Seventeen minutes is enough time to do a lot of things. Most people can eat a meal, take a shower or even watch a recorded TV program without the commercials. It is also the amount of time it can take to get through the construction on Northeast 116th Street in south Juanita and Totem Lake.
“It is extremely frustrating,” said Juanita neighborhood resident Janine Kunin. “It is like going through border patrol.”
Some relief may be on the way.
Denise Cieri, Washington State Department of Transportation I-405 deputy project director, said that the right-turn lane from the west-bound Northeast 116th lanes to north-bound 120th Avenue Northeast will open within the next couple of weeks.
“We are in a phase right now where we are constructing the new bridge,” said Cieri. “We do appreciate drivers’ patience and we are trying to get through this phase of the project as fast as we can.”
The northern half of the new bridge, over the old rail lines, will also open at the same time, giving east-bound traffic a new left-turn lane.
“The entire point is to smooth out the traffic,” said Cieri. “When we are done we will go from three lanes to six lanes.”
That relief can’t come soon enough. Kunin’s husband, like many drivers, has timed how long it takes to get through the construction area at I-405.
“It took my husband 17 minutes to get through it in the morning,” said Kunin, who works from home. “I can’t leave my house to run errands. I can’t go to Kinkos or FedEx. I can’t even leave my house for lunch. I can’t do much of anything until the off-hours.”
During morning and afternoon rush hours, Northeast 116th Street can be backed up through the 124th Avenue Northeast intersection to the east, and has even backed up to 108th Avenue Northeast to the west. From end-to-end that stretch is nearly a mile.
The project will widen the Northeast 116th Street bridge over the old BNSF rail line, widen pathways under the 405 overpass, including sidewalks for bikes and walkers and enhance the ramps from the freeway. The project is set to be done early next year.
The businesses along Northeast 116th Street have had a mixed impact from the construction.
Dania Furniture, which sits right next to the freeway on Northeast 116th Street, has seen an impact to its bottom line.
“People don’t want to be stuck in the traffic,” said Dania manager John Carpenter. “We noticed the difference right away. 124th actually gets blocked up too and you have to find alternate routes. I do think that it will be great once it is done.”
Nick’s Grill, which has been open for 17 years, has not seen a big impact to its business.
“Some customers make comments about how bad it is,” said employee Marcus Shoup. “You have to plan around it.”
Many people have tried to adapt their route and get on 405 at Northeast 124th Street. The switch has made that route a lot slower.
Cieri said that closing the road would have made reconstructing the bridge less time consuming but it was not an option.
“There are very few options for residents to get to the freeway in that area of Kirkland,” said Cieri.
For residents in south Juanita, Northeast 116th Street is the only through street. Kunin said that going around to Northeast 124th takes the same amount of time as sitting in the traffic.
Honking horns, cars stopping in the crosswalk attempting to get through a light, and merging through the bottleneck, has many drivers frustrated. The off-ramp from northbound 405 can also get backed up but Cieri said that WSDOT has not had any reports of the back up going on to the north-bound lanes or causing any accidents in the construction zone.
“That is something that we would get very concerned about,” said Cieri.
She also said that the WSDOT has done all it can to make sure that traffic moves as smooth as possible through the construction zone.
“We sent our signal techs out to do the best to give east-west drivers the most time on the lights,” said Cieri.
The $10.7 million project will be complete by the end of the year.
“The whole City of Kirkland is under duress as far as traffic is concerned,” said Shoup. “It is just growing pains. Look at how many condos and housing developments have been built in the last few years. But it is necessary for Kirkland to grow.”