Thursday, June 20, 2024

Roadblocks and rockstars – ‘tis the season for summer construction on the way to your event

By Rachel Terlep

It’s a tale as old as time. You grab your crop top or your cowboy hat, and you head to that concert you bought tickets for back in February. You roll down the windows, turn up the music and… construction. Great.

Don’t take it personally. If you’re heading to a big event this summer, you’re almost certainly going to encounter road work along the way. In fact, it’s impossible to find a summer weekend – or even a day – where there’s not a concert, game, festival or event going on.

With 93 construction projects scheduled this summer – not counting day-to-day maintenance, emergencies and local city and county projects – there is a lot to get done in a short timeframe.

A map of the state of Washington that highlights 93 construction projects across the state. The greatest concentration of projects is in Puget Sound.
It’s going to be a busy summer with 93 projects planned on and near state highways, not including other regular maintenance or emergency repairs. See a larger version of this image on Flickr.

That’s just this year. Speaking of which, we have some good news and some not-so-great news.

The good news is once the work is done, our state will have safer and more accessible transportation systems and improved environmental habitats. The not-so-good-news, at least for the next few years, is that we’ll have more summer construction projects than usual all over the state. And we do mean all, so your regular detours around major routes may have work as well.

Road workers and heavy machinery press asphalt near a new median barrier.
We’ll be seeing a lot of construction projects this summer. This photo takes us down memory lane… to the summer of 2022, when we were putting the finishing touches on the I-5 Tacoma HOV program.

Why this time of year? Much of the work we do in the summer involves extensive work with concrete, and that means we need reliably dry weather for the concrete to fully cure. It also happens to coincide with a time when most of our professional sports teams are active, when we get a huge influx of concerts and when we have major events and festivals like Seafair, Watershed and Bumbershoot. That’s not to mention the hundreds of smaller parades, community festivals and other events scattered throughout the season.

This is a calendar of major events happening in our state from June through September to give you an idea of why it’s impossible to plan construction around those events. This calendar was created in early June, so other concerts and events may be announced as we move through summer.



A June calendar that encapsulates all major events happening in Washington. These events range from concerts, to festivals, to sporting events. Suffice it to say, there are a LOT of events captured here.

A July calendar that encapsulates all major events happening in Washington. These events range from concerts, to festivals, to sporting events. Suffice it to say, there are a LOT of events captured here.

An August calendar that encapsulates all major events happening in Washington. These events range from concerts, to festivals, to sporting events. Suffice it to say, there are a LOT of events captured here.
A September calendar that encapsulates all major events happening in Washington. These events range from concerts, to festivals, to sporting events. Suffice it to say, there are a LOT of events captured here.

How do you prepare for disruptions to your travel for the next several summers? Here’s some advice from some of the musicians performing here this summer. Make sure this doesn't describe you: SaliĆ³ de su casa con la mente encendida (In the words of Peso Pluma: “She left her house with her mind on fire.”)

YOU YOU YOU OUGHTA KNOW (Alanis Morissette)

Know what’s happening, that is. We try to share information far and wide – from our social media accounts, to our website and app, to working with local media to get the word out. You can find our app and a list of our social media accounts at this website (scroll to the bottom to sign up for email/text alerts).

YOU SHOULD PROBABLY LEAVE (Chris Stapleton)

Early, if you can. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination.

G-O-O(d) T-O G-O (Chappell Roan… with a WSDOT twist)

You can take a Good to Go! It’s handy if you’ll use the SR 520 bridge or the SR 99 tunnel in Seattle, or I-405 to avoid heavy I-5 traffic, or possibly SR 167 to go to the Puyallup Fair or White River Amphitheater, or of course the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Having a Good To Go! pass will also save you money and ensure you pay the lowest toll rate on all these roads. You can sign up or get more information on our website.

5 A.M. TURN THE RADIO UP (Pink)

And pay attention to road alerts. P re-program vehicle radios to 530 AM and 1610 AM for highway advisory radio alerts – and be alert for other stations listed on notice signs in some areas.

THERE GOES MY HERO / HE’S ORDINARY (Foo Fighters)

This is what we’ll say about you if you consider alternative ways to get around – such as buses, bicycling, Link Light Rail, the Sounder Train, Amtrack Cascades or even organizing carpools. One great thing to keep in mind for people going to Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle: Every ticket to an event at the venue is also a transit pass.

I’M SO SICK OF SEVENTEEN…minute delays (Olivia Rodrigo…with a WSDOT twist)

There’s not much you can do about that, but it’s good to be in the right mindset before getting in the car. Accept that delays will happen. Try to stay calm. No concert or meeting or festival is worth risking injury or death.

