Get ready: Four-day closure of SR 99 begins Friday at 10 p.m.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

By Chad Schuster

In October 2011, we closed State Route 99 through Seattle for more than a week so we could demolish and replace the southern mile of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Traffic was a challenge during the closure, but with help from flexible and patient commuters, we made it through and ended up with a better highway to show for it.

On Friday night, we’ll begin another extended closure of SR 99, this time a four-day closure that will enable crews to demolish and replace (pdf 2.5 mb) a section of the highway at the north end of downtown. As it did three years ago, we expect that closing SR 99 will cause congestion and perhaps frustration among travelers trying to get to and through Seattle. But with your help, we’ll manage, and we’ll complete important work related to our efforts to replace the remaining section of the viaduct.
Please plan ahead for SR 99 closures from Friday night, Aug. 22 to Wednesday morning, Aug. 27. Here are the details:
  • From 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22 to 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 25, SR 99 will be closed in both directions from the West Seattle Bridge to Valley Street.
    • Northbound SR 99 will be open from South Royal Brougham Way and southbound SR 99 will be open from Columbia Street until midnight on Friday, Aug. 22 for exiting Seahawks traffic.
  • From 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 25 to 5 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, SR 99 will be closed in both directions from the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel to Valley Street.

Lots of work to do

It’s never easy to close a major highway, but it might make it easier to accept if you know how much work we’ll be able to accomplish due to the sacrifices being made by you and your fellow travelers. The main need for the closure is to allow crews building the future north portal of the SR 99 tunnel to demolish and replace the section of SR 99 that crosses above Broad Street. To minimize the need for additional closures, separate crews will complete the following work elsewhere along the SR 99 corridor during this time:
  • Utility work at Harrison Street
  • Concrete panel replacement in SODO
  • Expansion joint repairs on the viaduct near the Seneca Street off-ramp
  • Ivy removal from the viaduct

Driver tips 

The closure will likely cause backups on city streets and I-5. Travelers should consider the following:
Thanks in advance for your patience, and for doing your part to minimize congestion as we build a better SR 99 corridor.

Sometimes Mother Nature calls the shots

Friday, August 15, 2014

by Meagan Lott

It’s no shock that Mother Nature calls the shots when it comes to the weather. This week we saw a grab bag of different kinds of weather from lightning and flash flooding to even a small tornado touching down in the Tri-Cities.

We try really hard to work around the weather and most of the time we can, but safety is our number one priority and earlier this week it wasn’t something we were going to gamble with.

On Tuesday, we planned to close Snoqualmie Pass for rock blasting at 7:30 p.m. Each blast takes approximately 5,000 pounds of explosives and in order to be ready for the closure, crews have start prepping the blast area early in the morning.

As we got closer to the 7:30 p.m. closure, the lightning meters we have installed on the pass started detecting lightning strikes within 15 miles of the blasting area. Then it jumped to just one mile. As part of Washington State Law (WAC 96-52-67055) and for the safety of drivers and our crews, we had to close the pass immediately. Unfortunately, this didn’t leave us much time to let drivers know that the pass was closing an hour-and-a-half earlier than planned.

Fortunately, we were able to detonate the explosives, clean-up debris from the highway and get the pass back open to traffic within an hour.

We apologize for those of you that may have been stuck in the closure, but again it wasn’t to cause an inconvenience, it was for your safety. In the four years we have been closing the pass for rock blasting, this is the first time we have ever had to close early due to weather.
In case Mother Nature throws us for a loop again, make sure to follow us on Twitter @snoqualmiepass, check us out on Facebook or visit the What’s Happening on I-90 Web page.

Property for sale: must like fast moving vehicles, occasional traffic noise

Thursday, August 14, 2014

 By Ann Briggs

We work with property owners to purchase land needed
for highway improvements, such as this roundabout.
At some point in our life most of us will buy or sell a house, and we’ll call on a real estate agent to help us through that complicated process. Buying and selling property for transportation projects is equally complex, and we have a team of Real Estate Service specialists who act as real estate agents, relocation specialists, property managers, title researchers and appraisers to get us through the maze.

We auction off properties that are no longer needed for highway purposes. Often, these surplus properties are strips of land next to a highway, parcels that were used for construction and are no longer needed, or former pit, quarry and maintenance sites.

Occasionally a large parcel such as the 55-acre lot in the city of Renton, which is now being offered for bids, is placed on the auction block. We bought the site in the late 1950s and used it as sand and gravel pit.

