Monday, July 24, 2017

On-site recycling maximizes resources on the I-5/SR 16 HOV Connectors project

By Cara Mitchell

There's a lot of highway preservation work taking place this summer on Interstate 5 through Tacoma. Much of that work is building new structures and roadways, but a big part of the work is also rehabilitating existing lanes on I-5. The original 1960's concrete has served commuters well, but it is time for it to be replaced. In an effort to reduce truck trips to and from the construction site and make the most out of the materials at hand, the contractor building the I-5 – SR 16 Connectors Realignment project, Skanska, came up with a creative solution.

In June, contractor crews completed pavement demolition along northbound I-5 between South 38th Street and State Route 16 to make way for new HOV lanes and newly aligned I-5 lanes. This resulted in approximately 52,569 square yards of cement concrete pavement removed from the work zone. Instead of hauling this material off of the construction site, Skanska decided to recycle the concrete on-site and reincorporate it into the project.
Our rock crushing operation can be seen in the center of this photo of the I-5-SR 16 Realignment project.

Crews used giant rock crushers to crush the old concrete surface of I-5 and recycle it into a product called "crushed surfacing base course," or CSBC. This material was used to create the base layer placed under the surface layer of the new northbound I-5 roadway near SR 16. This layer is now covered in asphalt and crews are now pouring new cement concrete pavement on top of the asphalt. The cement concrete is the actual roadway that drivers will use this fall when the lanes re-open.

Why recycle?
Recycling the old concrete not only saves materials from heading to the landfill and reduces consumption of new materials, it also reduces the number of truck trips from the site by approximately 940 loads. By keeping trucks off the roads, are we reducing potential conflicts with motorists traveling through the work zone and reducing emissions and pollutants into the air. It's a win/win for everyone.
Left: rock crushing equipment on our I-5-SR 16 Realignment project breaking down the original I-5
concrete and recycling it as a base layer in the new roadway.
Right: new asphalt on the new northbound I-5 alignment. The recycled base layer is under the asphalt.

Do we encourage recycling on all of our projects?
The Washington State Legislature created legislation in 2015 that requires us to develop and establish objectives and strategies to reuse and recycle construction aggregate and recycled concrete materials. While those efforts are now in place, even prior to the legislation we encouraged contractors to find ways to integrate recycled products into projects. This particular project was under way before the legislation passed so the contractor wasn't required to comply, but they also realized the environmental, cost-effective and green benefits to recycling and incorporated the practice voluntarily into the project.

Environmental stewardship has been a part of our strategic plan for several years. We remain committed to promoting sustainable practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect natural habitat and water quality for years to come.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Expect big I-5 traffic delays over last two weekends of July in Olympia

By Doug Adamson

If you drive on northbound I-5 through Olympia, most of the time you likely zip along at freeway speeds. You may not even notice the little "bump...bump" as you drive over the small northbound I-5 bridge at Pacific Avenue. Despite that small cue, the bridge needs a big repair.  That repair will take place over two weekends at the end of July, and it will help preserve the highway and avoid more costly repairs down the road.

Over the weekends of July 21 and July 28, northbound I-5 will be reduced to two narrowed lanes around the clock, from Friday night to each Monday morning. During the daytime significant backups are expected.

What are crews doing?
Contractor crews will repair two key elements of the bridge's infrastructure. Workers need to rebuild what is called a bridge approach slab. The slab is a piece of concrete that connects the northbound lanes with the bridge over Pacific Avenue. This approach slab continues to bow as material under the highway surface settles. In this project, the existing slab will be demolished and removed. Crews will then shore up the material under the highway and replace the roadway surface.

The second effort will be to replace a bridge expansion joint. The joint allows the bridge to move and flex with changing traffic and weather conditions.

Here is the bridge expansion joint that needs regular repairs. Workers will replace half of the joint and approach slab during the first weekend. Crews will finish the second half during the second weekend.

Why can't you do this work at night and during the fall/winter?
In western Washington, Mother Nature dictates when this and other types of highway construction can occur. We need mostly dry and warm weather in order for the concrete to set well. We are very likely to get poor weather during fall, winter and even early spring.

