Wednesday, October 19, 2016

We all need to be prepared for the real ShakeOut

By Barbara LaBoe

If a catastrophic earthquake hit today – or any day – would you be prepared?

We take regular steps as an agency to prepare for and respond to disasters – including participating in Thursday’s Great Washington ShakeOut drill – but we also need the public’s help.

People and agencies from around the state will take part
 in the Great Washington ShakeOut on Thursday, Oct. 20.
Preparation and Planning
It’s not fun to think or talk about disasters, but preparation is crucial.

On Thursday, my co-workers across the agency will take cover at 10:20 a.m. – it’s important to practice so it becomes second nature – and then we’ll also practice how we account for every single employee after a disaster. This is key not only for the safety of our workplace, but also to be able to quickly respond and mobilize repair crews.

In June, more than 200 of our employees joined 20,000 people region-wide in the Cascadia Rising Drill to practice responding to a 9.0 earthquake – which would be truly massive in its destruction. We’re now using lessons learned during that drill to better prepare for the real thing.

We want you and your families to also be prepared.

What can you do?
A lot.

WSDOT staff practice reacting to a major earthquake during the Cascadia Rising drill earlier this year.
We’ll need everyone’s help to respond to a devastating earthquake – from knowing “Drop, Cover and Hold On” to keep yourself safe, to having emergency kits once the ground stops shaking.

Perhaps you stocked up on supplies for the massive storm predicted for this past weekend. While you may not have needed them then, those supplies are a good first – or additional – step toward creating an earthquake/disaster kit. (I now have a restocked water supply at the ready, for example).

We’ve long been told to have three days of food and water available for emergencies. For something like a massive earthquake, though, a better rule of thumb is seven to 10 days of supplies. With roads and bridges impassible after a giant quake, you and your neighbors may need to initially help each other while crews respond to life and death emergencies.

In case of an earthquake, drop, cover your neck and hold on to something solid to stay safe if you can.
In the Cascadia Rising drill this summer, for example, dozens and dozens of roads and bridges were damaged. General traffic just wasn’t possible and crews had to work hard even to get emergency routes reopened. A 9.0 earthquake would be truly catastrophic, but even a smaller one can cause significant damage and we want everyone prepared.

Here are some initial steps to make sure you and your family are better prepared:
Seem overwhelming? Set a goal of stocking one new emergency kit item during your weekly or monthly grocery store run. The sooner you start, the more prepared you are for both small and large emergencies.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

New I-205 ramps in Vancouver save time, improve safety

By Tamara Greenwell

Thousands of travelers in east Vancouver are shaving time off their daily commute now that the Interstate 205 Northeast 18th Street Interchange is open. While the changes are taking some getting used to, early indications are that drivers are not only adjusting well, they're already seeing benefits.

A drone's-eye view of the new I-205 interchange.

A roundabout way to keep things moving
Roundabouts. They're designed to make intersections safer and more efficient and so far we're seeing that in east Vancouver. For the first time ever, travelers can access I-205 from Northeast 18th Street. The 15 mph speed limit might seem like it slows you down but it actually allows folks to safely navigate the roundabout while keeping all traffic moving through the area. Unlike intersections with traffic signals, drivers don't have to wait for a light to change to get through, keeping traffic flowing.

The new interchange is drawing many commuters who otherwise would've used Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard or State Route 500 to access I-205. Having a new interstate on-ramp gives drivers more options, breaking up that three-mile stretch, distributing traffic around the system. That means fewer delays for the thousands of drivers who use the highway and surface streets every day.

So how does it work?
The new on-ramp from Northeast 18th Street is separated from the newly extended southbound off-ramp to Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard. We call this separation of ramps “braided ramps.” We use them in areas with lots of traffic and not a lot of room. By separating the ramps, we increase the amount of roadway surface and give drivers more room to merge without weaving into each other. The end result: a drop in both crashes and delays along the corridor.

Time-lapse of crews building the I-205 NE 18th Street on-ramp.

