Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Opening the new Thorne Lane interchange – Part 1

By Cara Mitchell

It's going to take several weeks. You'll need to take some detours. But there's light at the end of the tunnel. The I-5/Thorne Lane interchange in Lakewood is oh so close to opening!

We'll do what we can to minimize closures and detours as much as we can and we ask for just a bit more patience as we reach this big milestone.

Setting the scene and what to expect

Travelers who use I-5 near Thorne Lane and Murray Road currently drive under three bridges – two new ones and an old one. You can take a look at this overhead photo below to familiarize yourself with each new part of this interchange.
An overhead look of what to expect at the new Thorne Lane interchange.

Over the next four weeks, a series of changes will occur as crews open up different sections of the intersection. Note that dates can change due to weather.
  • Week of Sept. 28 
    • Open new Thorne Lane "high" bridge that connects Tillicum and Woodbrook neighborhoods
  • Oct. 9-12 
    • Weekend full closure of Thorne Lane overpass and I-5 ramps
  • Oct. 12
    • Thorne Lane "low" bridge connecting southbound I-5 to Murray Road opens
  • Oct. 16 & 17
    • Demolish and remove old Thorne Lane overpass
To start, we're going to focus on the first phase of work – opening the Thorne Lane "high" bridge.

Opening Thorne Lane "high" bridge

As early as Tuesday, Sept. 29, crews will open the new 344-foot-long bridge that spans both I-5 and the railroad tracks. To keep things simple, we are calling this new bridge the Thorne Lane "high" bridge. It will connect local streets using new roundabouts at Murray Road and Union Avenue.
Here's what travelers can expect when the Thorne Lane high bridge opens late this month.

When the new "high" bridge opens, southbound I-5 travelers exiting to Thorne Lane will continue to use the old overpass to turn right to Thorne Lane, or left to Murray Road. Travelers headed to Tillicum can either continue to follow the existing detour on Thorne Lane to Union Avenue, or use the roundabout at Murray Road and cross the new "high" bridge to Union Avenue. This temporary traffic pattern will remain in place until the weekend of Oct. 9, when crews begin work to open the Thorne Lane "low" bridge. That will be covered in a future blog.

Why roundabouts?

There is a good reason why we used roundabouts on the Thorne Lane high bridge – they move traffic through an intersection faster than a traffic signal. Traffic signals on the existing interchange were a necessary component to coordinate the movements of travelers going to and from I-5, railroad activity, and pedestrian/bicyclist traffic. The complexity of the network of streets with the railroad required signal timing that created substantial delays and backups. 

The new interchange design helps relieve congestion by separating where and how traffic flows. The new high bridge is designed to keep bikes, pedestrians and vehicles moving without the need for traffic signals between Lakewood's Tillicum and Woodbrook neighborhoods. This helps reduce congestion.

Is this part of the SR 704 Cross Base Highway project?

We receive this question a lot. The answer is, No. The SR 704 Cross Base Highway project is on indefinite hold. There is no current funding for the project and because so much time has passed since the first phase was constructed, in 2008, a lengthy environmental review process would need to play out again. 

Moving into fall

Here is a list of work coming up in October both at Thorne Lane and on southbound I-5: 
  • The new Thorne Lane "low" bridge will open, bringing with it several detours.
  • The old Thorne Lane overpass will be demolished, and that will require overnight closures of I-5. 
  • Last but not least, a second traffic switch for southbound I-5 lanes will occur near Berkeley Street as part of raising the elevation of the highway 14 feet. 
Putting hard dates to all this while scheduling around weather is at times like herding cats. We will do our best to provide updates as work progresses on what to expect for travelers in the coming weeks. 

As always, we ask you help keep our crews safe by driving the posted speed limit and be mindful of work zones.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

One more SR 202 closure for culvert replacement coming up

By Tom Pearce

One down, one to go.

Just west of Fall City, a second closure of State Route 202 between Southeast 31st Street and West River Road is scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 12-13. In late August we closed the highway closer to Sammamish to replace a culvert that carries Patterson Creek under the highway.

This next closure allows us to replace a couple of culverts keeping salmon and other fish from continuing upstream. From 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, Sept. 14, the road will be closed and all traffic will follow a signed detour. The route is fairly narrow, so truck traffic will need to use I-90, I-405 and SR 520 to get around the closure.
The culverts being replaced under SR 202 carry unnamed tributaries to Patterson Creek. They are narrow and water often moves too fast through them for fish to continue upstream.

Why a full closure?

The stretch of SR 202 near these culverts is relatively narrow at this location, which makes it impossible to keep a lane open during culvert replacement. 

During the full highway closure, our contractor crews will dig up both culverts and replace them with larger box culverts. These will be able to carry natural creek beds, which will make it easy for fish and other marine life to move up and downstream. It's all part of our effort to improve fish passage under state highways, which will help increase fish populations in Puget Sound.

Patterson Creek culvert complete

During the last weekend of August, it took us about 55 hours to replace the culvert for Patterson Creek just east of Sammamish. Similar to what we will be doing during the Sept. 12-13 closure, we had to dig up the old culvert from about 10 feet beneath the roadway. Then we put in a new, larger structure and paved a new roadway back on top.

Replacing these culverts will open up about 11½ miles of additional habitat for salmon and resident fish. That's more area to spawn and for young fish to grow.
Crews lift a section of concrete culvert into place at Patterson Creek.