IS IT WORTH IT? LET ME WORK IT (Missy Elliott)

We know added delays aren’t fun, and we’re working to minimize the effects where we can. We simply must make these repairs and improvements to our transportation system. Ultimately, some short-term pain will be worth the long-term gain.

The final stretch: Summer closures ahead, but finish line in sight for SR 520’s Montlake Project

By Nicole Phaysith and Steve Peer
An aerial view of a construction site with a bridge and a road under development, with a body of water shown under the bridge.

A west-facing look at Montlake Project progress in May 2024

Summer is almost here, and while we wish we were all sipping lemonade by the pool, major work is happening on the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program’s Montlake Project. We've encountered some delays along the way, and we're accelerating our pace to get back on track and complete the project by this fall.

Bottom line: We’ll have two major closures each month for the next three months of the summer to minimize delays. The first major closure for June is already behind us! We’re giving you an early heads-up on remaining closures so you can plan your summer adventures.

Remaining planned major closures*

  • June:
    • June 21-24: Montlake Boulevard, Lake Washington Boulevard and SR 520 associated ramps fully closed
  • July:
    • July 19-22: Montlake Boulevard fully closed
    • July 26-28: SR 520 fully closed
  • August:
    • Aug. 9-12: Montlake Boulevard fully closed
    • Aug. 16-19: SR 520 fully closed

During these closures, crews will wrap up a variety of major milestones for the project. This is including but not limited to work on utilities, paving, and landscaping on Montlake Boulevard, the Montlake lid, direct access ramp, bike and pedestrian bridge and more.

Closure caveats

  • *We want to emphasize that these closure dates are planned, and exact dates and details for closures will be confirmed as we approach each weekend.
  • Closure schedules are subject to change based on factors like weather conditions and existing summer events. As we all know, Seattle's summers are stunning and perfect for outdoor activities. The sunny weather also makes it an optimal time for construction. Closures – and the traffic disturbances they create in the summer – are unavoidable, unfortunately. That’s why we want you to have as much advance notice to plan ahead.
  • These closures are not inclusive of all upcoming closures. There will still be local street closures and ongoing ramp closures. We encourage you to check our Construction Corner website for all the latest updates.

Stay in the loop

We’re committed to keeping you in the know with all the latest updates. In addition to our Construction Corner website, be sure to follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter to get the freshest construction news and closure notices.

Meme graphic of a video still image of two men inside a car with yellow text at the bottom reading, “Be a lot cooler if you check Construction Corner.”

Thanks for your patience

A huge thank you to all our Montlake and surrounding neighbors for your patience and understanding. We know it’s a bumpy ride right now, but, we promise, smoother days lie close ahead. The line is in sight, and the improvements will be worth the wait. 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Galloping Gertie’s replacement is a Boomer, and it needs work

By Cara Mitchell

You’ve likely seen the memes about Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z.

We have a new one for you, and it involves two bridges across the Tacoma Narrows:

Photo of Tacoma Narrows Bridge with Gen Z vs Boomer text overlay

Our 1950 westbound bridge, from Tacoma to Gig Harbor, is a Boomer.

The 2007 eastbound bridge, from Gig Harbor to Tacoma, is a Gen Z.

One is 74 years old while the other is still virtually a teenager.

In recent years, we’ve seen issues with our aging westbound bridge. The most recent episode was in mid-May when an expansion joint required us to reduce the bridge from four to two lanes for several days.

In late May, we discovered more issues on the same bridge involving a type of expansion joint called a finger joint. It is called this because it resembles a finger on a hand. These joints allow the bridge to expand and contract. The parts to fix it took a few weeks to be custom manufactured. You can’t order these parts off Amazon.

Photo of a cracked finger joint on the westbound Tacoma Narrows Bridge
Photo shows a cracked finger joint on the westbound Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
The finger joint will be repaired June 15-16, 2024.

The repairs this time mean the westbound SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge will be reduced from four lanes to two from 4 a.m. Saturday, June 15, to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 16.

Image of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark rolling his eyes
Real-time reaction from travelers reading that there’s more repairs on the way

Fortunately, this work could be scheduled over a weekend when there is less overall traffic. That won’t always be the case. Based on the age of the bridge, we know more emergency closures are in our future.

Years of underfunding both our highway Operations & Maintenance and Preservation programs have put our transportation system in jeopardy. Our highway maintenance crews provide short-term repairs like filling a pothole. Longer-term preservation work like roadway surfacing or bridge deck rehabilitation extends the life of our infrastructure. Both programs are needed to work in concert with one another. Unfortunately, given the number and age of our bridges, there is just not enough dedicated funding to keep them from developing age-related problems.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge crew members working under the bridge deck, fabricating forms
to pour new concrete during the emergency lane closures in May.