Revenue from the sale of surplus properties goes back to the motor vehicle fund to be used for transportation purposes. Since 2009, the surplus property program has generated more than $20 million. That money is made available to city, county and state agencies to fund road, street and highway projects.

What’s a first step in building a road? Having someplace to put it

A key difference in our buying process that you might not experience when buying a house, is the property we’re looking at is usually not on the market for sale. We try to find transportation solutions that have the least amount of impact on homes and businesses, but that’s not always possible, especially in urban areas. That’s where our Real Estate Services team steps in.

Just as your real estate agent looks at comparable home sales in the area when you are buying or selling a home, we do the same when establishing a fair value for the property we want to acquire. We use a market analysis for properties under $25,000 and do a full appraisal for anything over. With this information, we begin good faith negotiations (pdf 367 kb) with the owner. At times, we may enlist a third-party mediator if negotiations stall. Only when all else fails, do we use the state’s right of eminent domain and go through condemnation proceedings.

When a property is acquired, the state pays all taxes and fees that would normally be charged to the seller. The reason is that the seller did not initiate the sale – we did. If a property is acquired and affects the ability of the occupancy to continue, we help the owner, tenant or business find a replacement property, cover all costs associated with moving and even help renters with payments for a set number of months, if they are relocated to a higher-cost rental unit.

It’s our job to ensure that we make good use of taxpayers’ money and deliver needed transportation improvements, but we also recognize that property owners have invested a great deal – monetarily and emotionally – in their property. In the end, we want them to come away feeling that they were treated fairly.

Goodbye double white line on SR 167 HOT lanes!

Monday, August 11, 2014

We’ll be returning the SR 167 HOT lanes to the
original single line striping.
By Emily Pace

Starting today, Aug. 11, drivers will have easier access to the SR 167 HOT lanes.

If you’ve traveled the SR 167 corridor, you’ve seen the HOT lanes, which are carpool lanes that solo drivers with a Good To Go! pass can pay a toll to use. Up until now, the lanes have been separated by a double white line, and drivers were only allowed to enter or exit at specific points.

Our number one complaint from drivers is that they can’t access the HOT lanes at any point in the lanes. Their access is restricted.

You asked, and we listened. Say goodbye to the double white line!

Last night, contractor crews began work to remove the double white line and replace it with a single white line. Crews started at the south end of the northbound lanes of SR 167 in Auburn and worked their way north. Starting today, on some sections of northbound SR 167, you'll notice a single white line – which you can cross! One exception, you’ll notice there will still be double white lines at the ends of the HOT lanes to eliminate weaving at these locations.
Current SR 167 HOT lanes with the double line striping

Once the northbound work is complete, crews will switch over to the north end of the southbound lanes in Renton and work their way south. Work is scheduled for Saturday through Thursday nights, with striping during the week of Aug. 10-16, and striping and sign placement Aug. 17-21. Crews have to grind off the inside stripe and paint the dashed segments so that they are solid white lines. This work is weather dependent.

In the places where you still see the double white lines, drivers need to continue to obey the law and not cross them.

How will we measure the success of this project?

Restriping SR 167
As part of the federal grant we received which paid for the re-striping, we’ve collaborated with the Washington State Transportation Research Center at the University of Washington to create an evaluation plan. We’re collecting data six months before and one year after the changes. We’ll be evaluating the effects of the project on traffic, revenue, usage, safety and customer satisfaction.

Washington State Ferries – working hard to keep you moving

Friday, August 8, 2014

by Broch Bender

You won’t see any of our 22-vessel team competing for maritime gold like some of their stouter cousins plying Puget Sound.

(photo courtesy of: Friends of

Our ships prefer the hard-working life of connecting communities and transporting goods day in and day out along our state marine highways.

(M/V Walla Walla at Colman Dock in Seattle)

Ferries by the numbers

  • 22.5 million riders and 10 million vehicles - What Washington State Ferries carries every year.
  • 7 days a week, 21 hours a day – The hours we’re on the job.
  • 1800 crew members, 450 departures a day from 20 terminals on 10 routes – That’s how we roll.

Even the best laid plans…

Let’s face it, the average age of our vessels is 38. Many are pushing 50 years old or more. Sometimes, no matter how careful we are to keep our vessels in working order, things can happen. And sometimes those things happen on multiple ferries at the same time!

What happens when we’re down a few good ferryboats?

