Breaking down Wednesday’s I-405 emergency closure

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pavement on southbound I-405 in Renton had been repaired
multiple times but needed a permanent fix.
 by Mike Allende

What started as a fairly routine maintenance call early Wednesday morning, March 4, turned into a bigger issue for our maintenance staff and commuters on Interstate 405.

Here’s what happened:
  • Our maintenance crew became aware that concrete on a bridge deck that had received several temporary repairs on southbound I-405 near the State Route 169 on-ramp in Renton was in imminent danger of falling apart, creating a serious hazard to drivers and requiring immediate repair.
  • Upon beginning the repair and digging into the concrete, it became clear that the damage was more extensive than originally thought, covering a greater area of the road.
  • The dry weather and low traffic volume presented an opportunity to make a permanent fix to the bridge deck and adjacent expansion joint. The feeling was that the work could be completed prior to the morning commute.
WSDOT maintenance crews discovered more damage than
originally expected in the course of repairing the pavement.
Repairing roadways and expansion joints isn’t easy. Our crew had to make precise cuts into the roadway, clear out all the old material deep into the roadway, make the repairs and then cover it back up. This repair job had a few challenges.
  • The location. Had the damage been in an outside lane, our crew could have closed just one lane, using the shoulder to move around. But it was in the center of three lanes, requiring a second lane to be closed to keep our workers safe as they moved around.
  • The temperature. It was cold, with temps in the upper 20s and low 30s. This made it harder for the highway material to set. Our crew felt they’d have enough time but the curing took longer than expected. They tried to heat the area to move the process along but it didn’t work, so they needed to wait until it was firm enough for vehicles to drive over.

Crews heated the repair area to try to help the material to set,
but cold weather still slowed the process.
The permanent repair should give drivers a much
smoother and safer drive through the area.
Our communications staff and traffic management crew went to work alerting commuters and the media of the situation to encourage people to use alternate routes but still, an 8-mile backup formed before all lanes cleared at about 7:30 a.m.

There’s never a good time to close lanes on state highways and as we typically do, we’ll evaluate this closure to see what we can learn to better assess the size of repairs, weather conditions and locations. Our crews did an excellent job of getting the roadway repaired and making the area safe for drivers.

Unfortunately, we can’t promise that lane closures for emergency maintenance work won’t happen again. Our highways are old, in many cases 40-to-60-years-old, and like anything that age, things begin to fail (learn more about our infrastructure challenges in our Gray Notebook). We do our best to plan projects ahead of time to make those repairs, because while it’s still an inconvenience for drivers, we can at least let the public know in advance what to expect so they can plan around it.

Sometimes, though, we encounter a situation that is hazardous for drivers and must be closed as quickly as possible until we can make it safe. That’s always our top priority, because while we never like to see people stuck in traffic, we would trade that for ensuring that people get where they need to go safely.

Coming soon: Coal Creek Parkway ramp meter to better manage I-405 traffic

Monday, March 2, 2015

By Justin Fujioka

A relatively quick, low-cost project is underway to install a
ramp meter from Coal Creek Parkway to southbound I-405.
The Coal Creek Parkway on-ramp to southbound I-405 is finally getting some love, and that’s great news for drivers between Bellevue and Renton. This busy ramp has been sitting single on the sidelines as the only one in the area without a ramp meter. Until now.

A relatively quick, low-cost project is underway to install a meter on the ramp and improve traffic flow along a busy corridor that’s congested almost every afternoon. There was no space for a ramp meter there because of a bus stop along the on-ramp. Well, the bus stop was recently moved to the next off-ramp (Lake Washington Boulevard), where a park-and-ride was built.

A bus stop along the on-ramp was removed recently,
making space for a ramp meter to be installed.
You may be wondering how adding a ramp meter – basically a traffic light – will improve traffic flow. Think of it like this: You’re at a wedding and eager to get to the buffet line at the reception. If everyone gets up from their table at the same time, the buffet will be crowded with everyone struggling to get to the salmon or chicken. But if the tables are dismissed one by one, the buffet line will move more smoothly and everyone wins. That’s basically what a ramp meter does. It dismisses each table, or car, one by one, providing an even pace for vehicles to enter the highway and promote easier merging and better traffic flow.

Like all metered on-ramps, we will monitor the need for activation daily while keeping an eye on the nearby
The Coal Creek Parkway on-ramp to southbound I-405 is
currently the only one in the Bellevue area
without a ramp meter.
surface streets. The ramp meter will only activate when traffic on southbound I-405 dips below the posted speed limit.

