Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Crews shifting from one side of the state to the other...

While Western Washington's state highways have mostly returned to normal from the two-week winter blast, the snow just hasn't stopped in Eastern Washington. Close to 60 inches has fallen in the Spokane area, and most of it has not melted.

WSDOT regularly shifts resources around areas and regions. A good weather window in Western Washington allowed us to shift plows to Eastern Region for the next five days. We are shifting five plow trucks and 10 drivers from Olympic Region (two from Aberdeen and three from Tacoma) to Eastern Region to help with the snow removal efforts over there. The Olympic Region crews will be working for Eastern Region Area 1 Superintendent Gary Clemenson in Spokane. Two trucks left from Tumwater last night for the Spokane area. Three more left this morning from Tacoma.

On one level, moving trucks and drivers from one location to another around the state seems like it should be relatively straightforward. However, there are lots of details necessary to pull it off successfully. Just a few include outfitting the trucks, getting the drivers, changing out plow bits, adjusting the radio frequency, working out the details of who would meet them and where they would go once they got to Spokane. There were a host of other details.

Here are some photos of crews switching out the OR's rubber plow bits for steel bits to use in Eastern Region. A quick tidbit...we use rubber plow bits in most parts of Western Washington to protect raised pavement markers. They use recessed pavement markers in most parts of Eastern Washington.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What is a snow ostrich?

From Jamie Holter in the Seattle Communications office...

When a big storm hits, drivers get frustrated. They are frustrated they can’t go where they want, when they want. They turn to the Web and start sending angry E-mails. So….

I thought it might be a great moment for a quick civics refresher.

The State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is responsible for state highways and interstates like SR 522, SR 18, I-405, SR 520, I-5. Anything with the words highway, state route, or “I” as in I-5 are within WSDOT’s jurisdiction. These are the roads we maintain, clear, build etc.

When a state highway runs through a large city (population 22,500 or more) it becomes the city’s responsibility. For example, Highway 99 runs through the city of Shoreline so the city of Shoreline is responsible for clearing snow on Highway (Aurora Avenue) inside the city limits.

Counties are responsible for roads outside city limits. For example, all the roads near Highway 203, Highway 202 and Highway 18 that are NOT inside the cities of Carnation, Duvall and Maple Valley are King County’s (KCDOT) roads to clear.

Finally, cities are responsible for clearing all roads inside the city limits. For example, Seattle (SDOT) is responsible for clearing and maintaining roads in Ballard, Fremont, Magnolia etc.

So where does the snow ostrich come in? Last week, we got an email from an irate driver who accused us of putting our heads in the sand when it came to snow removal. He said, “Don’t be a snow ostrich!” His frustration was directed at another agency, but he mistakenly emailed us.

Either way - we loved the idea of a snow ostrich so we decided to adopt that as our new winter mascot. We want to make sure NO ONE is a snow ostrich. We want every driver to be prepared for snow and weather.

One of our graphics folks drew this. Print it and put in on your fridge as a reminder to be prepared, check for conditions and plan ahead before you head out.

As for the email, we do read every single one and respond to every single one (good and bad). It's part of Gov. Gregoire and Secretary Hammond's commitment to the citizens of Washington State. So keep em coming!

WSDOT's Snow Man: In his own words

When you see clear roads in the mountain passes and on the highways during the holidays, think of Dennis Keeler.

Keeler has worked for the Washington State Department of Transportation for 26 years – most of those plowing a path on I-90 through Snoqualmie Pass.

He and hundreds like him work hard 12-hour shifts in the cold and wind clearing the region's roads for holiday travelers.

More often than not, that includes working a long shift on Christmas.

“It’s something you really don’t want to do, but it’s part of the job,” said Keeler, a maintenance technician. “I figure if I work, maybe everybody else can have Christmas dinner with their kids and their families. I’ve done it for 26 years.

“My kids, my wife, they understand it. They may not like it, but they understand it. It goes with the territory.”

Keeler figures he’s worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas during 20 of his 26 years with the state.

“I love plowing snow. I plowed for 23 years up on Snoqualmie Pass, so I had to like the snow somewhat. I like doing highway maintenance.”

Keeler’s five kids – four sons and one daughter – are grown. Keeler also has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“That’s the thing I’m going to miss at Christmas dinner is my great-grandkids, but they’ll ask, and grandma will tell them: Grandpa’s working.”

After nearly two weeks of snow storms in the Puget Sound area, WSDOT’s snow plows are a familiar and often welcome sight.

Keeler said he’s been getting more thumbs up and honks of appreciation than usual.

Even so, we’re all waiting for the winter weather to warm up.

“It gets old, but we keep on pluggin’,” Keeler said.

To see photos of what it's like from the driver's seat of a snowplow, check out our Flickr site.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hey, WSDOT, You put a snow bank in my driveway!

From Jamie Holter in the Seattle Communications office...

We’re being inundated with calls this morning about personal driveways. Folks who live on our state highways are calling and asking us to clear the berm we’ve created as we cleared snow from the road.

In the last two hours, I personally have taken calls from a mom with a new baby and three small kids in Carnation and an elderly couple for whom the need for immediate medical attention is a real possibility.

I called out to our maintenance folks and they are just swamped keeping the roads clear right now. This is another serious snow and they tell me they have a system for keeping the roads clear of snow and ice. If they break off to do a driveway out in Carnation or Aberdeen, the whole system could be thrown into disarray. (Not to mention that every person in Aberdeen or Carnation would want their driveway cleared.)

We know it’s hard especially after seven straight days of this stuff. You might want to consider calling a neighbor and asking them to help you out. Another idea - if you are reading this and you are healthy and looking for something to do, you might want to go knock on a neighbor’s door and offer your services. (I know I shove my teenager out the door to check on our neighbors at times like this.) It is the holidays, after all, and a good deed would certainly be appreciated.

The good news: I just took a tour of the traffic cameras and it appears the snow is turning to rain in the Northwest. YEAH!!!! So perhaps an end is in sight.

If you need assistance, you can call 211. It's the Washington information network and an operator can connect you with health and human service providers: www.win211.org/ .

Tips for Slush Driving...good stuff

From my colleague East of the Mountains...

I keep hearing on the news- “prepare for winter driving” and “drive for conditions,” and I would if somebody would tell me what that means.

If this is a thought you’ve been having - let me see if I can help.

What winter driving means to me is- slipping and sliding and skidding if I try to drive the speed limit. It can also mean a fender bender, a towing bill, a ticket, and a trip to the hospital if I don’t drive differently than I did all spring, summer and fall.

Driving on the cold, dry snow has been relatively easy. I have found that if I just go slower (ten to fifteen miles per hour slower), and push gently on my brakes when I need to stop and gently on the gas when I need to go, I can get anywhere I want to go without getting into trouble.

Driving in slush is a whole new ball game. Slush is not only slippery, it’s grabby. It suddenly slows the car down, makes a big splash, and can make changing lanes scary. And if I happen to drift onto the shoulder a little it will pull me right into the ditch before I can say oh ____! Plus the big rigs with big tires- like semis- throw that stuff up onto my windshield and cover my side windows making it very hard to see out the sides of my car.

After I cross the pass, I often have to stop at the nearest car wash to clean the windows off before I can safely get back on the road. When the sun goes down and it gets below freezing- that lousy pile of slush on the side of the road- or in front of my driveway- turns to ice. Now I have a new “driving for conditions” challenge. When the slush turns to ice, I opt to just stay home until it changes into something else. I think I like the dry powdery stuff best.

As far as being prepared- that means digging through all the stuff in the garage to find the chains, making sure they fit the car I’m driving now and replacing the old, dried out, noisy windshield wipers that clear most of the windshield except for that little spot right in front of me. You know the spot- the one that ices up and the wiper won’t clear until I roll down the window and reach out into the cold, catch the blade while it’s wiping (long arms make this possible) and pull it away from the glass a few times until it pops all of the snow and ice off.

I also take a winter coat, hat, gloves, jumper cables, a flash light and reflectors so I can stay warm if I have to put the chains on or I have to wait while the people who didn’t prepare and didn’t drive for conditions get straightened out or towed out of the way.

Mike Westbay, WSDOT in Yakima

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Crews burn the midnight oil to keep the plows plowing

Drivers can take comfort when they know WSDOT plows are hitting the road at the first sign of snow. The plow drivers can take comfort as well, because they know they have great mechanics backing them up and making sure their equipment is safe and ready for a long day or night of work.

