WSDOT: Congestion, bottlenecks growing across Western Washington

SEATTLE – The Federal Highway Administration said 40% of congestion on freeways comes from bottlenecks. The kinks in the commute limit capacity of an entire stretch of interstate and are increasing congestion across Western Washington.

Our state’s worst bottleneck, according to a study conducted in 2015, is Interstate 5 at Seattle's Madison Street. The bottleneck produces about 1.6 million hours of annual total delays.

The Washington State Department of Transportation said the agency is studying bottlenecks and congestion and working to find ways to improve traffic flow.

Ask nearly any commuter and they will tell you the drive into work has gotten more congested.

“They need to extend the freeway better,” said Victoria Moralex. “That’s going to be a lot of help.”

“Seattle past Fort Lewis, it’s pretty backed up,” said Tony Tindal.

“It’s horrible around here," said Alex Seaverson, describing I-5 through Fife. “Especially around 4 p.m. it gets horrible.”

The data explains why.

WSDOT said the average weekday hours of delay on major routes in King and Snohomish counties grew by more than 35% since 2013 in some areas.

Some of the biggest bottlenecks in our region have seen triple-digit increases.

From 2014 to 2017, delays along I-5 from Tacoma to Federal Way are up by 198%, Everett to Marysville, up 131%. And on I-405 from Bothell to Lynnwood, drivers have seen a more than 200% increase.

“We know that we have congestion and bottlenecks on I-5, I-405, SR 167, SR 522, you name it, the major corridors,” said state Transportation Secretary Roger Millar. “They’re a problem. They’re a problem a lot of regions in the country would love to have.”

That problem Millar describes is the Northwest’s runaway growth. Our new neighbors are causing the backups to last longer and begin earlier.

“People are starting their commutes a lot earlier than they did 10 years ago,” said northwest WSDOT regional administrator Lorena Eng.

Expanding lanes on the freeway is costly and sometimes takes years to complete, so the state says it’s doing what it can where it can: Metered on-ramps that an keep traffic in the mainline moving, or expanding general purpose lanes onto the shoulder.

WSDOT said drivers can make the significant impact on bottlenecks but that means more people would have to take transit, carpool or pay to use the toll lanes on I-405.

“We’re using tolling as a way to manage transportation in the corridor and provide people the choice, but it also raises revenue,” said Millar.

Adam Gehrke, Q13 News This Morning’s traffic reporter, said our region’s major employers have the power to make the biggest dent in the bottleneck problem.

“That often means staggered start times for companies and businesses if we can get people leaving earlier or leaving later, and we use the roads and we get all that volume and shove it through at a much more metered pace,” he said.

We can’t only build our way out of a bottleneck so WSDOT says it offers commuters choices to avoid sitting alone in your car.

“Every little bit helps" in "trying to get ... many people up and down, east and west, through the Puget Sound area,” said Eng.

WSDOT is hosting an information session about how people can get around the traffic backups.

Eng will be talking about the city and county governments’ role in easing congestion – and how drivers and local businesses can make an impact.

The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. in the first floor of the Snohomish County administration building in downtown Everett.