The $220,000 project will require lane and ramp closures through early April, when the project enters its honeymoon phase. Until then, drivers should prepare for a full closure of the ramp each weeknight during the week of March 9. There will also be some daytime lane closures on the ramp. For updates on the latest lane and ramp closures, visit our I-405 Construction Update Report.

I-405 Express Toll Lanes Part 1: What is the problem?

Monday, February 23, 2015

By Jennifer Rash

Big changes are coming for I-405 drivers later this year. We’re building express toll lanes on southbound and northbound I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood to help ease traffic on one of the state’s most congested corridors. One of the biggest changes coming this fall is a proposed change in the HOV requirements from two or more people to three or more people during peak commute hours, part of the toll rate and exemption proposal by the Washington State Transportation Commission.

We’ve heard a variety of reactions from folks about this proposal, and decided to tackle some of them in a two-part blog series. In this first post, we will discuss the problem we’re facing through a series of common questions we’ve received. In the second part, we’ll talk about how express toll lanes are part of the solution for I-405.

The ABC’s of HOV Lanes
To get to the solution, we have to start at the beginning. Return with me, won’t you, to November 1992. Aladdin opened at the box office, in Nashville, the great Miley Cyrus was born, and in Olympia, WSDOT adopted its Statewide Freeway HOV Policy. It was a magical time.

The main goal of HOV lanes was (and still is) to maximize the movement of people rather than vehicles, whether that’s in a carpool, vanpool or bus.  The target is to keep traffic moving consistently at a minimum speed of 45 mph to provide a reliable trip.  By reducing the number of single-occupant vehicles on the roadway, HOV lanes also help improve traffic in the regular lanes.  For example, when 15 people opt to get out of their cars to ride the bus or carpool with a co-worker, it removes up to 15 cars from the general purpose lanes.

Animation illustrating how HOV lanes work.

In 1994, the HOV Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Report showed that the majority of respondents in a public opinion survey supported HOV lanes and overwhelming supported that all HOV lanes should be open to vehicles with two or more people.

What’s happening with HOV lanes on I-405 now?

Congested HOV lane on I-405.
Fast-forward 23 years. If you drive I-405, you’ve likely experienced that the HOV lanes are often as congested as the regular lanes during peak periods. That’s because there is too much demand for the lanes. Last year, WSDOT completed the I-405/SR 167 Funding and Phasing Report which found that the existing carpool lane north of SR 522, the one lane section of the future express toll lanes project, is at capacity during peak periods. It also found that there are 200 or more days a year when speeds are below 45 mph in the HOV lane on southbound I-405, south of SR 527.

What is causing the increased demand?
There’s a clear connection between the break down in the I-405 HOV lanes and population growth on the eastside.  U.S. Census data shows that over the last 10 years, Seattle’s population grew seven percent, while the population on the Eastside, from roughly the Snohomish County line to Newcastle and everything east of Lake Washington to the crest of the Cascades, increased 15 percent.
Washington’s residential and employment populations are only projected to increase.  In the years ahead, the population of the city of Portland will be added to our region. We have a tremendous challenge to accommodate this massive growth.

Shouldn’t growth mean building more regular lanes?
That’s a common perception, but over the long term, it’s been shown time and time again that new lanes eventually become congested and simply add to the problem. We also must keep in mind that continually adding lanes our highways could also have impacts to local streets. We know from experience here and across the nation that we cannot simply build our way out of congestion, and we know that we need to get creative to manage the growing demand on our roadways. One of the best ways to do that is to learn from what’s working in other states facing similar challenges.

What is WSDOT doing to create solutions for increasing demand on I-405?
Over the last decade, WSDOT has worked with cities, counties, federal agencies, transit agencies and community groups to develop consensus on a long-term vision for the multimodal redevelopment of this highway. We adopted a multi-modal approach to ease congestion on I-405 that included, adding more lanes, improvements to local roads, increasing transit service, adding park and ride spaces and vanpools, and the possibility for an express toll lane system. 

After three published studies on I-405 express toll lanes, one of which was review by a panel of nation experts, WSDOT is implementing express toll lanes on I-405. Express toll lanes are a proven strategy for congestion relief that have been implemented, studied and expanded across the country.

In the next post, we’ll discuss how express toll lanes will work in Washington as part of the solution for I-405.

