Part of I-5 shoulder will open to buses this year. This tow truck driver doesn't like it. | KUOW News and Information

Part of I-5 shoulder will open to buses this year. This tow truck driver doesn't like it.

Jan 7, 2017

Washington state plans to open up parts of Interstate 5 to shoulder driving. It begins early summer, when the state will let buses drive part of the shoulder south of Everett.


KUOW's Region of Boom Team is spending a month hanging in and around Marysville, western Washington's fastest growing big city, to hear about how the region's growth is affecting people there. 

When we talk about growth in our region, the first thing many people think about is traffic. How bad it is.

The carpool lanes on I-5 are supposed to keep traffic flowing at 45 miles an hour, but they don’t.

Even buses, which are supposed to lure people out of their cars, sometimes end up crawling along in the carpool lane.

Mark Leth, a traffic engineer for the state, has been looking for little fixes that could make traffic flow better. "I-5 is a constrained area," he said. "It’s a really difficult stretch of roadway to add capacity."

That’s why the state is letting buses drive on the shoulder. It’s already happening on I-405.

By this spring or early summer, buses will drive on the shoulder on I-5 too. At least for a small stretch of southbound I-5 between Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

"When the HOV lane’s not performing well enough at a certain speed, they can move over onto the shoulder and bypass that," said Leth.

With little room to widen I-5, the state is looking more closely at allowing different kinds of shoulder driving, at least at bottlenecks during peak periods. It begins with buses in mid 2017. But parts of I-5 could open the shoulder to all vehicles (except trucks) later. Construction for that project begins in 2019.
Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Amanda Batterson doesn’t like that idea. She works for Skip’s Everett Towing. "It’s really frightening to me that they want to use our workspace as a road," said Batterson.

Batterson used to run a tow truck, until she was hit in the legs by a car. "It’s not just tow truck drivers," who are in danger from the policy, she said, "It’s police officers, emergency responders."

Washington state says it will keep everybody safe by closing down the shoulder when there’s an accident.