Transit rides will take longer on Aurora Avenue North for the next month, while construction pushes general traffic into the southbound bus lane. And during some nights and weekends, traffic will be scrunched into a single lane each way.

Share story

Commuters on Aurora Avenue North should pack extra patience for the next month, while one lane each way closes for a construction project.

General traffic will be allowed into the southbound bus lane starting Monday until mid-February, while contractors install foundations and wiring for future driver-information signs and tolling equipment.

And during some nights and weekends, including Jan. 23-24, traffic will be scrunched into a single lane each way.

Travelers should allow time for longer commutes or take other routes, says the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Opening the bus lane may avert car gridlock, but it will delay most of the 36,500 bus passengers per weekday who use the RapidRide E Line, as well as routes 5, 16, 26 Express and 28 Express. On the E Line buses, which often overfill at morning peak, people will be standing longer.

Motorists will be inconvenienced by unfamiliar lane shifts, and by traffic queues that form behind buses. About 74,000 vehicles per day use Aurora in the construction zone along Queen Anne Hill, the state says.

To maintain frequent service, King County Metro Transit will put three buses on standby in Shoreline and one in Pioneer Square to quickly jump into the E corridor as needed weekday mornings. Four other buses will be ready in the afternoons.

By mid-February, all three northbound lanes will be restored, but the bus lane southbound will remain closed for one block, at Comstock Street.

The state initially planned 12 weeks of lane closures last year, but the sign work became less urgent because of delays with tunnel-boring machine Bertha, which is two years late drilling the Highway 99 tunnel.

State managers say they worked to reduce the hardship by holding the worst of the impacts to four weeks. Fewer foundations will be poured, and one will be moved to avoid a sewer line.

“And it just makes a lot of sense to do it in January and February, when traffic volumes are the lowest they’ll ever be in that corridor, there’s less events, and we’re not competing with Sounders and Mariners,” said Dave Sowers, a deputy Highway 99 administrator for WSDOT.

The state will reimburse Metro for the extra buses, Sowers said.

Seattle police will enforce “block the box” laws at intersections near the Denny Way exit, and also cite drivers who travel in the red bus lanes on Battery Street, where buses approach northbound Aurora, he said.

Scott Kubly, city transportation director, has avoided drastic measures such as converting one lane of nearby Westlake Avenue North to transit only, as he did to help buses after a fatal duck-boat crash on the Aurora Bridge last September.

But even on normal days, construction crews have often taken one of the two inbound lanes of Westlake Avenue, so unless the city halts that practice, diverting off Aurora might not be so useful.

Transportation agencies considered protecting the exclusive bus lane so that only one general-traffic lane entered the city, Sowers said. But doing so would have caused backups beyond Green Lake. So the E Line itself would be stuck behind cars, just north of the Aurora Bridge, where three lanes briefly narrow to two, he said.

“It doesn’t make sense to maintain a [bus] lane if buses can’t get into it,” he said.

The sign foundations are being built by Atkinson Construction, which is nearly finished building ramps for the north tunnel portal. That contract is separate from the main four-lane tube, which is being built by Seattle Tunnel Partners.

The tolled, four-lane tunnel from South Lake Union to Sodo is estimated to open in spring 2018.