In Mount Vernon, the Area 2 equipment maintenance crew is down to two techs. Normally there would be three techs to take care of the multitude of trucks and equipment necessary to keep over 324 miles of highway safe (802 lane miles). But one mechanic has been out after an injury, leaving Tim McCartney and Andy McKinney to pull some extra duty to keep the trucks on the road.

Tim, a Tech 4, has been with WSDOT for 23 years. His teammate Andy, is a Tech 3, and has been with WSDOT for five years.

Mechanics Tim McCartney (left) and Andy McKinney work on a hydraulic pump used to position a plow blade.

All week, Area 2 plow crews were humming like a well oiled machine. During our first blast of winter, they had 16 trucks sanding, deicing and plowing 24/7 from Whidbey Island to Marblemount, and everywhere in between.

That meant the equipment maintenance crew was burning the midnight oil too. Even though snow removal equipment is built tough, winter can wreak havoc on not just the trucks, but the pumps, motors and electrical equipment that all have to work together in extreme weather conditions. Along with regular maintenance and adjustments, they had several breakdowns last weekend too. That meant the two of them pulled extra-long shifts to keep the trucks rolling.

“Our crew is committed to their work, especially when the going gets tough like it did last weekend,” said Area 2 Supervisor Clint Terwilliger. “But without the excellence and commitment of my vehicle maintenance guys, the rest of our crews would be grounded. We are lucky to have staff that are willing put the safety of their communities first when the job just has to get done.”

Use common sense when removing tire chains

Please use common sense and be careful about when and where you choose to remove your tire chains. If you're headed for the highway, there is a good chance that it is going to be bare and wet. We've hit the highways hard with sand, salt and plows. They're looking pretty good right now.

Chains don't work on bare and wet pavement. It's not a good idea to try and remove your chains from the side of the highway. Please plan ahead and remove your chains before you get onto the highway. If you get on the highway with your chains on and need to remove them, please wait until the next exit or find a safe location to do so. Please don't do it on the highway; it's just not safe. A person was hit today while removing their chains and we don't want it to happen to you.

We know it's not an easy thing to do when the sides of the road are completely covered with snow, but please be sure to pull all the way out of the lanes of travel to remove your chains.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A WSDOT snowfighting tool....teamwork

When the snow starts to fall steadily, our plow drivers switch into a mode we call gang plowing. A team of plows will each take a lane on a wide freeway like I-5 or I-405 or I-90 and stagger themselves. Each drives a little farther back than the driver in front and works one lane over. We posted pictures of gang plowing on our Flickr picture page as well as video on YouTube.

The idea is simple: the first plow pushes the snow to the next lane where it's picked up by the next plow and so on until it's pushed off the road. It's a very efficient way to clear the road. (It's like if you took all your brothers and sisters and lined them all up next to each other with snow shovels and moved forward... think how quickly you could shovel that driveway!)

Driving in tandem like this requires tremendous concentration. Our drivers tell us it makes them crazy when drivers either: drive too closely to the plow or try to split the plows to somehow get ahead of them.

Up on the Snoqualmie Pass, drivers up there tell us it's not uncommon to see someone split the plows and then get a windshield full of snow. This, of course, causes a driver to become disoriented and then, believe it or not, their first instinct is to drive into the snow plow! Talk about dangerous. Our plows are a lot bigger than your car or truck.

So, please, we are doing our best to keep the roads clear. The road behind our plow is so much nicer than the road ahead of it. Our plows will split up and let drivers get by after a mile or two. Give them the right of way. We're just trying to make your trip a little safer.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More snow coming...stay off the roads if you can

I just saw the dozers clearing the field for the Seahawks and hope the fans keep warm. More snow is on the way and Gov. Gregoire has asked us all to stay off the road if possible.

We do have a few cameras offline in the Seattle area - I hear it's due to frozen fiber optic cables. If that is the case, that's not something we can fix soon.

Have to say the snow falling right now in Olympia is absolutely beautiful - the big, fluffy flakes. It's unfortunate it creates such a driving hazard.

Please be prepared and take it easy out there.

We will be updating this blog and our Twitter account all day. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wind and blowing snow road closures

11:45 p.m. update: they just extended the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass closure from milepost 33 to milepost 106 (North Bend to Ellensburg). The Snoqualmie Traffic Management Center is now telling me westbound travelers may think about I-82 to Yakima and west on US 12 over White Pass. Or, north on US 97 to US 2 over Stevens Pass. Both Stevens and White have traction requirements.

11 p.m. Saturday update

The wind and snow has taken its toll on the mountain pass highways and Columbia Gorge. We have just closed Snoqualmie Pass. The crew at the top told me you just can't see. And the same down on SR 14 through the Columbia River Gorge. Oregon has also closed I-84 through the Gorge on their side.

We are also getting our first reports of freezing rain. With the snow and ice already on the road, freezing rain can be the most difficult to clear. It just freezes on contact to whatever it touches.

If you can , stay off the roads. If you do have to drive, be prepared for hazardous driving conditions. Jeremy has all the links in his post below. Please be safe. Know before you go.

Weekend weather reporting...

We activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Olympia this morning as just one of the many steps we are taking to be prepared for this weekend's storm events. We are reporting travel alerts and road conditions for much of the state as it rolls in.

Some of our favorite sites to watch over the weekend:

1. Our own travel alerts and road conditions
2. Of course, National Weather Service - Seattle and Olympic Peninsula
2. Our own Twitter account
3. Twitter users are posting current condition reports by tagging their posts with #seatst.
4. Cliff Mass has a weather blog that has users also posting current conditions

Stay home if you can. If you must go anywhere be prepared before you go, blizzard-like conditions have been forecasted.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Great day to stay home...

3 p.m. update
Winter storm warnings in affect for most of the state. Very high winds expected in Puget Sound area.


If there ever was a great day to stay home, this is it. Icy conditions have been reported all around the state. Many roads were closed yesterday due snow caused spinouts and accidents. So far this morning we aren't seeing road closures due to accidents because many of you are choosing to stay home.

Besides having all available crews out making the roads passable, we are starting to turn our attention to staffing plans for this weekend. Forecasting models are a bit varied as to what could happen. We are hearing differing versions from various sources. It might be windy, there might be a lot of snow, stay tuned to the forecast, if we learned anything this week it's that weather is very unpredictable.

We found the source of the Web site problem. Turns out we only had half the available bandwidth we should have had. Technicians were working on it yesterday afternoon and it shouldn't be a problem today. Just for comparison we normally have about 800,000 page views a day, Wednesday we had 5.8 million and yesterday we had 6.1 million page views, and not all the requests to our Web site made it to our servers.

We have heard many requests from you to find out road conditions in very specific places in the state. I am going to be completely honest with you and tell you that I am nervous to tell you those conditions. The weather has been changing so rapidly and icy conditions have been reported almost everywhere, that if I tell you something it may be different than what you experience once you drive out there. I would just recommend you stay home today. If you have to go out, take it very slow and give plenty of room to drivers around you.

We will continue to keep you posted via this blog and Twitter all day if we hear more.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

December 18, 2008 - Act 2

Latest update... 1:30 p.m.

Mountain passes
Chains still required on Snoqualmie pass. All other passes have traction tire requirements, but I would suggest you have chains in your car just in case.

Thurston County
All lanes of I-5 Southbound are closed due to a multi-vehicle collision involving several semis and passenger cars at Maytown Rd. milepost 94.

Western Washington Weather
Expect periods of snow to continue through 2 p.m. or 3 p.m with 1-3 inches expected in Seattle / 2-4 inches in Bellevue. Temperatures will hover around 30 degrees this afternoon.
A large snow squall is moving though the I-5 Grand Mound area. It should pass in about an hour. For tonight -the skies will clear up and temperatures will fall to 18 degrees.
The Cascades will experience snow squalls throughout the afternoon and evening - the worst weather should occur between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Freight
WSDOT Commercial Vehicle Services has restricted oversize vehicle movements in Western Washington due to the inclement weather.

SR 520
Westbound SR 520 at W Lake Sammamish Parkway is now open. The following ramps to westbound SR 520 are still closed: SR 202, Union Hill and West Lake Sammamish Parkway.

I-405
All lanes of northbound I-405 at Coal Creek Parkway near Bellevue are now open. An earlier disabled semi-truck blocked the left two lanes. The semi has now been cleared.

SR 599
SR 599 is closed at East Marginal Way. We are taking traffic off at SR 99 there. It's very very snowy.

