I-5 Express Lanes in Seattle go high-tech

Saturday, July 9, 2011

By staff of the Washington Department of Transportation

In June, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) began installing new technology that allows WSDOT crews to remotely control many parts of the express lane operation on I-5. When we’re done, it means the entire express lane switch won’t take nearly as long as it does now.

In fact, we will reduce the time the express lanes are closed to drivers from 45 minutes to just 15 minutes.

The work includes installing automatic gate controllers, new LED signs, upgraded electrical systems, new cameras and new fiber optic lines. Once installed, the new technology will be remotely controlled by our engineers based in Shoreline.

Why should the gates be remote controlled?
Currently, WSDOT crews manually change the gates and signs and pull dragnets that stretch across the southbound entrance. To do this, they drive to nearly a dozen different junction boxes along the five-mile route, push buttons, double check signs and drive the entire length of the lanes to makes sure all vehicles are clear.

Under the new system, someone else pushes the buttons and a single maintenance worker will pull the dragnet and drive the lanes once for safety.

Less congestion
Not only will this mean you get to use the express lanes more, it means the mainline traffic won’t be as bad. Under the current system, no one gets to use the lanes during the switch and that causes congestion in both directions. A faster switch means less congestion for all drivers through Seattle.

What if we get snow?
During the big Thanksgiving week storm, the gates froze and that was a big problem. It had nothing to do with automation. So if it’s extremely cold again, it will make switching the express lanes difficult. But if the entire operation takes less time, it gives us more flexibility during bad weather.

Express lane automation begins in the spring 2012. Total cost is $5.7 allocated through the gas tax.

To stay ahead of the construction in Seattle, sign up for email updates.
More information on the I-5 Express Lane Automation project.

All photos courtesy WSDOT


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