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Busted expansion joints snarled traffic for miles

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SEATTLE -- It happened again -- emergency construction on Interstate 5 slowed traffic to a crawl through Seattle on Friday morning.

The problem was identified as a 50-year-old expansion joint that failed; it sent road crews scrambling to make repairs.

In the coming months WSDOT has scheduled several construction projects to replace dozens of the old expansion joints throughout the I-5 corridor. Still, more unexpected emergencies could pop up just like the one that tied up traffic Friday morning.

An expansion joint connects one section of the elevated freeway to another, keeping the road from buckling due to expanding and contracting cement.

But most of the expansion joints on I-5 are decades old and need replacing.

“These things are everywhere,” said WSDOT spokesperson Travis Phelps. “They’re all aging at different rates and they all have different problems.”

To fix the problem Gov. Jay Inslee instructed WSDOT to plan a massive rehab for most of I-5 to replace dozens of old expansion joints that could fail at any time.

The SnoCo Squeeze near Marysville replaced 41 old expansion joints. Traffic there had been backed up for months but the project should end this weekend.

Up next, crews plan to replace a dozen expansion joints on I-5 in South King County between Southcenter and Federal Way. That project begins later in 2016. Soon after, 33 expansion joints are scheduled for replacement on I-5 between Martin Luther King and Ravenna.

The goal for WSDOT is to replace the aging expansion joints before they fail; keeping miles-long traffic jams to a minimum.

“It’s a need drivers this morning noticed,” said Phelps. “It’s another morning commute disrupted because this work hasn’t been completed yet.”

Completing all of the projects could take years before the I-5 corridor is finally upgraded to new expansion joints.