Like clockwork every Friday afternoon this summer the state Department of Transportation sends out a notification via Twitter of traffic backups/delays east bound on Interstate 90 through Kittitas County, and every Sunday the DOT sends a similar notice on traffic backups/delays, west bound on I-90.

There are some variations, if there’s an collision or vehicle breakdown the delays are longer.

But regardless of the weekend — whether over a holiday or with a Gorge concert — there will be a half hour to two hours-plus of delays on I-90.

Of all the changes over the past 20 years, traffic on I-90 is one of the more noticeable.

The other reoccurring feature this summer has been calls to Kittcom from residents on roads like Upper Peoh Point Road, complaining of increased traffic driving at high rates of speed attempting to circumvent I-90 congestion.

There was a hope, perhaps naive, that the “alternate route” traffic would decrease after the major segments of the I-90 construction project were completed. That has not proven to be the case.

The county has attempted to discourage this traffic with patrols and signage, but there is a lot of flow to control.

The issue is not just that people living on those roads moved there for the quieter pace, but that the roads themselves are not designed as I-90 alternate routes. They are not supposed to be high speed and all those roads are characterized by driveway access points — and no one wants to back out or pull out of their driveway into I-90 style traffic.

All this is happening during a period of significant investment in I-90, including increasing its capacity by gradually extending portions of the interstate to three lanes.

A three-lane I-90 through Kittitas County might help, but we all know how long it takes and how much it costs to increase even short segments of the interstate from two to three lanes. It is not realistic to look to that as a fix anytime in the foreseeable future.

That puts it back into the traffic management category. The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office can and has done emphasis patrols — extra manpower on high-volume weekends. But long term it becomes a question of whether we, as taxpayers, want our Sheriff’s Office to put that much investment in manpower on traffic and speed control. We must also keep in mind that on these busy weekends, the sheriff sees increased demands across the board (and the county).

The best-case scenario is a solution that manages and decreases the traffic so that less enforcement is needed.

At first glance, the proposals to close or restrict I-90 off-ramps seem to have some problems — locals use the ramps as well. Also, eliminating alternate route traffic will add to the congestion on I-90. But maybe there is a way or system that can be installed.

If you look to the West Side for solutions (not necessarily a good idea), toll lanes seem to be the flavor of the day.

While tolls lanes are in effect during weekday rush hours in Seattle, they’d be in effect on weekends on I-90. But a toll lane would need to be a third lane to be feasible. Conversely, maybe the county could make the alternate routes toll roads, give people with addresses on the roads passes and charge $100 a vehicle for the privilege of bypassing traffic. That idea might be wishful thinking but it’s fun to contemplate.

There is no simple solution, but ideas need to be explored. Traffic levels likely will continue to increase. If we want to maintain the quality of life people enjoy in the rural areas it is going to take a concentrated effort.


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