I-5 construction: Expect traffic nightmare next two weekends in Olympia

Drivers can expect heavy congestion and long backups on Interstate 5 the next two weekends in the Olympia area.

Construction crews will be replacing the deteriorated expansion joint that spans both directions of I-5 at its intersection with US 101. The expansion joint allows the bridge to change with traffic and weather conditions, according to WSDOT. The project is expected to extend the pavement’s usefulness for 20 years.

The freeway will see closures during the day and at night. The Washington State Department of Transportation advises drivers to avoid I-5 and US 101 altogether. Drivers who must take I-5 are advised to travel before 10 a.m. or after 8 p.m. to avoid lengthy backups, said Claudia Bingham Baker, WSDOT communications manager.

WSDOT recommends using SR 12, SR 7, US 101 and US 12. For trips between Seattle and Portland, train service is available through Amtrak Cascades.

On a typical weekend, more than 276,000 vehicles pass through this section, WSDOT reports.

The first phase of the work runs Sept. 11-15. Crews will begin re-routing traffic and closing lanes late Thursday. The Deschutes Way onramp to northbound I-5 will close at 10 p.m. Thursday. The southbound I-5 on-ramp at Henderson Boulevard will close at 10 p.m. Friday.

The second phase runs Sept. 18-22 with a similar schedule of closures. The weekend of Sept. 26 is slated as a backup weekend if construction is halted by weather.

Olympia’s streets will be more congested as drivers seek alternate routes because of the construction on I-5, according to the city.

Among the public facilities affected by the ramp closures is the Thurston County Courthouse. Drivers who need to access the courthouse the next two Fridays are advised find an alternative route through west Olympia, county spokeswoman Linda Robson said.

“Fridays are typically a little bit slower than the other days of the week, but we’ll be operating as usual,” Robson said of the courthouse. “Plan ahead.”

The expansion joint spans 171 feet and has been repaired several times in the past, Baker said.

“It’s in a position that gets a particular amount of pounding from traffic because you have so many ramps and two highways merging at that location,” Baker told The Olympian. “We are pulling out the old expansion joint and installing a new one.”

The work is part of a larger project that includes repaving 26 lane miles between Lakewood and Tumwater. All paving has been finished in Thurston County except for some striping work, Baker said. The project’s total cost of $4,578,000 is funded by gas tax revenues, according to WSDOT.