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Gridlock On Seattle's I-5 After Metal Comes Loose

If you tried to make it into downtown Seattle during rush hour this morning, you have our sympathy. Just before 6 a.m., a metal plate popped out of an expansion joint along southbound I-5 just south of I-90. Three lanes of the freeway were closed and the resulting backup, at its peak, stretched more than 11 miles. 

All along I-5, through downtown Seattle, you’ll find expansion joints: seams in the roadway to allow the concrete to expand and contract. Each joint is covered by a metal plate. They're those strips of steel you might have noticed as you make your way down the freeway.

“Somehow that came loose," said Travis Phelps, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Traffic cameras showed the strip bent and jutting out of the road, almost like a belt loop sticking out of the concrete. Phelps says crews have been working for several years to replace the aging expansion joints.

"We’re trying to prioritize our budget to fix the worst ones first, but again, these joints are reaching the end of their useful life and they can fail," Phelps said.

Some cars were damaged by the protruding metal before the lanes were shut down. Crews worked through the morning commute to fix the problem, and the highway was back open by 11:30 a.m.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.