Whatcom County
The latest road report from Whatcom County still shows compact snow and ice on most major routes. From Burlington to Ferndale, I-5 has compact snow and ice. North of Ferndale, I-5 is slushy, with bare wheel tracks to the pavement in most areas. Some roads have improved: SR 543, the truck crossing, is mostly bare and wet, as is SR 546 (Badger Road) north of Lynden and SR 548 (Grandview Road) northwest of Ferndale.

Eastern Washington
All state highways in Spokane, Whitman, Lincoln, Adams, Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille County have compact snow and ice, or loose snow on the roadway surface. Over the next 24 hours, there is a possibility that the winds may increase across Eastern Washington. If this occurs, there could be blowing and drifting snow in many areas, especially in Adams, Lincoln, Spokane, and Whitman counties. These conditions could require the WSDOT close some highway sections until the wind subsides and the roadways can be cleared.

I will post more as I hear more. Will also continue to post updates on the Twitter account.

2 p.m. update:
Our site is running really slow, but it isn't something that is showing up on our monitors. Our network is only at half utilization, the servers are at normal use, we are looking into it and hopefully can get it fixed. We are as frustrated as you are, trust me.

December 18, 2008...

1 p.m. update

So here is what we know so far. Our Web site is getting slammed with traffic and due to technical challenges are hearing that it has been difficult to access. We put a text page up on our homepage about half an hour ago so that you can get at least the basics of what is going on. Here is the rundown:

Mountain passes
Chains required on both directions of Snoqualmie pass. Traction tires everywhere else. This could change moment by moment. Passes are fickle that way.

I-405
Northbound between SR 169 and I-90 has been very difficult all morning. Nearly a parking lot.

SR 520 - 10 a.m. update
Hazardous road conditions all along this route. Westbound SR 520 remains closed due to multiple spin-outs and dangerous driving conditions. The closure begins at the Union Hill on-ramp to westbound SR 520 to West Lake Sammamish Parkway. The following ramps to westbound SR 520 are closed: SR 202, Union Hill and West Lake Sammamish Parkway.

I-5 - 10 a.m. update
Northbound near Boeing field has been rough going all morning. The I-5 northbound ramp to the Boeing Access Road has been closed due to poor weather and icy conditions.

Seattle area weather update - 10:15 a.m.
This storm has become stationary over the Seattle area. We could see as much as 6 additional inches of snow (this includes downtown Seattle). This will last though and beyond the morning commute. The temperatures are scheduled to drop as an arctic front. Icing is a major concern for the morning commute.

Whatcom county
It continues to snow in much of Whatcom County. Crews on the roads report compact snow and ice everywhere, and blowing, drifting snow in the eastern part of the county. Chains are required on Mount Baker Highway east of milepost 39 (East Church Mountain Road). Our crews have every piece of equipment they own out on the roads, and they're doing their best to keep the roads passable.

Eastern Washington
Hearing reports of 18-20 inches of snow, conditions are bad all around. Expecting more snow today.

Web site
We reached 5.8 million page views yesterday. A new record for our site. Unfortunately we are experiencing internal network issues this morning. Pages may be slow to load or may not come up at all.

We will be updating this blog, Twitter, and posting photos all day today to keep you informed of the conditions.

If you can stay home today, do it. If you find yourself on the road and you do not want to travel any farther, consider getting off the freeway entirely or move to the right side. Please do not stop in the travel lanes or on the left shoulder. It prevents our road crews from getting through and it prevents emergency vehicles from accessing true emergencies. They need that left lane.

Thank you for your continued help and patience. We are working as quickly as we can to get our roads in good condition.

Direct hit to Seattle and possible Web site slowdown

Seattle got a direct hit of winter weather just as the commute was getting going this morning. All routes into Seattle are congested. People are getting out of their vehicles on 520 and driving backwards to get off the freeway.

Those coming in from Federal Way may have had no idea things were this bad in the metro area - they just didn't see this weather when they left home. Vancouver is also getting its first taste of winter in the metro area.

Our Web site also hit a million page views by 7 a.m. this morning - this could cause some slowdowns for users. If this continues we will switch to a more basic site.

Most of Eastern Washington is compact snow and ice. Those taking this day off to go skiing - be ready for snow and ice.

Here's some tips if you have to go into the Seattle metro area today:
  • Do not drive against traffic on the freeway.
  • Do not abandon your vehicle because we can't clear the road if you aren't there to move your car.
  • Please check your entire route before you leave.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Drivers....take it slow all over

As you can see from Dustin's post - they are getting hit hard in the North Sound and it's moving south. It's been coming down hard in Olympia this morning and I hear from some friends down south that Centralia/Chehalis has snow and ice. And it's moving further south into Cowlitz and Clark counties.

Spokane is also getting hit hard. And it's going to be that way for a while. Snow and ice could come to the Seattle metro area later this afternoon. And the mountain passes could see two feet or more tonight. Bring chains.

If you are going out today, expect winter driving conditions. It doesn't matter where you are or where you are going. You will see snow and ice somewhere. Slow down.

Our crews are out treating, plowing, clearing. And we are watching the forecasts very close.

On the website, you can look at camera images and weather warnings across the state. This will give you a good idea of what the roadways look like. Please check them out. We have also been out getting some photos and video this morning. We'll update when possible. Enjoy - while sitting next to the fire with a cup of hot chocolate, if you can...

Snowing hard in Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties

Think twice before you head to Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties today. We're having whiteout conditions randomly throughout the counties. Just about every road in Skagit County has compact snow and ice. The same goes for many of the roads in Whatcom and Island counties.



My coworker recently measured the snowfall on his car in the parking lot, and since 7 a.m. this morning we've gotten 3 inches of snow in Burlington.

I've watched as the cops and tow trucks have responded to several collisions right in front of my office. If you don't have to leave the house, it's better that you don't. I'm watching on the Bellingham traffic cameras as our crews respond to an overturned semitruck on I-5 in Bellingham. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Traffic/Bellingham/I5_LakewayDr.htm.

We're shifting five additional snowplow trucks up to the Skagit, Whatcom and Island areas to help fight the snow.



When I asked my my maintenance supervisor what he wanted me to tell the radio stations, he said, "STAY HOME!" Our plow drivers have a hard time plowing and sanding the roads when they're clogged with collisions.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tracking the giant icicle

As temperatures across the state plunge to what seem like arctic levels, maintenance crews are faced with some unique challenges in their quest to keep the roads drivable. On SR 20, just east of Newhalem, crews battle giant icicles. Seriously.

If you drive SR 20 during the summer, you may not think much of the water that seeps through the rock as you pass through the tunnels east of Newhalem. But in the winter, when the weather drops below freezing, that water can become a hazard for drivers. The icicles that form on the walls and ceiling can get so large that they nearly impede traffic. And the constant dripping of water onto the road creates several icy patches.

Our maintenance crews are up in the area several times a week during cold weather, making sure the icicles don’t grow too large and placing deicer and sand on the road to keep it safe for drivers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stay up to date on mountain pass conditions...

Everybody ready for a wild weekend? It looks like it's going to be a fun one, if you like storms that is. Personally, I happen to love them, but then again I don't have any Christmas shopping to do this weekend.

It's dumping in the passes today, with up to 2 feet of snow expected in some areas. If you have to travel over the passes this weekend I highly recommend you take the time to get prepared before you go. The road conditions are changing very quickly.

One of the most vital pieces of information you can have before you travel over the passes is the reports that tell you the current conditions and let you know if you need to put your chains on or not.

We have several different ways to get this information and I wanted to let you know about all of them, especially before this weekend.

Email
You can sign up to get the reports directly to your inbox as conditions change. A word of warning though: on days like today that can mean a lot of messages in your inbox. But, it can be very beneficial to know what the current conditions are and how quickly and often conditions change up there.

RSS
Put the RSS feed of your favorite pass in your RSS reader to stay up to date. There is a link on each mountain pass page to it's RSS feed.

511
Don't forget you can always dial "511" and get the latest conditions.

Twitter
We have a new tool in the arsenal by using Twitter. You can get current pass conditions by direct messaging the WSDOT twitter account. Set yourself up with a free twitter account, and by using the specific keywords and instruction provided on this page, you can send a text to the WSDOT account and it will reply back to you with the current conditions. That means if you are about to drive over the passes and you send a text message (of course not while driving) to Twitter (40404) with the words "d wsdot pass sno" Twitter will text back to you the current conditions of Snoqualmie Pass by using Twitter's direct messaging feature.

Text messaging
Twitter is the only way we offer pass reports via text message as of right now. We are working on a way that would allow a system to send you a message whenever the pass report updates, but we are still working the bugs out of it. Limiting these messages to 140 characters is proving to be a challenge.