Meanwhile, at 112th Avenue
The 112th Avenue Connector project, the companion project to the 18th Street Interchange completed in 2010, has proven to help keep traffic moving in east Vancouver. Drivers on northbound I-205 have direct access to Northeast 112th Avenue, which means bypassing the often congested intersection at Mill Plain Boulevard and Chkalov Drive.

A traffic study shows drivers using the new ramp cut nearly two minutes off their afternoon commute through the area. While two minutes doesn't sound like much, it adds up! Take a look at the numbers.

  • 10 minutes a week
  • 480 minutes a year
  • 8 hours of drive time saved in one year!
We all know it takes time to change habits, so it's too soon to tell the full impact of the new 18th Street on- and off-ramps. We're doing a traffic study now and we'll be sure to update you when we get the results.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What to do in an earthquake if you’re driving

By Steven Friederich, guest blogger

That rumble you felt on the road might be a flat tire, or a bump in the road - or it just might be an earthquake. The classic advice of drop, cover and hold on won't work if you're out on the open road.

To prepare for this situation, residents from all over Washington state will participate in the Great Washington ShakeOut on Oct. 20. Wherever you are at 10:20 a.m. that day practice earthquake safety like dropping under a desk or table, protecting your neck and holding on to something sturdy such as the leg of the desk or table you are under ("Drop, Cover & Hold on").

Earlier this year, WSDOT staff went through extensive earthquake-simulation drills to prepare for a large-scale event.

But what if you're driving?
In case of a possible tsunami, drivers should leave
their vehicle and head to higher ground.

Maximilian Dixon, the earthquake program manager at the Washington Emergency Management Division, says your best bet is to stay calm and pull over.

The tell-tale signs of an earthquake could be others you see on a street reacting to the earthquake. Maybe trees are moving and cracks are opening on the road or sidewalks. Drive slowly to the side of the road, stop the car and set the parking brake.

If a power line falls on your car, call 911 and wait for expert help or follow power utility advice on what to do next.
Having an emergency kit in your vehicle is
recommend in case of major weather
or natural disaster situations (PDF).
Make sure to avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards and say inside your car.

If you are on the coast and can get out of your car safely, do so and start heading for high ground if you are in a tsunami hazard zone. Look for tsunami evacuation signs to guide you. Don't wait for the sound of a siren or an official warning because the earthquake itself might be the only warning you get. You might need to leave your car behind if there is debris on the road and no way to safely drive to high ground. In this case, find a safe place to park your car and start walking.

You should keep a "go" kit in your vehicle for these kinds of incidents (or if you become isolated because of winter weather). Make sure your kit has food and water, a first aid kit, a flashlight, comfortable clothes and shoes, and more.

Have more earthquake questions? On Oct. 20, from noon to 2 p.m., earthquake preparedness experts from the Washington Emergency Management Division and FEMA will join scientists with the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network online for a Reddit Ask Me Anything - an online Q&A.

We encourage participants in the ShakeOut drill to take photos of themselves during the drill and to post those photos to social media using the hashtag #washakeout, or tag our Twitter account at @waShakeOut.

Register for ShakeOut and learn more about earthquake safety and planning at

Steven Friederich is the Digital Media Coordinator for the Washington Military Department.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The end of the road until next summer

By Andrea E. Petrich

The road to Artist Point is closed for the winter.

With an inch of snow at the ski area and four inches at the top of Artist Point, our maintenance crews swept the area of hikers and then closed the gate for the season on Friday, Oct. 14.

Some people refer to the last 2.7 miles of State Route 542 as a dead end. For many it’s not an end but a beginning to access more than 117,000 acres of Mt. Baker Wilderness.
Once the rain turns to snow, crews close the gates to Artist Point for traveler safety
That starting point is fleeting. Each year, we have just a few months to use that access road before the snowflakes start flying again, the orange gates on SR 542 to Artist Point are closed, the road signs are removed (for skier safety) and WSDOT season crews turn their focus to making sure winter enthusiasts can safely get to and from Mt. Baker Ski Area.

It’s less than 3-miles, while not keep it open?
Clearing that last stretch of highway all winter would cost tens of thousands of dollars and wouldn’t benefit many due to the amount of snow that would be everywhere except the parking lot.

