Weekend traffic could hinder warm weather plans

Drivers can expect long delays and backups on Interstate 5 and Highway 101 this weekend, disrupting plans to enjoy what could be the final warm, sunny weekend of the summer.

Thurston County residents can expect high temperatures 81 degrees on Friday, 83 degrees Saturday and 85 degrees Saturday.

The warm, sunny weather will likely continue for much of next week, said meteorologist Art Gaebel of the National Weather Service.

The warm weather isn’t unusual for this time of year, but it could end at any time, Gaebel explained. Depending on the year, Western Washington can see nice weather into October. Or, rainy weather could descend in September.

One sign of impending fall weather is overnight temperatures, which have dipped into the high 30s. Weekend lows are forecast for 45 degrees Friday, 49 Saturday and 52 Sunday night.

In addition, a high fire-risk warning is in effect until Friday evening. The red flag warning is due to dry conditions and potentially high winds.

But enjoying this fleeting weather at coastal beaches or the Washington State Fair in Puyallup will be difficult, with Washington State Department of Transportation crews planning to replace a deteriorated expansion joint that spans both directions of I-5 at its intersection with US 101. The project is expected to extend the pavement’s usefulness for 20 years.

This weekend’s construction is scheduled for Sept. 11 through 15. The freeway will see closures during the day and at night.

WSDOT spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker said drivers will have few options for avoiding the delays, as backups are also expected on highways that intersect I-5.

“The alternate routes are inconvenient at best, and we expect them to have a lot of traffic,” Baker said. “Our best advice is to leave early and come back late.”

Traffic will likely be best before 10 a.m. and after 8 p.m., she said.

The extra traffic on surrounding roads could also cause problems, and WSDOT has scheduled extra incident response teams for state Route 507, state Route 12 and other local highways.

“The traffic could cause more accidents; we’re not sure,” Baker said.

Drivers should also take precautions by making sure that they depart with a full tank of gas, packing provisions and bringing supplies for young children, she said.

Backups and delays will be repeated next weekend, with a similar closures scheduled for Sept. 18 through 22. The weekend of Sept. 26 is slated as a backup weekend if construction is halted by weather.

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.