Transportation agencies join forces to ease airport congestion

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TUKWILA – Federal, state and local leaders today marked major progress that transportation agencies are making to give travelers and workers better options for getting to and from Sea-Tac International Airport.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Chris Gregoire joined state and local leaders at Sound Transit’s Link light rail station in Tukwila to kick off construction on the Washington State Department of Transportation project to improve State Route 518 between the airport and I-405. That project, combined with Sound Transit’s Link light rail line connecting downtown Seattle and the airport, will give thousands of travelers and airport-area workers faster options for getting to and from the state’s busiest airport.

“Puget Sound travelers are seeing real changes rise before their eyes with the progress Sound Transit has made on the light rail project and the expansions the state department of transportation are kicking off today,” Sen. Murray said.

The light rail project is more than 80 percent complete and on schedule to open for service between downtown Seattle and Tukwila Station in July of 2009. The rest of the line into the airport will open by December, 2009. Free Sound Transit shuttle buses will meet trains at the station to take passengers to the airport until the line into the airport is complete.

“Far too often traveling to and from Sea-Tac can be a very trying experience,” Gregoire said. “That’s why we’re rapidly moving together on several fronts to speed up travel and improve safety to and from Sea-Tac – which is one the region’s most important economic engines with business revenue of $10 billion a year.”

The Port of Seattle, which owns and operates Sea-Tac Airport, is contributing up to $10 million to WSDOT’s project to add a third eastbound lane to State Route 518 from International Boulevard to the interchange with I-5 and I-405. Major construction is about to begin on the project, which also would reconfigure SR 518 on-ramps from the North Airport Expressway and International Boulevard (SR 99). By moving the on ramps farther apart, motorists leaving the airport will experience fewer delays as they merge onto SR 518.

In a second road project to ease airport traffic, WSDOT is getting underway with safety improvements at the SR 509/SR 518 interchange. A popular route for airport access and freight traffic, the intersection is about to undergo a face lift that will include new landscaping, signage and traffic signal revisions.

The improvements will include innovative aesthetic features that will alert drivers to reduce their speed, use extra caution and watch for pedestrians because that they are entering the city of Burien.

The Port of Seattle has contributed $7 million to the project. The Port has pledged to contribute another $3 million if needed for project completion. Funding also will include federal grants totaling $4.8 million and $22 million from the 2005 state gas tax. The total estimated cost is $33.8 million. The project is scheduled to be complete and open to traffic in fall 2009.

While the Port is working with WSDOT to widen SR 518, it also is working with Sound Transit to bring Link light rail to the airport and expand airport road capacity. Link will further relieve traffic congestion and offer commuters more transportation choices.

Port Commissioner Lloyd Hara said the work will improve the overall air travel experience for travelers and enhance freight mobility.

“Easing road capacity that serves the airport is a proactive response to increasing passenger growth,” he said. “This year, we’re expecting more than 30 million travelers to use Sea-Tac Airport, and 65 percent of those travelers use SR 518. This highway is important not only to our region’s visitors and resident travelers, but also the import and export of cargo, and our employees coming by bus or car to the airport,” Hara said.

Between 2001 and 2004, there were 131 collisions at the interchange with most occurring between westbound mainline vehicles on SR 518 and vehicles entering from the SR 509 on-ramp. Traffic planners say the new design will reduce the number of traffic collisions at the intersection.

“Our job is to deliver these projects on time and on budget,” said Interim Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond. “We are working hard to make getting to the airport faster and easier. These projects also make the roadways safer and allow people who use them everyday to spend more time with their families.”

Together, WSDOT, Sound Transit and The Port of Seattle are making it easier for travelers taking trains, planes and automobiles.

 

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