Lengthy repair list keeps growing

The westbound Tacoma Narrows bridge is one of the largest in our state bridge inventory. Given its age and how heavily it is traveled (45,000 vehicles each day, on average), it has a long list of repair needs including:

  • Replacement of expansion joints
  • Mechanical repairs of the elevators in the towers
  • Emergency electrical system supply upgrades
  • Rehabilitation of the superstructure damping mechanisms at the towers
  • Various structural repair needs throughout the bridge, such as tightening nuts, addressing rust and corrosion, replacing damaged rivets and bolts and replacing damaged structural members.
  • Fully removing and replacing the paint at the towers, trusses, cables and suspenders.

We have a preservation project designed to fix expansion joints on the westbound bridge that will extend the useful life of the bridge. The not-so-good news is that the project is delayed because we don’t have the funds to do the work. The earliest this project can now occur is 2026.

About those tolls

Before you type in all caps “whatabout those tolls,” a reminder that tolls don’t pay for maintenance on the westbound Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Tolling on the eastbound SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge helps repay the costs to build the eastbound bridge, which opened in 2007. Tolls are only collected for trips headed to Tacoma, and toll rates are a fixed rate no matter when you travel. The Washington State Transportation Commission adopts state highway tolls.

Years of underfunding Operations & Maintenance and Preservation is catching up

Not having the funding we need means hard choices are made. Legally, we can’t overspend our budget. That means the agency must decide and prioritize which maintenance activities and preservation projects need to be delayed to stay within the budget we have. This is just like the tough choices people make with their personal budgets.

This is happening with the 1950 Tacoma Narrows Bridge and hundreds of other bridges and highways across the state. As of June 2023, 315 of our 3,384 bridges were 80 years old or older, accounting for 9.3% of all state-owned bridges. The number of WSDOT-owned bridges in poor condition increased 7% from 199 bridges in June 2022 to 213 in June 2023.

Washingtonians own a multimodal state transportation system that would cost nearly $200 billion to replace, but we’re not spending what we need to keep that system in good working order. This isn’t new information, and something our Secretary of Transportation and other agency executives have shared regularly with elected officials, local governments and other partners over the last eight years.

Both the Operations & Maintenance and Preservation programs aren’t about adding new things. Rather, they each play a role in taking care of what we already have.

For example, funding in the Operations & Maintenance program supports repairing potholes repairs, patching bridge deck patches and recent emergency closures on the westbound Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Planned preservation work, such as resurfacing a roadway or rehabilitating all the bridge joints in one project, are needed investments to keep the transportation system running smoothly.

Think of it like taking care of the roof on your house. Getting grime out the gutters and annual cleaning, that’s maintenance. Putting new shingles on, that’s preservation. You can clean a roof with old shingles and replace the shingle that is in bad shape. But, if you don’t put new shingles on your roof, eventually it will deteriorate over time and cost even more to fix down the road.

Maintenance crews holding things together

Photo of a Tacoma Narrows Bridge crew performing inspections high on the bridge
Tacoma Narrows Bridge crews perform inspections and
maintenance every week on both bridges

Our dedicated maintenance crew performs weekly detailed inspections and maintenance for both bridges. They identify, troubleshoot and address the many items needed to keep travelers moving. Their work is essential to the safe operations and extended service life of these bridges.

A separate team, our Bridge Preservation Office, also performs various engineering inspections (routine, in-depth, underwater, mechanical, electrical, structural) at set 1-year, 2-year, and 5-year intervals.

The point: we aren’t neglecting the bridge. It’s aging, and temporary fixes only go so far.  The team that cares for this bridge takes a lot of pride in their work. They strive to keep this span in the best condition they can. And it’s important to share this information so travelers understand what we are all facing.

More lane closures and extended drive times

There is never a good time to close lanes on the westbound bridge for emergency repairs. We know the weekday evening commute becomes brutal when this happens.

It wasn’t that long ago when there was only one bridge, and travelers had to plan an extra hour to cross the Tacoma Narrows during rush hour.

 So, why can’t we just move traffic to the other bridge during rush hour like Seattle’s Express Lanes?

While this seems straight forward, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Switching directions of travel across the State Route 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge is possible. We designed it to work that way. But it works best for long term events. We did it in 2016 when the bridge decks were re-paved.

