Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Crews plan to get crackin’ on southbound I-5 in SeaTac, Des Moines

By Tom Pearce

We’re about six weeks out from the start of weekend lane reductions on southbound I-5 in the Tukwila, SeaTac and Des Moines areas. Southbound I-5 will be reduced to two lanes from Friday nights through Monday mornings the weekends of July 8-11, 15-18 and 22-25, and Aug. 12-15 and 19-22.

A concrete cracking machine used on one of our projects in Skagit County in 2011.
The work is part of the southbound I-5 South 320th Street to Duwamish River Bridge concrete pavement rehab project. For the past couple of months the crews have been working nights, replacing concrete panels and grinding ruts and cracks over this 13-mile section of freeway. The work is scheduled to continue until fall 2017.

Weekend-long lane reductions
Replacing 235 panels scattered along the 13-mile section of I-5 and grinding the concrete with nighttime lane closures works for most of this project. But a 2.7-mile section in the SeaTac-Des Moines area needs more than that, so during three weekends in July we’re repaving it with asphalt.

Our contractor will use the first two weekends to replace 96 concrete panels with asphalt to create a smooth transition area. On the third weekend they’ll repave the rest using a process called crack, seat and overlay. What’s that? It’s pretty much what it sounds like.

A crew member helps remove a concrete panel on a different project.
Our contractor will use a large concrete cracking machine with a heavy blade that drops like a guillotine, cracking the concrete panels into smaller pieces. Then a 35-ton compactor rolls over the cracked concrete to “seat” it firmly. Finally, we will overlay this with asphalt, creating a new, long-lasting smooth driving surface.

I sense some questions about this:
Why do you have to reduce the freeway to two lanes on weekends to do this?
Working entire weekends without interruption gets the project done much more quickly.

Why do you have to crack the concrete to put asphalt on top of it?
You’d think a 12-foot by 15-foot, nearly foot-thick slab of concrete won’t move. Actually, they do move, especially after decades of cars and large trucks rolling over them. If we put asphalt on top of the panels without cracking and seating them first, those panels would continue to move, which would crack the asphalt. Cracking and seating the concrete provides a much more stable base.

Why are you only doing this on a 2.7-mile section of the freeway?
The 2.7-mile section between SeaTac and Des Moines has more than 500 broken panels. We could replace each of these individually, but that would take years. Doing crack, seat and overlay repairs this section in a few weeks.

What are you doing during the two weekends of lane reductions in August?
Our contractor crews will replace four expansion joints on the southbound I-5 Duwamish River Bridge. They’ll also do drainage repair and panel replacement near the bridge during one of those weekends.

There are a lot of activities every weekend. Don’t you look at those when you schedule weekend work?
Yes, we consider events very carefully. We’ll discuss that more in our next blog about this project.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

It’s a bird, it’s a’s a remote controlled lawn mower?!

Learn about our new technology here – not on the side of the road

By Justin Fujioka

It's easy to get distracted by cool, new technology. If you've ever been around someone using a drone, you know what we mean. But lately, our maintenance workers have noticed drivers getting a bit too interested in some of our roadside work.

Our maintenance crews are using remote-controlled lawn mowers, and they've been turning some heads, which isn't necessarily a good thing.

Our remote-controlled lawn mower is able to safely handle areas that might be hazardous to our workers.

The remote controlled lawn mowers kind of look like mini tractors with no one behind the steering wheel. That is, if there was a steering wheel, which there isn't. A ghost-driven lawn mower? No wonder the head turning, right?

Unfortunately, with the head-turning comes some close calls, and drivers have actually been pulling over into our work zones to ask questions about this intriguing grass-cutting gadget! While we love talking about the work we do, a work zone really isn't the best place to do it, and distracted driving is the last thing we want to see. So we thought we'd share some information about the mowers – along with a nifty video of them in action – so you can keep your eyes focused on the road when you see them in person.

Here's the story: We own two Alamo Traxx RF remote controlled lawn mowers and use them in dozens of locations, primarily in the Seattle area. Our first one went into service in October 2013 and the second started clearing our right-of-ways in September 2015.

The remote-controlled mower can easily move over most debris, but a rubber hose presents a challenge. Luckily, it's easily removed.

There are three significant advantages for having these 80-horsepower devices: safety, mobility and efficiency.

Many of the areas we mow are littered with all sorts of things hiding under the tall brush. On a riding mower a lot of that stuff – like rocks or sharp plastic and glass – can kick back up and hurt our crews. With a 1,000-foot range, the RC mowers allow operators to stand at a safe distance.

You've likely seen some of the steep slopes along our highways – especially along I-5 in downtown Seattle. Can you imagine how nervous you might be riding a lawn mower in some of those areas? Armed with rubber tracks with steel cleats and spikes, combined with a low center of gravity, our remote controlled mowers can handle up to a 60-degree slope without rolling over.

Even though it's smaller in size than a traditional riding lawn mower, the RC units allow our maintenance crews to cover more area in a faster amount of time. That's because the RC mowers can cut taller and thicker grass and there's even an attachment that allows it to cut through heavy shrubbery – including the always tough blackberry bushes.

The mower controller has a few more switches and buttons than an Xbox controller.

These $80,000 machines can't cut through everything. A few things – like rubber water hoses – will get caught in the blades. But, untangling the hose from an RC mower is much faster than with a riding one, allowing our crews to get back to work faster.

Summer is almost here and our RC mowers will be out in force. We agree they're pretty cool to see, but please keep your eyes on the road when you pass one, and let our workers keep their eyes on the machine.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Hood Canal Bridge Incident Statement

Statement from Acting Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar:

Very early Monday morning, search crews confirmed that they found the missing vehicle and our employee about 150 feet north of the bridge. While this news sadly confirms our tragedy, the unknown is now known and we can move forward with a plan to recover our coworker.

