SEATTLE -- What probably seemed like it was to be a routine drive for a Metro bus driver heading south on the I-5 express lanes into Downtown Seattle Wednesday morning instead turned into quite an adventure once it became quickly apparent the reversible lanes had just switched directions and he came face-to-face with northbound traffic.
Dellana Groen, a passenger on the Route 41 bus, told KOMO News the bus had just left the Northgate Park and Ride just after 11 a.m. and had started to drive onto the southbound express lanes at the NE 103rd onramp when the bus driver realized he shouldn't be going that way, yet couldn't back up.
So she said the driver continued on to the freeway, hoping he could exit before oncoming traffic arrived.
"(The driver) was trying really hard to try to get off the freeway before the traffic came but he didn't have many choices," Groen said.
Groen said the driver was driving near the shoulder at below-speed-limit speeds hoping to make it to an exit before the northbound traffic arrived, but ready to pull over if he saw traffic coming.
Unfortunately, the lanes had just reopened to northbound traffic one minute before he got on the freeway.
As to what happened next, the WSDOT Traffic Twitter account gave an amusing play-by-play of the fiasco:
It started innocuous enough:
On the I-5 northbound express lanes at NE 45nd St there is a disabled vehicle blocking the left lane.WSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
Until it became apparent what the "disabled vehicle" really was:
Don't know how or why, but this bus ended up on express lanes in the wrong direction. pic.twitter.com/3vMNCrJt1cWSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
The DOT noted passengers were still on the bus and police were going to do a rolling slowdown on the freeway to allow the bus to drive down the express lanes to exit rather than turn it around.
Here's the rolling slowdown in the express lanes. pic.twitter.com/46ZI7rBsACWSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
So there goes the bus. pic.twitter.com/7WwGnS5FFPWSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
That is probably a pretty lonely, quiet drive. pic.twitter.com/OfHVVY5bKfWSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
Only problem? The express lanes are designed not to have any exits from southbound traffic until you reach Mercer Street -- 4 miles away. So the plan became to have the articulated bus attempt a 180-degree turn on the Ship Canal Bridge and exit at NE 42nd Street:
This spider can't believe what it's seeing. pic.twitter.com/YfWFbkMyoVWSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
This is kind of an Austin Powers thing watching this bus try to turn around. pic.twitter.com/OHo2FD5thoWSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
Eventually the attempt to exit at the UW proved futile -- on to the next exit -- and all the waiting cars!
So the bus gave up on turning around, drove off and ran into all the stopped traffic. Oh brother. pic.twitter.com/zC0BAHFaN1WSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
The backup got huge on the express lanes so now they're letting traffic through before dealing with the bus. Fascinating stuff.WSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
Sounds like once they clear the traffic out, they're going to try to exit the bus at Mercer.WSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
Why can't I get the Benny Hill theme song out of my head?WSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
So once traffic cleared, the bus continued south toward Mercer:
There goes the bus. ...again. Let's see what happens! pic.twitter.com/KV8UenonO0WSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
You're heard of the walk of shame? This is the drive of shame. pic.twitter.com/YzhXWMzd8YWSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
Finally -- success! And double success in that no one was hurt:
There it goes, exiting off Mercer. Seriously, that's a tough situation and we're glad no one was hurt. pic.twitter.com/fdqGJxe0QgWSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) October 23, 2013
Groen said there were a couple of people on board who were upset. "But most of us were glad it was safe," she said. "It was interesting on the bus to see the traffic coming the other way but I was really glad the bus driver did the best he could -- he pulled over and stopped and soon as he saw traffic. But he was trying to get to an exit before traffic came."
WSDOT spokesman Bart Treece said there are several signs warning the onramp was closed and were verified to be working prior to the incident.
He says crews close the southbound lanes at 11 a.m. then spend the next 15 minutes confirming all southbound entrance points are closed and there is no traffic left on the freeway. He said the Northgate ramp was visually verified to be working properly just minutes before the bus entered the freeway at 11:16 a.m. -- one minute after the lanes opened to northbound traffic.
Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer says they see the incident as a very serious safety infraction and are glad no one was injured. They will be investigating the incident and the driver likely faces consequences.