Mild winter gives crews more time to make progress on widening project east of Snoqualmie Pass

Friday, January 23, 2015

 By Meagan Lott

It’s already late January and Snoqualmie Pass has only received about six feet of snow. There should be at least 17 feet of snow by now, so you could say it’s been a mild winter so far.

Although this isn’t good news for skiers, snowboarders and winter recreationalists, it’s pretty good news for us. Our contractor, Atkinson Construction, has been able to keep working on the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project, which is widening I-90 from four to six lanes and building two new bridges to keep avalanches from hitting the roadway.

Due to snow and the rising water level of Keechelus Lake, crews usually have to wrap-up construction by mid-October. However, the mild weather allowed crews to extend their construction schedule by more than two months and work right up to the first part of January.

Crews were able to finish installing all nine of the bridge piers needed for the new eastbound avalanche bridges just as the water levels of Keechelus Lake started rising. The extra time spent working this winter will allow crews a little bit of a head start when construction to install the girders of the bridge deck resumes this spring.

But the bridge piers aren’t the only major progress crews made on the I-90 project. A number of structural walls were constructed to make room for new lanes including a major wall for the new westbound lanes, more rock slopes above the roadway were stabilized and the westbound bridge at Resort Creek started to take shape.

Although the I-90 project is progressing, crews still have quite a bit of work ahead of them. Starting this spring crews will continue building new lanes and bridges and stabilizing rock slopes. This portion of I-90 is schedule to be complete and open to traffic in 2018.

This spring will also mark a major milestone when crews break ground on the next two miles of the I-90 project, which continues widening the roadway east and includes one of the first wildlife crossings in the state to be built over the roadway.

Building a bridge on top of a bridge

Friday, January 16, 2015

by Bart Treece

Traffic has returned to the State Route 508 South Fork Newaukum River Bridge near Onalaska in Lewis County. For the safety of the public, WSDOT crews closed the bridge Sunday, Jan. 11. Since then, WSDOT maintenance crews were busy building a temporary “Bailey” bridge over the existing structure.

The bridge was weight-restricted in 2012 because heavy loads put additional stress on aging steel truss members.

Bailey bridges were first used by Allied forces during World War II to move heavy equipment, like Sherman tanks, over rivers and ravines. Instead of troops in green fatigues, WSDOT maintenance outfitted in safety orange vests and yellow hard hats worked like a small army to assemble pieces of the bridge. Each part moved into place by hand and was fastened together. Once assembled, the crews slid the Bailey bridge into place using a series of rollers.

The SR 508 Newaukum River Bridge is essentially two separate spans. Part of the bridge is steel, which as you can tell by the rusted I-beam in this photo, is deteriorating.

The other part is supported by timber, which is still in decent shape and safe to use. We only had enough bridge deck to span the steel portion of the existing structure, and it would take an additional three months to acquire more pieces. The solution was to span the Bailey over the steel sections and reinforce the timber piers. To do this, we used hydraulic jacks to lift the bridge half an inch to slide in new pieces of steel. This also allows for legal loads to again use this route.

Crews built ramps to the Bailey on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Before the temporary bridge was opened to travel on Wednesday, Jan. 21, barrier and striping work was completed.

All of this makes the most of the available resources, and will allow traffic to move safely across the bridge until the new structure is completed in 2018.

Flashing lights signal I-405 express toll lane equipment install

If you drive I-405, you may have noticed toll equipment above
the lanes in certain areas. This equipment is similar to
what’s on SR 520.
By Emily Pace Glad

Many drivers have seen a blue flash above the HOV lane on Interstate 405 north of State Route 522. A few have asked us what it is. It’s part of the toll equipment that will anchor 17 miles of new express toll lanes on I-405 between Bellevue and Lynnwood in late 2015.

Throughout 2014, crews were installing towering green structures over the roadway, known as gantries. Now they are outfitting those gantries with the gadgets that will allow tolling to work, including toll readers, cameras and special beacons that help Washington State Patrol with enforcing proper use of the lanes.

