Thursday, June 13, 2019

After several close calls we’re asking everyone to help us keep our workers and everyone on the road safe

By Barbara LaBoe

The busy roadway construction season is still gearing up – and will only increase during summer – yet we’ve already seen too many close calls in our work zones.

In just 28 days – from April 23 to May 15 – we had three work zone crashes. Each time, someone struck one of our truck mounted attenuators – large accordion-like devices attached to the back of a truck to absorb a crash’s impact and protect crews up ahead. The TMAs did their job and shielded our crews, but that’s still way too many close calls.

On April 23, a pick-up truck struck a TMA on northbound I-5 near DuPont. No crew members were hurt, but the pick-up driver was taken to the hospital complaining of pain.
The electronic message board on top of this TMA was directing traffic to move over,
but the yellow attenuator was still damaged in a collision.

On May 15 another TMA was hit on State Route 16 near Gig Harbor while working with a road sweeping crew. Our driver pulled forward and honked the horn when he saw the other vehicle failing to stop, but the TMA was still struck and damaged.

The far left corner of this TMA was clipped along SR 16 near Gig Harbor, even though
the TMA driver pulled forward to minimize the impact.

Five days later, on May 20, a car struck a TMA in a closed lane on southbound I-5 in Seattle and then spun around due to the impact and also bumped the maintenance truck up ahead.
This accordion-like truck mounted attenuator crumpled from the force of the impact
 it absorbed in a crash along I-5 near Seattle.

In each case there were warning signs about the work up ahead, but drivers either didn’t notice or didn’t slow down in time to avoid the collisions. Thankfully, in all three cases no one was seriously injured, but with more construction on the way, we need everyone’s help to avoid more crashes in the coming months.

Help us help you

We know summer construction can be frustrating, but often this is the only time of year that the weather is dry enough to complete major projects and make needed repairs. We try to schedule work at night or off-peak times when possible, but that doesn’t work for every project.

We need the public’s help in keeping everyone safe in work zones. We work hard to provide our crews training and equipment – but everyone has to do their part.

Our workers are someone’s child, spouse, parent or loved one and they’re out on roadways to help keep everyone safe. They – and everyone traveling – deserve to go home to their families at the end of their shifts.

So, whenever you’re in or near a work zone please remember to:

  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they’re there for your safety
  • Be Kind – our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic; put down your phone when behind the wheel
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone’s life.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Community forum kicks off planning for a new regional trail

By Samantha DeMars-Hanson

Study will identify a preferred route for a trail from Tacoma to Puyallup

One of our keys to building and maintaining a healthy multimodal transportation system is creating safe infrastructure for everyone regardless of how they choose to get around.

That’s why we’re excited that efforts to develop a regional bicycle and pedestrian trail between Tacoma and Puyallup received a big boost with a Tacoma to Puyallup Regional Trail Route Analysis to assess three options for connecting the two cities. This connection will bridge a major gap in the vision to create a broader Tahoma to Tacoma Regional Trail network.
Building and supporting infrastructure that works for all modes of travel is key to a healthy transportation system.

Want to learn more? Great! We’re co-hosting a public event from 5:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, June 27 at the Pioneer Park Pavilion (330 S. Meridian in Puyallup).

The evening will begin with an informal open house at 5:30 p.m. and will also include a presentation from mayors Kim Roscoe of Fife and John Palmer of Puyallup as well as Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar at 6 p.m. and small group discussions at 6:30 p.m. The event will have transportation themed toys, books and activities to engage young participants. The event location is ADA accessible.

A Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) – comprised of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Pierce County, the cities of Fife, Puyallup, and Tacoma, Metro Parks Tacoma, Sound Transit, Downtown On the Go, Port of Tacoma, ForeverGreen Trails, the Puyallup Watershed Initiative Active Transportation Community of Interest and us – met earlier this month to discuss the options and review data. It will meet twice more this year to evaluate options and make a recommendation. The route analysis – funded through a partnership between the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Pierce County, the cities of Fife, Puyallup and Tacoma, Metro Parks Tacoma and us – will conclude in early 2020 with an implementation and funding plan for making the proposed trail a reality.

Westbound US 2 trestle closures return this summer

By Frances Fedoriska

The closure of westbound US 2 scheduled 7 p.m. Friday, June 21 to 4 a.m. Monday, June 24 is postponed due to low overnight temperatures and forecasted inclement weather. The closure is rescheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, June 28 to 4 a.m. Monday, July 1.
The same weekend that Buzz, Woody and friends return in Toy Story 4, contractor crews with Lakeside Industries return to the US 2 preservation project that a year ago came so close to completing the repaving of both directions of the highway between Lake Stevens and Everett.
Plenty got done on the US 2 trestle last summer, but there’s still work to be done to complete the project.

