Drivers on southbound Interstate 5 in Sodo can expect severe congestion this weekend and nearly every Saturday and Sunday through September, as the state finishes a freeway repair project left over from last summer.
Contractors for Washington State Department of Transportation will replace 35 of the freeway’s legacy steel-plated expansion joints with modern epoxy-tipped joints, and 10 more joints on ramps. Six were replaced last year.
“Forget the summer of love, this will be the summer of lane closures,” wrote WSDOT spokesperson Amy Moreno in an online update.
WSDOT repaved the 66-year-old freeway’s Sodo decks in 2021, but scheduled the joint replacement phase in 2022 — subjecting millions of drivers to a concatenation of ka-thunks, when their tires smack the gaps between the slightly raised viaduct decks.
I-5’s southbound mainline will close downtown at 8 p.m. Friday, which means drivers must detour into the collector-distributor lanes on their right. Those who skip the stadium and Interstate 90 exits will wind up rejoining the freeway, but only two lanes will continue through Sodo and past the Columbian Way exit, until the entire roadbed reopens near Boeing Field. All lanes should reopen by 5 a.m. Monday.
There will be no southbound access to I-5’s express lanes this weekend, because that would dump traffic into the Sodo work zone. Express lanes will operate northbound at their usual time, 1:45 p.m. to 11 p.m. An earlier opening would alleviate typical mid-day congestion northbound. There’s no such plan now, but traffic engineers could consider an early northbound opening for other weekends, if needed, WSDOT spokesperson Tom Pearce said Friday.
Lane closures will complicate travel for Mother’s Day and Mariners baseball games this weekend. Transportation officials suggest Sound Transit light rail, express buses, bicycling, carpools, or driving off-hours before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.
To avoid the worst traffic jams, drivers could detour to Aurora Avenue north of Mercer Street and enter the Highway 99 tunnel, where weekend tolls are only $1.15 for Good to Go pass holders, and $3.15 for others.
This weekend, contractors near Beacon Hill will replace four old I-5 joints next to Beacon Hill, including the steel plate that twisted upward April 1, caused a multicar crash, and snarled traffic most of the day. WSDOT rejiggered its schedule to fix that area first, instead of in August.
The new-generation joints, with synthetic edges and silicone fillings, have withstood traffic punishment without any problems in the northbound lanes, since a resurfacing there in 2007.
Most of this summer’s work entails installing the new joint materials between the road decks repaved last year, so the joints level up to the new concrete, and jolts disappear.
C.A. Carey of Issaquah won the two-year, $27.5 million contract, and chose to divide the paving and joint-filling phases for a more efficient construction sequence, said Pearce. Otherwise, the bid prices would likely have been higher, he said.
The 16 weekend closures will occur through September, weather permitting. WSDOT promised not to reduce lanes during Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day holiday weekends, nor during University of Washington graduation ceremonies June 11-12.
Officials also decided to leave I-5 fully open Juneteenth weekend, June 18-19, Pearce said Friday. This is mainly to avoid aggravating an I-405 closure that weekend in downtown Bellevue, where the East Main Street overpass will be demolished. Future contracts will block out Juneteenth weekend, as holidays from roadwork, he said. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers informed Black people in Galveston, Texas they were freed from slavery.