Pacific Highway truck lane to close

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U.S. drivers heading into Canada at the truck crossing near Blaine, Wash., may face lengthy delays starting Monday, Oct. 2, when truck traffic will shift into the car lanes. The northbound truck lane of the Pacific Highway crossing — the third busiest between the United States and Canada — will close for about a year, according to the Bellingham (Wash.) Herald.

The closure is part of a $25 million project that eventually will expand the number of lanes going north and south from three to five. “This project is definitely going to cause congestion,” Dustin Terpening, a spokesman for the Washington state Department of Transportation, told the Herald. The crossing has the nation’s fourth-highest volume of commercial trucks, with 360,000 using the crossing to enter Canada in 2005, Terpening told the Herald.

With the truck lane closed, they will have to share one lane with passenger vehicles. The closure will run from H to D streets south of the border. Crews will build an overpass at D Street to create a free flow of traffic and increase safety for Blaine residents who use the highway, project engineer Chris Damitio told the Herald. They also will build a series of eight retaining walls, and lower and line up the highway with inspection booths.

“(This construction) has been a long time coming,” Lloyd Ludtke, owner and president of Ludtke-Pacific Trucking, told the Herald. “It’ll be a disruption, but the end result will make it worthwhile.” Ludtke’s company makes daily trips to Canada and probably will end up sending some trucks to the Lynden border crossing to avoid traffic — despite the extra 12-mile drive, the crossing’s smaller size and midnight closing time. Shipments heading farther east can go through the Sumas crossing, about 20 miles out of the way.

Though Pacific Highway has been ideal, open 24 hours and a straight shot north, Ludtke told the Herald he is willing to put up with the closure because the changes will help the trucking industry. “I would dare say you wouldn’t find anyone in the industry who would complain — or at least you shouldn’t,” he told the Herald. “We’re going to have to live with it, that’s all there is to it.”

The state Department of Transportation is working with the Canada Border Services Agency to help minimize the closure’s impact on traffic. Damitio told the Herald the state is working to get more trucks to use nighttime shipping, and to encourage more cars to pass through the Peace Arch, Sumas and Lynden border crossings. “We’re trying to get as many cars off the crossing as we can,” he told the Herald.

Officials haven’t projected how long the waits might be, because they don’t know how people will adjust their travel plans. Message boards along Interstate 5 will provide traffic updates and alert drivers to the construction, Damitio told the Herald. During peak traffic hours, 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, two booths instead of one will be open at the Pacific Highway crossing.

After midnight and on weekends, only one booth will be open. “We will be monitoring the situation to make sure everything is going smoothly and adjust if necessary,” Faith St. John, Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman, told the Herald. The new truck lane is expected to open by the end of next summer, with the entire project expected to be complete in summer 2008.