Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Walking and rolling into the future together

By Barb Chamberlain

It's National Bicycle Month and a good time to roll out the completed State Active Transportation Plan, 2020 and Beyond. Part 1, that is – there's more to come later this year as we finish work on needed policies and performance measures. Part 1 meets our state law requirement to prepare the plan with a statewide strategy and needs assessment. 

With a decade's worth of data, the plan lays out deeply troubling safety issues and identifies changes needed to address them. Vulnerable road users now make up about 21% of all traffic deaths – that's far out of proportion to the fatality rates for all other modes. And those fatal crashes happen more often in places with low-income households and places with higher numbers of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. State routes through population centers also have a disproportionate number of crashes, and driving speed is a major factor.

Thousands of people across the state engaged with the plan's development and we received hundreds of comments from them earlier this year. We heard the same things again and again: Finish the sidewalks. Make it safer to cross the road. Slow traffic where lots of people walk and roll. Deal with the inequitable effects of the past. Connect the beautiful trails we already have into a larger network. Make it easier to use healthy and sustainable ways to get around.
Among the most common pieces of feedback we received from the public is the need to improve and add sidewalks across the state.
You'll find all of these topics and more in the plan, which is notable for being the first-ever evaluation of 6,977 lane-miles of state right of way, specifically for how it works for active transportation use. The results aren't really a surprise; past decisions prioritized the needs of people moving in motor vehicles, rather than those of people walking, biking, or rolling. 

While the plan is fairly technical and written to conform to requirements of state and federal law, it begins with the understanding that these are the most fundamental forms of transportation and we need to make them work well for people and for the planet. We started building a transportation system – this plan will help us finish it.
Having safe routes for people on foot, bike and other non-motorized modes of travel to get around is a priority of the Active Transportation Plan.

So, the plan's done. Why would you read it now? You'd read it if you want to:
  • Understand the challenges we face if we are to meet our state safety goal of zero traffic deaths. 
  • Understand how decisions about roadway design affected walk/bike safety and mobility, with especially significant effects in places where more lower-income, Black, Indigenous, and people of color live. 
  • Learn about tools such as speed management and improvements at crossings, including ramp junctions – improvements we need not just on state routes, but on local streets and roads as well.
  • Get a sense of how land-use changes have created population centers around state highways that look, feel, and function like towns, without having the sidewalks and bike lanes they need. 
  • Understand how we arrived at a "snapshot in time" high-level cost estimate of what it would take to address gaps on 1,685 miles of state routes through population centers. 
  • Consider the opportunity to connect and complete trails and designate more U.S. Bicycle Routes for a statewide bikeways and trails network. 
  • Ask your local government officials when they last updated their active transportation plan and how they can work to align local network connections and crossings with future changes on state routes.

While biking on the closed section of the SR 20 North Cascades Highway is fun, creating safe infrastructure everywhere for those who walk and roll is a key part of the plan.

Our staff are already developing next steps to move the analysis from the plan's Part 1 into practice while they work to get Part 2 ready for public review sometime this summer.

To receive future updates specifically for the plan, subscribe to the ATP E-News. For active transportation news updates including grant opportunities, webinars, and activities of WSDOT and partners subscribe to the WSDOT Walk + Roll E-News.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Planning for the unexpected: When it comes to work zone safety, that’s just part of the job

By Victoria Miller

When you work on one of the largest highway construction projects in the state, both in terms of dollars and project area, you learn to plan for the unexpected.

Chris Cooper is a construction manager on our I-405 Renton to Bellevue Widening and Express Toll Lanes Project. The Tacoma native worked in construction in the South Pacific and Canada before moving back to the Seattle area about four years ago.

Chris has worked as a construction manager for Flatiron West, Inc., for almost five years. He’s worked on projects all across the state, including the State Route 520 West Approach Bridge North, the Lander Street Project in downtown Seattle and seismic retrofitting on I-5 in Tacoma.
Chris Cooper, a construction manager on our I-405 Renton to Bellevue project, has seen more than his fair share of dangerous work zone incidents while working on our highways.

With all his experience, Chris knows it’s important to expect the unexpected. Planning for the unexpected may sound almost impossible, but when safety is your number one priority, it is a necessity. 

“When you have vehicles moving so fast so close to the work zone, you stretch yourself to think about all aspects of the situation,” Chris said. “How can you go that extra mile to make sure you have a system to protect the public and your employees?”

Close calls that cause your heart to skip a beat

Close calls and injuries are an unfortunate fact of life for many highway workers. The one that stands out in Chris’s mind was a near miss that happened during a project on SR 520. 

