Interstate 90 – A Washington State Highway? Or Federal Interstate?

‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know which one you’ll get.’

It is helpful to have Forrest Gump’s mother’s appreciation of life when dealing with The Washington Department of Transportation.  Having an attitude of come-what-may and a laugh-at-yourself-I-am-the-fool-for-believing-what-they-told-me perspective can take you a long way towards sanity, for sure.  If not peace of mind.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has invested over $1.1 BILLION in the “I-90 Project.” The project itself will not finish until 2029.

“Project news

  • “We have completed Phases 1 and 2 of the project.” (Totallying $1.1 BILLION in gas-tax revenues spent)
  • “Drivers traveling across Snoqualmie Pass this winter need to be prepared to drive in the ice and snow.

“What is the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project?

“Interstate 90 is a critical transportation corridor connecting the large population and business centers of the Puget Sound with the agricultural industries and recreational activities of eastern Washington.” – WSDOT Communication Department


This one description of Interstate-90, more than anything else, encapsulates the myopic mindset of the WSDOT. Give me your money!

In fact, I-90 is much more.  It is the ALPHA and OMEGA of the United States of America. Connecting Boston to Chicago to Minneapolis to Seattle.

Interstate 90 (I-90) is an east–west transcontinental freeway, and the longest Interstate Highway in the United States at 3,020.54 miles (4,861.09 km). Its western terminus is in Seattle, at State Route 519 near T-Mobile Park and CenturyLink Field, and its eastern terminus is in Boston, at Route 1A near Logan International Airport.

“The western portion of I-90 crosses the Continental Divide over Homestake Pass just east of Butte, Montana, connecting major cities such as Spokane, WashingtonBillings, MontanaSioux Falls, South Dakota; and Madison, Wisconsin.

“Between Seattle and the WisconsinIllinois state line, I-90 is a toll-free Interstate. East of that border, much of I-90 follows several toll roads, many of which predate the Interstate Highway system. These include the Jane Addams Memorial TollwayChicago SkywayIndiana Toll RoadOhio TurnpikeNew York State Thruway, and the Massachusetts Turnpike. The Interstate is not tolled through some segments in downtown ChicagoGreater Cleveland and the rest of Northeast OhioErie and the rest of Northwestern Pennsylvania; and through brief sections near Buffalo and Albany….”

WOW! What a highway!

“How will WSDOT address long term solutions for the I-90 Corridor? 

“WSDOT is working with the United States Forest Service (USFS), the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Department of Ecology, Environmental Protection Agency, cities, counties, and community groups to develop a long-term vision for the I-90 corridor between Hyak and Easton. This effort culminated in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that outlines improvements needed to meet projected traffic demands, improve public safety, and meet identified project needs along the 15 miles of I-90. The Final EIS was published in 2008.” – WSDOT Communication Department


For only 15-miles of Interstate?  How about reducing fossil fuels on the Interstate? How about a long-term vision that eliminates emissions. I bet that would be appreciated by the wildlife and forests, and counties and cities, much more than ANY OTHER long-term vision.

“What’s the end result?” – WSDOT Communication Department


“The existing conditions analysis identified both safety and travel time reliability as the primary concerns for the I-90 corridor.

“Safety Findings

  • Crashes on I-90 have steadily increased over the past five years. Crashes increased 22 percent between 2011 and 2015 in the study area (greater Spokane).  Crashes contribute significantly to non-recurring traffic congestion on I-90 (throughout the corridor).
  • Crashes occur almost daily on I-90. Between 2011 and 2015, the I-90 corridor experienced 3,600 crashes. The increasing number of crashes create unpredictable travel times for autos, transit and freight.
  • I-90 on- and off-ramp traffic regularly queues onto the mainline at some interchanges. As traffic volumes continue to increase, queues form on the off-ramps with vehicles backing onto I-90. The ramp queues create a safety hazard by increasing the likelihood of rear-end crashes (all urban areas studied).

“Many I-90 on- and off-ramps experience a higher than expected number of crashes. Closely spaced interchanges along with short weave and merge areas on the mainline, particularly through downtown urban areas, contribute to the higher than expected volume of crashes.

  • Weather and poor driving behavior contribute to the majority of I-90 crashes. Inclement weather, exceeding a reasonably safe speed, and following too closely represent 84 percent of the contributing factors to crashes.
  • Rear-end, sideswipe and fixed object crashes occur most frequently on I-90. Rear-end and sideswipe crashes make up 59 percent of total crashes between 2011 and 2015. Crashes with a fixed object are the third most common crash type accounting for 30 percent of the total.
  • Driving under the influence (DUI) is the leading cause of high severity crashes on I-90. Close to 25 percent of all high severity crashes are DUI-related.”

“I was thinking on this last point, when I was chased down I-90 last night from the Alpental Entrance West at Snolqualmie Pass, by an apparently drunk and/or pissed-off WSDOT snowplow operator as he sped in freezing weather, blade-up at 30 MPH into the rear ends of car and semi-truck in the dark.  I avoided him twice, as he honked and careened back and forth, eventually letting him/her pass me at 35 MPH with the temperature standing at 33F; compacted snow and ice on the roadway.”

The Family of the 21st Century!

“Travelers will experience a safer, more efficient six-lane freeway, minimized closures as a result of avalanches and rock slides, and a smoother ride due to new pavement designed to last 50 years when all improvements are completed. Wildlife habitat on either side of I-90 will be reconnected with the installation of new bridges and culverts, protecting both wildlife and the traveling public.”

Not yet, apparently.

“Travel Reliability Findings – WSDOT 2018 INTERNAL STUDY*

  • Traffic volumes are steadily increasing on I-90. Between 2012 and 2015 traffic volumes rose by an average of 10 percent in the corridor.
  • Traffic patterns have a distinctive peak travel direction. Westbound traffic volumes rise during the morning rush hour and eastbound volumes rise in the evening rush hour. Congestion and reliability issues are more likely to occur westbound in the mornings and eastbound in the evenings.
  • Incidents are a growing cause of unreliable travel times on I-90. Over the last five years, unplanned incidents along the corridor increased by 40 percent. Incidents includes crashes along with other reported events such as disabled vehicles, debris on the roadway, and construction or maintenance events that disrupt the normal flow of traffic.”

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