Many parts of the city were a parking lot that put Seattle traffic to shame, as work on Highway 529 closed a major northbound link.
By Cathy Logg and Jim Haley
EVERETT -- The only word to describe it was ugly. Gridlock worse than in metropolitan Seattle descended on the city Monday on the first day of a 40-day closure of northbound Highway 529 between Everett and Marysville. About 4:45 p.m., traffic on Broadway waiting to turn onto Everett Avenue was at such a standstill that motorists shut off their engines. In the lead car in the southbound turn lane, two young women sat in the open sunroof with their feet dangling on the windshield. The driver of the car behind them paced the road, talking to nearby motorists. Transportation officials Monday sent an inspector out to view the problem, and a group planned to meet first thing this morning "to figure out how we can fix this," said Linda Mullen, Washington Department of Transportation spokeswoman. "I don't think it's going to be like this for 39 more days." Washington State Patrol officials also will explore whether placing additional message signs might help direct drivers during the 529 construction, Lt. Tim Braniff said. The city very nearly came to a stop in the afternoon, with Broadway and all the major arterial streets jam-packed with vehicles. Everett Avenue was backed up from the freeway onramp to Grand Avenue near the waterfront. Meanwhile, traffic on I-5 was relatively normal for rush-hour traffic, according to the patrol. The extent of the gridlock took state transportation officials and city personnel by surprise. Everett Mayor Ed Hansen termed Monday's traffic mess, "gridlock." "It just underlines the importance of increasing our traffic capacity," he said. The big traffic snarl just shows how projects outside the city sometimes affect circulation within it, the mayor said. He said he'll get city traffic engineers working on alternatives today, and he promised more discussions with state traffic officials. "This just shows how critical every link of our transposition system is. You close up one artery and it has compounding problems throughout the city," Hansen said. Some intersections were completely blocked by traffic, and most drivers had little patience for others trying to change lanes. Vehicles sat unmoving through multiple green lights because there was nowhere to go. Emergency vehicles had trouble getting through the congestion and emergency dispatchers warned of delays. "Oh, my goodness, it's a mess," said Margaret Harvey, a Marysville resident and a teacher at Madison Elementary School in south Everett. "There's no way out of here." She left the school on Pecks Drive at 5:15 p.m. By 7:20 p.m., she had reached 25th and Broadway, she said. At that point, she gave up and stopped for a margarita. She traveled only four miles in two hours -- spending 55 minutes traversing a single block. A fourth-grade teacher, Harvey had just received state test scores for her students and spent the time reviewing the results, she said. "I could read the lips of the guy behind me, she said. What he was saying wasn't nice. She plans to try several options: take a different route; leave school right after students are released and take paperwork with her that she can do in the car "and hope I don't get distracted and run into another car;" or stay at school until late when the traffic has abated. "This is going to be very interesting," she said. "I'm not looking forward to this." She saw two ambulances on emergency runs with lights and sirens activated carefully wending their way through the rows of cars. At intersections, they hesitated as if trying to decide which way to go, she said. "I almost expected people to start running up onto the sidewalks," Harvey said. "It's going to be pretty congested," Braniff said, adding that construction work on the westbound lanes of the U.S. 2 Hewitt Avenue trestle "adds insult to injury." The 529 work was postponed for quite a while to avoid the end-of-school rush, he said. The problem is too few onramps for motorists to get onto the freeway, patrol Lt. Gary Shand said. "There's not enough room for the cars," he said. "We're going to have some problems. People are going to have to be as patient as possible, find alternate routes and adjust their drive times." Transportation officials have received complaints about the signs advising motorists of the highway closure and detour, he said. "There's not much we have to do about it," Everett police Sgt. Boyd Bryant said. "You have to maintain bridges and roads. With the climate that we have, the crews are limited to doing the work in the warmest, driest months that we have." Lines of cars still clogged major Everett arterial roadways well past 7:30 p.m. as people tried to find some way out of town. There didn't seem to be many. No matter how many routes some people tried, the traffic clog continued. "I tried and I stopped to have dinner. Now I'm trying again," said Robert Woodson of Mount Vernon, who spent three hours darting around town and was still just crawling toward an I-5 onramp. Don Rissett was headed to Stanwood after leaving work at 5:20 p.m. He started to take Highway 529 and was turned around. He had to double back to the I-5 access at Everett Avenue via Walnut Street. "Next time I'm just going to bring the sleeping bag and take it easy," he said. You can call Herald Writer Cathy Logg at 425-339-3437
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