Stay warm this weekend, take the time to get prepared, and drive safely out there.

On a side note, for all you 520 bridge drivers. We are watching the Lake Washington Bridges and the wind speed closely. If we get gusts of 50 mph or more we will have to close the 520 bridge.

On another side note... We had a little glitch with our server that serves up mountain pass images this morning. For some reason it decided to ask for a username and password to view the images. We gave it a good kick and it's back to normal now, sorry about that.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Here it Comes: Ice and Snow and Cold

Big plans for the weekend? Holiday parties around town? If you are traveling this weekend, be prepared for some serious winter weather headed our way. Our friends north of the border are sending us the chills.

The weather forecasts are showing a cold blast from British Columbia coming down that will bring snow and temperatures down to the daytime 30s and nighttime 20s. And that’s in the Puget Sound lowlands. As you head up the mountains, toward Eastern Washington or down to south central part of the state, we are talking significant snowfall, lows in the teens and highs in the 20s.

That’s just plain cold. For drivers, first and foremost, slow down. Ice and snow, take it slow. And, be prepared. Look at our winter checklist of ways to prepare your car for winter driving. There are also some great tips on driving in snow and ice.

Bookmark our site to make sure you can get the latest road conditions. We will also be talking to the media to keep everyone up to date.

Our partners at Washington’s Emergency Management Department have some winter readiness tips for the home and office.

From WEMD today: “The approach of the season’s first cold spell means it is good time to review emergency preparedness for homes, businesses and schools,” said Jim Mullen, director, Washington Emergency Management Division (WEMD). Preparedness information is available at:
http://www.emd.wa.gov/preparedness/prep_travel_preparedness.shtml
http://www.emd.wa.gov/preparedness/prep_infocus_winter.shtml

The past two winter seasons also have produced a series of tragic carbon monoxide deaths involving the improper use of generators and charcoal burners for home cooking or heating. Take the time to watch WEMD’s Generator Safety/Carbon Monoxide video at: http://www.emd.wa.gov/preparedness/videos/video_generatorsafety.shtml.

Carbon monoxide poisoning and generator safety fact sheets are available at:
http://emd.wa.gov/preparedness/CarbonMonoxideDanger.shtml
http://emd.wa.gov/preparedness/GeneratorSafety.shtml

Also, it may be a good idea to make sure you know your office, school and daycare snow and ice policies. This time, the real cold stuff shouldn’t start until Friday and we should be back to a normal winter trend by Monday (which still means cool temps and snow in the mountains). But, winter weather is unpredictable and it’s a good idea to have that info handy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Loader slips, tumbles down hillside near Bellingham

We had to close a portion of Chuckanut Drive (State Route 11) near Bellingham for close to two hours Tuesday, Dec. 2 to pull a front loader out of the trees.

The loader was driving down the narrow, winding, two-lane road and had moved over to the "shoulder" to let some cars pass, when it slipped and tumbled down the steep hillside. Apparently the driver got a little too close to the edge of the hillside. The soft, steep shoulder wasn't able to support the weight of the loader and down it went. It landed upside down against a tree. The driver was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

SR 11, tractor slipped off hillside

SR 11, tractor slipped off hillside

SR 11, tractor slips off hillside

You're probably wondering why the loader was driving along the highway in the first place. To make a long story short, there have been a few (four) rockslides on Chuckanut Drive in the last month. The contractor we hired, Granite Northwest, has the loader on the highway to help clean up the slides. The loader had been rearranging a pile of rocks at a dump site and was headed back to the rockslide location when it happened.

SR 20, North Cascades Highway - pass status


SR 20, North Cascades Highway - Washington Pass on Dec. 1, 2008
Originally uploaded by wsdot.

Wondering about the status of North Cascades Pass? It's still open.

Before Thanksgiving, the tall (6 to 8,000 foot starting zone) avalanche chutes were about halfway to where they'd need to be to cause a threat and we haven't gotten much more snow (6 to 10,000 feet) over the last week. The forecast doesn't call for much more for the rest of the week, so until we get some "winter" it's going to continue as it has - crews plowing, etc. as needed. Our forecaster says Washington Pass ought to get another 2-3 inches between now and Thursday, which isn't real "threatening”.

Remember that the traditional closure dates are between Thanksgiving week and the 2nd week of December. One substantial storm is really all that is needed to fill those chutes and cause the avalanches that will close it for the season - and it's very likely to happen over the next two or three weeks, but who knows? We have around 14" to 16" of snow on the ground at the summit. A General rule for avalanche danger that closes the highway is 24” to 36” of snow coupled with some additional trigger, i.e. rain or more snow or a big temperature change.

When the season closure comes, it usually happens fast, so if you’re planning a trip, check the pass report and the web page (www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades/) before you leave or call 5-1-1. Washington and Rainy are a thousand feet higher than Stevens and two thousand higher than Snoqualmie, so they often get snow when the others are getting rain.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sunday Surge: Travel increases for end of holiday weekend

Travel numbers from Thanksgiving 2008 show more drivers may have made a weekend out of it. Compared to 2007, travel decreased slightly on the Friday after Thanksgiving, while increased – in some cases close to 40 percent – on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

Prior to the holiday weekend, WSDOT posted information on typical cross-state holiday travel on its Web site and its travel predictions were very close to actual traffic counts for Wednesday through Saturday.

Sunday was a different story. Here’s what we found:

  • Compared to 2007, many drivers stayed in Eastern Washington over the weekend.
  • On I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, close to 180,000 made the trip Wednesday through Sunday, an increase from 2007 of just 2,150 vehicles (1.2 percent).
  • Westbound travel was down 12,900 (12 percent) on Friday, but up 25,200 (13 percent) Sunday.

Snoqualmie is typically very busy for Thanksgiving. Another busy Turkey Day spot is Washington’s only section of I-5 with just two lanes in each direction - the area just south of Olympia through Lewis County. We have projects going on to widen it.

Here’s the 2008 numbers for I-5 south of Olympia:

  • For the entire weekend, close to 350,000 vehicles traveled here (Wednesday through Sunday), an increase of just four percent from 2007.
  • But looking at the numbers from Sunday alone indicate there were 68,600 cars on the road here, 16,000 (30 percent) more than in 2007.
  • Sunday's southbound travel was up 19 percent and northbound travel up 41 percent.

Okay, so here’s the big question…why? Forty one percent is a big number – why and what were you all doing Sunday? One thing we do know it wasn’t the weather. It was pretty good all over. Fog and frost slowed Snoqualmie Pass traffic in the early morning hours, however the weather did not cause serious problems or long delays for holiday travelers.

By the way, for those who like numbers, it looks like we were right on in Tacoma. On the SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll plaza, we correctly predicted between 60 and 75 percent of drivers would use the manual toll lanes during peak travel times (6-11 p.m.) on Thanksgiving Day. It seems five-mile backups were reported at times, with wait times up to 40 minutes. To help these drivers, the Washington State Patrol temporarily opened the HOV lane to all electronic toll payers with Good To Go! accounts. Besides the Thursday rush, there were no backups reported for the remainder of the weekend.

Mountain pass temperatures...

Question of the day:
Why are there two temperatures listed for Stevens Pass? Where are they taken at? I can see 1-2 degree difference in them but sometimes there is 5 or more degrees difference.

Answer:
There are three temperatures displayed on all of the mountain pass pages. The temp in the yellow "Pass Report" box next to the picture of whatever pass you're looking at is what is radioed in to our various Traffic Management Centers from the thermometer on the maintenance supervisor's pickup. That's the air temperature in the shade on the roadside wherever he or she is when they call in the pass report and set the traction restrictions, if any. As a result, the location could vary a mile or more from the summit, depending on the pavement conditions the supervisor has encountered as he/she makes the assessment. That's a call that takes place every 4 hours from November through March. It means that at 1 p.m., you're looking at a temperature that is an hour old. Below the camera image is a blue box labeled "Current Weather". A road weather information station provides that data every few minutes to the web page. The thermometers measure the air temperature and the pavement temperature at the summit of the passes. These are also subject to the influences of any permanent location - sunshine - a bird perching on a sensor or even a vehicle stopped on top of the pavement sensor.

Yesterday, for example, Stevens showed a temperature of 37 for the noon pass report, but by 1 p.m., the current weather box showed an air temperature of 48 and a pavement (surface) temperature of 53. A half hour later, when the sun went back behind the clouds, the temps had dropped to 47 and 51, respectively.

The Blewett pass page showed a similar pattern - 42 degrees in the pass report box and in the current weather box, 52 - air, 42 - surface at 1 p.m.

