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We’re adding a temporary bus lane to NE Campus Parkway in the U District this weekend to help people get around the WSDOT Montlake Bridge closure

A King County Metro Bus at NE Campus Parkway and 12th Ave NE in 2016. Photo: SDOT

It’s been a tough week for many northeast Seattle travelers since the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) closed the Montlake Bridge for much needed repairs. In that time, we’ve been working closely with our partner transportation agencies to monitor the effects of the closure on city streets and look for opportunities to help the situation.  

One of the biggest issues we’ve seen has been long lines of buses delayed along the detour routes. To help keep people in buses moving, we are installing a four-block, westbound bus lane on Northeast Campus Parkway. There’s no time to lose, so we plan to send our crews out to make the changes tomorrow, on Saturday, August 14. 

The temporary bus lane will be in effect 24/7 for the duration of the Montlake Bridge closure. We will monitor traffic closely to see how well it works and consider whether there may be a long-term benefit in keeping the bus lane after the Montlake Bridge reopens.  

People driving on this route should watch out for the changes, and follow the rules of the road. It is illegal to drive in the bus lane and cars must yield to buses merging into the left lane to get to the University Bridge. 

WSDOT closed the Montlake Bridge for repairs on Monday, August 9 and expects to complete their work on September 3.  

A map of the temporary bus lane on NE Campus Parkway between 15th Ave and 11th Ave NE

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The bus lane will help keep as many people moving as possible during a difficult closure.  

The Montlake Bridge closure has been challenging for all sorts of travelers, and especially for people riding the bus.   

Solving this problem was a high priority for us because buses carry a lot more people than cars, so reducing bus backups will benefit more people than any other kind of change. We’ll continue to closely monitor traffic throughout the U District and look for other opportunities for improvements to help people getting around in other ways.   

This is also important because every person taking a bus means one less car on the road, which is an incredibly important way to help address congestion. We are very thankful for everyone who is choosing not to drive alone, and want to do what we can to make sure that this stays a reliable option.   

We had already been planning to create more bus lanes on other U District streets as part of the Route 44 Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridor Project. Crews will begin work to add permanent bus lanes on 15th Ave NE later this month, and complete a permanent eastbound bus lane on NE 45th St later this year after the Montlake Bridge reopens on weekdays.  

We’ve been working closely with our partners to find opportunities to help the travelling public.  

While the Montlake Bridge may look a lot like nearby city bridges, it is actually a state-owned bridge and part of State Route 513. The bridge is nearly a century old and is undergoing necessary repairs to restore the bridge and extend its life.  

The Montlake Bridge.
The Montlake Bridge. Photo: SDOT 

We’ve been working closely with WSDOT and our other transportation partners to coordinate and plan for this bridge closure. Based on best practices developed during the SR 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct closure in 2019, WSDOT organized daily meetings with King County Metro, Sound Transit, and us to evaluate the impact of this closure on the transportation system and collaboratively look for opportunities to make spot improvements to address problems.  

This proactive coordination streamlined the process for us to make adjustments by making it easy for us to suggest the idea and quickly work through the details with our partners. That’s allowed us to make changes sooner, so that we can help people get around the closure right away without unnecessary delays.  

We’re also taking extra care of the University Bridge to reduce risk of heat-related damage  

Another challenges is that so many people are now relying on the University Bridge, where there is very little room and we have fewer options to make changes. But we are still doing what we can to keep things moving.  

To help the traveling public, we do not open these drawbridges for ship traffic during peak periods (7 – 9 am or 4 – 6 pm weekdays). However, SDOT is required by federal law to open the bridge to marine traffic at all other times. 

A truck sprays down the University Bridge. Video: SDOT

Since Wednesday, we’ve also been briefly closing the University Bridge throughout the afternoons to spray cool water. While these brief closures pose another challenge, they are absolutely necessary to prevent bigger problems. That’s because hot weather can cause the metal in the draw bridge’s moving parts to expand and get stuck. So taking a moment to cool the bridge down reduces the risk that the bridge could potentially get stuck for hours or days, which is a risk we absolutely cannot afford to take.  

Unfortunately, this kind of weather wasn’t an issue when the bridge was built 100 years ago, so we’re all hoping that the current heat wave will end soon. When the weather drops back down below 85 degrees, we will no longer need to spray cool water on our draw bridges.  

Thank you for your patience 

While we think that the bus lane will help move more people and make things a little better, there is no silver bullet to eliminate congestion and we expect that the Montlake Bridge closure will remain a challenging experience for the next three weeks.  

Thank you to everyone who is being patient, careful, and kind to your fellow travelers during this challenging time. We know it’s a tough commute, which is why it so important that we all plan ahead to leave a little earlier and give ourselves time to get where we are going safely.   

We also appreciate everyone who is choosing to take the bus, bike, walk, or roll during this bridge closure. Not everyone has these options, which is why it is so important that people who have the flexibility to get around without driving make this choice so that we can all get where we need to be.   

We’ll continue to work with our transportation partners to look for more opportunities to address the challenges of this closure, and if we see a good opportunity for other improvements, we’ll work to make it happen as quickly as possible.