Q: Why doesn't the state Department of Transportation fully illuminate the Wilburton Tunnel along Interstate 405? I predict that an illuminated...

Share story


Why doesn’t the state Department of Transportation fully illuminate the Wilburton Tunnel along Interstate 405? I predict that an illuminated tunnel would dramatically improve traffic flow through the structure.


Though long maligned as a rush-hour choke point along I-405 through Bellevue, the dark, narrow Wilburton Tunnel appears to have some brighter days ahead.

A recent inspection of the tunnel’s lighting system has inspired the state to give it a cleaning, according to Department of Transportation spokeswoman Melanie Coon. In the long term (say, around 2007), the state intends to build a spanking-new tunnel with standard lane and shoulder widths and standard lighting as part of the state’s plans to widen I-405 between Southeast Eighth and Interstate 90 to ease congestion.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Coon said the state has no data or evidence that suggest people are slowing down because they are nervous about lighting levels. The state attributes that I-405 congestion, in part, to the tunnel’s narrow width.

A little more about the tunnel’s lights: Just like those in I-90’s Mount Baker Tunnel, they’re supposed to sense the amount of light outside and adjust accordingly to help motorists’ eyes make a transition. Sunny days, like those we’ve been enjoying lately, trigger the tunnel to brighten. Nighttime means less light in the tunnel to match the outside world.


Neighbors have long requested a right-turn lane along westbound Northeast 124th Street at the Highway 202 intersection near Redmond. When will it be added? All the rest of the turns at that intersection have right-turn lanes. And what is the function of the shiny aluminum “boutique” railings drivers see at that intersection?


Those changes you see along Northeast 124th Street represent the second phase of King County’s improvements along the corridor between Highway 202 and Willows Road, says Rose LeSmith, a managing engineer with the county’s Roads Services Division.

Dear Reader

Got an Eastside traffic question? Send it to us by e-mail, east@seattletimes.com; by fax, 425-453-0449; by mail, The Seattle Times Eastside News Bureau, 1200 112th Ave. N.E., Suite C-145, Bellevue, WA 98004.

The project included widening Northeast 124th Street to four lanes and replacing a stream culvert on its south side, adding a southbound right-turn lane at Highway 202, and building a new bridge to cross the Sammamish River.

Westbound Northeast 124th Street lacks a right-turn lane for a combination of reasons, LeSmith said.

To protect pedestrians from motorists using 124th’s shoulder as an informal right-turn lane onto Highway 202, the county replaced the shoulder with a curb, gutter and sidewalk. The county added concrete barriers and aluminum railings for the same reason, she said, noting the railings are required to protect pedestrians.

Then there’s that federally protected, fish-bearing stream that runs along Northeast 124th Street’s north side, and an easement for a large sewer main just to the stream’s north. Both would be affected if the county built a turn lane, LeSmith said.

“Given the choice of delaying the project another three years to do all the environmental studies associated with relocating the stream, or moving forward with a project that has a great benefit to the majority of its users, we decided to move ahead with the project,” LeSmith said.

County spokeswoman Linda Thielke said the county may consider teaming with the state to add that turn lane the next time the state performs major work on Highway 202, because the stream touches both jurisdictions. She noted, however, that biological studies and permitting to relocate the stream likely would take at least three years.

Early warning

Mercer Island:

Interstate 90 express lanes will be closed between 6:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. Signal-maintenance crews will check the lighting system and replace lights in the tunnel.


Coal Creek Parkway, east of Factoria Boulevard, will be restricted to one lane in each direction from 9 p.m. today until 6 a.m. Monday while crews install a new valve on a pipeline in the area.


The two right lanes of southbound Interstate 405 through the Wilburton Tunnel will be closed between 10 p.m. tomorrow and 5 a.m. Sunday. Crews will replace lights inside the tunnel.


The westbound lane of Northeast 24th Street on both sides of the 520 overpass is closed until further notice, but two-way traffic will be maintained at all times.


The right southbound lane of Highway 900 (17th Avenue Northwest) between Newport Way and Interstate 90 will be closed 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday while crews complete roadside landscaping. The right northbound lane will be closed daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com