SR 305 Agate Pass Bridge cleaning and inspection work nearing completion

Friday, February 20, 2015

By Doug Adamson

Area of the bridge before the rust was removed.
Crews have completed the painstaking process of hand-removing truckloads of dirt, debris and other gunk from the State Route 305 Agate Pass Bridge.  Crews removed roughly 9 tons of material, which is more than the average size of an African elephant.  After removing debris, crews most recently have been flushing the bridge with low-pressure water to complete the cleaning process.

Our workers also are turning their attention to removing rust. They use specialized air-powered tools that grind rust away. To help protect the environment, the rust is scooped up by a connected vacuum system.  After the rust is removed, they apply a zinc coating that protects the underlying steel from future rust. 

Crews continue to find what they expected on a bridge of this age – missing or rusted rivet heads, rusty bridge pins, chipped and broken sidewalk sections, etc. We will know more about the overall condition of the bridge after a complete inspection is done next week by our bridge preservation engineers.

That’s where highly-trained experts will conduct a meticulous inspection of this key link between Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula. 

Drivers help prevent mega-traffic jams
We offer our immense gratitude to drivers who continue to avoid the bridge during work hours. It makes a big difference when people consolidate trips, carpool, and cancel discretionary trips.

Following rust removal, crews treated the area with
a zinc-based product to protect the underlying steel.
On Sunday, Feb. 22, the Chilly Hilly bike ride is scheduled to take place between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Although the bike route does not cross the Agate Pass Bridge, we expect higher traffic volumes on SR 305 as participants from the Kitsap Peninsula drive to the starting point in Bainbridge Island. We would like to ask those Chilly Hilly participants to please add extra travel time to cross the bridge both on their way to the event, and on their journey back home.

Drivers use alternate ferry routes
Washington State Ferries has noted about a 5 percent decrease in vehicles on their mid-day Bainbridge Island runs, and a 3 percent and 4.5 percent increase in their daytime Bremerton and Kingston runs, respectively. We would like to thank ferry users who have changed ferry routes to avoid crossing the bridge, and encourage them to continue doing so since Ferries still has excess capacity on their mid-day Bremerton and Kingston runs.

If all goes according to plan, the work will wrap up on Saturday, Feb. 28.  Until that time, we continue to ask drivers to plan ahead and expect delays during the following times.

Remaining SR 305 Agate Pass Bridge work schedule
Single-lane alternating traffic 7 days a week until February 28, 2015
8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Monday through Friday
7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday

The days of SR 520 drawspan openings draw to a close

Thursday, February 12, 2015

By Nicholas Mirra

A cheeky use of a drawspan opening during
the bridge's grand opening in 1963.
If you drive across Lake Washington’s Evergreen Point Floating Bridge with any regularity, you’ve likely been caught at some point in a drawspan opening that halted your vehicle for up to 30 minutes. During these traffic stops, drivers have had the chance to admire the Cascades (when visible), ponder nearby bumper stickers and, of course, check out @wsdot_traffic for more information.

Most of these backups have been caused by a required opening of the floating bridge’s center drawspan to let boats pass through. Since construction on the new floating bridge began in spring 2012 and blocked the old bridge’s east navigation channel, the drawspan has opened for marine traffic more than 600 times. We know this has been difficult for drivers on the bridge. And we have worked hard to keep them informed, including creation of a text service that sends advance notice of drawspan openings to more than 9,200 subscribed drivers.

Those alerts, however, soon will be moot. Drivers – good news is at hand. Starting Tuesday, Feb. 17, the floating bridge’s drawspan will open for boats nevermore.

The new floating bridge, at left, nears the drawspan
of the existing bridge, at lower right. On Feb. 17,
added pontoons will prevent boats from passing
through an opened drawspan. (Photo credit: HDR)
Why? The new floating bridge we’re building lies just north of the old bridge. The new structure is steadily growing from east to west as crews join together its supporting pontoons. On Feb. 17, newly joined and anchored pontoons will completely obstruct the drawspan. (See a diagram of the closure on the SR 520 website.) From that day forward, the north-south channel through the middle of the bridge will be blocked.

For drivers and transit riders, those midday minutes of motionless, midlake tranquility will be a thing of the past.Local mariners will still be able to get past the floating bridges (both old and new) by passing through a reopened east navigation channel or the marine channel on the west side of the lake. For more information on the navigation channels, visit our drawspan information Web page.

Until traffic moves to the new bridge in spring 2016 and the old bridge is removed, there will still be the occasional drawspan opening for late-night maintenance or high winds, but comparatively few motorists should notice.

We thank drivers and boaters alike for their patience as we continue to build the new floating bridge. We look forward to next year’s opening of the new cross-lake highway.


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