BELLINGHAM - On Meridian Street, the small things will make a big difference.
Crews are laying down four-inch-high curbs in the center lane, north of Interstate 5, to prevent left turns from certain parts of Meridian into business parking lots and from businesses back onto the street.
The left turn onto Telegraph Road from northbound Meridian - a longtime entrance into Bellis Fair shopping mall - was eliminated permanently on Tuesday night, Sept. 24.
The project goal, Department of Transportation officials have said, is to reduce backups and collisions on what the agency says is a "chaotic" commercial strip in the city. Meridian just north of I-5 gets about 45,000 vehicles per day on average. Between I-5 and Horton Road, about 500 crashes occurred on Meridian from 2006 to 2010, including more than 100 at Telegraph.
The $2.79 million project was an affordable alternative to rebuilding the I-5 interchange at Meridian, which would have cost at least $50 million, according to the DOT's 2011 report on the project. Funding came from a federal program that pays for road improvements near international borders.
Drivers and businesses will need to sacrifice convenience for safety, DOT project engineer Chris Damitio said.
"Drivers are going to have to get ready for new traffic patterns," Damitio said. "I think the businesses recognize for the most part the safety aspects that are coming along with this."
Stopping left turns onto Telegraph heading to Bellis Fair mall has forced a change to Whatcom Transportation Authority's Route 15 buses and blocked the preferred route of drivers who took Telegraph up to restaurants and the movie-theater side of the mall. The left turn at the mall's main driveway farther up Meridian, at E. Bellis Fair Parkway, will remain open.
To help people adjust, DOT is changing signs on Meridian and I-5 to give better directions for reaching businesses. For example, the left lane of the exit ramp on northbound I-5 will be better marked as mall access, Damitio said.
Drivers on I-5 will face nighttime "rolling slowdowns" during sign replacement, but traffic should be light enough that the work won't cause traffic delays, Damitio said. A date hasn't been set for this work.
Work on Meridian over the next month will include finishing the center curb, painting stripes and landscaping along the new right lane between Bellis Fair Parkway and Bakerview Road. Work will be conducted at night, which has been the norm since the project began in May.
"The traveling public shouldn't be impacted any more than they already have," Damitio said.
Workers also must repair a concrete wall on the east side of Meridian that protects the culvert where Spring Creek runs under the street. Water was scouring the soil behind the wall and had created "a very minor sinkhole" that necessitates a repair to the wall, Damitio said.
Because the repair is an emergency, crews will be allowed to block stream flow to do the work, even though it is salmon spawning season.
"It's still imperative we do this in a responsible manner," Damitio said.
To get more details about the project, go to go to this WSDOT webpage.