Snoqualmie Pass, Washington – There are two seasons in Western Washington: rain and road construction. This summer, major road improvement projects include extensive work on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass, the major corridor through the Cascade Mountain Range, connecting the Greater Seattle/Puget Sound region and Eastern Washington. This year, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) work on the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass project will run from mid-June through October.
The good news: Improvements will reduce the risk of avalanches, improve road surfaces that are nearly 60 years old, increase capacity to accommodate projected traffic volume increases over the next 20 years, and minimize impacts on the environment.
The bad news: The project is scheduled for completion in 2016, so drivers should expect delays, lane closures and shutdowns for several summers.
Strategic Corridor for Washington State
According to the WSDOT, on each weekday 27,000 vehicles travel over Snoqualmie Pass; on weekends and holidays, daily traffic volume increases to over 50,000. The volume is expected to increase 2.1 percent every year, reaching an average of 41,000 vehicles per day by 2030.
For residents of Western Washington, the route takes them to the numerous sunny east side vacation spots in the summer and to the Pass for skiing in the winter. For residents on the Eastern side of the state, they travel over the pass for the amenities found in metropolitan Greater Seattle as well as the chance to visit Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. But the impact on business and commercial travel also is considerable.
Snoqualmie Pass is a strategic freight corridor that carries cargo for international, domestic and intrastate trade. Thirty-five million tons of freight cargo, or $500 billion worth of goods, crosses I-90 Snoqualmie Pass every year. It will take a little longer for those goods to arrive at their destinations: This summer truck operators can expect traffic restrictions, delays up to an hour and weight restrictions.
Starting in mid-June, 2010, the five mile improvement project will begin with blasting closures up to an hour. Once that is completed, some of the other delays should improve when WSDOT completes a detour crossover just east of Hyak.
The improvements that can be expected from the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass $545 million Project: Additional lane in each direction between milepost 55.1 and 59.9; extended chain-up and chain-off areas; an expanded snowshed that will cover both the eastbound and westbound lanes – which is expected to reduce avalanche closures by about 70 percent; new bridges over Rocky Run, Gold Creek and Resort Creek; additional and larger culverts at Wolfe, Resort and Townsend Creeks.
Capacity: WSDOT will be increasing the road capacity by 50 percent in each direction to help meet the anticipated traffic volume that will be added by 2.1 percent every year.
Safety: The project will reduce sharp curves, repair deteriorated pavement that is nearly 60 years old, stabilize slopes, install avalanche fences and blast hangovers. An example is the area referred to as Jenkins Knob, a spot that now is only two lanes wide with no shoulder, wedged between a rocky cliff and the lake. This is where the project blasting will start this summer. When it is completed, Jenkins Knob will be three lanes wide in each direction with 12-foot shoulders on each side.
Environment: WSDOT will minimize impacts on the environment by encouraging wildlife passage over and under the highway, and allowing the water to flow under the roadway by increasing the size and number of culverts from creeks to Keechelus Lake.
The I-90 Snoqualmie Pass Project will be in progress until 2016. For anyone traveling over Snoqualmie Pass during the summer months though October, it will be best to plan ahead. Leave early, prepare for delays up to one hour, and keep calm – think of it as part of the great summer adventure! The end result will be an improved highway that better connects and serves all of Washington State.
Washington State Department of Transportation: I-90 Snoqualmie Pass Highway Project
KING 5 News: I-90 Closures
Washington State Department of Transportation: WSDOT awards first I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project contract