Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Replacing expansion joints: You never know what you’ll find

By Tom Pearce

Expansion joints are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get, to paraphrase Mama Gump’s famous movie advice.

In both cases, the only way to find out what you get is by opening it. This past weekend our Revive I-5 contractor, CA Carey, found things pretty much as expected in downtown Seattle as crews replaced expansion joints and repaired pavement on the 1960s era highway. This allowed them to finish replacing the five scheduled expansion joints by mid-afternoon Sunday, June 26.

When crews have finished early, we’ve received questions about why we can’t do more joints each weekend. But, it’s important to note that work doesn’t always wrap up early, according to our contractor.

“Next weekend we could do the same kind of joints and barely get off the road in time,” the project superintendent said.

The expansion joints that were replaced in downtown Seattle last weekend were
 exactly what we expected, but that’s not always the case.

When our contractors do work like this, we provide the original plans. But those plans are nearly 60 years old, and sometimes don’t reflect the reality of what was built long ago. When that happens, our contractors have to adapt and adjust.

Then you add in factors like weather. Yes, rain can and has been a factor this year. Extreme heat can get in the way too. Ironworkers cut out the old joints and install the new ones. They need to wear heavy protective equipment, which can be tough on a 90-degree day. If it gets hot enough, like last year when we had temperatures over 100 degrees, that can even affect when concrete can be poured.

So far this year, CA Carey has finished each weekend with time to spare because just about everything has gone smoothly. When that happens, we reopen the closed lanes early and announce it to travelers. But we’ve had other projects that have taken until early Monday mornings, and it could happen any weekend on this one as well.

Why not do more?

If it looks like we’ll finish early, unfortunately we can’t just decide to do an extra joint or two. During the week leading up to the freeway lane reductions, our contractors are busy underneath I-5 preparing for the weekend work. This involves cutting materials and making other changes to help the surface work go smoothly.

Each weekend our contractor prepares to do a certain number of joints, working in advance
 under the freeway and bringing in needed materials.

Working on more joints than originally planned would also involve bringing in additional materials that are stored off-site. Some of those may not be readily available on short notice.

Planning ahead

We’re going to work every weekend now through the end of August, including Independence Day weekend, which will mean lane reductions Saturday and Sunday, July 2-3. We’ll start lane reductions later than usual, at 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 1, to help folks who aren’t able to leave town earlier that day. We’ve found that by the time we get to Saturday of a holiday weekend, traffic is a lot like most Saturdays. But we still are asking travelers to be aware of the lane closures and plan their holiday travel accordingly. We know closing lanes on major roads is frustrating but we need the space for crews to safely work and the time to allow new pavement to cure – and this work can’t be done just overnight.

For people traveling, every weekend this summer you’ll want to consider alternatives:

  • Other routes, like I-405
  • Modes of transportation like light rail or bus
  • Traveling early (before 9 a.m.) or later (after 8 p.m.)

With the arrival of summer, we know everyone wants to get out and enjoy all our region has to offer. While we’re working, you still can have fun. Just plan ahead – maybe even treat yourself to a box of chocolates.

New! Parking-protected bike lanes coming to Mill Plain Boulevard in downtown Vancouver this summer

By Kayla Dunn

We're adding a number of travel and safety improvements for those who bike and park in downtown Vancouver – including some changes that users should be aware of along Mill Plain Boulevard (State Route 501).

Crews will complete striping on Mill Plain Boulevard this month, the final phase of work along SR 501, I-5 and the Port of Vancouver. Once the striping work is complete, travelers will notice new ways to park and bike with the addition of new parking-protected bike lanes and the use of two-stage bike boxes. Striping changes will appear on Mill Plain Boulevard between I-5 and the Port of Vancouver, with the parking-protected bike lanes on the stretch of Mill Plain Boulevard between I-5 and Columbia Street.

A look at the layout of improvements on East Mill Plain Boulevard, including how parking-protected bike lanes
 along the curb will add an additional buffer between bicyclists and vehicles.
An example of parking-protected bike lane in downtown Vancouver on Columbia Street
 near 11th Street with the bike plane on the curb side of the parked car

What are parking-protected bike lanes?

Parking-protected bike lanes improve overall safety by better protecting people riding bikes from nearby vehicular traffic. The new bike lanes are now on the curb side of the parking lane spots, rather than next to active traffic, which lets the parking spots create an additional buffer between moving vehicles and bicyclists. They also are wider – expanded from the previous 4 feet to 5 1/2 feet with an additional 2-foot buffer.

