Blaine residents can expect detours soon as crews begin construction a $2.8 million roundabout project near the D Street/ I-5 interchange next week.
The first phase of construction begins March 15 and will include surveying, installation of signs and other preliminary work.
Then, starting March 22, crews will begin nighttime closures of a section of D Street under the overpass while they work on underground stormwater pipes, remove traffic islands, street lighting and one sidewalk. Pedestrian access will be available through the work zone during construction.
Daytime traffic detours for that area will begin April 5 and continue for 50 consecutive days – including nights and weekends – or until the project is finished.
“That closure is only for the highest impact work and will allow the project to be completed sooner than if crews had to work around traffic,” said DOT spokesperson Dustin Terpening. “It basically allows us to build the roundabouts as quickly as possible and not be constantly impacting traffic all summer long.”
Terpening added that the DOT has provided financial incentives to the contractor – Interwest Construction, Inc. of Burlington – for finishing the project ahead of schedule and penalties for completing the project late.
“It sounds like the contractor is motivated to finish the 50-day closure early,” he said.
After the roundabouts are installed, crews will still need to complete additional work such as installing landscaping, lighting, striping and traffic calming modifications to I-5. Part of that work will involve closing the southbound I-5 and detouring traffic down the southbound exit, through the roundabout and back up the southbound onramp, although Terpening said much of that work will be postponed until after Labor Day. The entire project should be completed by this fall.
Project manager Chris Damitio said that detour could benefit local businesses as motorists who may have never gotten off the freeway before catch a glimpse of downtown Blaine.
“Hopefully the motorists will see what services are available and use them,” he said.
Beginning June 1 crews will focus on implementing traffic calming measures on northbound I-5 such as planting vegetation and extending reinforced grass shoulders instead of concrete ones.
“It creates an aesthetic appearance that will hopefully slow down traffic as they approach the port facility,” Damitio said. “Meanwhile, on D Street, we’re still going to do striping, landscaping and installation of the special order lighting, which won’t be available until after the 50-day closure.”
Any additional lane closures would be performed at night when there is less traffic impact, he said.
In response to allegations by Blaine property owner Tom Bridge accusing the DOT of not providing adequate public meetings, Terpening said that is simply untrue.
“We’ve been talking about this project since as far back as 2005 but we had several community meetings last summer to remind people that the project is coming and also to provide information about access rights,” he said.
“It has also been thoroughly reported on in The Northern Light and The Bellingham Herald.
“Unfortunately, there are always going to people who miss out because we can’t go door to door but we want to do the best we can to let as many people know as possible.”
When asked about concerns about pedestrian safety raised by some community members during city council meetings, Terpening said he wasn’t sure if there was enough pedestrian traffic at those intersections to warrant signalized crosswalks but that safety benefits of roundabouts extend to pedestrians and bicyclists as well as motorists.
“There are a lot of fears and concerns about roundabouts mostly because they’re new and people aren’t familiar with them but based on our experience in the county, state and nation, the safety benefits are just astounding and that’s not just for drivers but for pedestrians and bicyclists as well. For one, you’ve only got one direction of traffic to focus on. ”
In the meantime, Terpening said the DOT is working to meet requirements put forth in a letter from the city of Blaine.
“We’re working along with the city to ensure everything keeps moving smoothly, it’s not going to affect the construction schedule at all,” he said. “Ultimately, we want to make people aware of what we’re doing and be open and honest as possible.”
For more information, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects