A new three-lane stretch of freeway on Snoqualmie Pass soon will open to traffic after crews reduce Interstate 90 to one lane in both directions next week.

Starting at 9 p.m. Sunday, crews will reduce I-90 from a four-lane freeway to a two-lane freeway until 7 a.m. Friday, Oct. 19. The closure will allow crews to pave transitions between old and new lanes of the freeway and open up the three new westbound lanes. The three-mile closure is from milepost 54 to milepost 57. 

During the closure, crews will remove the barriers between the old and new lanes and begin paving. Drivers should expect congestion, WSDOT regional administrator Don Whitehouse said. 

“But unless there’s a major accident, there shouldn’t be major delays,” he said. “If there is a problem, we could see two-hour delays.”

The work is part of the $551 million Interstate 90 Snoqualmie Pass East–Hyak to Keechelus Dam project. The project is widening a five-mile stretch of the freeway from four to six lanes. The project is scheduled to be complete in fall 2017.

Farther east, drivers should also be prepared for lane closures near Easton next week. 

When road work is wrapped up for the winter and everything is reopened, only two of the three new eastbound lanes will be open for drivers because drainage work and other projects have yet to be completed. By fall next year all three lanes on both sides of the freeway in the Hyak area will be open to traffic as that section of the project is finished.

Over the last four years, more than 84,000 dump truck loads of material have been removed from the jagged hillside that the westbound lanes used to wrap around in the Hyak area, said Meagan McFadden, a WSDOT spokesperson. As she spoke, she stood in the middle of the new three-lane stretch of westbound I-90 where the jagged cliff used to be. 

More than 1 million cubic yards of material was removed from the hillside during rock blasting operations. 

The hillside is now smoother and safer with more than 57,000 linear feet of bolts and dowels that create tension and keep the rock face stable. The dowels are steel rods drilled into the rock and grouted in place, said WSDOT project engineer Will Smith. Dowel lengths vary from 10 to 100 feet. Most are 20 to 40 feet long, he said. 

There’s also netting at the top of the hillside — which in some spots is 120 feet tall — that helps stop rocks, snow and other debris from bouncing into the travel portion of the freeway. 

Chain-up areas

A new illuminated and expanded westbound chain-up area also will be open for the first time this winter. It’s three times longer than the old westbound chain-up area. Eastbound travelers will have a chain-off area that’s twice as long as the old one, Smith said. 

“The chain-up area is where everyone gets stopped,” said WSDOT spokesperson Mike Westbay. “Eventually they’d use the right lane.” 

The expanded chain-up area will be safer, he said, and get drivers back on the road faster. 

“That’s always a problem in the wintertime up here, is the chain-up areas,” Whitehouse said. “The trucks stack double deep and pretty soon they’re actually infringing traffic.” 

Another significant feature is the new 20-foot rock ditch, he said. 

“Because before we had sections in here where rocks would actually drop right onto the travel lanes,” Whitehouse said. The rock ditch is in addition to the three lanes of travel and wider shoulders.

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