Thursday, June 26, 2008

Opening Artist point...

Remember when the Tacoma Narrows bridge expansion joint traveled across the state and you were able to follow its progress. The reason you could do that was a clever little gps device that we attached to the truck.

We thought it would be really cool to put that same unit on a snowblower working at opening Artist point. (If you didn't know where that is, Artist point is in Whatcom county, near Mt Baker, see map on right.) I haven't been up there myself but I hear the view is fantastic.

We are planning to use a combination of photos, video and this mapping tool to show you the progress. Keep checking back in with the Artist Point opening site to get the latest update.

Heads up, the unit is dependent on cell phone signals. Those can get spotty up near Mt. Baker, but we are hoping not to lose the signal. Snowblowers don't move very quickly either, so don't be surprised if the vehicle doesn't fly across the map.

Once you've seen it, let us know what you think of this test run. Would you like us to do the same thing for North Cascades pass next year?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Busy week...

The first full week of summer and wow, what a week! Lots going on around here, sorry if this seems a little scattered but I thought it fascinating that there is so much going on all across the state in the land of WSDOT.

  • The Hood Canal Bridge will have a 45 minute closure tomorrow June 26, they are building the new pontoons off site and need to make sure they will fit when they are floated in next spring.
  • The SR 520 bridge project had an open house last night, June 24 and will have another one tonight, June 25. You can also attend an
  • The Viaduct project is having an open house on June 26. The recent inspection showed no additional settlement, so we are good, so far.
  • The SR 169 bridge near Black Diamond decided to take a dip, 10 feet of dip, so there are crews out there stabilizing that hillside.
  • US 12 - Frenchtown to Walla Walla project, building eight miles of new four lane divided highway to make us 12 safer to drive.
  • I-90 Hillside stabilization project wrap up - making sure no rocks fall on the roadway
  • We launched new wait times for all four Canadian border crossings.
  • There is an open house in Bellingham on Thursday to talk about the future of I-5 through that area.
  • A schooner ran aground and a couple of ferry boats were able to help
  • Manette bridge, in Kitsap county, is closed to reinforce the bridge

We had another reminder recently also of how dangerous work zones can be. A flagger was working in a work zone and was struck and killed. Summer is construction season since the weather is nice enough to get a lot done on the many projects all across the state. Please drive safe out there and Give 'em a Brake whenever you pass through a workzone.

This only scratches the surface of what is going on with us. If you are interested in keeping up with these types of updates and more be sure to check out our Express Lane. It's a weekly roundup of news and activities.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Blogs birthing blogs ... what's up?

It happens to the best of programs. Happy Days begat Joni Loves Chachi. Friends gave us Joey. Cheers turned into Frasier. Now, the WSDOT Blog is birthing a spin-off of its own, a blog specifically for individual projects.

Thousands of people interested in Washington transportation issues have visited this blog since it was started in December 2006. We were experiencing a difficult winter and we wanted an additional tool to help share information, and hear from people about what they were thinking. So, the WSDOT Blog was born. More than a year and a half later, I'd say it has been mostly successful.

We've tried to keep the conversation casual. Formality has its place, but it's not here. You have a comment post it and we'll get back to you right away (note: Please avoid profanity. Fonzi didn't need it in Happy Days and we don't need it here. As a professional writer, I know it's possible to make a point without profanity.). The blog has led us to try other tools, like Facebook, podcasts on iTunes, YouTube, and Flickr.

We'll be trying out other tools this year. You might see us on Twitter, or Slideshare? We want to be accessible and available and that means taking Washington transportation information to where the people are already gathering. It's the same reason why you'll see WSDOT booths at local community fairs and festivals this summer. That's where the people are.

So why a new blog and why focus on a specific project? Well, there's an old adage that "all news is local." We know that people will rally around a single issue or project if it is in their backyard or if it affects their community. The Guide Meridian projects are likely to significantly affect local traffic and this is an area about which folks have cared for some time. We also have a willing project team committed to regular blog updates. One of the biggest bummers about blogging is when they aren't regularly updated.

Yes, we have a new spin-off. We'll see if you think it is worth the effort.

And a year and a half after launching the WSDOT Blog, I appreciate the support and interest you've shown in our effort to share information and, in turn, hear back from you.

Lloyd Brown, WSDOT communications director, brownl@wsdot.wa.gov

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hopefully its the last snow warning

I don't know about you, but I'm about as excited for this latest snow warning for the Cascades as I would be for a root canal. We had a record setting winter with snowfall in the passes, and just when we thought we were in the clear, here comes more snow. I'm ready for an extended weather forecast with nothing but pure golden sunshine.

Many of our snowplow trucks had already been decommissioned from snowfighting for the spring and summer. And, many of our crewmembers had already switched to springtime/summer work, like mowing grass, tackling weeds, striping lane lines and sweeping roads. But, its back to winter, temporarily. Maintenance technicians spent most of Monday reattaching snowplow blades and doing other prep work.

For some of the higher elevation passes like Rainy and Washington on SR 20, crews keep a few trucks outfitted with plows and deicers because it's not uncommon to get snow into early July. However, when talking to our maintenance crews, many of them will tell you that its rare to get snow this late in spring. I mean, we're only 12 days away from the first day of summer.

Just in case you were curious what our trucks get used for besides fighting snow, I've made a list below. We use our trucks year-round. They came in handy for:
  • Dump trucks

  • Haul damaged guardrail

  • Empty the sweeping truck

  • Haul asphalt for paving

  • Haul shoulder rock/gravel

  • Cleaning out ditches

  • Haul sand to sand sheds for winter

  • Hook trailers to and haul equipment like backhoes and paving machines

  • and oh so much more.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Distracted driving and cell phone use...

Driving is probably the riskiest activity any of us will do during our daily lives. At the same time it is probably the easiest thing to do that you could get distracted from. We have all seen that person who is driving down the road reading a book, putting on makeup, or talking on a cellphone. It has been estimated that 1 of every 4 crashes each day is caused by distracted driving.

As you may or may not have heard starting July 1, talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving will be illegal without a headset or hands-free device. You won't be pulled over solely because you are driving while talking on a cell phone, but you can be pulled over if you are swerving or speeding. If you are pulled over the ticket is $124 (its the same for texting while driving).

You can still use your cell phone if you talk using hands-free device such as a Bluetooth or wired headset.

We don't have anything to do with the enforcement of this, that's up to the Washington State Patrol. But we will be watching to see how congestion is affected by this new law. Anytime there is a collision on the roadway traffic is significantly affected.

Here are some other useful tips to avoid distracted driving
  • Think before you drive. Do you need a drink of water? Need to make a phone call? Need to move items off the seat into the floor so they don't slide around?

  • Keep watch around the vehicle by shifting your eyes every few seconds and checking the rear-view mirror every five to eight seconds. This forces your brain to stay focused on driving.

  • When approaching construction zones or crashes; be the one person who slows down.

  • Watch for workers, changing traffic patterns and approaching emergency vehicles.

  • Drive defensively. Know where your “out” is at all times and be prepared to use it.

  • Signal your intentions early enough to give others more time to react to your move.

  • Make sure the motorists around you are aware of you.

  • The most important tip for safe driving is to simply be aware that you are in control of your own safety, and that of your passengers, and do your part to be sure your trip is the best possible.

  • Above all, be careful out there!

How will this new law affect your driving? Will you wait to reach your destination, will you take the nearest exit? Will you buy that bluetooth headset?