Crews also painted bike lanes green at intersections to help raise drivers' awareness of bicyclists along the roadway. The green paint also serves as a continuous reminder to people driving vehicles of the possibility of bicyclists present on the roadway as they merge or change lanes. Motorists should only park in designated spaces between the travel lane and the bike lane and take care when exiting the parking space. Bicyclists should use caution when entering and exiting the bike lanes and when crossing at intersections.

An example of how green paint near intersections helps indicate newly added bike boxes in downtown Vancouver.

How to use two-stage bike boxes

  • Two-stage left turn boxes are designed to give bicyclists a safe way to turn left through an intersection.
  • To use these bikes boxes, bicyclists should cross straight through the intersection at a green light and wait in the green box near to the curb.
  • People diving vehicles should wait for the signal to change and then cross with the green light.
  • At intersections that include a bike box, no right turn is allowed on red.

Project highlights

Other parts of this project that are already completed within downtown Vancouver, include:

  • Upgraded pedestrian crossing signals, which provide visual and audio cues notifying people when it is safe to cross. These include directional flashing arrows and countdown timers so people know how much time they have to cross the road safely.
  • New curb ramps that meet current ADA standards. Curb ramps help people of all abilities safely transition from a roadway to a curbed sidewalk and vice versa.
  • Upgraded traffic lights on East Mill Plain Boulevard at Columbia Street, Main Street, and Broadway Street that allow for better clearance by freight traffic.
  • A new pedestrian-activated rectangular rapid-flashing beacon at the southbound I-5 off ramp to East Mill Plain Boulevard.
Mill Plain Boulevard as it looked previously.

Improving freight movement and traffic movement for all

To help improve freight travel and the movement of goods, crews have reconstructed the intersections of East Mill Plain Boulevard at Washington Street and Main Street. These improvements eliminate the need for trucks hauling oversized loads from the Port of Vancouver to I-5 to navigate around sections of East Mill Plain Boulevard using local city streets. Trucks used to have do that because high points in the roadway and low-hanging traffic lights impeded the routes. Using the local streets often resulted in long loads bottoming out and slowing overall traffic This work will help improve travel and safety for all users.

We've got a lot of additional work coming to Clark County this summer. To help you know before you go, we encourage you to sign up to receive email updates or text alerts and download our mobile app.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

To Revive I-5, we need to work almost every weekend – even Pride and Independence Day

By Tom Pearce

It's been a challenging season for replacing expansion joints on southbound Interstate 5 from I-90 to Spokane Street in Seattle. We've had a couple of rainouts and we didn't work the weekend of June 18-19 due to the closure of I-405 in Bellevue.

Our contractor, C.A. Carey, plans to do this work over 15 weekends. So far, they've only be able to work two of the five scheduled. And with the possibility of more rain this season, we're taking steps to avoid further delays to this critical work.

That's why we are working June 25-26, Pride weekend, and have decided to work July 2-3, Independence Day weekend too. Usually we don't work major events or holiday weekends if it can be avoided, but after many discussions, we believe it can and has to be done.

Thanks mostly to poor weather, we've only been able to work two of five scheduled weekends on the Revive I-5 project. That's about to change as there will be work almost every weekend into September replacing expansion joints on southbound I-5 in Seattle.

Pride weekend

Sunday's Pride Parade will draw a huge crowd to downtown Seattle – estimates are 200,000 to 500,000. People are going to need to plan ahead and allow extra time – from the north to arrive, from the south to get home. People can use light rail from Northgate or the numerous southern stations. Bus service is available from many locations. If you need to drive, SR 99 will be an alternative. Just remember, if you plan to drive, with so many people converging on downtown, parking may be hard to find.

The next weekend of Revive I-5 work coincides with Pride Weekend, including the Seattle Pride Parade, so people should plan to use public transit or expect significant delays if headed to the events.

We recognize the timing of this work over Pride and the Independence Day weekends is less than ideal, but we‘re facing some very difficult decisions. This year we're also scheduled to work during a lot of major events, from Sounders and Mariners games to the Seafair Torchlight parade on July 30 and the hydro races and Blue Angels Aug. 6-7. We know this may affect your travels, but we have few alternatives. Even holidays, when we almost always shut down, are on the table now.

