State planning transportation fixes on I-405

Rush-hour traffic on I-405 is anything but on most days, when an estimated 600,000-plus people jockey for position in an increasingly congested tide of Eastside commuters.

And, according to Washington State Department of Transportation projections, the number of motorists on the major corridor is expected to jump by a quarter of a million in the next 20 years.

Help is on the way, though, according to WSDOT. The much-heralded nickel-a-gallon gas tax passed by the state legislature last summer will be tapped for $485 million to add northbound and southbound lanes to I-405 in Renton, Bellevue and Kirkland.

It sounds like a lot of money, but it's only a small portion of an estimated $10.9 billion needed for a 20-year master plan for improvements along the corridor, said Denise Cieri, a project manager for the Kirkland and Bellevue segments of the project.

Because the amount of money is relatively small, the first phase of the transportation fix on I-405 will only address what WSDOT describes as major choke points. "So the nickel tax is just really for heavy-congestion short-term fixes," Cieri explained.

According to the phase-one plan for Kirkland, a new northbound lane will be added between Northeast 70th Street and Northeast 124th Street, while a new southbound lane will be added between State Route 522 and State Route 520.

Work on the initial Kirkland segment will cost $165 million. However, beyond adding new lanes in Kirkland, exactly how that money will be spent is unknown.

"We do not know where or what property we might be acquiring for the I-405 expansion at this moment in Kirkland," Cieri said, adding that there are just too many unknowns.

Buying right-of-way property is one issue, but so are footprints of highway interchanges and the way WSDOT will deal with environmentally sensitive areas, she said. "So there's just a million factors."

Details will be available once an environmental assessment is completed for the project, and work on that will start at the beginning of next year, Cieri said.

The environmental work will take awhile. "In July 2005 is when we're hoping to have a product available for design-build teams," she said. Under the design-build arrangement, bidding contractors come up with a price and have to stick to it, Cieri added. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2006 and to be completed by 2011.

Described as an Implementation Plan, phase two of the I-405 project will cost an estimated $4.7 billion. Endorsed in October by the project's executive committee, that part "provides for continuous improvements throughout a multi-modal corridor" from Bothell to Tukwila, according to the WSDOT web site.

Phase two is unfunded, but planners hope the three-county Regional Transportation Investment District will provide a large portion of the money, assuming voters approve of the referendum. A vote is scheduled for next November.

According to WSDOT, other funding sources for phase two could include the state, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, Sound Transit, local transit agencies and King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

When phase three of the 20-year plan is completed at a cost of $9.1-$10.9 billion, more than 300 improvement projects will be completed on I-405, as well as transit and arterial improvements from Kent to Lynnwood and Lake Washington to Lake Sammamish, according to WSDOT. Sources for the roughly $5 billion in extra costs for the entire package have not been identified.

But WSDOT officials point to a significant return for the money. "When fully implemented, the plan will save over 13 million travel-time hours every year - a value of $569 million annually," according to the agency's web site. WSDOT also estimates that an additional $42 million will be saved annually due to fewer traffic accidents on I-405.

According to the web site, mass transportation will also get a boost in the ambitious plan by creating around 1,700 vanpools, by instituting a 50-percent jump in transit service and by building 5,000 new park-and-ride spaces.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at (206) 461-1309 or rzabel@

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