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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


The dreaded short chute

Many readers have expressed concern over the entrance ramp to I-90 eastbound from U.S. 195 northbound.  A nanosecond after drivers have negotiated the curve on the ramp there, they are in the right-hand lane of I-90, usually in the midst of freeway traffic.  It’s a design-inherent problem attributable to the inadequate, short chute onto the freeway.

It’s not the only marginal freeway entrance in the region, but it generates many complaints and, I’m guessing, accidents.  For funneling drivers onto a freeway, a ramp should be of adequate length for vehicles to reach freeway speed and afford us ample opportunity to observe traffic, evaluate it, and time our merges.

Comments from reader T.M typify driver concern at that spot, revealing, “I am an experienced driver, but this merge point still frightens me.  Sometimes I have taken the extra time to exit to Inland Empire Way or Hatch Road just to avoid the anxiety that entrance/merge situation produces.  I do recall that some years ago, on account of construction ahead, tall traffic cones/markers were placed to prevent east bound traffic from entering the merge lane for some distance. Why were those ever removed?  It seems like it was a very simple and very cost effective way to make that part of the highway much safer.  Do others have issues with this driving situation or am I just being overly concerned?”

For starters, T.M. should find some solace in the fact that many others voice concerns over the inadequacy and potential danger associated with that location, and share his apprehension when using that ramp.  Also, others have mentioned how entering the highway at that spot was eased when the entrance to U.S 195 southbound from I-90 eastbound, coming down the hill, was closed.  As T.M. stated, back then, the right-hand lane was also blocked for existing traffic on the freeway until a point past the on-ramp from U.S. 195.  At that time, the traffic entering from 195 had an open lane to merge into.

I can’t say exactly why that situation ended, but when the exit to U.S 195 reopened, the DOT evidently wanted all of the lanes there to be available to I-90 traffic.  As an attempted resolution, the DOT later added a system of flashing lights on the freeway shoulder prior to the entrance, that, when activated (along with signage), warn freeway traffic when there are vehicles upon the ramp.  That’s helpful, since, as mentioned, those unfamiliar with the shortness of the final portion of the ramp find themselves dumped onto the freeway immediately after making the “bend,” amidst traffic, before they realize what is happening.

With the ongoing studies addressing the high accident rate on that increasingly populated stretch of U.S. 195 (I-90 to Spangle), it’s only a matter of time and money before redesign and reconstruction of that notoriously dangerous freeway entrance takes place.  In the mean time, I, like T.M. generally avoid entering I-90 there.  But still, coming down Sunset Hill, it’s easy to get involved in the fray — especially  if you must be in, or soon get in, the right-hand lane in order to take the Maple Street exit.

Usually, when descending the hill, I will avoid the right-hand lane while passing the ramp, and then move over for the Maple Street exit.  If that movement to the right is foiled by vehicles entering the freeway from the 195 ramp as I approach the Maple exit, I simply move ahead to the next exit.

That’s another scenario when the flashing light system can be an aid.  If lights are not flashing, it allows one to stay in the right lane while passing the 195 ramp, giving proper position for the Maple exit without interfering with entering traffic.  When the lights are flashing, it’s best to depart from the right-hand lane, as many drivers seem to enter there without regard for traffic on the freeway (or, in this case, they are surprised how suddenly they get there).  If there are vehicles present on both the right-hand freeway lane and the ramp, the situation often deteriorates into drivers slowing to near stops in both positions.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at