Gov. Jay Inslee plans to speak Tuesday at Shoreline following recent political turbulence on transportation issues, including Republican legislators’ dismissal of Inslee’s transportation secretary, Lynn Peterson.
OLYMPIA — After criticism of the state’s latest freeway tolling system and the state Senate’s surprise ouster of Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, Gov. Jay Inslee is expected Tuesday to announce changes intended to improve traffic flow and add capacity.
At state transportation offices in Shoreline, Inslee will reveal more than a dozen improvements to the Interstate 405 express toll lanes, according to a Monday statement from Inslee’s office.
Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith declined to provide details of the I-405 proposals.
But, she said, “It’s largely a combination of things that the governor and legislators have been working on for a while, and a couple of new things.”
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The governor also will tout a proposal to help congestion on Interstate 5 by funding 10 more incident-response teams to help quickly clear travel lanes of collision-damaged or disabled vehicles. Inslee included $10 million in his supplemental budget for the response crews.
Inslee will also announce that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is scheduled to replace dozens of aging expansion jointson I-5 from Marysville to Federal Way. Expansion joints are the gaps between bridge decks that provide room for the road to expand or contract during temperature changes.
WSDOT has been gradually replacing steel-covered I-5 joints by reinforcing the concrete edges with epoxyand using silicone filler between decks.
Problems involving the aging expansion joints — many are several decades old, and can pop up — may leave traffic gridlocked for hours. An emergency, rush-hour repair on I-5 in Seattle in November contributed to a backup that stretched to Lynnwood.
The announcements come after a turbulent start to 2016 in transportation news, which has seen Inslee shut down the Highway 99 tunneling project after a sinkhole formed, lawmakers respond to drivers’ anger over the new I-405 toll lanes, and the Senate Republicans oust Peterson in a surprise move.
More than 30,000 motorists have signed an online petition to “Stop I-405 Tolls,” citing daily commutes that are as bad or worse than before the tolling started in September. Under the new system, solo drivers can pay to enter a lane that is supposed to guarantee a trip of 45 mph or faster.
Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said Monday she didn’t know specifics of Inslee’s proposal regarding the toll lanes. But Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said the prospect of Inslee taking action “adds stature” to the efforts of lawmakers. “I think it’s a really good move on his part to solidify the fact that we’re all working on it,” she said, adding later: “I’m anxious to see what he’s going to say.”
Clibborn was one of a handful of Democratic lawmakers who recently signed a letter calling for the repeal of night, weekend and holiday tolls on I-405. That move came as the Senate Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 6152, sponsored by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, to repeal tolls from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., as well as on weekends and holidays.
That reprieve, however, wouldn’t address the worst hours of commuter congestion. Nor would it untangle the Bothell bottleneck where the freeway shrinks from five total lanes to three continuing north to Lynnwood.
Through a spokeswoman, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, declined to comment Monday.
The Legislature has not acted on the governor’s call for funding of the incident- response teams to give roadside assistance and help clear crashes. The teams typically consist of a truck equipped with pushing or pulling equipment, as well as a bank of flashing amber lights in the rear, which can be used to direct trailing motorists to shift lanes if needed.
Such teams are commonly stationed just outside downtown Seattle or at junctions between I-5 and I-90. WSDOT deploys a team during partial freeway closures, when the risks posed by a stalled or crashed car become especially dire.