By Tom Corrigan
According to Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian, the major road issues in his turf, so to speak, are hard to miss.
“When you listen to the radio, the choke points are always the same,” he said.
And one of those choke points is often Interstate 405 through Bothell. There are a couple of projects – one finished and one on the way – that might not keep Bothell out of the traffic reports, but according to several sources should ease some of Bothell’s and I-405′s routine congestion.
For those motoring past Bothell on the freeway, probably the most notable project is the rapidly moving plan to add a new lane to the northbound side of 405 between Northeast 195th Street and State Route 527.
Several sources labeled the 405/195th interchange, especially during the afternoon rush hours, as one of the most congested spots along the 405 corridor. But even as that project moves forward, one troublesome situation in close proximity to that choke point should be greatly alleviated, at least in theory, by the time you read this.
On Sept. 18, WSDOT and the University of Washington, Bothell were scheduled to hold a ribbon cutting for the new I-405/State Route 522 ramp leading to the campus of the university and Cascadia Community College. Among other benefits, the ramp project was designed to reduce traffic congestion in and around Bothell. It was to open to the public the week following the ribbon cutting.
As for the additional lane on 405, the plan greatly was sped along with the infusion of federal economic stimulus money, according to Denice Cieri, WSDOT deputy director for project development. WSDOT 405 Engineering Manager Brian Nielsen said the additional lane originally was part of a much larger package aimed at improving traffic flow on 405. When federal stimulus money became available, state officials quickly removed the 195th Street scheme from the larger plan.
Nielsen said federal officials were looking for “shovel-ready projects.”
“Because we had done some preliminary work,” he added, “we felt we could get this project out quickly.”
On Aug. 21, the state awarded a $19.3 million bid to Kiewit Construction of Renton to design and build the new lane. I-405 Project spokesperson Susan Hoffman said the apparent best bid was 36 percent less than the available funding of $30 million. According to Kim Henry, eastside corridor project director, Kiewit not only came up with the lowest bid, but also the quickest construction plan.
If the bid gains final approval, construction could begin later this fall, state officials said. The work could be finished and opened to traffic in one construction season, meaning the summer of 2010.
In a press release, Hoffman talked about the auxiliary lane improving traffic flow in a section of 405 which has experienced more than 100 collisions in the past three years. Of those accidents, the state blames 84 percent on traffic congestion. And of that 84 percent, 60 percent resulted from stop-and-go traffic as well as weaving traffic entering and exiting the freeway between 195th Street and 527.
“This allows extra space for cars to sort themselves out,” Nielsen said.
“We think it will substantially improve traffic flow,” Safavian added.
A WSDOT benefit and cost analysis showed the project exceeds a 4:1 benefit ratio, numbers Cieri called “very, very good.”
Hoffman noted one other benefit of the additional lane is allowing drivers better access to the business parks on 195th Street as well as the UW-Bothell campus.
WSDOT spokesperson Meghan Soptich Pembroke said the $52.3 million UW-Bothell ramp was completed eight months ahead of schedule. Originally slated to be finished in the spring, even landscaping work was instead to begin this month. The ramp creates a new southern entrance to the UW-Bothell and Cascadia campus, the only entrance previously being at the northern end from Beardslee Boulevard at the outskirts of downtown Bothell.
The ramp is significant for a number of reasons, according to various sources. Safavian and others talked about it obviously relieving congestion around the campus’ northern entrance. UW-Bothell Transportation Coordinator Ruth Honour said she expects the new ramp will carry 80 percent of the traffic headed for the campus. Safavian said city officials clearly are counting on the new entrance to reduce the amount of campus traffic using city streets, confining more of that traffic to 522.
“I can tell you the entrance is an absolutely critical piece of campus infrastructure,” said Marilyn Cox, UW-B vice-chancellor for administration and planning.
The ramp and new entrance were part of a bargain struck between the city of Bothell and UW-Bothell officials, the deal being that funding for the ramp had to be obtained before the combined student population at Cascadia and UW-Bothell exceeded 3,000. Director of government and community relations for UW-Bothell, Kelly Snyder said the number of students attending the campus should have hit 5,000 this fall.
“The vision to open this campus to its full potential has been achieved with the (ramp) project,” said Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb.
Tom Corrigan is a writer for the Bothell Reporter. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.