Drivers Can’t Stop Crashing on This Highway Exit in Seattle. Here’s Why
Despite numerous improvements from the DOT, this off-ramp is still a car-crashing machine.
Every town has at least one infamously dangerous road or intersection. Maybe it's missing a turn lane or a stop sign where it's desperately needed, or maybe it's a stretch of pavement with a mismatched speed limit. For drivers in Seattle, a key example of this is the I-5 off-ramp near the Seattle Convention Center.
In fact, this very road is the subject of a video compilation that recently zoomed its way 'round the internet. The footage highlights some of the crashes that have occurred at this exit ramp over the years, and it's got a lot of people questioning if the local government should be re-evaluating the exit as it poses a safety risk to other drivers and pedestrians.
As it turns out, this particular off-ramp has been a problem for a while. Michael Basconcillo, who posted the above compilation to YouTube, has been filming the location since at least 2017 when he caught a Lamborghini catching fire after exiting the highway. During that time, Basconcillo caught quite a few cars taking the turn too quickly and did what any normal person would: posted the videos online.
The clips recently took off when posted to Reddit's /r/IdiotsInCars where it amassed nearly 100,000 upvotes and gained the attention of local media. That also got a lot of people thinking—just why is this exit a magnet for crashes?
A quick peek on Google Street View quickly reveals a short one-lane exit with a sharp turn surrounded by concrete and reflective signs. It would seem that drivers simply aren't prepared to slow down from the highway's 60 mph speed limit to the recommended 20 mph exit speed.
A spokesperson from the Washington Department of Transportation tells The Drive that there are approximately 464 feet of roadway from the gore of the exit to the center of the sharp curve where the accidents are occurring. This means that a car traveling 60 miles per hour, which is the speed limit of I-5 directly before the exit, would give the driver around 5.25 seconds to slow the vehicle's speed. There are also several warnings to drivers to slow down: a 30 mph sign at the solid white line before the exit, a 20 mph sign before the exit gore, a 20 mph warning below the exit sign, a stoplight warning sign, several arrows and chevrons, as well as reflective markings on the concrete barriers.
We reached out to Seattle's Office of City Planning, the mayor's office, and the Seattle Police Department regarding the I-5 exit. Ultimately, we were referred to the Seattle Department of Transportation, which manages Union St off of the exit, and WSDOT, which manages the exit ramp itself. An SDOT spokesperson told me that the two agencies have previously worked together on the safety of this exit and that it has already asked WSDOT to install additional safety enhancements. A separate spokesperson for WSDOT elaborated on the improvements made in recent years.
"In late summer/fall [of] 2020, WSDOT evaluated this ramp and implemented changes in January 2021," a WSDOT spokesperson explained in an email. "These changes included replacing several existing signs and other devices approaching the ramp and through the curve. Safety is always our top priority, so we’re planning to continue to work together [with the Seattle Department of Transportation] to monitor this area, as we consider other potential safety enhancements."
WSDOT says that since 2019 it has replaced several warning signs with higher-visibility alternatives, added the reflective posts and markers seen in the video above, and also added the additional speed warning underneath the exit sign. This apparently isn't enough, because Basconcillo's cameras have captured at least three additional crashes since the new signage has gone up according to local news outlets like KIRO 7.
Many locals, including towing companies that I spoke with, seemed surprised that people are crashing their cars at that particular off-ramp given how obviously sharp the upcoming turn is. Be that as it may, the well-marked section of road has certainly collected its fair share of victims over the years, and that doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon.
WSDOT did not address if any specific improvements were planned for the future, but that doesn't mean nothing can be done in the meantime. Basconcillo, for example, believes that something like rumble strips might help deter distracted drivers from making mistakes. Either way, locals should be wary of the number of accidents and the frequency of cars that end up hopping the curb. One day, an inattentive driver speeding on this sharp off-ramp could cost an unsuspecting pedestrian their life.