Who knew a small lane switch on I-5 could create such chaos?

27 July 2023

Wednesday was rough on northbound Interstate 5. A small lane shift led to seven-mile backups and hour delays into Seattle until after the express lanes opened for the afternoon commute.

I was more than surprised that a slight lane shift created what we saw on the freeway. It usually doesn’t happen like this, but this spot, right near the Seneca Street exit, has a lot of moving parts.

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You have the HOV lane ending in the morning because the express lanes are going southbound. You have the exit-only ramp to Seneca.

The contractor then added orange barrels and blocked the right lane. Drivers were forced to move to the left just after Seneca.

The Washington Department of Transportation’s Amy Moreno said it’s hard to judge how drivers will react to sudden changes.

“We know it’s going to look a little different to people, and any time that you have something that’s a little bit of a change, especially on I-5, that can affect traffic,” Moreno said.

This lane shift is going to stick with us until the new northbound through-lane opens up.

“They did put those orange barrels up on the right, and those are going to stay there for the next few days as they continue the re-striping work,” Moreno said.

That new lane should open in a few days.

“You can’t just shut the whole freeway down and re-stripe everything at once,” Moreno said. “We have to leave ways for people to get through.”

There will be another closure of the collector-distributor lanes overnight today. Workers will take Friday night off, and then one more big closure overnight Saturday, when both the mainline and collector-distributor lanes will be closed. The express lanes will remain open in the northbound direction.

And I had the final configuration a little mixed up too. That new third lane will be next to the existing Seneca Street exit-only ramp. It’s not just going to be an extension of that lane, as I had been reporting.

So when this is done, there will be the HOV/express lane exit, the Seneca Street exit, and three through lanes on northbound I-5.

We just have to survive the lane configuration until then.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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