I checked Snoqualmie, Satus, etc. and Loup Loup (37-37-37) was the only one that showed all three matching, and then only for about fifteen minutes.

You might think we ought to eliminate the temp in the pass report box to eliminate confusion - and we would except that the info in the yellow box is what also appears on several other of our web pages, the 5-1-1 phone system and Highway Advisory Radio's, and NOAA's web site which is what Associated Press uses to provide its member's "news". All of those systems are automated and when conditions do change rapidly, forcing us to change the traction restrictions sooner than the standard "every four hour" schedule, then all of those change, too. It really wouldn't make much sense to update the mountain pass reports every 3 to 10 minutes because the temperature changed a degree or two - and if someone is looking at the pass pages, between the picture, the pass report and the current information, they ought to be able to decide if they want to go or not.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday travel planning...

For those of you who already have all of your food shopping done, a menu prepared and the china and silver dusted off, we have got something just for you.

Or, for those of you who prefer to do your grocery shopping at the last minute, or maybe even just buy a pre-made meal, it will work for you too.

If you fit into either of these categories and are planning to travel for your holiday weekend be sure to check out our "best times to travel" guide for I-90 North Bend to Cle Elum, I-5 south of Olympia, and SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Check it out: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Congestion/ThanksgivingDay/.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chuckanut Drive fossils reveal tropical past

It may seem hard to fathom now, as we trudge through our typical cold, wet fall days, but 55 million years ago, the Pacific Northwest was a warm-weather paradise. The fossils revealed by last week’s rockslide on Chuckanut Drive (SR 11) in Bellingham are proof.

IMG_1187

In the Eocene epoch (pronounced ee-oh-scene ee-pock), the Chuckanut Drive area looked dramatically different than the steep cliffs and rugged sandstone rock outcroppings we see today. More than 55 million years ago, the area was a lush floodplain filled with winding rivers and side channels. Large, palm-like trees, ferns and other warm-weather vegetation filled the floodplain and riverbanks.

Over time, river sediments accumulated, trapping various plant leaves and tree roots, and turned to rock. The area gradually cooled for several million years, ushering in the Pleistocene ice ages. Today, finding fossils of ferns, roots and tree leaves is a pretty common occurrence for maintenance crews cleaning up rockslides along the road.

If you’ve driven along Chuckanut Drive, you may have also noticed the various stripes and layers in the rock. Typical layers found in the Chuckanut area include sandstone, siltstone, shale, conglomerates and coal. Many of these layers are tilted and folded – an indication that the area was susceptible to tectonic activity from several faults in the area.

The makeup of the rock formations along Chuckanut Drive is also one of the main reasons we have so many rockslides during the fall and spring. Sandstone, siltstone and shale are porous, brittle rocks. Over time, when water seeps into cracks in the rock, it can dissolve and remove material holding the rock together. During the fall and spring, this is a regular occurrence along the rock outcroppings that border the highway. When enough material washes away, the rocks become unstable and can slide onto the road.

Our maintenance crews have years of experience dealing with the rocks along Chuckanut Drive. In fact, they lovingly refer to the hillside as rotten rock because of how brittle some of the rock is. You can break it apart with your fingers. As you might imagine, this presents a challenge when it comes to trying to stabilize the hillside. We’ve stabilized the slope many times during the past 20 years, and will likely continue to do so in the coming years.

The Chuckanut area is a fascinating example of the environmental forces that helped shape Puget Sound. So the next time you’re winding your way along Chuckanut Drive, try and imagine that nice, warm, tropical atmosphere from 55 million years ago.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Maintenance supervisor spots rockslide before it happens

It’s one of the biggest rockslides to happen on Chuckanut Drive (SR 11) in the last decade. Fortunately no one was injured or hurt when several hundred yards of rock crashed onto the roadway Monday, Nov. 10. Some of the rocks were as big as small cars.

Chuckanut rockslide - Nov. 10, 2008; P1070011

The fact that nobody was hurt had a lot to do with the decision of Area 1 maintenance supervisor Ric Willand and his team to close road and prevent drivers and crews from passing beneath the unstable hillside.

Willand was on his way to inspect an earlier slide when he found a few rocks in the road at milepost 13.3. While it’s not uncommon to find rocks all along Chuckanut Drive, it is uncommon to spot a rockslide before it happens.

While Willand was stopped at the spot, several more rocks fell onto the road. None of them were big enough to close the road. But when Willand looked more closely at the hillside, he noticed that cracks were starting to form in some of the larger rocks and that the hillside appeared to be moving.

By the next day, Willand and his team had decided to close the road. Shortly after the road was closed, guess what happened? The hillside belched and rocks spilled across the road, blocking all lanes.

Chuckanut rockslide - Nov. 10, 2008; P1070018

As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and in this case, the decision to close the road was right on. The decision may have saved someone from serious injuries or death.

For more pictures of the slide, visit our Flickr picture account.

Read our news release for more details about the slide and how long it will take to stabilize the hillside.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chasing Water - today at WSDOT

At WSDOT, the maintenance crews call what they are doing today "chasing water." The regional maintenance teams will be out checking drainage in flood-prone areas. They look in our roadside culverts to make sure the water is flowing and clear any spots that may need some help.

I have a feeling that's what a number of the news reporters will be doing today, too. At least that's what they were showing last night and this morning. Weather is always a big story and if the forecasts are correct, we may see quite a bit before tomorrow morning.

Here are some tips for drivers - slow down, believe those road signs and don't drive through standing water. Check our website. It will have the latest information on what areas to watch. Our law enforcement partners are out - helping slow traffic. We have also turned on the highway signs and Highway Advisory Radio.

And those living in flood-prone areas, it's a good idea for you to check the drains on your property.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chuckanut Drive rockslide

Crews from Granite Construction worked through the weekend near milepost 11 to clear the roadway and stabilize the hillside after a rockslide Friday, Nov. 7. Crews are working today to remove unstable rocks and trees from the hillside. Work is expected to be complete Monday evening

Crews pulled approximately 100 yards of loose rock and debris off the hillside. A couple of the rocks that came down were so big that they had to be broken into five or six pieces before they could be hauled away. (For perspective, a dump truck can haul approximately 10-12 yards of material.)

Crews initially hoped to clear the area and reopen the road Friday, but the rockslide became too dangerous when more rock fell from the hillside while crews were working in the area.

Crews were worried about a second slide, at milepost 13.7. The concern was warrented as it dumped 300-400 yards of rock on the roadway. No more concern but a new spot to cleanup! Good thing they had the road closed already.

So you want to drive on the shoulder? Well, OK.

Judging from the steady stream of e-mails we receive, a great number of people have theories on how to relieve congestion.

Many of the suggestions make sense, but most aren't feasible for one reason or another. In a lot of cases, there simply isn't funding.

Other times, the ideas are a bit off the wall. WSDOT traffic engineer Steve Bennett remembers a call from a psychologist who pitched an idea to improve traffic flow on the 1950 Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

“He said we should paint the bridge orange, because orange is a color that puts people at ease,” Steve said.

Despite the psychologist’s analysis and urging, Steve held firm to his own theory that the bridge had too few lanes to support the growing traffic volume.

Traffic flow across the Narrows is much better now – ever since we added a second GREEN bridge in 2007.

But a few miles west of the Narrows on SR 16, at the SR 302 ramp to Purdy, backups develop during peak commutes that cause vehicles to weave and jockey for position as they enter and exit SR 16.

Sally McCannon of Belfair e-mailed us in July, wondering “when is something going to be done?” Sally’s e-mail came not only with a problem, but a suggested solution: “If you would have two lanes onto the Purdy exit for a little ways, it would help the backup. Seems like that would be an easy fix,” she wrote.

Our traffic engineers agreed (in fact, they were already considering the idea). In September, crews restriped the SR 302 off-ramp from westbound SR 16 to allow shoulder driving on weekdays between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“We were well on our way” to adding the shoulder lane before receiving Sally’s e-mail, said Steve, offering a revelation that steals some of the fun from this blog post.

It took drivers a few days to get accustomed to using the shoulder, but as time goes by the extra afternoon lane seems to work better and better. It doesn’t solve congestion in the area. That will require millions of dollars. But with a little paint and few signs, the level of safety is improved.

“I think it has helped a lot,” Sally said when contacted by phone. “I can definitely tell it’s better. It was a good fix,” … and a good idea.

Thank you Sally and everyone who takes the time to offer their transportation suggestions. We always read them – and sometimes we even use them.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Flood watch, day 2...

