As a new freeway interchange continues to take shape in the Salmon Creek area, crews are poised to tackle one of the project's biggest remaining obstacles.
There's a freeway in the way. And a freeway onramp.
The second of those will be taken care of by the end of this month, when workers demolish the ramp connecting Northeast 134th Street with northbound Interstate 5. To prepare for the razing, drivers will be rerouted to a new ramp at Northeast 139th Street starting Thursday, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Workers spent Monday paving most of the new ramp. An electronic message board on the existing onramp announces its impending closure.
That doesn't mean the transition will be entirely smooth, said WSDOT project engineer Leon Winger.
"It's hard to reach everyone," he said. "It will be frustrating for some people."
The change is expected to put a lot more pressure -- and possible delays -- onto Northeast 20th Avenue, which connects 134th and 139th streets east of the freeway. The demolition of the old ramp is scheduled to begin next week.
"We don't have to have the ramp open until we do the (demolition)," Winger said. "But we want to have this open for a few days so people can get used to it."
The work is part of the $133 million Salmon Creek Interchange Project, an effort to remake the northern convergence of I-5 and Interstate 205. The project will build a new bridge carrying 139th Street up and over the freeways.
WSDOT hopes adding a new east-west thoroughfare to the area will improve safety and relieve congestion on nearby 134th Street. The need isn't fading with near
by Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center and Washington State University Vancouver as big a presence as ever, Winger said.
This week's ramp relocation will mark a big shift for a project that has mostly avoided major traffic impacts so far, Winger said. And because the existing ramp passes directly over I-205, its deconstruction will mean six nights of freeway closures next week.
WSDOT will close both directions of I-205 near 134th Street at 10 p.m. Sept. 23, 24, and 25. On Sept. 26 and 27 -- both event nights at the Sleep Country Amphitheater -- crews will close only the northbound side. In each case, the freeway will reopen at 5 a.m. the next day.
The final closure will last from 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, to 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 29. That's when WSDOT is urging drivers to avoid freeway travel if possible, said spokeswoman Heidi Sause, particularly Sunday morning.
"If we're going to have backups, that's when we're going to see them," Sause said.
During the closure, southbound freeway traffic will be diverted to I-5 at the I-205 junction. For northbound traffic, WSDOT is urging drivers to stay off of I-205 north of state Highway 14. But it's not a "hard" closure, Sause said -- local traffic heading north will still be able to use I-205 as far as 134th Street.
After the ramp is gone, crews will spend much of the winter excavating as they prepare to move I-205 itself. The freeway will eventually be lowered and moved about 40 feet to the east, according to WSDOT. All of that will make room for the new 139th Street bridge by next year.
The entire project is scheduled to be finished by the end of next year.