Year-round access is also limited because part of Mt. Baker Ski Area, which has been in operation since the 1920’s, runs across part of the highway. If you’ve ever skied or ridden down Blueberry Cat-Track, you might recognize some familiar road-like turns.
Blueberry Cat-Track runs near the Heather Meadows Visitors Center
That’s why crews remove the few road signs that run along this stretch – they want to make sure things are safe for skiers no matter what the snow depth.

Well then, why clear it at all? 
Clearing it at the end of the snow season allows extended use for thousands of people who come up each year to hike, backpack or just take in the view of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan from the visitor center.

So for now – think snow – to benefit all the skiers, boarders and businesses who use SR 542 during the winter. We’ll be busy clearing the stretch of road up to the ski area throughout the next few months, but next year we’ll be excited to reopen this dead end stretch to help begin your summer adventures.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tracking the storms...what travelers need to know

By Lisa Van Cise

Current Road Closures

King County
  • EB SR 520 -  CLEARED 2:43 p.m. Oct. 14 - A tree is blocking the three right lanes of EB SR 520 just before 84th Street.
  • I-5 Seattle - CLEARED 8:30 a.m. Oct. 14 - The two right lanes of northbound I-5 just north of Mercer Street are blocked due to water over the roadway.
  • I-5 Seattle - CLEARED 6:58 a.m. Oct. 14: The I-5 express lanes are closed due to a semi rollover collision. Drivers should use SR 99 or expect delays.
  • SR 203 - CLEARED 5:00 p.m. Oct. 13: SR 203 northbound just north of NE 88th Street, a fallen tree is blocking the lane.
Jefferson/Kitsap Counties
  • SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge - CLEARED 5:55 p.m. Oct. 14 - Both directions of SR 104 closed until further notice due to high winds.
Kitsap County
  • SR 160 (SE Sedgwick Road) – CLEARED 6:04 a.m. Oct. 15 – Both directions are closed due to downed trees at milepost 6 near Cottonwood Drive SE.A detour is in place.
Mason County
  • US 101 – CLEARED- 6:17 p.m. Oct. 14 -  Both directions are closed at milepost 321.4 near Jorsted Creek due to downed trees.
Skagit County 
  • SR 20 – CLEARED 5:55 p.m. Oct. 14 – Both directions are blocked at milepost 91 just east of Concrete due to downed trees. 
  • SR 530 – CLEARED 6:30 Oct. 14 – Both directions are blocked at milepost 65 just south of Rockport due to downed trees. 
  • SR 507 Bucoda - CLEARED AT 4:15 p.m Oct. 14 – Both directions are closed at milepost 8 near Flumerfelt Road SE due to trees down in power lines. 
Whatcom County
  • SR 542 Glacier – 11:35 a.m. Oct. 14 – Snow has started to fall and the final 2.7 miles of SR 542 to Artist Point is closed for the season.
  • SR 548 Ferndale – CLEARED 12:15 p.m. Oct. 14 – A fallen tree is blocking both directions of SR 548/Grandview Rd. east of North Star Road. A detour is in place.
  • I-5 Bellingham – CLEARED 3:18 p.m. Oct. 15 – The Bow Hill Rest Area is closed in both directions due to a power outage.
  • I-5 Ferndale - 9:30 a.m. Oct. 15 - The Custer Rest Area is closed in both directions due to a power outage.

The next few days are forecast to be wet and windy as fall storms haul in drenching rain and gusty wind, which could produce power outages and debris on roads and highways. Many trees are still sporting their fall colors, increasing the chance that they could come down in windy weather. Think of the leaves as a sail, catching the wind and toppling trees.

The high potential for flooding and downed trees through the weekend could make traveling a challenge as roads become hazardous or blocked. Please plan ahead and be prepared with our winter weather emergency car kit. If you must travel, be sure you and your vehicle are prepared and stay updated on conditions by turning to media broadcasts and checking our travel alerts page.

As the weather changes we will update this blog with the latest road closure information by county and highway, so check in frequently throughout the weekend.

Stay safe!