The National Weather service is still reporting a flood warning and watch in effect for much of Northwest Washington. Looks like another 6 inches of rain is expected to fall in the Olympics.

Several of us in the communications office were on call last night and were relieved to have a relatively quiet night until the morning commute. The roadways have been rough this morning in the Seattle area. There was also a gas line rupture in Gorst affecting SR 16 and a couple of different road closures in Thurston county. You can keep up with these events as they happen by checking out our Travel Alerts page or even calling 511.

Passes look ok right now. It's warm enough that only rain is falling but watch out for standing water. That being said, mountain passes are still mountain passes and you just never know what to expect when driving over them, so be prepared if you plan to travel that way this weekend.

We were very excited this morning to find out that more than 100,000 of you visited our Web site yesterday: wsdot.wa.gov. What was most exciting to us was that the site didn't go down, and we didn't hear of any pages running slowly when trying to access content. Please let us know if it was slow for you. We spent a lot of time this summer trying to make it run more efficiently and yesterday was one of the first tests, so far so good.

Have a safe weekend, hope you can stay dry.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Watches, warnings and forecasts...

I looked at the mountain pass cameras this morning and finally got a glimpse of some snow. Hope you all made it through the passes okay. The snow was what I would call the "pretty stuff" - the big, warm flakes that look really pretty coming down, but don't really stick to the roads all that much. Since the snow has mostly fallen in overnight hours, this was my first glimpse. It should warm up soon and this will turn to rain.

Yup, here comes the rain....This was in my inbox this morning, "New information is strongly suggesting a stalled storm centered over the north to central Cascades trailing back across the Olympics to well offshore to the SW. Several inches of rainfall from this event could easily get rung out in the mountain areas as well as adjacent lowlands. Right now, the target zones for the most rain and runoff extend from Whatcom to King County westward through northern Grays Harbor to south of Forks."

Also this one: "THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN SEATTLE HAS EXPANDED THE FLOOD WATCH TO INCLUDE A PORTION OF WESTERN WASHINGTON...
INCLUDING THE FOLLOWING COUNTIES...KING...KITSAP...LEWIS...
PIERCE...THURSTON." Sorry about the all caps, that's just the format they send it in.

The first is part of the report from WSDOT's weather forecasting service, the second is straight from the National Weather Service. We use this service, along with the National Weather Service, to decide how we are going to get ready for the upcoming storms. For the past few days, we've been out clearing off drains, see photos, and sucking out leaves and other debris. They do this in a number of ways...by hand, with rakes, other tools, and with a big, vacuum-like truck. The truck's pretty cool....but most importantly, it really helps keep the water from pooling on the roads.

We are watching the river levels closely. One thing we are concerned about is some possible slides and our crews will be keeping a very close eye on areas along US 101. We'll be out talking to the media types to get you the latest. You should also keep an eye on our Travel Alerts pages if you live or travel out in those area.

So far, the forecasts say this rain should pass us Saturday - but stay tuned.

Clearing Drains


Scooping Debris From Basin
Originally uploaded by wsdot.

Crews were out yesterday clearing drains to prepare for the rain.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Weather roller coaster...

First came the snow, next comes the rain. The National Weather Service sent out an alert for possible flooding on Thursday - mostly in the Northwest part of the state and in the Olympic Peninsula. The NWS says this "strong weather system" could bring five to eight inches in some areas.

You can find more info on our weather forecast portion of our site. It's not often you see a flash flood watch.

Update 12:30 pm: Looks like the "flash flood" watch was just dropped, however flood watch still in affect for Northwest WA: http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/sew/

Monday, November 3, 2008

Snow in the forecast tonight

The first of what we would call a significant snowfall of the season could hit the mountain pass highways tonight.The National Weather Service says expect six to 10 inches - with the heavier amounts above 4,000 feet. The snow level could drop to 2,500 feet for a few hours overnight. I-90 Snoqualmie is about 3,000 feet while US 2 Stevens is higher at 4,000 feet and US 12 White reaches about 4,500 feet. For those travelling into the higher elevations - expect it to come down much heavier and last longer.

Our crews are keeping a very close eye on the National Weather Service and receive updates all day from the weather forecasting service we contract with. Having access to both services gives us an idea of where and when to schedule our crews.

Even with both these tools, we need your help. We have all seen the drivers out there who just don't have a clue. Please don't be one of those...get your car ready, get yourself ready and when you see ice or snow, take it slow.

We have it all here www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter - take a look and be ready.

The forecast says the weather should warm up by later tomorrow morning so if you aren't ready to drive in the snow, I would wait until it clears up.

Flickr site surpasses 2 million views...

This weekend we surpassed 2 million views for our photos on the photo sharing site Flickr. An amazing amount of use for the short time we have been using this photo sharing tool. We started using this site shortly before the Tacoma Narrows Bridge opening event in July of 2007 and have continued to upload photos to it ever since. I have to admit, mother nature gave us a little help, there were a few pretty amazing events that happened over the last year or so that have really created use for us. Let's hope she isn't so helpful this year.


Here are the top five most viewed photos so far:


I-5 at Chehalis



Avalanche on Stevens Pass


Mudslide on SR 6 near Pe Ell


I-5 at Chehalis


I-90 Avalanche control work

See this list and more in ranked order, or you could also just check out our favorite photos. Hope you enjoying seeing these as much as we do.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Brief web site outage...

We are moving equipment around late Saturday night, which means the Web site will be down from 11-3 a.m.

Ferries information, the 5-1-1 information line and most of the Web site will be unavailable during this brief outage. This is one of those moves that is kind of like reorganizing the garage. We will be consolidating and organizing network and server equipment to make sure that if an event happens and causes something to go awry we will know exactly where it is to fix it.

If we do have that major event, like the flooding we had last year, we are excited about the opportunity of using tools like this blog, Twitter and Flickr to make sure you will always be informed of what's happening out there on the roadway.

On a seasonal note, the traffic management centers that provide 24 hour pass reporting start up again this Saturday. Here's hoping for a much milder winter than last year. Unfortunately for me, due to an ACL tear this last summer, my ski plans are off for the winter so I won't be paying as much attention to their reporting as usual. But I do find it reassuring that whenever I need the information to travel over I-90 or US 2 they will have it up to date.

For those of you who have mobile devices with internet access we have added pass reports to the mobile traffic site. Just point your mobile device to wsdot.wa.gov/small/ to get the same information we report on our Web site, after or before Saturday night of course.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Liquid de-icers on your driveway...

We get e-mail questions every day and I’m guessing that the answers include information that you didn’t know either – so we’re going to post some of those e mails and the responses here so you can weigh in.

This October 23rd e-mail from a Leavenworth resident went to North Central Region Communications Director Jeff Adamson in Wenatchee:
(Question) What kinds of liquid de-icers should I buy to use on my private driveway which is connected to Highway 2? The state snowplows leave a build up of snow when they plow and I have had a hard time deciding what to do about getting rid of this accumulation. I would like to know what brand of de-icer to buy that would be safe to use for our environment and still get rid of the snow on my driveway.

(Response) Typically, private citizens don't use commercial liquid anti icers for the same reason that they aren't used in parking lots - most are sticky (because of the anti corrosion agents in them) and make a mess out of carpets (The Bon Marche’ opened a new store in Denver a few years ago and used liquid anti icer in the parking lot and had to replace 50,000 square feet of carpet, the week after their grand opening...)

That being said - you can make your own (not sticky) simply by mixing the crystal de icer you can buy at any hardware store with hot water. I need to point out that we only use liquid as a pre-treatment - not to melt snow that's already there. Liquid is "anti icer" and solids (crystals) are de-icers. Apply the liquid before there's any frost, snow or ice on your driveway and when it comes, the water crystals won't bond to the pavement so when you shovel off the accumulation, your blade gets all the way down to the pavement and your driveway is bare and wet when you're done instead of still covered with a layer of hard packed snow or ice.

Once the snow has started falling and is accumulating on the roadway, we switch to solid (crystal) salt which is wetted with anti corrosive liquid. That accomplishes two things. One- it makes the rock salt stick where we put it, so the next truck through the zone doesn't blow it all onto the shoulder, and second, the wetted salt meets the state standard of 70% less corrosive than untreated rock salt. For residential purposes - you probably don't drive fast enough on your driveway to cause whatever you put on it to create a corrosion issue or a "blow off" issue - so pre wetting your “home” rock salt isn't necessary.