The blue flash you’ve seen is from testing the toll cameras that will help us take photos of a vehicle’s license plate. You may have seen a similar flash if you’ve used the SR 520 bridge. After we install the cameras on I-405, we need to make sure they are ready to take photos day and night as we work to get the system up and running and ultimately start tolling in 2015.

Based on feedback we heard from drivers, we made adjustments to the camera flashes up north, decreasing the intensity and changing the angle. We’ll use the same settings on the newly installed cameras. This, along with more ambient lighting in the south, should make the flashes less noticeable.

Crews wrapped up installing toll equipment north of SR 522 last year. Now they’ll install equipment between Northeast Sixth Street in Bellevue and SR 522. Once everything is set up there’s still a lot of fine tuning and testing to be done before we can open the express toll lanes to drivers. In the meantime, no tolls will be charged, and the HOV lane will continue to operate the same way it does today.

Scheduled lane closures the week of Jan. 19 include:
  • On Tuesday, Jan. 20, and Thursday, Jan. 22: Up to three lanes of southbound I-405 will close between Northeast 160th Street and Northeast 124th Street from 7 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.
  • On Wednesday, Jan. 21: Up to two lanes of southbound I-405 will close between Northeast 160th Street and Northeast 124th Street from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.
These closures are subject to change, so for the latest information, make sure you check our I-405 construction updates page.

The work we’re doing is part of a project to convert the I-405 HOV lane between Bellevue and Lynnwood to an express toll lane. In addition, between Northeast Sixth Street in Bellevue and SR 522 in Bothell, we’re building a second express toll lane to form a dual express toll lane system in both directions of I-405.

Why build express toll lanes?
If you use I-405, we don’t need to remind you that the highway experiences some of the worst traffic in the state, and the HOV lanes are full during peak periods. One of the primary objectives of the express toll lanes is to improve traffic performance.

The new express toll lane between Northeast 6th Street in Bellevue and SR 522 in Bothell will be paired with the existing HOV lane, to create two express toll lanes in each direction. This additional lane capacity, combined with dynamic toll rates that adjust based on traffic conditions, will allow us to manage traffic flow better and move more vehicles faster than we do in today’s carpool lanes.

In 2013, the I-405/SR 167 Executive Advisory Group composed of local elected officials and transportation agencies recommended a carpool policy where 3+ carpools ride free during peak times and 2+ carpools ride free at off-peak times. It will be up to the Washington State Transportation Commission to finalize this policy through a public process in the next few months.

Our traffic models predict that keeping a two-person carpool requirement will not allow us to meet our state and federal mandate of 45 miles per hour, 90 percent of the time during peak periods. Still, if we simply changed the carpool definition to 3+ without express toll lanes, the lanes would be underutilized. By building express toll lanes, we can fill those lanes back in by giving drivers the choice to use them.

As more drivers use the express toll lanes, traffic moves faster in the regular lanes, which will remain toll-free.

Still have questions about how the lanes will work? Check out our FAQs.

What we’re doing to help truck drivers prevent bridge collisions

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Barbara LaBoe

Many of you no doubt remember the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge in May 2013 and the dramatic images of the bridge and vehicles in the water.
This bridge over the Wallace River along State Route 2
in Snohomish County shows bridge clearance signs
 that were reviewed statewide following the Skagit
River Bridge collapse. It’s one of several steps, including a
new online mapping tool, WSDOT is taking to help truck
drivers make safer travel decisions.

The bridge fell after an oversized commercial truck struck it, sending a part of Interstate 5 and two vehicles into the river. All the drivers survived, but, tragically, Washington State Trooper Sean O’Connell was killed while managing detour traffic. Traffic on a key freight and transportation corridor also was severely disrupted.

In the aftermath we worked to set up detours and repair the bridge. But we also reviewed what else we could do to help truck drivers better prepare to travel through our state. The driver is still ultimately responsible for verifying that their truck is safe for their proposed route, but we looked for ways to help – and to better protect all motorists, our bridges and our critical freight corridors.

The result?  A new online “trip planner” system that allows truck drivers to more easily check for clearance hazards before they head out.

As part of their permit application, drivers can now enter the height of their vehicle and then the state route or interstate number. A map displays the entire route with color-coded markers for areas that are too low or may require a specific lane for proper clearance. An additional feature is the ability to use an exact address to zoom into a particular area.

