Thursday, February 22, 2007

Years ago when I was a newspaper reporter in the Phoenix area, I heard about an incident at a local high school that was absolutely unbelievable. Dozens of ambulances were called to the school after bleachers on an athletic field collapsed. Someone had been quietly stealing pieces of the aluminum bleachers and selling those pieces for scrap.

In 2003, a WSDOT maintenance crew working on the Hood Canal Bridge caught thieves stealing metal parts from extra bridge pontoons moored in Port Gamble Bay in north Kitsap County. They went a step further and scoured local scrap yards in Kitsap and Pierce counties, eventually finding bridge parts in Tacoma. That led to convictions in Kitsap County Superior Court.

These are not victimless crimes. Fortunately, I don't recall there being any serious injuries at the school but the bleacher collapse story shows that the theft of materials is more than just a budget concern. Our guardrails and signal systems deployed on local highways are critical safety devices. And you and I are at risk if those devices are not working.

WSP and WSDOT are working together to target metal thieves. But we can't be everywhere. We need you to be the eyes and ears in your neighborhood and on your highways.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Work zones are clearly signed. You should see a sign telling you a work zone is set up ahead.
  • Our WSDOT crews and contractors' trucks and equipment are clearly identified with logos - either the WSDOT's "flying T" or the contractors' name and logo.
  • Workers wear reflective clothing and hard hats.

Thanks for your assistance.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Growing a better roadway

One important strategy for holding down roadway maintenance cost is to properly control weed and vegetation growth along a highway.

Safety is a high priority at WSDOT. Vegetation, if left alone can grow out of control, blocking visibility (signs, traffic, wildlife) which could endanger motorists. Weeds must be controlled to avoid impacts on agriculture and native ecosystems. Pride of ownership and the beauty of Washington State are also important reasons why we try and manage roadside vegetation.

Traditionally we have used herbicides as one of the primary tools for roadside vegetation management. But the latest WSDOT Grey Notebook (December 2006) shows that we continue to reduce the amount of herbicides used, while still accomplishing our roadside maintenance goals.

In 2002, we used approximately 120,000 pounds of herbicide statewide maintaining vegetation. In 2006, that number dropped to just more than 40,000 pounds of herbicide statewide.

The majority of this reduction is the result of our effort in eastern Washington to minimize the area of vegetation-free ground along the edge of the highway pavement.

Last year, we adopted restrictions above and beyond federal and state legal mandates for herbicide usage. In addition, WSDOT is continuing to refine its policy and practices for vegetation management through an ongoing research project by the University of Washington. The study includes field trials on alternate vegetation control methods.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Accountability: Read It Now

WSDOT is building many high occupancy vehicle (HOV) direct access ramps throughout the Puget Sound area for Sound Transit. These allow buses, carpools, and van pools to directly access the HOV lanes from park and ride lots and local streets.

You might have driven by some of the large construction zones when WSDOT contractors were building these ramps. You might have wondered, why are they building ramps that will only serve a small percentage of the road users? Do they work?

According to the September 2006 Gray Notebook, direct access ramps improve safety, reduce congestion, save time, and increase reliability for both HOV and general-purpose traffic. Five major HOV lane direct access ramps in the Puget Sound area opened recently and another 14 are planned. Preliminary performance evaluations for the Lynnwood, Bellevue, Federal Way, and Ash Way projects show substantial travel time savings have been achieved at both Lynnwood (four to eight minute savings) and Ash Way (two to six minute savings), resulting in improved Sound Transit and Community Transit bus schedules.

More details on this topic and other key issues can be found in the September 2006 Gray Notebook. WSDOT publishes a Gray Notebook every quarter. The list of topics covered in past notebooks including bridge conditions, congestion on state highways, environmental programs and other performance related measurements and reports. If you are looking to see how well WSDOT is delivering projects, check out the Gray Notebook. If you want to learn about the rising cost of construction materials or road kill on state highways, find it in the Gray Notebook.

You can check out the new December 2006 Gray Notebook, available online in mid-February.