Our fleet is designed to keep a full-service schedule even if one or two vessels are out of service. If more than two are out of service at the same time, we do what we can to restore service to as many customers as possible.

Moving ships or cancelling service is not a decision that we take lightly.

We try to match the largest available vessels to the busiest routes. For example, in July, when the 202-car Tacoma lost power on the busiest commuter route in the system (Bainbridge Island-Seattle) we moved the 202-car Puyallup from the Edmonds-Kingston route to  make up the difference.


We also ask ourselves, “Is there an alternate route?” Ferry service saves commuters time by zipping across the water instead of driving around the long way. In some cases, however the long way takes hours to drive, or is a non-existent route as in driving to the San Juan Islands.

During times of reduced service, we prioritize active vessels to ferry routes that don’t have viable alternate ways to get to a destination.

Maintenance – Essential to keeping ferries on the move

Throughout the day – Crews constantly monitor systems, perform routine and preventative maintenance and keep the ship in ship-shape.

On a weekly basis – More of the above, including tending to long-term projects such as tearing apart an engine for deep cleaning.

Quarterly inspections– Four times a year the U.S. Coast Guard checks all of the safety and life-saving equipment on the ferry to make sure it is in working order. The inspection also requires crew members to perform passenger safety and emergency rescue drills like the one pictured below.

Annual inspections– Just like a checkup at the doctor’s office, the ferry is evaluated from end to end, including the hard-working engine room. If the U.S. Coast Guard finds anything out of order, we tie-up the ferry and make repairs before returning it to normal service.

The “2 and 5” – Every two and five years, we take the ferry out of the water for a few weeks for a U.S. Coast Guard inspection. The looksee includes everything inspectors would normally comb through during the annual, plus the exterior hull and propulsion system.

(Above: crews practice lifesaving drills during an annual inspection)

Painting O’ the ferry – Alas, when there’s enough funding in our maintenance coffers, every few years we carefully blast off the old paint and apply a couple new layers of white and WSDOT green.

(Photo of the freshly painted TOKITAE at Vigor Shipyard in Seattle. )

The painting of the ferries guards our vessels from the ravages of rust so they can be better prepared to take on years of winter rainstorms.

Fleet feet – The crew that makes it happen
Our ferries aren’t complete without its dedicated crew. 

(A WSF deckhand connects the passenger bridge
to the dock at the Seattle terminal)

Some employees work an 8 or 9 hour shift several times a week, others, like those in the engine room, work a 12-hour shift (day or night shift) for seven days in a row. They have a week off before returning to work the opposite shift for another week. Crew members alternate between day and night shift every other week.

All told, our 1800-person staff is just enough to cover all of the positions required to keep our fleet operating at full service. However, just like the rest of us, sometimes crew members get sick, or stuck in traffic, or have to attend to an emergency and are late getting to work.

Many traditional workplace environments can accommodate flexible schedules and last minute emergencies.

At Washington State Ferries, if every assigned crew member is not at their stations at the start of the shift, the shift can’t begin.

Crewing the vessels
We’ve got schedulers working around the clock filling regular service shifts and fill-in shifts for sea-going employees on vacation or at a medical appointment. 

Nonetheless, filling vacant shifts within our fleet is challenging, particularly during the peak summer travel season. We are doing the best we can with the resources we have, including providing crew members with additional training so they are qualified to fill a wider variety of shifts.

First mates to oilers, it’s the norm around here to work overtime.

If you ever wondered what it takes to run a ferry boat, here's an overview of work stations, duties and pay rates.  This example is for the Issaquah class, the hardest working boat in the ferry business. 

Keeping it all in perspective
Your state ferry system has an overall service record of 99% reliability across the board. While we feel that is a strong record, it doesn’t minimize the real impacts that people like you experience when we do have incidents, and we sincerely apologize for that. We know we've been having some challenges this summer and we appreciate you bearing with us.

Interesting fact: Most U.S. airline carriers boast a 78% reliability.

Looking to the future
We’re on course to provide the best service we can with the resources we have. Right now we’re in the thick of building the Samish, our second of three new 144-car ferries.

Starting in January 2015, we’re expanding Save A Spot, our vehicle reservation service, to the San Juan Islands route. 

We are committed to getting you where you need to go safely. A big thank you goes out to all of our customers.  We appreciate the opportunity to serve you. 

Featured Flickr Photo

see caption
The new SR 520 floating bridge

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