As for why this work can't be done during overnight hours, once crews start they must continue until it's complete. There will be times when there is no roadway to use. This kind of work also requires concrete curing time. The new roadway surface needs to harden before vehicles can drive on it, which means there may be times when drivers see closed lanes with no crews on site.  It means working through the entire weekend.

Keep traffic moving
We are concerned this work will create miles-long backups and we need your help.  We're asking all northbound I-5 drivers through Olympia to plan ahead.
  • Plan on traveling before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. to avoid lengthy backups
  • Make sure your gas tank is full before heading out.
  • Please drive carefully. Collisions within the backups would exacerbate the situation.
We will have additional Incident Response Teams pre-positioned in the work zone to clear any collisions that might occur. The Washington State Patrol will also be on scene to keep an eye on things.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Mountain passes: stop and go, stop and go, what gives?

By Lisa Van Cise

As construction projects freckle Puget Sound roadways in the lowlands, travelers headed across the mountain passes have roadwork to navigate through as well.

East-west trips across the state are proving to be slow this summer as our contractor crews take advantage of the warm and dry weather to repair more than one hundred miles of highway.

Why can’t WSDOT plan just one project at a time?
The paving window in the Pacific Northwest is about three months in the lowlands, but only two months for cooler locations like the mountain pass areas. The materials used to protect the pavement need summertime conditions to ensure the products used stick to the road. That means July and August are very popular months to pave.

The short weather window translates to an all hands on deck situation. Get in with as many crews as possible, and get out before the weather turns cool and wet again. For travelers, that might mean hitting several different sections of roadwork as you travel east or west across the state.
Map of upcoming roadwork

We have a lot of work to do on our mountain pass highways to keep them safe for travelers. We do our best to schedule the roadwork far in advance in order to coordinate and minimize the effect on travelers. However, our mountain pass highways are in need of some TLC due to the harsh winter weather they experience.

Why am I waiting so long?
To get the big picture on why you’re waiting so long, let’s map out the projects on our mountain passes.

Weekday drivers on US 2 between Gold Bar and Skykomish are experiencing delays of more than an hour as they travel through several sections of pavement preservation work.

Because US 2 is a two-lane highway, a pilot car guides alternating traffic through each work zone.

Weekday and weekend drivers on Interstate 90 between North Bend and Ellensburg know the meaning of delays as bridge deck and pavement repair work continues. Weekend delays over Snoqualmie Pass have been upwards of 90 minutes and will most likely continue until the end of summer.

More pass construction
Several sections of US 12 between Packwood and Rimrock Lake will be repaved, which will cause double-digit delays as people travel through multiple construction zones. State Route 20 up north is also under the knife with daytime lane closures. Weekday delays up to 30 minutes are expected on SR 410 between Chinook Pass (milepost 69) and Naches (milepost 116 beginning Monday, starting July 24.

A little good news
If you’re hitting the road this summer, try to set yourself up for success. Make sure your vehicle is in good shape and you have extra snacks, books and good tunes for people riding along. Once the leaves begin to fall this autumn, the smoother ride will be welcome change and hold up to the harsh winter weather for years to come.

Friday, July 14, 2017

When a boat breaks. By the numbers

By Marqise Allen
The Kittitas has been sailing around the Sound since 1980.

For Washington state’s active 22-ferry fleet, the average age of our boats is just shy of 30 years old. Thirteen ferries are over the age of 30. Of those, five are at least 50 years old.

Our maintenance crews do a masterful job of keeping all the vessels in shape to serve for up to six decades. However, just like a car, the older and more miles (the average ferry runs about 20 hours a day!), the more maintenance and sudden repairs it can require. Occasionally, a fix calls for a part that is no longer available and a replacement has to be custom built.

The Tacoma gets an engine inspection and maintenance. Vessels are pulled from service once a year for routine inspections, mandated by the United States Coast Guard, to help keep them safe.
Sometimes a ferry breakdown leaves a route with one less boat, which can cause wait times to inch past the three-hour mark as drivers wait their turn to board.

Cancelled trips make up a fraction of the approximate tens of thousands of trips made every year. Less than 1 percent! However, that doesn’t make it any less of an inconvenience when it’s your route that has canceled sailings due to a boat breakdown, a medical emergency or unforeseen events.
Twice in five years, we haul each vessel out of the water to check out the hull,
 propellers, rudders and underwater appendages.

