After two marathon days of driving, we got together with Chris and tooled around the Seattle and Tacoma area during day 4, and then rendezvous with Andy’s cousins in Burien.

The day started off with some typical Seattle weather, even with it being late August. A rainy mist converted into light rain and then a solid sheet of rain as we ate breakfast at a local diner in Shoreline, Washington. Since Chris had to work this day, we decided for some local road stuff before dropping him off in downtown Seattle.

First up with Interstate 5 north to Interstate 405’s northern terminus. There are end and begin signs posted on the I-405 overpasses above I-5, and the freeway itself converts into the Washington 526 freeway spur north to Washington 99. Andy’s one cousin said to us “you should never take Interstate 405 under any circumstance”, or something to that effect, because of its traffic. Even with it being around 11:30 am, traffic definitely complied with that statement. As for Washington 526, which technically is Washington 5-26, as Washington uses an implied route family numbering system neaning that 500 is 5-00, 501 is 5-01, etc, it provides a continuation of “the 405” (thanks L.A.) northward to Washington 99 at Lynwood.

Interstate 405 southbound at directional-cloverleaf interchange with Washington 522 at Bothell. Washington 522 provides a freeway spur east to Woodinville. We headed south to get out of the rain, and mother nature actually complied for all points south of Interstate 90!

Next we continued south on Interstate 405 to the Washington 520 floating bridge west across Lake Washington to Interstate 5. With the afternoon now in progress, we needed to get Chris dropped off to work, so we opted for the floating bridge to I-5 to Washington 99 and downtown. The floating bridge is one of two across Lake Washington (I-90 being the other), and one of Seattle’s many congested freeways. Washington 520 carries four lanes with no shoulders, and similar to the three-mile bridge of U.S. 98 at Pensacola, it is unlawful to run out of gas along the span. However with that stated, WSDOT does that one more, but also “outlawing” breaking down on the bridge as well. Since there are no shoulders, either running out of gas or breaking down blocks one of the two travel lanes in either direction, so it’s rather detrimental to traffic. Crews will come and move/tow the offending vehicle, and officers will follow that up with a citation. Sure enough as we took Washington 520 west, there was a disable red pick-up truck in the left-lane of eastbound, causing a midday back-up all the way to Interstate 5 from near the east end of the span.

Washington 520, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge according to Navteq, spans Lake Washington between Medina and the north Seattle area, home to the University of Washington. As mentioned above, a disable pick-up truck blocked the inner most lane of eastbound, causing a massive back-up all the way to Interstate 5. Also note the eddy created by the floating bridge to the right. Waves kicked up by the south wind at the time were negated by the wall created by Washington 520. Later on during our trip, a similar thing occurred with white caps on one side of Interstate 90 and calm waters on the other.

Washington 520 joins Interstate 5 just north of the Mercer Street off-ramp. It’s this setting with oncoming traffic from WA 520 to the left and outgoing traffic to north of downtown to Mercer Street and the right, that a crippling traffic situation emerges. Known locally as the “Mercer Street Merge”, the configuration causes congestion on a regular basis (and we encountered it just above every time we traveled through there!).

Interstate 5 southbound passes over Union Bay and approaches the Mercer Street Merge. Traffic accordingly slows to a craw…

Futher south, Interstate 5 splits into a local/express configuration as it travels along the eastern reaches of the central business district. Much of the freeway travels through cut and cover tunnels near the skyscrapers of the Emerald City. The median lined express lanes are reversible depending upon time of day, while the outer lanes facilitate travel to Interstate 90, the eastern suburbs, and stadium district.
Washington 99 meanwhile travels along a surface boulevard/hybrid expressway southward to the Alaskan Way tunnel and viaduct. The state highway serves the zoo area and Space Needle before emerging along the wharf district of the Seattle waterfront. A double-decker freeway carries the former U.S. 99 southward to the West Seattle Bridge (freeway) and industrial area/port of Seattle. The state highway continues south first as a surface boulevard parallel to railroad lines, and then again as an expressway from Washington 509.

Southbound at the Denny Way off-ramp of Washington 99 (Aurora Avenue) south. It is at this point that Washington 99 converts from an expressway into a full freeway, descending into a pair of two-lane tunnels ahead. Denny Way serves the Belltown area of Seattle and the Space Needle.

The double-decked section of Washington 99 includes a pair of ramp stubs in both directions for an unconstructed interchange with Interstate 90! Here’s the southbound “off-ramp to Interstate 90 east” from Washington 99’s lower deck. Thanks to Chris for enlightening us with that info!

After parting ways with Chris, we poked around downtown a bit, taking in the only original U.S. 99 sign around, the overhead at the Columbia Street on-ramp at the intersection with 1st Avenue. There are a handful of state-named shields for Interstate 5 and 90 also around downtown, so we documented a few of those as well.

And the remaining U.S. 99 overhead posted over the Columbia Street on-ramp to the southbound freeway viaduct. The shield itself is hand-painted and the only shield from the actual U.S. 99 signing known in existence. When I saw the sign the night before, I thought, where have I seen this before? Thanks Steve Alpert, it was your website!

Back in the car, we decided to clinch Interstate 405, and then head south toward the sun in Tacoma. Tacoma is the site of a major Interstate 5 widening for the addition of HOV lanes. It also is home to Interstate 705, the shortest three-digit Interstate in Washington. Interstate 705 provides a spur into downtown Tacoma and also to the waterfront and port areas north of the cbd. Also tieing into I-705 is Washington 509, an east-west freeway leading to the industrial areas north of Interstate 5, and ultimately as a surface road/freeway variation to Burien (Washington 509 merges with Washington 99 in south Seattle).

Washington 509 follows a freeway east from the SPUI with Interstate 705 in Tacoma across a cable-stayed bridge. The freeway serves the port area ahead before ending at the signalized intersection with Alexander Avenue. There’s a wide grassy median here and a berm that leads one to think that the freeway may be extended…

Interstate 705 southbound transitions into the short freeway stub of Washington 7 south of Interstate 5. 34th Street in south Tacoma travels high above the freeway via a concrete arch bridge. Washington 7 transitions into a surface street at the interchange with 38th Street in one quarter mile. A freeway stub exists there, hinting at a planned yet unconstructed southward extension.

Before heading back to Burien for dinner and such, we decided to take Washington 16 north across the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge. WSDOT is in the progress of constructing a new suspension bridge for southbound Washington 16, while overall widening and modernizing the freeway on both approaches. From how the traffic was at 3:30 pm, it definitely needs it!

Looking southeast from the park at the end of Lucille Parkway at the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge (foreground) and original (background). By Summer 2007, the new bridge will carry motorists with a temporary lane configuration. At that time a retrofit of the 1950-completed bridge begins for a Spring 2008 completion.

The original Tacoma Narrows Bridge (well replacement of the one that fell into the Narrows), will be retained for northbound. The southbound span will be a toll bridge, the only highway with a fee in the Seattle area. There’s a bridge view area at a narrows-side park that we took advantage of for views of the span from the west.

We trudged back northward via Interstate 5 through Tacoma, Fife, and Federal Way to Burien via Washington 518. Like Washington 522 to the north, Washington 518 also provides a state-highway freeway spurring from the end of Interstate 405. Washington 518 spurs west to SeaTac International Airport and Washington 509 at Burien.

Salmon was on the meal for dinner, as was good company and great conversation. That’s all for Day 4!!