Friday, May 18, 2012

Alert! SR 520 bridge openings – getting information to you faster, better

Update:  We've worked with the Coast Guard to change the  rules of the bridge opening times.  They are now prohibited between 6:30 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays


by guest blogger Jamie Holter

As you probably know, we are building a new SR 520 bridge parallel and to the north of the existing bridge. If you don’t know that, stop here and take a moment to check out that story. That’s okay. We’ll wait.

To build the bridge, our contractor crews are working in the water and blocking the east navigation channel, the channel used by boats between 45 and 64 feet tall to travel from one side of the bridge to the other. During construction (through 2015), these boats must pass through the SR 520 drawspan to get to the other side. Yes, we must open the drawspan for these boats, it’s not an option.

We did work out an agreement with the Coast Guard to prevent drawspan openings during the peak commute (6a – 9a and 4p – 7p).

We alert drivers with yellow flashing lights and overhead signs and we do send out a press release when we are inside that one hour window of an opening, but we’ve been hearing through our WSDOT twitter feed that you’d like more warning, maybe even warnings sent to your phone so you can plan ahead and leave early to beat the boat.

Done! We’ve spent the last few days working out the bugs on a new automated alert system that will send a text message to your phone or email when we are within that one or two-hour window of a bridge opening. Just go to our email alert system page and choose SMS/Text from the drop down menu, punch in your phone number (or email if that’s what you like) and sign up for the new alert called “SR 520 Bridge Opening”. Voila! Done. You will get a text message sent to your phone or email with the closure time and date.

For long range planners, we post all our scheduled bridge openings on our marine page and our What’s Happening Now page. People tell us the What’s Happening Now page is very useful because it just has the big closures in the greater Seattle/Bellevue area.

We do know some folks are frustrated with the bridge openings and we do know some want those “do not open” times expanded, but we’re working within current Coast Guard guidelines and it’s not in the cards.  We’re trying to balance the needs of boat traffic, rubber tire traffic and construction work. It tough, but we’re all looking forward to the new beautiful floating bridge as soon as December 2014.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is WSDOT doing that requires that you be in the channel for two years? Why can't you do most of the work nearby, and only channel specific work in the channel?

Anonymous said...

I HATE YOU SO MUCH. For many years I leave Queen Anne at 9:15 a.m. daily on my scheduled bus to get to work by 10 a.m., which is necessary. Now you have messed EVERYTHING up. I would leave earlier on bridge opening days to be able to still get to work by 10, but can't even know when those days will be. Hello, rush hour is till 10 a.m. YOU ARE IDIOTS. MERCER, VIADUCT, 520, A MESS MESS MESS FROM ONE END TO THE OTHER. I HATE YOU SO MUCH.

Anonymous said...

I just signed up for the email alerts for when the bridge is up - that will be very helpful! I'm just adding my two-cents that in my opinion 9:30 a.m. is still rush hour. Or at least more of a notice than two hours? (I'm a bus rider going from Greenlake to Redmond). Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Agreed... is 6-7am really busier than 9-10?

Anonymous said...

I signed up for the text alerts for 520 bridge only and it sent me alerts for ALL 520 traffic issues. I think something is wrong with the text alert system. I specifically selected ONLY bridge updates.

Unknown said...

I think WSDOT should reconsider the conclusion that 6-9AM represents peak traffic on 520.

According to the WSDOT data I have from 10/1/2011 - 12/31/2011, peak weekday traffic on EB 520 appears to be from about 7:30AM until 10:15AM, at least as far as travel times from Seattle -> Redmond are concerned. I've put the data I received from WSDOT up on Google Docs so that you can see for yourself - check the "AM Graph" tab.

Perhaps you have some better data on which you based the 6-9AM conclusion, but if not I would suggest changing the hours that the bridge is guaranteed to be open to 7-10AM.

WSDOT said...

@Anonymous, make sure you are only signed up to the "520 Bridge Openings" list. Any other list and you are likely to get many more texts than you probably want due to the amount of activity that tends to block lanes in that area. Would not recommend signing up for the "Crossing Lake Washington on I-90 and SR 520" texts.

Anonymous said...

WSDOT - Can you explain why you need to have the channel blocked for the next two years? There's probably a good reason, but I haven't been able to find it. You tend to speak as though the reasons should be obvious. Most of us are not civil engineers, so it's not obvious to us. Maybe if we understood what appears to be an arbitrary decision, we might be more understanding of what you have done to us. The overhead pictures appear to have plenty of room for boats to pass. Thanks.

Jamie Holter said...

@Anonymous (Why do you have to be in the channel for two years?)
Right now installation of underwater anchors and the pontoon staging area are blocking or partially blocking the channel. Later this summer construction of the in-water pier will fully block the channel.
Just like a regular construction site, you need a staging area closeby to build and transport materials to and from. In this case, our workzone is the eastside of the lake. The east navigation channel is just off the eastside and is exactly the ideal location for building.
We are working with the contractor to find times when they can move the mobile operation (like holiday weekends and the opening of boating season. To be as safe as possible we need boats to use a different path so they steer clear of this complicated construction zone.
You can find more info on our construction plans online: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Bridge/BridgeAndLandings/StepByStep.htm

Jamie Holter said...

WSDOT Jamie says...
Many of you would like to tweak the bridge restrictions and change the restriction hours from 6-9 a.m. to 7 - 10 a.m. for the morning commute. We hear you.

We've only just started these boat openings (April 1) and we only recently put in the peak commute restrictions in place (April 16).

We'd like a little more breathing room for traffic to find its natural rhythm before we change things again.

We are "counting cars" on SR 520 as we like to say) to see who is going where and when. We are also listening to commuters who take the bridge every day.