Putting this into place requires miles of traffic control barrels, reflective tape, cones and signs on both sides of the bridge. It requires reduced speeds in both directions and hours of set up. When you remove it, the entire process has to be repeated.  A switch like that when we’re closing lanes for emergency work would likely result in more backups – not less – for travelers.

Travel tips

When you hear another emergency repair is underway, have a plan in place. Alter flexible, non-essential trips. Telework if you can. Travel during non-peak commute hours if possible. Please know we’re doing the best we can in a tough situation and we appreciate your patience and any steps you can take to help lessen the congestion.

Real time travel information is available on the WSDOT app and the statewide travel map.

To take a deeper dive into our bridge performance measures, check out detailed bridge information found in our Gray Notebook.

Preserving our state highways, one chip seal at a time

By Brian Turner

An image of Chip Seal, a seal wearing construction gear.  A quote below him says “Slow Down In Work Zones.”

At the Washington State Department of Transportation, we not only build roads – we maintain them. One of the methods we use is called chip seal. It doesn’t involve any swimming mammals, but it does help keep our highways smooth.

The chip seal projects apply a special protective surface to existing pavement. Basically, we lay down a sticky surface on the road and cover it with small chips of rock. The sticky surface and rocks get pushed into the road by traffic, creating a protective layer. It’s a cost-effective way to extend to life of a roadway.

This summer, our contractor will chip seal on six different sections of highway in Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson and Pierce counties.

Grays Harbor County

  • US 101 – Grays Harbor Co Line to South of Lund Road - (6.5 miles)
  • US 101 – South of Lund Road to North of SR 107 (4 miles)
  • SR 105 – Whalebone Way to SW of Constantine Way (42.97 miles)

Jefferson County

  • US 101 – North of Big Quilcene River Bridge to North of Mt Walker Lookout Road (3 miles)

Clallam County

  • SR 110 – US 101 to Lapush Road and Mora Spur (10 miles)

Pierce County

  • SR 165 – South of Carbon River to South of 112th Street E (3.5 miles)

What to expect

Work is expected to start June 17. The projects will occur at various locations throughout the summer.

Crews will close lanes to perform the work. Typically, only one lane will be available for traffic to alternate in both directions. That means drivers will be taking turns traveling through the work zone, and traffic is guided by pilot cars or flaggers.

The speed limit will be reduced around the clock until a project is complete. The slower travel is not only safer for the people working on the road, but it also reduces the chance of damage to vehicles.

This work will cause travel delays. Travelers will want to plan for additional travel time and remember to bring along lots of extra patience.

Diving in deeper

A photo of the chip seal process being applied to a road.

Like a seal, we love diving deep and exploring. Join us as we explore more about how the chip seal process works:

  • Clean Up: First, the road surface gets a cleaning to remove dirt and debris. Cracks might also be filled to create a smooth base.
  • Asphalt Shower: A thin layer of hot asphalt or an asphalt emulsion (mixed with water) is sprayed onto the road.
  • Rock Shower: While the asphalt is still hot, a layer of crushed rock (chips) is spread evenly on top. These chips are typically three-quarters inch or smaller.
  • Roll it in: Rubber-tired rollers press the chips into the asphalt, ensuring a good bond.
  • Loose Ends: The asphalt cures in a day or two. Then a sweeper removes any loose chips.

Why we chip seal

Chip seal isn't a magic solution for road repair, but it has several benefits:

  • Protects the pavement: It acts as a waterproof barrier, shielding the road base from water damage, which is a major cause of cracks and potholes.
  • Safety Benefits: The embedded chips create a textured surface, enhancing traction for vehicles, especially in wet weather. It also provides and anti-glare surface during wet weather.
  • Cost-Effective: Compared to a complete road repaving, chip seal is a much more affordable way to extend a road's lifespan by several years.

Not only does chip seal preserve road surfaces, it also improves traveler safety. The protective coat restores traction to prevent skidding, particularly on wet roads. It helps visibility by providing an anti-glare surface during wet weather.

We need your help keeping crews safe

First and most importantly, drive the posted speed limits and don’t drive distracted in work zones. The best thing you can do is slow down in work zones. That makes it less likely that your tires will kick up rocks. Most importantly, it helps keep the workers who are out fixing our roads safe.

Stay informed

To stay informed about chip seal work and all the other construction happening across the state this summer, download the WSDOT app to your smartphone. You can also check out where work zones are on our statewide travel map. Both have real-time travel info.

No matter where you come across our road work, the next time you see a chip-sealed road, know that it's not just a bumpy ride. It's a smart way to keep our roads safe and extend their service life.

This blog is Chip tested – seal approved.