From an environmental standpoint, the amount of salt you are likely to use will be diluted with melted snow to nearly undetectable levels by the time it goes through the stormwater system and gets to the river. That's not to say, due to the topography of your driveway, that you might have a spot in your yard or garden where your driveway run off accumulates, that could produce some yellow spots in your grass next spring.

Finally, using chemicals to melt the snowplow curl at the end of a driveway is not very efficient in that it requires a lot of it. Spokane is in an environmental zone where the city and county are not allowed to use sand because when it dries, it becomes dust and violates air quality standards. Spokane uses liquid as a deicer and uses more of it than the entire rest of the state combined. We apply liquid as a pre treatment at the rate of 15 to 30 gallons per lane mile (depending on type of road surface and temperature). As a deicer, Spokane sometimes applies it at the rate of 100 gallons per lane mile. If you've driven there, you will note that at those levels, applied winter after winter, the practice has caused deterioration of both pavement and curbs on local streets.
I would recommend that you shovel or plow the curl at the end of your driveway instead of trying to chemically melt it (although I would certainly pre-treat that area with a liquid mixture so when the accumulation comes, it's easier to remove.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Drive safely in the mountains


Drive safely in the mountains - 1
Originally uploaded by wsdot.


While we try to communicate the fact that winter arrives a mile high in the mountains earlier than it does in the lowlands – sometimes a personal testimony tells the story in a way we can’t.

I sent out the first e-mail of the season on Sept. 22 to people who are signed up to get the North Cascades Highway winter/spring (close/open) updates. I was advising of overnight snowfall, slush on the road and the expectation for more, and sharing our “key message” – It’s winter in the mountains – be prepared!

The weather since then hadn’t returned to “fall,” until this week when the second “snow” e-mail went out. The second e-mail prompted a response from a member who shared his experience after the first e-mail: How he totaled his new AWD Subaru, despite being: 1) a frequent traveler over the highway; 2) 25-plus years of experience driving in mountain snow; 3) and having read the e-mail update and expecting he might encounter weather.

"It was like nothing I'd ever seen...literally I crested the top of the pass and was in 2" of slush immediately. I braked and the backend fishtailed, got off the brakes and straightened it out and was headed for that 45mph left-hander near Bridge Creek and braked again hoping the ABS would do its job, and it was like being on ball-bearings. The car got sideways, I crossed the oncoming lane and slammed front-end first into an embankment and then started rolling once the tires caught the dirt. Had I hit 25' earlier I would've gone into a vertical rock wall, and 25' later would've t-boned the end of the oncoming guardrail...another 25' after where I stopped rolling would've wrapped me around a stand of trees. I got seriously lucky."

He eventually ended up in the hospital in Brewster where the verdict was no internal injuries, despite some world class seat belt bruises:

"Long story, short - the side curtain airbag probably saved my bacon and the car did very well in the rollover as far as driver protection. However, the lesson learned for me is that those passes can be highly unpredictable and obviously have their own micro-climates. It just pays to be very vigilant at this time of the year. There were flurries on Washington when I drove home at 2 pm yesterday...."

Please drive safely up there.

(Submitted by Jeff Adamson)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

2008 Winter Driving - Don't Break the Egg

I admit to my Western Washington upbringing. We don't get snow very often, but guess what? It doesn't take snow for the road to freeze - and those icy temps are coming very soon, maybe even tonight in your neighborhood. The first rule of snow and ice driving? Slow down. And then slow down again.

As luck would have it, my first year as a driver we had snow and lots of frozen roads. And mine was the only car in the family with even front-wheel drive. Mostly, my parents got the car. But, I will never forget that Tuesday night trip to a basketball game at Tiger Gymnasium (or as we call it - Ron's House) with my Dad riding shotgun. It was time for my first snow and ice-driving lesson. Growing up in Colorado, Dad had some experience. "Pretend there's an egg under the pedals," he said. "Don't push too hard on the gas or the brake...or you'll break the egg." That's great advice, as most experts will say either accelerating too much or braking too much is a reason drivers lose control on icy roads. (My Dad also let me spin out in the parking lot a few times just in case I didn't quite believe him.)

I am sure many of you have similar tips for those who just aren't used to driving on ice and snow. We've put together our annual Winter Driving Website and are very thankful that Les Schwab tires helps us distribute our Winter Driving brochure. The brochure should be arriving in the next 5-10 days at your local Les Schwab. You can also download a copy to talk to your kids, spouse, friends or anyone else you think may need a refresher. If you need some hard copies, send me a note and I'll get them to you.

And for those of you with four-wheel or all-wheel drive, please take a few moments to read it also. My parents sent me off to WSU with an old Jeep Cherokee. But, when that first snow hit, in the mailbox came an article Mom cut out from Parade magazine (God bless her) on how to operate that four-wheel drive.

Driving on icy roads is different so be ready. Don't get overconfident. Even the most expensive four-wheel drive SUV is only as good as its driver. And speaking of expensive...ever been in an accident? Those costs add up quick..and then go up again...and again.

What's your best winter driving tip? Leave it in the comments below. Oh, and thanks Mom and Dad.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How do you want the information?

With freezing levels and snow falling in the passes we are doing our best to prepare ourselves and the Web site for the winter season. We have made changes which should allow the site to handle more visitors and withstand the heavier usage that always comes when the weather goes south. What else can we do? This is the question I ask myself.

We offer RSS feeds as a way to keep up on news and the latest pass reports without having to visit the Web site to see what's new. We also have a Twitter account which allows us to publish quick updates to our followers which can be instantly sent to a mobile phone if you choose. We have been kicking around the idea of publishing the Seattle Area Incidents to Twitter - is there value in this for you?

We want to be able to provide you with the information you are looking for in the most efficient way possible so you can make informed decisions. Does this mean custom Google Gadgets for your iGoogle page? Is it an application you can add to your Facebook account? Facebook and other Social networking Web sites can be powerful forms of communication.

So I ask you, when you come to our site what are you looking for? Are there other ways we can provide you with that information?

Let me know.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I did it, I took the bus...

I did it. I took the bus. Wasn't as easy as I thought. I read the schedule wrong and luckily another bus rider pointed me to the right stop so I didn't take as direct a route as I wanted but I still got to work.

I kept talking about it, about how much in gas money it would save me, about how much better I would feel about the amount of emissions I am putting into the environment. I finally did it this morning, and you know what, it feels really good! Now that I have taken this first step, I plan to do this much more often.

But what about you? Each of us get to work somehow, and unfortunately many of us via a car. But what drives you to get into that car every day? If you know you are contributing to congestion, you know the price of gas is burning a hole in your wallet and you know that you are contributing to pollution, why get in that car?

What if you could reinvent your commute. What would it look like?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Road trips...

What is it about driving that we love so much? Is it the instinctive nature of humans to want to roam? Is it the sense that there is adventure out there somewhere?

Those thoughts come to mind as I reflected on a recent summer vacation when my family and I took a road trip. We started in Olympia, drove up through Seattle, took the Mulkilteo-Clinton ferry (which is far too short of a ferry ride to really enjoy, but just enough to eat a fantastic Ivars lunch), then headed up Highway 20 through Whidbey Island - including Oak Harbor - and across the Deception Pass bridge - definitely a must see; what a view. We then stayed with some family in Mount Vernon for a couple of days, then came back down I-5 back down through Seattle, Tacoma, and back home to Olympia.

The highlight of this trip for my kids was definitely the ferry ride. My oldest had already been on a ferry before and was very excited about the opportunity but my youngest hadn't yet and was very curious and definitely picking up on her older sister's excitement. It was fantastic to see the glimmer in their eyes as we rode across the water towards Clinton. I lost count of the number of times that they went to both the front and back of the boat, arguing in that childlike way about which side was the front.

But trips like this to some folks are more than just an adventure, they are a hobby. Take David Corcoran for example. His goal is to drive every single state highway in the country. Not sure exactly where he started, but he has almost completed his goal for this state. What is even more interesting is that he has documented most of his journey from his Web site http://www.washingtonhighways.org/.

As the summer winds down, the leaves start to change color and you reflect on your summer, what was your favorite drive? What was the most scenic adventure you took in Washington state? Where is the point on the state highway map you would like to go next?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stevens pass cameras...

Unfortunately, it looks like the Stevens pass cameras will be down for a week or more. On Wednesday of last week a backhoe digging up a sewer pipe at the summit accidentally damaged the fiber optic cable. Turns out several hundred feet of that cable will need to be replaced before the camera will be back online.

