Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tuesday I-5 crash highlights cross-agency teamwork

By Mike Allende

Today was already a busy morning in our Seattle-area Traffic Management Center (TMC). Visions of Cinco de Mayo tacos and burritos quickly evaporated as a rainy morning led to a bevy of collisions in the Seattle area.

And then northbound I-5 closed down.

At 8:22 a.m., our staff was alerted to a collision on northbound I-5 at Olive Way via the State Patrol’s Computer Aided Dispatch. Quickly finding it on traffic cameras, it was clear that this was a doozy. A pickup truck was on fire, two cars had significant damage and no traffic was getting through.

A serious collision during today’s morning commute
blocked all lanes of northbound I-5 near downtown Seattle.
Springing into action, we began coordinating with the State Patrol, King County Metro Transit and Seattle DOT to plan for traffic using alternate routes. Our staff deployed messages on Video Message Signs alerting drivers of the collision and advising alternate routes. Our communicators used social media to get information out to the public and worked with traditional media to update the traffic situations.

WSDOT Traffic Management Center staff work on getting messaging
out to the public and reversing the I-5 express lanes Tuesday.
The closure was still looking like a long-term situation when at 8:44 a.m., we deployed staff to reverse the I-5 express lanes to northbound (typically this happens at 11 a.m.). This is no easy task as it involves Incident Response Team members clearing traffic out of the lanes and signals engineers ensuring that the signage is correct before officially closing the gates southbound and opening them northbound. But doing so would provide significant congestion relief to northbound traffic, and we had them open to northbound traffic at 9:59 a.m.

While the backup from the collision merged with normal traffic to form a 7-mile backup, messaging on VMS boards and social media kept the congestion from growing even more. Traffic on I-5 was exited at Olive Way and other drivers avoided the area altogether. Meanwhile, the fire department worked to put out the fire, aid crews assisted those involved in the crash and the State Patrol investigated the scene.

Warnings on VMS boards gave drivers a chance to use alternate
routes, helping to minimize the backup on northbound I-5.
Soon, our maintenance staff began cleaning up the foam used to extinguish the vehicle fire and all of a sudden, it looked like lanes would start opening up. By 9 a.m., all but one lane of traffic reopened, just 38 minutes after the collision was reported. By 9:32 a.m., all lanes had reopened.

It was truly a remarkable effort by the responding aid crews to get a situation that had so many moving parts and appeared as though it would be closed for a significant amount of time cleared so quickly. By coordinating with our partners at WSP, SDOT and Metro, traffic impacts - though still significant – were managed well and minimized as much as possible.

WSDOT maintenance staff clean up debris from the northbound I-5 crash.
It took just over one hour to go from all lanes blocked to all lanes open.
Today was an excellent example of several agencies working together to get a major highway situation under control and cleared quickly and safely. Restoring traffic from a completely closed five-lane highway in the middle of rush hour to completely open in just over one hour was a proud moment for all involved.


Anonymous said...

Great teamwork!

Tim said...

Well done! I wish would put as much emphasis when you succeed as when you fail.

Anonymous said...

Kinda over-tooting your own horn there, don'tchathink??? Maybe next time just do your jobs, pat yourselves on the back, and don't go looking to take attention away from the real story, ok? Thanks.

The Geezer said...

Thanks for sharing this story.

Tells us more than what is on the media.

I go to work well before this time, sometime I will share my experiences driving the freeways at 3 Ayem.


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