Where we’re at

We did get plenty done last year, setting us up well for what’s still to come.

On eastbound US 2, we:
  • Removed old, cracked, rutted and pothole-riddled asphalt from the eastbound lanes
  • Repaved one mile from State Route 204 to Bickford Avenue during overnight closures
  • Side note: the eastbound trestle is made of newer concrete, so no repaving happened there.
On westbound US 2, we:
  • Repaved 2½ miles from Bickford Avenue to near the Snohomish River
  • During four weekend closures, inspected and made any necessary fixes to the Hewitt Avenue trestle to reduce the risk of future emergency repairs.
Cold, wet weather postponed the final two weekends of work, pushing those westbound closures to this year. Now the weather is warm and dry enough for the sequel, er, final closures of the westbound US 2 Hewitt Avenue trestle between SR 9 and Interstate 5.
Putting down the waterproofing material on the US 2 trestle requires a stretch of completely dry weather.

The schedule and the weather

Westbound US 2 will close between SR 9 and I-5 from 7 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Monday on June 21-24 and June 28-July 1. If weather postpones the work, we have identified potential backup closure weekends of July 12-15, July 19-22 and August 2-5.

We can’t emphasize this enough: this work is highly weather-dependent. Closures will be rescheduled if it rains. We need the roadway to be completely dry for this work to get done.

Why weekend closures?

We know for many, the weekends are as precious as a childhood toy. However, they’re also an important time for getting this critical work done for two reasons:
  • The trestle is too narrow to accommodate construction work, machinery and keep a lane open to protect our crews from passing traffic.
  • The preparation work and repairs our crews have to make takes far longer than the seven hours we get in a typical overnight closure.
What we need from drivers

An average of 2,600 drivers use westbound US 2 every hour on the weekends. State routes 9, 96 and 528 will be the primary detours again this year. These roads are already close to capacity and absorbing displaced US 2 drivers will create lengthy backups.
During the full weekend closures of westbound US 2 between I-5 and State Route 9 in 2019,
this will be the official southbound detour route. 

During the last two full weekend closures of westbound US 2 between I-5 and State Route 9 in 2019,
this will be the official northbound detour route.

This video from the September 2018 closure shows the lengthy backups on the detour routes. So please, do one thing differently to help us keep traffic moving so no one misses their rendezvous with Star Command:
  • Carpool
  • Take transit
  • Move discretionary travel to a non-construction weekend
  • Travel before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
  • Share this information with friends and family
  • Be prepared. Check our resources before you get behind the wheel.
    • Our website will have closure and lane reduction updates
    • Get weekly email updates on Snohomish County projects
    • Our Twitter account will have info about traffic
    • Download our mobile app for traffic maps and other news and updates
You’ve got a friend in us

We know there is no good time to shut down an entire direction of a busy highway. Travelers who change their plans or try something new will help us meet our goal of safely getting commuters and commerce back on Washington’s freeways, to infinity and beyond.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The North Spokane Corridor is coming. … no seriously, it is, and quickly!

By Ryan Overton

Alright Spokane, it’s time to talk.

We know. We’ve heard it a thousand times. The North Spokane Corridor (NSC) will never be finished. To some the NSC is like a unicorn, often dreamed about but with no evidence of its existence, well. ... We get it. Building the NSC has been quite the process.
So we decided it’s time to have a heart to heart, and in this 3-part blog series we will give a full overview of what has been constructed, the struggles associated, what we are currently working on and looking ahead to its completion. Because this mysterious unicorn is becoming a reality.
The US 395 present and future interchange in Wandermere.

What is it?
Not familiar with the North Spokane Corridor project? In short, it’s a project to improve mobility by allowing drivers and freight to move north and south through Spokane from I-90 to US 395 at Wandermere. Once complete, it’ll decrease travel time and congestion while improving safety.

The beginning
Any good story starts with some history, and with the NSC, that history is long. The NSC has been discussed since the mid-1940’s with little movement. Proposals had tried and failed. But in the mid-1990’s buzz surrounding the NSC began to build. The first hurdle that was needed to get the ground moving was the final NSC Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which was approved in April 1997. This meant that what was once a myth might actually become something.
The initial structure being built for the US 395 Wandermere interchange in June 2010.