Why not use a backup boat?

Many transit agencies have two backup vessels for every dozen in their fleet. Washington State Ferries fleet planners make one spare vessel available for relief use throughout the year, but unscheduled repairs can quickly consume this extra capacity. In fact, at the time of this blog post, our entire fleet is either in service or in the shop – there is no relief boat available to fill in.

It’d be akin to blowing out a tire on a car, replacing it with the lone donut and then blowing out another tire. In short, if another ferry breaks down this summer, we would be out of spares.
The “baby” Hiyu used to be WSF’s sole backup boat before it
 was replaced by the “younger” Hyak. The Hyak is 50 years old.

There are only so many ferries available, and it’s not as simple as moving Boat A to Boat B’s route. Some ferries can only sail certain routes due to their size and speed. The vehicle-carrying capacity of the ferry is also a factor. These constraints are weighed against the fact that it can take 12 to 24 hours to move a vessel off one route and onto another. Here’s why:

  • Due to safety rules that address the number of hours a crew can work, a new crew often must be brought in. 
  • Public notice: Notifications must be sent out to the route that’s losing a boat to let riders know that their route will have fewer sailings or less car capacity.
  • Boats can’t teleport: It can take a ferry three to six hours to sail from one route to another.

Why don’t you build more boats?
The Chimacum is the newest boat in the fleet and went into service on the Seattle/Bremerton route this year.

We are! It takes about four to six years to design and build a new ferry. Our newest boat cost $123 million. Buying used boats and throwing the iconic green and white paint on isn’t an option either. Our ferries are built to fit in our terminals and are designed to navigate in Puget Sound’s unique environment.

What can riders do?

Our crews work like mad to diagnose the issue and fix it as soon as possible. To stay in the know, ferry riders can plug in – follow our Twitter account and sign up for email updates to help make informed decisions. We suggest customers use our online tools such as Vessel Watch and Travel Alert Bulletins even if they take the ferry every day of the week, because things can and do change.

Last, but not least, the best way to avoid long lineups at the terminal – due to boat breakdowns or heavy traffic – is to leave the car at home and ride the bus, vanpool with friends or co-workers, take a bicycle out for a spin or walk on instead.

There’s rarely a wait for human-powered ferry riders! 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New day, new way on SR 520

by Ashley Selvey

This is it! Everything is in place for Monday, July 17, when we’ll open our newly aligned, SR 520 westbound off-ramps to Montlake and Lake Washington Boulevards!

For more than 50 years, westbound SR 520 drivers have driven across Lake Washington and exited into Montlake near the Lake Washington shoreline. Monday morning, July 17, will be a new day and a new way for drivers heading west. When the new off-ramps open, not only will it be the first time drivers will travel on the new bridge structure, but they will also enter a new exit lane which starts near the west end of the floating bridge - a mile earlier than they have for the past five decades.

This video illustrates how much earlier drivers need to exit to get to the Montlake neighborhood.

Here’s the bottom line: We don’t want you to miss your exit. Westbound drivers planning to exit should stay in the right lane while on the floating bridge to access the off-ramps. If you miss your exit, you’ll need to exit at Roanoke or I-5.

Here’s a map to guide you through the area:  
New westbound SR 520 exit lane and off-ramps

View announcement for the opening of the new westbound SR 520 exit lane and off-ramps. (pdf 1.3 mb)

What’s next
We’ll open all construction areas to traffic by the end of the year.

Here’s the order (pdf 1 mb).
  • Phase 1: New exit lane and off-ramps to Montlake and Lake Washington boulevards open (Monday, July 17). 
  • Phase 2: Open westbound general-purpose and HOV lanes from the floating bridge to Montlake (August, 2017).
You’ll need to get your bike and running shoes ready for the final phase.
  • Phase 3: Bike and pedestrian trail complete from the floating bridge to Montlake (November 2017)  
We’d love to interact with you more. The first @WSDOT_520 follower on Twitter that mentions this blog will win a free SR 520 Grand Opening hat. Good luck!