 through Seattle to hopefully improve congestion downtown

A professor with UW's Transportation Center said the extra lane will turn an "awful really gross terrible commute into just a really lousy commute."

SEATTLE — The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is finally making a change to one of the state’s major traffic problem areas. It’s a project that will add an extra northbound lane on I-5 through downtown Seattle and it's expected to begin soon. 

A 1,500-foot stretch known to cause a pretty ugly commute could soon get a little less ugly.

"It's a headache because it was designed in the 1950s when there was absolutely no concept that Seattle would be as big as it is," said Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. 

To catch up, WSDOT is about to get started on a northbound I-5 widening project that aims to try and bring some relief. During rush hour, backups can stretch as far back as the West Seattle bridge and Boeing Field. 

"Yes, there will be definite improvements because a lot of that drop will go away. Will it still be congested? Will you still get stuck on Boeing Field, periodically? Yes," Hallenbeck said. 

Right now, there are two through lanes on northbound I-5 just after the Seneca Street off-ramp. This project will add an additional lane between the Seneca Street off-ramp and the Olive Way off-ramp by replacing existing barriers, rails and curbs with a thinner barrier. 

Crews will also install ramp meters on the collector-distributor on-ramp and the Cherry Street on-ramp.

Hallenbeck studies traffic and transportation systems and said this project has taken a lot of thought because of the design limitations. 

"They are trying desperately to work within that footprint to add some extra capacity without creating hazards," said Hallenbeck. 

Will the change make a drastic improvement for your commute?

"Absolutely, it will be a huge win, it will turn your awful really gross terrible commute into just a really lousy commute. Will you be happy that you gained five minutes back, sure, absolutely, but is it going to make you sing praises, you know, for what a wonderful commute, you now have, no," said Hallenbeck. 

Construction is set to begin in spring 2021. The new lane is expected to open fall of 2022.