When we see some good patterns, we may see an opportunity to tweak the bridge restrictions.

As always, we appreciate the feedback.

Jamie Holter said...

WSDOT Jamie says...
You don't have to wait for the next text to get bridge opening information. When we know, we post it immediately at
www.wsdot.wa.gov/construction/pugetsound/today.htm

That said, many if you are signing up for text and email. Since Friday, 287 have signed up for email alerts and 347 have signed up for the text service.
Thanks! We love Seattle commuters because you use our information!
Jamie

Anonymous said...

Jamie, thanks for the explanation of "why" you're doing this. That helps a lot. How many "tall" boats are on the lake, and need the bridge openings? Maybe you could provide moorage on the other side of the bridge, which would reduce, at least, those openings. I realize that there will always be boats which need transient openings. This would help eliminate the openings for resident boats. (Don't you just love Monday morning quarterbacks?) Thanks.

Jamie Holter said...

WSDOT Jamie says:
No worries about the Monday mornng quarterbacking. We do it to. We always go back through and check our work to make sure we made the right decisions and our theory works with the actual traffic patterns.

We talked with boat owners in advance. We thought about moorage, but it didn't seem to work for those boat owners. We are tracking the boats and the boat owners who are using the bridge to get a better sense of where they are going and when and what we might be able to reduce the openings.
thanks for the suggestions. We appreciate hearing from drivers.
Jamie

Anonymous said...

You have got to be kidding me! You are opening the bridge at 9a today? Thanks for messing with my work schedule (again)!

Anonymous said...

9 am is not post-rush-hour. Can we please make the poor little yacht owners wait until 11 a.m. or noon? Or how about they take out their yachts in the evening after rush-hour and leave the days open for working people?

Anonymous said...

9 am is not post-rush-hour. Can we please make the poor little yacht owners wait until 11 a.m. or noon? Or how about they take out their yachts in the evening after rush-hour and leave the days open for working people?

Anonymous said...

Adding more fuel to the "9am is definitely STILL rush hour" fire - that little sailboat this morning backed traffic up all the way to I5. Absolutely ludicrous. The public response is only going to get louder if this keeps up.

Anonymous said...

+1 to the absurdity of the bridge openings. I've been screwed repeatedly, knowing one hour or whatever by text won't do me much good at all (marginal improvement, and I do appreciate it).

With all the inconvenience, expense, and everything else the 10's of thousands of drivers on the bridge everyday are already dealing with, how about we ask the yacht owners to chip in and have two planned openings per day, say 11 and 8???? Seriously, I can't imagine how the needs of the, let's say 12 boat owners, outweigh the many trying to get back and forth to work.

Carrie N said...

I signed up for the text alerts... I wish that there was a way to turn them off between certain hours, like when I am sleeping. Last night between Midnight to 6 am I received 17 messages letting me know about road work and blocking accidents. I had to silence my phone.

WSDOT said...

Carrie N, check your account and make sure you are only signed up for the one that says "520 Bridge Openings." The "Crossing Lake Washington" on I-90 and SR 520 is a very busy list.

Bill said...

I love the text alerts for bridge openings, but each one is coming in as a new phone number, and thus my text thread view on my phone is littered with "new contacts". Would it be possible to have them all come from the same phone number?

To be more precise, they all come from 1(410)000-0XX, where the XX increases by 1 each time I receive a message. Today I got 023 and 024.

Anonymous said...

OKAY. If I'm accepting the fact that we're stopping traffic on a bridge connecting two areas at the heart of Washington's economy for tiny sailboats, and if I'm willing to be pestered constantly about these openings by text alert just in the hopes one of them won't leave me late for a meeting my job depends on, can we AT LEAST have the ability to set the hours during which these alerts are delivered?

This is at least the third night I've been woken up by texts at 11pm for openings tomorrow morning. Great.

This sucks. Hard.

Anonymous said...

I signed up to get emails when the 520 bridge drawspan needs to open for boat traffic. Usually I get 2 or 3 alerts because I am also signed up for delays for the 271 bus route.

Today I was headed from Seattle to Kirkland. I checked my email before I left home so that I would know whether to take 520 or I-90. A 12:00 noon, there were no emails about the bridge opening. Imagine my surprise when at 12:30 I entered 520 at Montlake and saw a sign saying the bridge was closed ahead. It was too late to take an alternate route. I sat on the bridge until about 12:50. Why didn't the email get sent?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the text about the 520 drawspan opening two minutes before it opened. Need a little bit more of a warning. A week after I finally gave in and got the good-to-go pass you started doing these drawspan openings, and they just get more and more frequent. What can't you guys screw up?

Anonymous said...

I love you. We are sitting in traffic on the 520, cracking up at your post.

Anonymous said...

Inconveniencing hundreds of motorists for a few boats is absolutely RIDICULOUS!!! Missed my meeting this morning because of this. Congress needs to have their heads examined giving boaters this right. How can closing a major arterial for a few freaking sail boats be justified. Unbelievable……..

Anonymous said...

Can somebody please tell me how to turn these annoying bridge closure texts off? I regret ever submitting my number to get these alerts, I get so many of them. Please help!

WSDOT said...

You can get this done by going to this page: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Communications/WebToolKit/GovDelivery/Unsubscribe.htm.

B from Bellevue said...

I signed up for the text alerts on my cell phone. This was working very nicely until the last two weeks. It stopped. I signed up again, I was still on the 'list', but still no texts.

Something happened to the system. Can WSDOT correct this problem?
Thank you!

WSDOT said...

Please send your contact information, e.g., your name, email address, and cell phone number to WebHelp@WSDOT.WA.GOV, and we will look into this for you.