In August 2001, the NSC broke ground with the first project, “Hawthorne Road to US 2 Grading.” No pavement was poured, but ground was moved, leaving one big missing piece: funding.

Our first large funding allocation came in 2003 when the State Nickel Gas Tax Package provided $321 million to the project. That funding covered roughly 23 percent of the total costs needed to build the NSC. This funded projects between 2003 and 2011, providing design, right-of-way purchases and construction of Francis to Farwell, the US 2 Wandermere interchange and US 2 Lowering projects.
An aerial view of the US 395 Wandermere
 interchange construction project.

More good news came in 2005 with passing of the Transportation Partnership Act (TPA). This allocated the NSC $152 million for projects between 2007 and 2019, meaning the project was about one-third funded. This funding went to right-of-way acquisitions north and south along I-90 between the Liberty Park and Sprague Avenue interchange. This also provided funding to design the southbound lanes project between Francis/Freya and Farwell interchanges. The NSC received $45 million in Federal “TIGER” funds to construct the southbound lanes project, Parksmith Road interchange and the first BNSF Rail Realignment. An additional $28 million of TPA funds were allocated to the NSC in 2009. It was that same year that the first portion, Francis to Farwell, opened to traffic.

The biggest milestone so far
The most visible milestone came in October 2012 when traffic opened on the 5½-mile stretch from Wandermere to Francis Ave. This is the section of road that most people know as the NSC today. The same year saw construction begin on the Francis Avenue bridge replacement project which opened in 2014. Still, more than half of the funds needed to finish the NSC had not been allocated.

Connecting Washington
That changed in 2015 with the Connecting Washington package passed by the Legislature, providing the final $879 million needed to complete the project. This is where Spokane’s unicorn turned from myth into reality, as it meant we could finish the last five miles to tie into I-90.
Steel girders being hung for the US 395 interchange at Wandermere in September 2010.

Since 2001 there has never been a year that the NSC hasn’t been worked on. We understand it’s been slow-going, and we hear you. Besides environmental studies, right-of-way acquisitions, public hearings and other behind-the-scenes work, it hasn’t always been evident. Add to that winter shutdowns on the east side of our state when weather makes road construction almost impossible for months, and it can seem that nothing is happening.
Columns and steel girders going up at US 395 at Wandermere in September 2010.

It’s been a challenging journey and there’s still plenty of work to do, but this 10½-mile unicorn is slowly being born.

Next week in this series we’ll look at current projects and what to expect the next couple years. There are big changes coming and it’s time to get excited.

Zipper merge - applying the "taking turns" approach to keep traffic moving

New signage at US 101 and SR 8 relies on lessons from grade school to zip commuters through

By Doug Adamson

Sharing, taking turns, treating others as you would want to be treated - turns out the lessons we learned as kids will help South Sounders navigate a new "zipper merge" at the US 101 and State Route 8 interchange. It's a practical solution to an old problem that will rely on travelers taking that "Northwest nice" adage to heart.

As always, being polite and cooperative has advantages. In this case, it will help reduce congestion, delays, and the kind of annoying backups that can turn a sweet demeanor sour.
The situation
During the morning commute, southbound US 101 near Steamboat Island outside Olympia has regular congestion. Two lanes reduce to one where the highway passes under SR 8. Most commuters merge into the left lane after signs advise that the right lane ends in less than a mile.

All of those vehicles crammed into one lane creates a long line of slower-moving travelers slogging through the interchange. All the while, the right lane goes mostly unused, except for a few who zoom by, eliciting scowls and scorn from all of the drivers waiting in line.

Why not expand the roadway?
Extension of a second lane under SR 8 would eliminate the bottleneck, but it would require crews to demolish two existing bridges and rebuild them with much larger and more expensive spans - a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

Enter the zipper merge
The zipper merge is all about making the most of the existing roadway by having drivers rethink what it means to "drive nice." Instead of merging while up the hill near Steamboat Island, we want drivers to merge closer to the area where the lane ends. Vehicles will politely switch off, letting their neighbor proceed at a nice steady speed, just like a zipper.
Although it might feel like cheating, merging at this location in this fashion will help cut congestion and increase the efficiency of the existing highway. Nobody is cheating or cutting in line. When you drive nice in the zipper, all of the unused road gets used, so we can all get there with reduced congestion and reduced scowling.

What's the timeline?
We will install new signs in late June to encourage use of the zipper merge. This effort is a pilot project that we will evaluate for possible use in other areas.