A driver followed a dump truck into a ramp closure area and sped up to more than 60 mph, causing the vehicle to hit the median barrier. Four nearby workers could have been injured, or even killed. Just before almost hitting the workers, the driver’s vehicle glanced off an empty work trailer crews had parked next to the work zone. This caused the vehicle to careen by the workers instead of through them. Had the trailer not been parked where it was, the incident could have ended fatally. As a result, Chris’s crew now parks equipment directly between live traffic and the active work zone.

“When you’re working with live traffic, there’s an incredible amount of interactions with the public that are close calls, or incidents that cause your heart to skip a beat,” he said. “It’s crazy how some of these incidents can be. … You try to plan for every contingency.”
Away from work, Chris likes spending time outdoors with his family, including a 2018 hike at Mt. Catherine near Snoqualmie Pass.

Do your part

Almost 95 percent of people injured in work zone crashes on Washington highways are drivers, their passengers or pedestrians, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to be safe and alert in and around work zones.

We ask all drivers near work zones to:
  • Slow Down – Drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety.
  • Be Kind – Our workers are 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.
Making it home each night

Chris has many reasons to make it home safely at the end of each day.

The most important is spending time with his wife of 16 years, Deah, and his two sons, Ben (age 14) and Gavin (9). He also enjoys riding his snowmobile and fly-fishing.

In his free time, Chris also gives back to his community by coaching the Cascade Orienteering Club, which is competitive navigation using a map and compass outdoors. He coaches elementary, middle and high school orienteering club teams in the Tahoma area.
Going home to his family safely each night so they can enjoy time together – like this 2019 trip to Disneyland – is priority No. 1 for Chris.

He also loves his job, even with the risks.

“We love working for the public and producing something that you’re proud to walk home from at the end of the day,” he said.

Next time you’re driving near a work zone, please think about the people behind the barriers like Chris. Remember that they are trying to protect you as well as their employees and that they want everyone to make it home safely at the end of each day.

The Renton to Bellevue project construction will continue to ramp up this summer. Ongoing work will be focused in the Renton area of I-405 and work, overall, will continue for the next few years, with the project anticipated to open to traffic in 2024. Stay up to date on closures and upcoming night work on our I-405 construction updates webpage and our Renton to Bellevue project webpage.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Permanent change coming to southbound I-5 exit to JBLM Madigan Gate, Berkeley Street

By Cara Mitchell

Attention users of the southbound Interstate 5 exit to Berkeley Street and the Madigan Army Medical Center: A permanent change to the exit is coming, and it may happen before Memorial Day. While these are some big improvements, it's time to stay plugged in for upcoming changes, so you won't miss your exit.

New shared exit to Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane
If the weather allows, in late May a new shared exit on southbound I-5 will open to travelers going to Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street. Anyone traveling to Madigan Army Medical Center, Camp Murray, JBLM's Logistic Gate or Lakewood's Tillicum and Woodbrook neighborhoods will be using this new shared exit. The new shared exit on southbound I-5 is barrier-separated from I-5 travel lanes. This highway design feature can prevent excessive weaving and merging vehicles, which both often cause collisions.
A look at the new exit location and how traffic will flow at the new Thorne Lane interchange.

The map below shows the location of the existing exit to Berkeley Street, and the new location once the new shared exit opens.

New Exit numbers
The exit numbers are also changing. The new shared exit will be marked as Exit 122A and Exit 122B.

Exit 122A takes travelers to:
  • Berkeley Street
  • Jackson Avenue
  • JBLM's Madigan Gate.
  • Tillicum neighborhood
  • Camp Murray

Exit 122B takes travelers to:

  • Thorne Lane
  • Murray Road
  • Woodbrook neighborhood
  • Tillicum neighborhood
  • JBLM's Logistic Gate
  • Camp Murray
This change is only happening for those exiting to Berkeley Street or Thorne Lane from southbound I-5. Drivers using northbound I-5 exits to Berkeley Street or Thorne Lane will see a change in the exit numbers, but not a change in the physical location of the exits.

New Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5
We have even more news to share. Around the same time the new shared exit opens, a new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 will open to travelers from the east side of the interstate. The new on-ramp is only accessible from the Murray Road roundabout using the Thorne Lane “low bridge.” Drivers will no longer be crossing the railroad to access southbound I-5 at Thorne Lane.

