BELLINGHAM - With an approach that state officials call "creative" and "cost-effective," small changes will be built into the busiest stretch of Guide Meridian in the city, starting in May.
The goal is to untie some traffic knots and improve safety on the Guide from Interstate 5 north to Horton Road.
The Department of Transportation announced Monday, April 8, that Colacurcio Brothers Construction Co. of Blaine will modify the stretch of highway. Work should begin the second half of May.
"Most work will be done at night so impacts to motorists and businesses should be minimal," a department statement said.
Lanes will be restricted and flaggers will direct traffic from about 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., said Chris Damitio, the department's project engineer.
"We will need to rebuild some sidewalk and business entrances, but this will all be done at night," he said. "During the day, business access should not be impacted."
When the work is done, the number of options for entering and exiting businesses along the 1.7-mile stretch will be reduced, to improve safety and reduce backups.
Key changes include removing the center lane for left turns and replacing it with a curb that will block left turns onto Guide Meridian, which is also state Highway 539.
Of the eight intersections included in the project, from the northbound I-5 off-ramp to Horton, Telegraph Road had the highest number of collisions from 2006 to 2010. To improve safety in that area, the contractor will improve the right turn from the off-ramp.
Also, the Telegraph intersection will be reworked so left turns toward Bellis Fair mall from northbound Guide will not be allowed. By eliminating the left-turn traffic signal, that should reduce the long backup on southbound Guide heading to the freeway, according to the department.
"There are just too many entrances, exits and turn lanes crammed into the Guide near the I-5 interchange," Damitio said. "It's almost like having the pit entrance and exit for the Indy 500 right at the starting line."
To improve traffic flow northbound, a third lane will be added between Bellis Fair Parkway and Bakerview Road. That should free up traffic as far back as the off-ramp, the department says.
The ideal solution, according to the agency, might be a total rebuild of that stretch of the Guide, but money was unavailable for a more ambitious option.
"With some creative reworking of this short section of highway, we think we can cost-effectively improve traffic flow and safety," Damitio said.
Colacurcio Brothers was awarded the construction contract with a low bid of $1,685,790. The department expects to spend $2.75 million total, including design and some property purchases to expand the road right-of-way.
The project is fully funded by the federal Coordinated Border Infrastructure program, which is intended to improve safety on highways that contribute to border traffic.
About 45,000 vehicles a day use that stretch of the Guide. The high-density retail area attracts a large number of Canadian shoppers.
The project is one of two planned for this spring funded by the federal border program. The same fund is being used to build two roundabouts in north Lynden.
"The typical federal highway program is already tied up in other state efforts, so without these CBI funds, these two improvement projects would not have occurred," Damitio said.
Reach Ralph Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2289. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.