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I-5 Olympia Expansion Joint Replacement - Common Questions

What is the work?

We are replacing a 28-year-old expansion joint that spans the width of northbound and southbound Interstate 5. The concrete surrounding the joints has deteriorated, which could lead to the expansion joints failing and popping up into traffic creating a safety hazard for the drivers. The synthetic rubber seals are broken allowing water to leak through the joints, washing away soil under the bridge. WSDOT will replace the concrete headers around the expansion joint and replace the rubber seals with a silicone-based seal.

Where is the work?
Drivers will see construction barrels begin on northbound I-5 near Tumwater Boulevard, and on southbound I-5 before the Henderson Avenue on-ramp. Drivers on southbound US 101 will encounter construction barrels as they head to northbound I-5. The US 101 on-ramp to northbound I-5 will be reduced to a single lane during daytime hours, with a possible temporary overnight closure. On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 20-21, northbound I-5 will still have three lanes open during daytime hours, however southbound I-5 will be reduced to two lanes during the day. At night, both northbound and southbound I-5 will be down to one lane in each direction.

The Deschutes on-ramp to northbound I-5 will close at 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, and remain closed through Monday morning, Sept. 22. The Henderson Avenue/14th Street on-ramp to southbound I-5 will be closed at 10 p.m. Friday, and will reopen at 5 a.m. Monday.

When does it start?
Crews completed half of the work over the weekend of Sept. 12. Crews have a second weekend of day and night lane closures scheduled over the weekend of Sept. 19.  

The closures will begin at 10 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 18, as crews shift lanes on northbound I-5 and the US 101 on-ramp to northbound I-5. At 10 p.m., southbound US 101 on-ramp to northbound I-5 will close. Traffic will be detoured onto southbound I-5 through the Tumwater Boulevard interchange. The ramp will reopen to traffic at 5 a.m. Friday morning, but only one lane will be open for the rest of the weekend. The Deschutes on-ramp to northbound I-5 will also be closed for the weekend.

At 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19, crews will reduce southbound I-5 to two lanes and the Henderson on-ramp will close for the weekend. Both directions of I-5 will be reduced to one lane during night hours.

The southbound I-5 exit to northbound US 101 will close at 10 p.m. on Friday. Traffic will be detoured through the Tumwater Boulevard interchange to the northbound I-5 exit to US 101. This ramp will reopen by 7 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 20.
When will it end?
Weather permitting, the Sept. 19 round of weekend closures will end at 5 a.m. Monday, Sept. 22. 

What work is taking place on Thursday night?
Beginning at 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, three northbound I-5 lanes will shift to the right to create a work zone. The northbound I-5 speed limit will be reduced to 35 mph.

From 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 through 5 a.m. Monday, Sept 22, crews will close Deschutes Way on-ramp to northbound I-5. Drivers will use alternate routes. 

At 10 p.m., southbound US 101 on-ramp to northbound I-5 will close. Traffic will be detoured onto southbound I-5 through the Tumwater Boulevard interchange. The ramp will reopen to traffic at 5 a.m. Friday morning, but only one lane will be open for the rest of the weekend. 
What does this mean for the Friday morning commute?

The northbound I-5 speed limit will be reduced to 35 mph as three northbound lanes of traffic will be shifted towards the right. Drivers will also notice shifted lanes for the southbound US 101 on-ramp to northbound I-5. Drivers who use both northbound I-5 and the southbound US 101 on-ramp to northbound I-5 are encouraged to add plenty of additional time to reach their destination on time or use alternate routes.

Southbound I-5 will not be changed during the Friday morning commute.

See the September Weekend Closures web page for additional information.

Why is replacing the expansion joints necessary?
Expansion joints are a critical part of a bridge’s infrastructure. The joints allow the bridge to move and flex with changing traffic and weather conditions. Joints that fail can unexpectedly pop up into traffic, resulting in an emergency closure of lanes to replace or repair them. Since no one can plan for a failure and subsequent emergency closure, WSDOT wants to repair these joints under scheduled closures before they fail.