We created a video that shows how the two newly rebuilt interchanges work together, including the new shared exit and the new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5.
Finishing the project
Before everyone can jump for joy with excitement that the project is almost finished, travelers will need to be on the lookout for lane and ramp closures that are necessary to finish. Much of the work involves paving and striping, which is weather sensitive work. Any rain or cold temperatures can easily delay the timing. Here is the latest schedule from the contractor:
  • Weekend ramp closure of the northbound I-5 exit to Thorne Lane – happening as early as April 30 to May 3.
  • Overnight lane and ramp closures for final paving and striping throughout entire project starting late April
  • Overnight closure to fully open the Thorne Lane roundabout connection on the west side of the overpass in early July.
We will continue to share the weekly overnight lane and ramp closures that accompany this work on our Travel Planner web page.

As a reminder, the reduced speed limit is still in place on I-5 while crews finish the work. Thank you for your continued patience and support.

Knowing potential dangers first hand gives dad of road worker an even greater fear

By Barbara LaBoe

It's every parent's worst nightmare: your child has been hurt and you don't know if they're okay. And even if that child is an adult, the fear remains the same.

For Jim Andersen, who works in our Maintenance Operations office, there was an added element back in October 2019. Jim worked on road crews for 20 years and knew exactly the type of dangers his son Tyler faced when he joined the agency three years ago. He was in a morning meeting when he heard a truck had been hit and remembers sharing a worried look with a co-worker who also had a child out on the roads. Minutes later he got the notification it had been Tyler's vehicle.  

"I had sort of put some of that personal fear behind me when I got the office job," Jim remembered. "That was always a concern for me and my crew when you're out there...and it never fully goes away – but when it's your son, it's an even greater fear."
This family photo shows Tyler (left) and Jim Andersen, who are part of three generations of the Andersen family that have worked for our agency – and know the dangers of work zones all too well.

We work hard to provide training and equipment to keep our crews and everyone on the roadway safe. But the work still carries risk, something we highlight throughout the year and especially this week as part of National Work Zone Awareness Week.

Just a few seconds warning
For Tyler the night of the crash started like many others. He works the night crew and was dispatched to make emergency repairs to State Route 512 near Tacoma. Tyler was in one of our truck-mounted attenuators, a truck with a giant accordion-like apparatus on the back to absorb the impact if anything were to hit it. The TMA is there to protect workers out on the roadway ahead by literally taking the hit for them.

They were waiting for the repaired pavement to cure when Tyler heard a call from another truck that a semi was headed straight toward him in the closed lane. He had just enough time to look in his rear-view mirror and see the semi coming before his TMA was hit. The semi driver tried to swerve back out of the closed lane, but both the tractor and then the trailer hit the back of the TMA – pushing the heavy vehicle forward and injuring Tyler.

"It happened really quick," Tyler said. "I didn't feel it when the tractor clipped the back of the TMA, but I felt the second one."
Tyler Andersen stands with a truck-mounted attenuator vehicle, which is credited with keeping his injuries from being worse when it was struck twice by a semi-truck in 2019.

Tyler was the only one hurt – thankfully, he'd had the rest of the crew move off the roadway while they waited for the pavement to cure – and he was taken to the hospital after the crash. His back and neck were injured, but he was able to return to work a week later – though he had months of physical therapy ahead of him and still has occasional pain.

Still, Tyler said he knew even that night that he'd be back at work. He likes working outdoors and fixing things like he did growing up on the farm. The four 10-hour days shift is also attractive, allowing him to spend more time in the outdoors that he loves.

He's the third generation of his family to work for us, so he was well aware of the dangers of the work. But the crash has given him a new awareness when he's out on the roads.

"We talk about it every day and do our daily pre-activity safety plans, but it really brings it into perspective when you do get hit," Tyler said. "It really jacks up your nerves a little more, because you keep expecting it to happen."

Tyler was already in the habit of calling Jim each morning as the night crew's work was done. Now those calls are even more important.

"It kind of changes things and re-prioritizes things," Jim said. "It's always nice to hear his voice at the end of his shift."

'Lives are at stake'
There have been many advances in highway safety since Jim first started working, including the TMA, which he credits for keeping Tyler and his crew safe from further injury – or worse.

"If this had happened in some of the equipment we used to use, it would have been a lot different," Jim said.

But we still also need the public's help in keeping everyone on the road safe. We average more than 1,500 work zone collisions in our state each year and even one is too many. 

"We see people that wait til the last minute to move over for a closed lane, or get impatient and try to zip back into it too soon," Tyler said. "We need them to be patient and move over for us. The 30 seconds they save being in a hurry isn't worth the impact of striking one of us, or our equipment."

We ask everyone in or near work zones to follow these four steps to keep themselves and our workers safe:
  • 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
After all, every worker out there is someone's child, spouse, parent, sibling or friend. And they all want to come home safe at the end of their shift.

"Just take a step back and take a deep breath whenever you're out on the roadways," Jim said. "Safety is far more important than any delay. Lives are at stake."