The vehicle is submerged in over 344 feet of water and recovery operations will be as deliberate as the search was. We are relying on experts from Global Diving and Salvage, a Seattle-based company, to guide this effort. Today will be spent creating a recovery plan. The timing of the actual recovery will depend on what equipment needs to be mobilized to the site and marine conditions. We of course must still work around the tides and currents, which can make the process frustratingly slow.

Once the vehicle and our employee are recovered, the Washington State Patrol will once again take the lead on the investigation. We are continuing to honor the family’s request to not release the employee’s name until positive identification and formal family notification can take place. Rest assured, however, that we are in frequent contact with the family and they are aware of our progress.

For those wishing to help, the best way is to contribute to the WSDOT Memorial Foundation. The Foundation provides WSDOT a mechanism to tangibly help extended WSDOT families manage the financial consequences of the loss of a loved one.

We appreciate everyone’s thoughts during this difficult time.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Weed Warrior Update

By Barbara LaBoe

Last summer we used goats to wage war on weeds in three areas across the state. How did our four-legged weed whackers do?

We're not ready to buy our own herd, but we are still interested in goat mowing. It turns out that goats, aside from being seriously cute, are effective weed control in certain, specific locations. Our Vancouver-area pilot project, for example, worked so well that officials in the greater Seattle-area are now investigating doing the same.

Our Southwest Washington weed warrior herd is growing! These
kiddos will join the heard once they've put on a few pounds.

The goats kept weeds in fenced stormwater facilities near Vancouver under control as well as traditional methods by our maintenance crews and would be slightly cheaper – about $300 less per acre according to our overall estimates. (For the pilot the goats were donated by an employee, but we used contractor quotes for the cost estimates). Goats also are much more environmentally friendly than gas-powered mowers and, in rocky terrain, can reach some areas easier than our crews.

Not every goat weed warrior assault was as successful, though.

In our Olympia and Spokane roadside locations, contracted goats and herders cost more than traditional methods of mowing and spraying with herbicides – especially if extensive fencing is needed as it was in Olympia. Costs with the contractor in Olympia were $11,993 per acre, compared to $4,574 if our maintenance crews had cleared it with mowers and other equipment. (Those costs also included traffic control crews to shut down roads to load goats in and out of the location.) In Spokane, the contracted goats and herder cost $395 more per acre compared to having maintenance crews to do the work. In addition, traditional mowing and herbicide methods were deemed better at clearing and controlling vegetation overall in both locations. Goats might still be considered in certain roadside locations and situations – if herbicide is prohibited, for example – but overall likely won't be used often in these types of locations.

Meet the newest additions to the Southwest Washington weed warriors,
Mary and Joseph. They were born on Christmas Day 2015.

So, are we sold on goat power?

We plan to use goats as one of many tools in our vegetation control tool box – when and where it makes sense. Goats may not be a frequent tool, but they will remain an option to our crews. Vegetation control often requires a multi-prong approach, so more options certainly helps our efforts.

Flurry and Snowflake are learning to get around. Once they're stable
on their hooves they'll join the herd in Clark County this summer.

Last summer's study was also a chance to develop good cost-benefit numbers for goat use both for ourselves and other states. From that standpoint, the pilot was a success, identifying areas where goats work well, areas where they're more challenged and other issues – such as liability, union buy-off and the need to solicit bids and develop an on-call list of goat contractors for when we need them – that still need some refining before goats can be used long-term. We hope it helps others make the best decisions possible for their own agencies. It also will be shared with the national Transportation Research Board.

In the meantime, the photogenic goats in Vancouver – including some new babies -- are getting ready for another summer of grazing – and their next close up.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

SR 167 HOT lanes get an update

By Laura Johnson

In the month that we celebrate the eight-year anniversary of the State Route 167 High Occupancy Toll Lanes Pilot Program, we will be replacing some of the toll equipment that has reliably served its purpose since 2008.

The SR 167 HOT Lanes were originally a four-year pilot program that the Legislature has extended multiple times. The project is managing congestion and allowing solo drivers with a Good To Go! pass to buy into the lanes for a more reliable trip, while also maintaining reliability in the corridor for people in carpools, vanpools, and buses.

In addition to planned replacements for older toll equipment, we will be replacing the SR 167 HOT lanes system server so that it can be better integrated with the system on the I-405 express toll lanes.  This will have no effect on the I-405 express toll lanes, but will allow us to better integrate these two systems in the future.

Drivers may see messages like this this weekend as we upgrade our SR 167 tolling equipment.

The new system was just commissioned last year, so the technology is light years ahead of the 2008 technology. It will keep the toll rate signs from going blank, as they have been doing intermittently for the past few months. It will also allow us to better match toll rates to traffic conditions, easing an uptick in congestion that drivers have experienced recently.

To make these changes, you'll see some activity out on SR 167 between Renton and Auburn this weekend. Friday night, southbound SR 167 will be reduced to one lane by midnight, with all lanes reopening by 7 a.m. Saturday. On Saturday and Sunday nights, northbound travel will go down to one lane by 11 p.m., with all lanes reopening by 8 a.m. on Sunday and 5 a.m. on Monday.

During the Friday night closures you might see test messages and toll rates on the signs going southbound – that's just our engineers testing the signs. Of course this won't affect any drivers because the toll lane will be closed. As always, you can check for closure updates on our King County Construction Updates page.

Thanks to all the overnight drivers for your patience while we work to make these changes.