The camera is a lot more fun to watch when the snow is falling as snow falls on the roadway and the ski resort parking lot fills up daily with skiers. Luckily it happened while the sun is still shining!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First day of fall left an impression

Well, it’s fall in the Northwest again. You know what that means: Crisp, sunny days. The changing colors of the leaves. Snow in the passes.



Wait. What? Snow? In September? Yep, that’s right. A freak snowstorm hit the North Cascades on Monday, dropping several inches of wet snow on the North Cascades Highway and forcing the closure of the 3-mile road to Artist Point.

Personally, I was hoping for a few more of those balmy 70-degree days. But I guess we’ve been overruled by mother nature.

On Monday, WSDOT crews working on Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) near Artist Point decided to close the last three miles of the road to Artist Point as a safety precaution. It’s a steep, windy road with narrow shoulders and no guardrail – a beautiful drive in good weather, but not for the faint of heart in snowy or icy conditions. Because of that, we typically close the road in mid-October and don’t open it again until mid-July.

Fortunately, the snow didn’t stick around for long, and the road was only closed for one day. Of course, if we get more cool weather – or more snow – anytime soon, we may have to close the road for the season. Here’s hoping for warmer weather.

You can find photos of our snowplows in action – on the first day of fall – by visiting our Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wsdot/sets/72157607451604559/

Friday, September 19, 2008

“This project is amazing”

For more than a decade, stop-and-go traffic on SR 202 frustrated drivers and was only expected to get worse with more housing and population growth on the Sammamish Plateau. Nobody likes to sit in traffic.



We recently widened three miles of State Route 202 from SR 520 in Redmond to Sahalee Way to help break the bottleneck on SR 202 – and Johnna Jones (photo above), who commutes on SR 202 is pretty happy about it.

“This project is amazing,” said Johnna about the SR 202 Widening project. Johnna wrote to WSDOT back in April when the first new lanes started to open on SR 202.

We’ve stayed in touch with Johnna throughout the summer and invited her to share her remarks at the SR 202 – SR 520 to Sahalee Way project ribbon cutting event we hosted in Happy Valley yesterday.

With Johnna’s permission, here is what she had to say.


“I live in Fall City and commute to Redmond. All of my commute is on 202.

I have lived in the area all my life (34 years). 21 years of that in the Happy Valley itself. I have seen all the growth in the area and dealt with the traffic that has resulted from it. I remember how bad attempting to get off the plateau was during certain hours of the day. In fact, we lived right off NE 50th St and many times during backups travelers would use our road as a way around it.

The road improvements have given me more time and a less stressful commute. I do not have to wake up so early to get to work on time. I don't purposefully work late so that I can leave after the worst of the traffic has passed. I don't have to be frustrated about just sitting in a long line of cars, not going anywhere! Who wants to start or end their day grumpy because of traffic?

I also want to let you know that it is not just the weekly work commute that has improved. It was getting to the point that reaching Redmond on weekends was becoming a hassle as well, and this too has been remedied.

I have also witnessed the wetlands being destroyed by poor building planning. In addition to improving our roads, you guys have done an excellent job in trying to preserve and protect the streams in the area! Thank YOU!”


Thank you, Johnna. We could not have said it better ourselves.

Cable median barrier continues to save lives

This week we released the 2008 annual report on cable median barrier in Washington State. The report is a follow up to the June 2007 report requested by Governor Chris Gregoire.

How is cable median barrier performing? Well, there’s good news and more good news. Cable barrier continues to save lives in Washington. Statewide, cable barrier successfully restrained 95 percent of vehicles from crossing highway medians.

Additionally, in areas where cable barrier has been installed, there has been a 73 percent reduction in serious injuries and fatalities from crossover collisions. While no barrier can protect drivers 100 percent of the time, drivers who strike cable median barrier are less likely to be seriously injured because the cable barrier absorbs the force of the collision. Vehicles that hit the rigid concrete barrier are more likely to ricochet back into traffic. Occupants are at risk of suffering injury from the force of impact with the rigid barrier and from colliding with other vehicles.

So if cable median barrier is so great, why is WSDOT replacing 10 miles of it with concrete barrier in Marysville? Last July, WSDOT, the Washington State Patrol and independent experts completed a detailed review of statewide cable median barrier and cross-median collisions on I-5 in Marysville at the request of Governor Gregoire. The report noted a higher-than-average number of crossover collisions on I-5 in Marysville, for reasons not completely understood by safety specialists. Due to the history of cross-median collisions in this area, the report recommend installation of concrete barrier on the northbound inside shoulder of 10 miles of I-5 through Marysville while leaving the existing cable median barrier adjacent to the southbound lanes. Using both cable median barrier and concrete barrier will help keep southbound traffic from crossing into the northbound lanes.

You can find more about the 2008 Cable Barrier update at: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Cablebarrier/Report2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Beep! Beep! Road widening in Issaquah

You may have heard about the big traffic snag on SR 900 in Issaquah last week. Drivers sat in traffic for up to 45 minutes on a trip that usually takes less than 20.



Flaggers temporarily stop traffic on SR 900 to allow a truck safe access to the work zone. View more SR 900 construction photos.


Our phone lines lit up with calls from drivers wanting to know the cause of the delay and what WSDOT was going to do about it.

We learned that crews from WSDOT, Puget Sound Energy and the City of Renton were all working along SR 900 at the same time. Not to mention it was the first week of school for the Issaquah School District.

Within 24 hours we held an emergency meeting with the City of Issaquah and came up with a plan to coordinate lane closures and keep traffic moving.

Here is a blog entry about the work we are doing on SR 900 so you can get a better understanding of the project and how it will affect and benefit drivers.

– Broch Bender, WSDOT Communications


Two things pop into my mind when I think of Issaquah: Salmon Days and traffic congestion. While our traffic engineers may know little about how to pull off a famous festival, they do know a thing or two about how to reduce the notorious traffic bottleneck on SR 900 near I-90.

About 36,000 vehicles travel on SR 900 to and from I-90 each day. In 2004 our crews widened the roadway, and provided some congestion relief for SR 900 drivers through Issaquah until they reach Newport Way.

Now road construction crews are back on SR 900, also known as Renton-Issaquah Road SE, to finish the job.

(Another big project just down the road is steering Renton drivers to the already popular route, at times adding to construction backups. More on that later.)

We're on track to add a lane in each direction, doubling capacity on SR 900 from Newport Way to just south of Talus Drive. This will make it easier for traffic to get to and from I-90.

The widening project is expected to take about a year and a half to complete. We know a lot of drivers depend on this road to travel through Issaquah, so we are working to limit lane closures and traffic slowdowns.

This month, crews are expanding the bridge over Tibbetts Creek about a half-mile south of Newport Way. We're also building a retaining wall just north of Talus Drive.

Drivers can expect to see flaggers.

A couple times an hour, crews will funnel traffic into one lane at both locations weekdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. while construction trucks and equipment move in and out of the area.

Look for electronic message signs at both ends of the project for current wait time information. Delays are expected to last no more than five to ten minutes at a time.

Crews also will close the southbound right-turn lane to Talus Drive for the next month or so to help create a safer work zone for our orange vested folks.

Our closures have not affected traffic too much. However construction crews from the City of Renton have closed Duvall Avenue NE/Coal Creek Parkway to traffic between Sunset and SE 95th Way for approximately one year as part of the City of Renton’s Coal Creek Widening Project.

A lot of drivers are taking SR 900 as an alternate route to avoid Renton's ripped up roads.

On top of all that, utility and tree service crews within a mile or two of our work zone, near May Valley Road, also are conducting periodic lane closures. This might cause northbound SR 900 traffic slowdowns weekday mornings after 9 a.m.

At the end of the day, Issaquah and the surrounding areas are growing by leaps and bounds and we need to widen our roadways to accommodate this growth by increasing capacity and hopefully speeding up drivers’ commute times.

Besides wider roads for commuters on two legs, in a few weeks we'll make things better for commuting salmon. All this with Salmon Days just around the corner on Oct. 4 and 5.

We'll replace an aging, narrow culvert beneath the roadway at Clay Pit Creek at the south end of the project. In its place, a big, new fish-friendly culvert will be installed. When we say big, we mean BIG. This thing is 47-feet long, 8-feet wide and 6-feet tall, about the size of a semi trailer.

Check back in two weeks for the next slap of the fish tale and the upcoming temporary road closures.

Drivers can find out more about the SR 900 widening project and related lane closures by visiting http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ .

September 22, 2008 - UPDATE - Due to changes in the project construction schedule, The SR 900 crew have postponed their fish culvert replacement at Clay Pit Creek until spring 2009. I'll keep you posted. --Broch