Snow brings an end to Artist Point road’s longest season

Friday, October 24, 2014

 by Tom Pearce

When the gate closes only hikers, skiers and
snowshoers can get to Artist Point.
After the longest season on record, we shut down State Route 542 just east of the Mount Baker Ski Area on Thursday, Oct. 23; the road to Artist Point is now closed for the winter. This section of highway will remain closed to vehicles until next summer.

It was a great year for Artist Point fans, who began calling in early June to find out if it was open. The earliest we’ve ever opened the road is June 30. We had callers from New York, California and Canada, among other locations. A couple of callers had guests coming in from Germany and the Middle East and wanted to take them up to see the breath-taking views.


Thousands of people travel to Artist Point each summer for views like this.
Artist Point was open for 115 days this year, eclipsing the old mark of 111 days set in 2004. The July 1 opening matched the second earliest, and the road has had just three later closing dates, the latest being Oct. 26, 2011. We’ve only been keeping records since 2002, but the area’s history reaches back much further.

Once snow starts to accumulate on the road, which reaches its high point at 5,080 feet, it’s time to close the gate. The road has lots of steep hills and curves without guardrails. The reason for no guardrails is that the 30 to 50 feet or more of packed snow that piles up most winters could wreck them. The tons of snow would destroy our signs as well, but we take them down each fall and put them back up in the spring.

The snow still can be 20 feet deep at the parking lot
when the road to Artist Point opens.
While we close the road with the first snow of the fall, Artist Point itself remains open all year. You can hike, snowshoe or ski in, but you can’t use any motorized vehicles like ATVs or snowmobiles. Just remember to be prepared for anything, because you travel at your own risk in back-country conditions.

For most of us, though, the closure of the road means the end of the season. We still have our memories, and can look forward to next summer when our workers start to clear the highway. That will take six weeks or more, depending on how much snow we get this winter. And next June, the phone will begin to ring again as folks anxiously await the opening of the road to Artist Point.

Got goats? We do and we’re using them to remove invasive weeds and save money!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

 By Tamara Hellman

In a creative approach to getting more done with less, Heidi Holmstrom, one of our maintenance technicians from our Vancouver office, came up with the idea of using her pet herd of goats to remove invasive weeds like the Japanese knotweed. Seeds from the knotweed plant are transferred by water and sediment; quickly becoming a big problem in Clark County.

Front row: Choco, Buttons, Fergie and Taffy.
Second row: Daisy and Irma.
Third row: Mocha, Latte, Cappuccino and Breve.

Heidi’s herd of 15 goats resided in an acre and a half of land this summer off State Route 503 near Brush Prairie. The area was fenced to make sure the goats did not take off or block the roadway. During the summer the group of goats chomped away at the invasive Japanese knotweed; but also other weeds like sweet pea, blackberry vines and scotch broom. Not only do the goats get a decent meal out of the deal, their two-stage digestion process ensures the invasive plants do not re-root and continue to spread.

Maintenance Tech Heidi Holmstrom with a baby goat.
The short-term saving for maintenance equipment and staff is about $15,000, with the only costs being some animal crackers to treat the goats and Heidi’s time to check on her babies.

Another benefit of going goat is we avoid costly herbicide on the knotweed. The most effective application, aside from using goats, is injecting herbicide directly into the root of each plant. That process takes time, equipment and staff hours away from other roadway maintenance work. Cutting down the Japanese knotweed isn’t a good option as it becomes a bigger problem, because segments will re-root themselves, becoming brand new plants that just keep multiplying.

Irma is ready for her close-up.
Aside from being a fun approach to a serious problem, goats are an eco-friendly, low carbon-footprint alternative to weed control. Previously maintenance crews would have to go into this area with gas powered tools and use herbicides. The other day, I was driving and couldn’t see around a corner. It made me realize how important the work of these goats was.

The goats are on winter break, but will be back to work in the spring and hungry for more.

Flashing lights signal start of I-405 express toll lane equipment install

Thursday, October 9, 2014

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.
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.

Throughout the year, crews have been 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.

Crews will wrap up installing toll equipment north of SR 522 later this year. After the new year, 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.

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 often as congested as the regular lanes. New express toll lanes will let drivers choose to travel faster by paying a toll. The regular lanes will remain free for all drivers.

Toll rates will adjust depending on traffic to guarantee a faster, more reliable trip for express toll lane users including transit, carpoolers, or folks driving alone. As more drivers use the express toll lanes, traffic moves faster in the regular lanes.

We’re still working with the Washington State Transportation Commission to finalize a number of key decisions about the lanes, including carpool exemptions and rates, so stay tuned for more information early next year. 

