Our Northwest

I-90 upgrades just the latest of many

Tuesday, October 7, 2014by  Jon Osterberg

Interstate 90 rock blasting and road closures alongside Keechelus Lake (photo courtesy WSDOT) will end Oct. 30 for the winter season.
   Blasting closures this week occur Monday through Thursday from 6 p.m.–7 p.m., moving up to 5:30–6:30 beginning Oct. 13.
   Oh, and if you haven’t heard, the Price Creek rest area and restrooms will close permanently next spring. Workers will build an I-90 wildlife overpass that bisects the rest area, which technically is an interim facility that travelers have used for years.
   WSDOT confirms the closure will leave no public restrooms for I-90 motorists between the recently upgraded Travelers Rest at Snoqualmie Pass and the Indian John Hill Rest Area east of Cle Elum.
   Construction on I-90 from the former Keechelus snowshed to the end of the lake should be finished in 2018, said Meagan Lott of WSDOT. Phase 2, spanning the next two miles, includes the Price Creek wildlife overpass and concludes in 2020.
   When I-90 construction is complete, travelers will enjoy a safer six-lane freeway with smooth, well-marked pavement, few avalanche closures – a new avalanche bridge will replace the snowshed – and wildlife will be able to cross the freeway via overpasses and culverts.
   All of that is a marked improvement over the current four-lane highway, which has seen incremental upgrades over the years. A four-lane U.S. Highway 10 opened in 1950, including a snowshed west of the summit that was demolished three decades later. In 1970, a new section of freeway bypassed the congested summit ski areas, and in 1981 that section expanded to seven lanes. Also in 1981, westbound traffic shifted across the valley to the new Denny Creek Viaduct.
   And long before the four-lane freeway, cross-state traffic used the two-lane Sunset Highway (right), a dirt road built in 1915 (and paved much later) that switchbacked uphill from Denny Creek to Snoqualmie Pass. You’ll drive that road today if you visit Denny Creek campground, hike the Melakwa Lake or Franklin Falls trails, or drive from there up toward Alpental.
   I drove the old Sunset Highway recently. It’s briefly visible from a westbound I-90 overpass just beyond the Alpental exit. Though it traverses the slope directly below I-90 for a distance (left), it’s not visible from the freeway. Driving it downhill, the first switchback you come to lies directly below the site of the old snowshed, which WSDOT called the Airplane Curve snowshed.
   Driving that old road today, it’s tough to imagine 1920s automobiles chugging uphill in the snow. No wonder that in 1926, after the Milwaukie Railroad had abandoned its original grade in favor of the Snoqualmie Tunnel, WSDOT acquired Milwaukie’s right of way and relocated the Sunset Highway there. It’s a much gentler grade, home to today’s eastbound lanes of I-90.

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