Stripe-less in Seattle

Aurora and West Seattle bridges lost some lane markings due to snow plowing. It's created some nerve-wracking driving, and the City can't repaint until the rains abate.
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A Seattle Department of Transportation snowplow.

Aurora and West Seattle bridges lost some lane markings due to snow plowing. It's created some nerve-wracking driving, and the City can't repaint until the rains abate.

More than snow and ice disappeared when the big freeze lifted and rain arrived late last month. Also gone: lane lines on the well-travelled West Seattle and Aurora Bridges.

All the stripes took a beating. But the white lines delineating outside lanes faded into nothingness as a result of Seattle DOT crews. To clear a path for traffic, the City aggressively plowed the ice-prone bridges, with the blades straddling the outside lane markers in both directions on both bridges.

The City says it can'ꀙt repaint until the rain stops. If local forecasts are to be trusted, that makes Friday or Saturday the soonest we can expect new stripes and a return to more ordered traffic. Anyone who'ꀙs driven the bridges in recent days, particularly Aurora'ꀙs narrow lanes, may have murmured a few prayers or curses.

Eric Widstrand, SDOT'ꀙs manager of traffic operations, commutes across the Aurora Bridge daily by bus. He'ꀙs familiar with the 'ꀜunderstandable hesitation'ꀝ many drivers are experiencing as they try to honor — or not — lanes no longer there. Widstrand said repainting the outside lanes on both bridges is very high priority. The West Seattle Bridge is ranked slightly ahead of Aurora because of its higher volume of traffic (100,000 weekday trips vs. 84,700 on Aurora) and the speed limit is higher (45 mph vs. 40). However, it'ꀙs also true that the lanes on the Aurora Bridge are narrower, which makes the current situation nerve wracking for drivers used to having their own lane when merging from Fremont and Queen Anne.

SDOT spokeswoman Marybeth Turner said that until the weather cooperates, drivers should behave 'ꀜas if the same lines were still there, and for safety, stay aware of the location of cars around them.'ꀝ Easier said than done, as anyone who has driven on the bridges lately can attest!

Technically, City officials point to a provision in the Seattle Municipal Code stating that when a width of pavement is 16 feet or wider, it'ꀙs considered two lanes even if there are no lane lines.

Ideally, crews would wait until the temperature hits 60 degrees to apply water-based paint to dry pavement, Turner said. She said 50 degrees is the minimum. But this being January, and the need being pressing, Widstrand said the City may act even if the temperature is below 50, as long as the pavement is dry. That could mean that repainting this month will not last as long as it would in the summer, he said. Widstrand could not estimate costs.

The Aurora Bridge, part of SR 99, is state owned. But the City contracts with the state to maintain the lanes, according to Turner.

Whenever the weather permits lane repainting, two bridge lanes will need to be closed. That means only one open lane, at least on Aurora. To minimize the impact, the City will aim to do the work mid-day during the week, or on the weekend, Widstrand said. In addition to restoring stripes, SDOT plans to install 'ꀜriser buttons'ꀝ on the lanes. But that may happen separately and later, Widstrand said.

In addition to complaints about stripe-less bridge lanes, the City has fielded calls about missing lines on arterial streets, including Greenwood Avenue and 35th Avenue Southwest in West Seattle. There's a web site for reporting missing lane lanes or other street maintenance requests.


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