Will people living near I-5 and Capitol Lake hear the construction work at night?
Yes, but not the entire weekend. The current construction schedule has crews jackhammering out the old concrete surrounding the bridge joint between 10 p.m. on Friday and noon on Saturday for both weekends. This will be by far the loudest portion of the project. We apologize in advance for the noise and appreciate everyone’s patience. 

These closures are really going to affect weekend travel plans. Why can’t the expansion joints be replaced during overnight closures?
Our goal with every project, including this one, is to get the construction work done as quickly as possible with the least effect on the traveling public. This particular type of work requires that concrete be removed and repoured in the same timeframe. After careful consideration, we determined that condensing the work into two admittedly difficult travel weekends was still better for motorists than extended night closures. This was especially given the challenging location of this expansion joint. It runs across all six lanes of I-5, the US 101 on and off ramps, the Deschutes Parkway on-ramp and the Henderson Avenue on-ramp. By breaking the work up into two weekends, we are minimizing impacts to drivers. But we still need a reduction in traffic. 

Will drivers see construction crews in the work zone all weekend for both weekends?
Crews will be very busy for the first half of the weekend, chipping out old concrete, building forms and repouring new concrete.  The last 24 hours of will be used to allow the concrete to cure and reach strength (during which time no workers will be in the workzone) and to remove traffic control. Even then we won't be quite done with the work. We'll return during subsequent night hours to install the expansion joint's silicone seal. 

Why can’t you do this work during the winter, like between Christmas and New Year’s when people take time off? Isn’t traffic lighter at that time of year compared to summer travel?
The number of vehicles on I-5 is only slightly lower between Christmas and the New Year, when compared to summer.

Also, the odds of poor weather are much higher in the winter. To get a good-quality product, we need weather that is relatively dry and warm. Although it is possible to protect newly poured concrete around the expansion joints from the heavy precipitation we often experience in the winter by placing tents over them, we must also consider the increased risk of more severe weather including freezing temperatures, snow and ice. Freezing temperatures would prevent crews from pouring concrete. If we scheduled this work to occur in the winter there is an increased risk of delays or work cancellations. Since we can’t predict when these joints might fail, we need to schedule the replacement work to occur as soon as possible during the best possible weather conditions.

In addition, WSDOT’s first priority is safety for drivers as well as construction and maintenance crews. Wet and cold weather increases the risk of injury to workers and creates difficult driving conditions for motorists.  

I’m going to be using I-5 during this work, what kind of backups should I expect?
Over a typical Saturday and Sunday, this stretch of I-5 is traveled by more than 276,000 vehicles. Congestion during this work is inevitable. We were pleasantly surprised, however, with traffic reductions up to 50% over the weekend of Sept. 12-15. So many drivers avoided the area that no backups formed.

Over the weekend of Sept. 19, we're still asking drivers to avoid I-5. We'll see if we have the same stellar response!  

When is the best time to travel? 
Early morning (before 10 a.m.) and late evening (after 8 p.m.) are your best bet for getting through the workzone area with less congestion. Even during those times, you are encouraged to consider alternate routes and avoid I-5 through Olympia altogether. 

Has WSDOT made repairs to this joint in the past?
This bridge on Interstate 5 was originally built in 1956, and rebuild and widened in 1986. We are currently replacing the concrete that surrounds the bridge joint and replacing the waterproof seal that was installed in 1986. There have been numerous temporary repairs on this particular bridge joint in the past 5 years. The most recent repair was in February, 2014.

How many other joints on I-5 need to be replaced?
At present, no other expansion joints are scheduled for repairs on I-5 in Thurston County. However, WSDOT’s highways are aging and our crews monitor the expansion joints on all our bridges closely to monitor their conditions and look for signs of stress. This particular bridge joint was folded into the I-5 – Vicinity Tumwater Blvd to Gravelly Lake Dr – Paving project.

The next expansion joint on our radar in the area is on the I-5 bridge spanning Pacific Avenue on Olympia.  That expansion joint, too, is aging and requiring multiple repairs.  At present we have no funds to replace that joint, so we will continue to keep it operational as best as we can.