Starting next year, our construction in Seattle, the Eastside and south King County will ramp up and be even more impactful. The simple fact of the matter is, by wrapping up this project this season, we'll be able to ease a little pressure on the I-5 corridor next year, when two more substantial Revive I-5 projects begin.

Drivers can use the southbound collector/distributor to get into SODO, but the collector/distributor ramp and the I-90 ramps to southbound I-5 will be closed during Revive I-5 work.

Holiday weekends

Which brings us to Independence Day. Most people leave town by Friday night for a long weekend, even if it's after working a whole day. By the time we get to Saturday of a holiday weekend, traffic is pretty much the same as a regular Saturday. Seafair Summer Fourth, Seattle's Independence Day celebration at Gasworks Park, starts Monday afternoon, long after we'll have all the lanes open.

To account for those leaving town Friday night, we're going to delay lane reductions by a couple of hours. That means we'll start closing lanes at about 9:30 p.m.; we'll have the final weekend configuration in place by 11:59 p.m. Friday. Because of the later start, we will allow our contractor to keep lanes closed later, until 6:30 a.m. Monday, July 4. It's a major holiday and while some people will still need to be out and about early, we won't see anything like regular Monday morning traffic.

We plan to work pretty much every weekend from now through the end of September. At this time, our contractor is not scheduled to work Labor Day weekend, but that could change.

On Independence Day weekend, Revive I-5 work will start later Friday night to keep all lanes open for people leaving town for the holiday.

More weather problems?

On the positive side, a couple weeks ago our contractor managed to work through some really bad weather, building tents and using sandbags to keep three new expansion joints dry. With the downpours it was a major challenge, but if the forecast is only for showers or light rain, that's something we'll consider in future weekends.

We appreciate your patience as we continue this work. By this fall, we expect to have all new joints and smooth rides as we Revive I-5.

Long-term closure of the Chico Way on-ramp to southbound SR-3 starts this July

 By Doug Adamson

Construction on the SR 3 Chico Creek Fish Barrier Removal project is heating up. As soon as 9 a.m. on July 11, travelers near Bremerton will notice a big change at the interchange of SR 3 and Chico Way Northwest. The Chico Way Northwest on-ramp to southbound SR 3 will become a closed construction zone as crews realign the existing ramp. The ramp will remain closed for up to one year. During the closure, travelers will need to use alternate routes to access southbound SR 3. Variable message signs will be placed at the on-ramp for at least a week before the closure begins to remind people of the closure.

Why is the on-ramp closing?

Chico Creek and the unnamed tributary at Chico Way Northwest have five culverts that act as barriers to fish passage. Since the project began in fall 2021, our contractor, Guy F. Atkinson Construction, has been making progress on the construction of new bridges on Chico Way and SR 3. These bridges will create more space for both creeks. The work will improve fish passage and access to spawning habitat for many native fish species.

The Chico Way Northwest onramp to southbound SR 3 will close for up to a year as crews rebuild the onramp as part of a fish passage project.

To allow crews to continue work on the new bridges, we will close the existing on-ramp to southbound SR 3.

To access southbound SR 3 from Chico Way Northwest, people can continue south on Chico Way and join southbound SR 3 from Austin Drive (top). People can detour via northbound SR 3 and return to southbound SR 3 from Northwest Newberry Hill Road (bottom).

We will keep two lanes of traffic in each direction of SR 3 open during the long-term ramp closure. Crews will open the new realigned southbound SR 3 on-ramp once construction of the elevated Chico Way bridge is complete in spring 2023.
During this stage of construction, crews will shift traffic to the inside lanes of SR 3, close the Chico Way Northwest onramp to southbound SR 3, and realign the stream that flows under Chico Way Northwest.

Stay alert

Please keep our crews, yourself, and others safe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know detour routes and traffic shifts can take a little getting used to, so slow down, and stay aware so our crews can get this work done safely.

We understand this is at least an inconvenience for travelers, and we appreciate your understanding as we work through this major project.

What to expect next

Construction will continue through winter 2023. Once the project is completed, the SR 3 and Chico Way Northwest interchange will have two new bridges and new locations of the southbound SR 3 exit and on-ramps, creating more space for Chico Creek and the unnamed tributary and eliminating the need for culverts.

Once the project is complete in winter 2023, fish will have access to 21 miles of potential habitat and an improved connection to Chico Creek and Chico Bay.

Visit the project website for more information and to sign up for email updates.