New Bellevue-to-Mercer Island HOV lane opens on I-90 as partners complete first phase of expansions

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The first stage of a three-stage project to add new high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in both directions of Interstate 90 between Bellevue and Seattle is complete, with the new westbound HOV lane opening overnight and welcoming commuters Friday morning.

Once all stages of construction are complete, these improvements will add safe, all-day, high-occupancy lanes on I-90 between Bellevue and Seattle while preserving the number of general purpose lanes for solo drivers. Building the new HOV lanes on the outer roadways of I-90 will enable Sound Transit’s proposed construction of light rail in the center lanes.

“Today, we complete the first part of a project that will take us into the future of transportation across I-90,” said Sound Transit Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “The strong partnership between Sound Transit and WSDOT on this project means that drivers, carpoolers, and buses will benefit immediately.”

“We’re proud to be a partner on this project,” said Paula Hammond, Washington State Secretary of Transportation. “The transportation system works best when people have more transportation choices, when we strategically add capacity, and when we find ways to operate the overall system more efficiently. This project on I-90 accomplishes those things.”

Currently, buses and carpools traveling in the off-peak direction on I-90 often are stuck in traffic because the reversible center express lanes only operate in the peak direction (westbound in the morning and eastbound at night). The I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Project will fix this growing problem by adding a new 24-hour HOV lane in each direction between Bellevue and Seattle once all three stages of the project are complete.

“There are a lot of people and a number of agencies that worked hard to make this project happen,” said U.S. Congressman Dave Reichert. “With a strong federal partnership, the Puget Sound region is building transportation options and congestion relief for the people.”

The Stage One budget for the two-way I-90 HOV lane project was $34.2 million, with Sound Transit, WSDOT and the Federal Transportation Administration contributing funds. In addition to adding a new HOV lane in the westbound outer roadway of I-90, the first phase of the project includes a new HOV direct access ramp to 80th Avenue Southeast on Mercer Island, modifications to the Bellevue Way HOV direct access ramp to westbound I-90, and modifications to the northbound I-405/westbound I-90 connection.

“We talk a lot about partnerships -- federal, state, local and regional -- and we know the value of these relationships in this region. From the state DOT and Sound Transit, to the cities of Mercer Island, Bellevue and Seattle and the entire region, it is the power of partnership and collaboration that has gotten us to this point today, and that will take us into the future,” said state Rep. Fred Jarrett.

Mercer Island’s mayor, Jim Pearman, said, “These HOV lane improvements and HOV access ramps on Mercer Island go a long way in making safe, fast, reliable service between King County’s east and west sides. We see busy construction sites like the ones on Mercer Island all over this region, and with growth comes the constant need for improved transportation and new transit options. Now more than ever, we need to keep people and the economy moving.”

The new HOV lanes and HOV direct access ramps will help improve the speed, safety, and reliability of buses that use I-90, and will help meet the growing demand of transit users on both sides of Lake Washington. Rising fuel costs, congestion and environmental concerns continue to lure more Central Puget Sound residents to switch to transit for their commute, with 61,000 riders boarding a Sound Transit bus or train on an average weekday. July weekday transit ridership on Sound Transit buses and trains is up 25 percent over July 2007, which is five times the national transit ridership growth of 5 percent for the second quarter of 2008.

“Completing Stage One of this project on I-90 is a huge leap forward in our goal of getting better transit connections for King County residents on both sides of Lake Washington, whether tires now or rails tomorrow. Demand for transit options just keeps growing, and Sound Transit is working with WSDOT and the region’s transit agencies and jurisdictions to plan for the increased transit demand that we know is coming,” noted King County Councilmember Jane Hague.

For more information about the I-90 Two-Way Transit & HOV project visit:

www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I90/TwoWayTransit/