Another major closure in the books

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

 By Lynn Peterson

What a summer.

Wildfires, flash floods, tornados. Our state has faced no shortage of unplanned challenges recently. In addition to causing more serious repercussions, these challenges strain our transportation system, particularly when they hit during a busy season of planned construction closures. Add it all up and you end up with a predictable outcome: delays and frustration for travelers trying to reach their destination.

New SR 99 at Broad Street
Today, as scheduled, we wrapped up a four-day closure of State Route 99 in Seattle that included two rare weekday closures of the highway. Before the closure started, we asked you to do your part to help. We suggested you plan ahead, change your travel mode or revise your commute, among other measures aimed at reducing congestion. As you did during major lane reductions on I-90 last month, you delivered. Traffic was more challenging than usual, but we expected that. And had you not heeded our suggestions, things would have been much, much worse.


Of course when you’re sitting in traffic, it’s easy to forget that the headaches we’re enduring have tangible benefits. In the case of the four-day SR 99 closure, we came away with plenty to show.

Most notably, crews building the future north portal of the SR 99 tunnel demolished and replaced the section of SR 99 that crosses above Broad Street in Seattle. It looks easy in this time-lapse video, but completing this work and reopening the highway in four days was no small feat. 

During the weekend portion of the closure, crews replaced 81 concrete panels on SR 99 south of downtown, repaired an expansion joint at the Seneca Street off-ramp from northbound SR 99 and cleared ivy from the Alaskan Way Viaduct to make future maintenance of the structure easier.

With more than 18,000 miles of highway under our care, we’re always getting ready for the next big push. There will be more closures, more travel challenges. But please be assured that we spend a significant amount of time and energy coordinating our work in advance, and doing everything we can to minimize delays for the traveling public.

When the next big closure approaches, we’ll again ask for your help. Let me say in advance, on behalf of your fellow travelers, thank you. Your help, and your patience, benefit everyone as we work together to maintain and improve our state’s transportation system.

What does it take to build the world’s longest floating bridge?

By Ian Sterling

It takes people – a whole lot of them. As Labor Day approaches, we at WSDOT tip our hardhats to the men and women building and maintaining our state’s transportation system, with a special nod to the more than 1,400 workers involved in one of the largest construction undertakings in state history.

Did you know that the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program is actually a series of separate projects being built at several sites around the state? These locations include:
Brandy Cunningham, a traffic control supervisor
Making it all happen are workers like Brandy Cunningham, a traffic control supervisor and member of Laborers’ Local 440. The mother of two has spent most of her weekends and many an early morning this summer directing drivers around roadwork on the Eastside Transit and HOV Project. Cunningham says it’s cool to be working on something that thousands of people use every day. She tells us she has a  sense of pride anytime she drives by the project because she has a role in it. One of her favorite parts of the job is when drivers give her team a wave. She says the crew gets to know the faces of a lot of people driving by and enjoys it when they get a smile or a wave. Keeping drivers safe and moving through the construction is a critical role.

Tyler Rabey is a member of Carpenters Local 317. Aberdeen-born-and-raised, he completed a two-year carpentry program at Grays Harbor College and now helps build the massive pontoons that make up the backbone of the new floating bridge. He says it’s incredible how they’re built and it’s amazing to be part of their construction. He also notes that the job has allowed him to buy a house and a nice car before most of his friends of the same age. His training and work on the pontoons have launched his career.
Operator trainee Pernell Vuepa

Operator trainee Pernell Vuepa starts his day at 3:30 a.m., making the commute from his home in Auburn to work on the Eastside Transit and HOV Project. The heavy-equipment operator has a job that any child with a Tonka truck would envy. He says kids come to watch as he operates a giant loader. He tells us little kids like to see big things – like concrete forms, piles of dirt and other objects he spends his days moving into place. According to Pernell, the best part of his job is getting to do something different every day. He’s a proud member of the Operating Engineers Local 612.

One of the most unique jobs anywhere has to belong to Daniel Nielsen, a fourth-generation pile driver with Local 196. He’s in charge of bolting together the football-field-size longitudinal pontoons on Lake Washington—a key to the Floating Bridge and Landings Project. He notes the bolts used are up to 20 feet long and weigh roughly 400 pounds each. To reach the latest pair of pontoons being joined, he walks on the ones already connected. Every time two more pontoons are bolted together, his on-foot commute along the pontoons increases. He tells us it currently takes about 15-minutes to make the walk.

Daniel Nielsen, a fourth-generation pile driver
These are just a few of the many faces making the new SR 520 bridge and corridor a reality. From scuba divers in the waters of Grays Harbor to crane operators perched high above Lake Washington, well over one thousand individuals are laboring every day to rebuild this vital corridor. Other SR 520 construction workers we talked to for this story included Randy Janson, a concrete foreman in Aberdeen and member of Cement Masons Local 528; Mark Folk, a former jeweler now doing carpentry work on the new floating bridge’s east approach; and Sergio Carlos, a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters who’s building concrete forms on the highway’s Eastside corridor.

On this Labor Day, we say, “Thanks, we can’t do it without you,” and salute them all for a job well done.

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.

Featured Flickr Photo

see caption
Moving day for utilities under SR 99

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