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

A sincere Thank You!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

By Cara Mitchell

Many drivers took our warning and stayed away from I-5
in Olympia during the expansion joint replacement work.
We would like to sincerely thank drivers for heeding warnings about potential backups and responding accordingly by staying off Interstate 5 and US 101 in Olympia while contractor crews completed work over two high-impact weekends replacing a 28-year-old bridge expansion joint.

Your response to our request is the reason our flow maps on the Olympia Traffic Camera page stayed green, meaning free-flowing traffic, the majority of time over both weekends. Just how light was traffic? On Saturday, Sept. 14, between noon and 6 p.m., traffic on southbound I-5 in Olympia was 51 percent less than it was the previous Saturday. This trend continued into the following weekend, where we saw over a 60 percent reduction in traffic.  The light traffic allowed us to accelerate construction plans by closing lanes early, with the end result that northbound I-5 lanes and ramps opened a full day early on both weekends, and southbound I-5 lanes and ramps opened several hours early on both weekends. That’s what you call a win/win!

We asked the public to alter their plans, take the not-so-convenient scenic routes, and try Amtrak Cascades. You responded overwhelmingly, and for that we are full of gratitude.

As a reminder, whenever you see the orange cones for construction, bridge work or maintenance activities, please “give our crews a brake.” Together we can preserve and maintain your highway infrastructure in a safe manner.

I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge project making good progress

By Tom Pearce

Replacing an 81-year-old bridge deck full of ruts, cracks and holes is hard enough. Add to that the bridge being on a heavily-used highway, and you've got some serious challenges. But in the case of the I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge, our contractor crews are rising to the occasion.

Caption below photo
I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge
size 18 pothole.
While the steel superstructure of the bridge is holding up well, the old deck was worn out. We've repaired it a number of times, but with exposed rebar and potholes that dwarf a size 13 boot, it was time for a full replacement.

The $8.7 million project is scheduled for completion in mid-November. Since we reduced traffic to two lanes in each direction and shifted southbound I-5 to half of the northbound I-5 bridge, the contractor, Mowat Construction, has made good progress.

Working from north to south, the old southbound deck was removed. That took careful planning and a lot of skill. The 607-foot long, 48-foot wide, 8-inch thick concrete deck was cut into roughly 6-foot by 8-foot pieces that weigh up to 4½ tons, then each piece was removed by a track hoe fitted with a special lifting attachment.

Caption below photo
I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge removed 6-foot by 8-foot deck section.
As the deck was being removed, another crew followed along to inspect the underlying steel framework. We were pleasantly surprised by what they found – most of the steel was in very good condition. We had to replace just four pieces, like this stringer, one of 216 that run lengthwise to support the deck. It’s a lot stronger than it looks, but we wouldn't want to leave it there for another 50-plus years, which is how long the new deck is built to last. The rest of the original steel was checked, then sandblasted and repainted to protect it for decades to come.

Caption below photo
I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge rusted stringer.
Crews were still working on the steel framework when the concrete forms were placed. Once that was complete, the green coated rebar was put down. That will keep the concrete strong for another 50 years or more. The coating will help keep the rebar from rusting.

Caption below photo
I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge green coated rebar.
There still is a lot of time-consuming work to be done, but we’re on schedule to open as planned in mid-November. Once the new deck is poured, probably starting in early October, it will take about three weeks to cure. When that’s done, the deck must be grooved to improve traction in the rain, the guard rails will be reinstalled and the road will be restriped for three lanes of traffic, along with other minor work. 

As the deck cures, the contractor crews won’t just be sitting around watching concrete harden. They’ll be busy repaving the bridge approaches. After all, the approaches have been handling traffic for 81 years too.

When everything is ready, the contractor will remove the barriers on southbound I-5 to restore traffic flow onto the new bridge deck. For northbound traffic, it’ll take a few days to remove the concrete barriers from the middle of the northbound I-5 bridge, then a couple more days to restripe the northbound bridge for three lanes, but we expect to have I-5 back to its original configuration, just in time for holiday travelers.

A note on traffic
Traffic flow was a big concern when this project was being developed. We had to take an interstate with three lanes in each direction, put in crossover lanes and reduce it to two lanes that are more narrow than normal, all while sharing a bridge that is wide enough for four lanes, but with small shoulders. 

At the Stillaguamish River, the two bridges handle a total of 80,000 to 100,000 vehicles per day. We anticipated backups at peak hours, but they've been less than we expected. The longest delays typically have been about 15 minutes, as some drivers have adjusted their travel times or selected alternate routes when their destination was Stanwood or Arlington. 

We appreciate the patience of motorists through this project. You've helped keep the backups manageable. Keep it up; in less than two months you’ll have a brand new bridge deck!

 

Featured Flickr Photo

Stabilizing the pile
Stabilizing the pile

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