See a red dot on your proposed trip map? Better find a different route or detour. Spot a yellow marker? That’s your cue to do more research about lane-by-lane clearance. Previously, drivers had to consult their own maps and then look up each bridge individually.

Red and yellow markers on the new trip planner mapping tool warn truck
drivers to avoid or use caution around low clearance bridges on their route.
The idea behind this tool had been brainstormed here for a while. When the bridge collapsed we brought it to the forefront. We still had to create a new database and a user-friendly website, but the previous “wish list” planning gave us a head start.

To make sure the product works the way truckers will use it, we also partnered with the Washington Trucking Association. Their members provided suggestions and “test drove” the system last fall as we fine-tuned the mapping tool and the website.

We’re also working to add more features such as lane-by-lane clearance levels. That feature should be in place by 2017, but we’re glad to have the new tool available for use now.

Would the trip planner have single handedly prevented the bridge collapse? It’s hard to say because numerous factors can combine to cause crashes.

That’s why we’ve also:

  • Made the new database available to third parties who have expressed interest in creating navigation and safety apps for commercial drivers. Sharing the data should get the safety information into even more drivers’ hands.
  • Rewritten our requirements and permits for clarity.
  • Reviewed signs on all bridges with clearance 15 feet 3 inches tall and lower. 
  • Made the commercial vehicle permit webpage more user friendly, including a step-by-step “How do I get a Permit?” section and answers to frequently asked questions about pilot car requirements.
  • Added the trip planner tool on our road restrictions webpage.
  • Started a comprehensive statewide review/re-measurement of all bridges 16 feet 6 inches tall or lower. This is scheduled to be complete in late 2015.

We hope these steps, and the renewed awareness of the issue, will help truck drivers make safer travel decisions across our state.

WSDOT, Yakima Transit celebrate completion of Regional Mobility Grant program's 50th project

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Improved park and ride lot for Yakima Transit
By Jef Lucero

Two years ago, the park and ride facility near the Selah Firing Center off Interstate 82 was a shadow of its current self: unpaved, under-improved and too small to adequately serve the needs of nearby residents and commuters.

That all changed when Yakima Transit was awarded a Regional Mobility Grant by the Legislature to be used toward upgrading (and just plain grading) a cracked and graveled lot into a fully paved, lighted and landscaped park and ride facility. In the process, the newly transformed facility nearly tripled in capacity, going from around 40 gravel-pocked parking spots to 114 freshly striped stalls. And there’s room for further expansion down the road, which could bring capacity to around 150 stalls.

Our staff and Yakima Transit formally cut the ribbon on the new park and ride facility in October, marking the completion of the Regional Mobility Grant program’s 50th project to date. The overall cost of the $240,000 project was greatly reduced by making use of WSDOT-owned right of way. Since the park and ride serves highway-related purposes, Yakima Transit is able to utilize the right of way for free, saving taxpayers money.

Carpoolers, vanpoolers and passengers catching a ride on the Yakima-Ellensburg Commuter—mostly students, commuters, shoppers and people seeking outpatient medical services—have kept the facility at or near its capacity since it reopened.

Created and enacted into law by the Legislature in 2005, WSDOT’s Regional Mobility Grant program supports local efforts to improve transit mobility and reduce congestion on our most heavily traveled roadways, including enhancements to the statewide network of park and ride lots. The RMG program also bears this important characteristic: Each project must expressly align with the state’s goals for greenhouse-gas-emission reductions.

Funded in statute through the state multimodal transportation fund, the program has provided $184 million to support local and regional projects since 2006. Historically, the Legislature has set aside up to $40 million every two years for RMG projects, but that amount is scheduled to increase by 25 percent in 2015.

With 50 projects completed in the past nine years, the program now turns its attention toward the 26 ongoing projects around the state. The Legislature will review a list of additional project proposals during its upcoming session, awarding as much as $50 million in grants to projects selected for funding.

Featured Flickr Photo

SR 305 Agate Pass Bridge
SR 305 Agate Pass Bridge

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