Improving salmon habitat

Opening up culverts and improving waterways means more species will be able to make the journey to spawning grounds and expanded rearing habitat for young fish. 

By the year 2030, we plan to replace hundreds more fish barriers under our highways. In some cases the narrow passages need to be widened. In other locations, creek levels have dropped, creating too large of a jump for migratory fish to make. 

We appreciate your patience not just with the culvert removals happening this month under SR 202, but with all our future fish passage projects in the years to come.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

COVID-19 presents unique challenges for summer intern

By Taylor Lenderman

This summer I was fortunate enough to land an internship at the Bellingham project engineering office as a transportation engineering intern. I am starting my senior year at Gonzaga University and working towards my bachelor's degree in civil engineering. I was thankful to be in my hometown, Bellingham, and spend summer in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
Taylor Lenderman, an engineering intern in our Bellingham office,
learns to form a concrete cylinder.

My experience as an intern was likely unique compared to the typical intern experience. COVID-19 disrupted the work environment quite significantly. As employees were required to telework from home, being a new face presented some challenges. I was worried that it would be difficult to get help and support from staff, and that learning opportunities would be limited. Luckily, everybody I had the chance to work with was more than willing to help me, and I could not be more thankful! I was able to develop relationships with employees whether I was in the field or teleworking from home. Even though I may not have met everyone in person, I still had the ability to meet virtually and made a connection with just about every employee in our office.
Intern Taylor Lenderman surveys a creek bed near SR 548 in Whatcom County.

So what did I do?

The internship offered several opportunities to get my feet wet. I assisted an inspector on two construction projects, learned how to test materials, observed the work of survey crews, and visited some cool projects outside of the Mt. Baker region.

One of the first projects I helped inspect was at the Bow Hill weigh station. I saw how asphalt is milled and replaced with fresh new asphalt, how concrete panels are poured, and learn the basics of inspection. This project was a learning opportunity for myself and several young engineers in our office. Struggling and learning together as a team throughout this project prepared ourselves for a much bigger fish passage project that was scheduled at the end of July.
Taylor Lenderman stretches his arms wide to show the size of a new 12-foot culvert.

One of the most memorable experiences I had was shadowing an inspector on a salmon fish passage project at Hoag's Creek on SR 11. This project involved replacing an old concrete culvert with a much bigger culvert, allowing salmon to spawn upstream. During the road closure that lasted roughly two weeks, I saw some major progress as contractor Tiger Construction worked around the clock to excavate the old culvert and replace it with the new one. It was amazing how much was accomplished during those two weeks! It was fascinating to watch how the jobsite completely changed from the beginning of the project to end. I was impressed with how much progress was made with the large equipment, countless loads of material delivered from dump trucks, and the construction crew which brought a tremendous amount of effort to the job each day. I must tip my inspector's hard hat to the contractor for all the hard work they accomplished!
Taylor Lenderman is flanked by engineers Vivianne Tabuena (left)
and Laura Brown at the Bow Hill weigh station.

Looking back, I gained some valuable experience in the field and developed connections throughout the agency. As an intern and having no prior training, it was difficult to do tasks on my own because I often had to rely on other employees for their guidance. I tried to provide an outside perspective, ask good questions, and soak in every learning opportunity like a sponge. Luckily, I was a part of a welcoming and supportive team that was always more than willing to help me when needed. I would like to thank the entire Bellingham office for letting me tag along as an inspector to jobsites, answering every question I had, and most importantly, welcoming me and making me feel like a part of their team. I have learned so much over these past few months that I can apply and expand on as I progress in my final year of school and engineering career. Thank you for an awesome summer!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Your road map to navigating the upcoming I-5 overnight closures

By Nick VinZant

A five-mile stretch of our busiest highway is closing for two consecutive nights this coming weekend – Aug. 28 and 29 – and we want everyone to be as prepared as possible. During the work, crews will close both directions of I-5 so they can safely install supersized bridge girders for a new bridge in Fife. The highway will close overnight on both Friday and Saturday between Fife and Federal Way. Backups could be significant. How significant? The answer depends on what drivers do. Our best advice is to avoid I-5 between Seattle and Olympia before, during and after the closure hours, if possible. If that's not an option, the information below will help you navigate your trip.
Crews will transport and install massive girders for a new bridge over I-5 in Fife
during upcoming overnight weekend closures.

First, the basics

Both directions of I-5 close from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. between 54th Avenue East in Fife and SR 18 in Federal Way on Friday, Aug. 28 and Saturday, Aug. 29. Lots of heavy equipment must move on and off the highway for the bridge work, so crews will start closing lanes around 8 p.m. both nights. After the roadway reopens by 8 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday, there will be lane closures in place until about noon. Ramps to and from I-5 will also be closed during the work.

Avoid backups

There's never a good time to close I-5. But by scheduling the heavy lifting overnight, we are trying to minimize delays as much as possible. Still, it's best to avoid I-5 between Seattle and Olympia during the work hours, if possible. If you must travel, consider using the SR 167/SR 512 detour. It's longer, but it might save time as these roads can handle more traffic than the SR 99 detour. The SR 99 detour is designed for those traveling to Tacoma or SR 16. However, if everyone uses the SR 99 detour, the risks of long backups increase.
I-5 in Fife will be fully closed overnight on Aug. 28 and 29 as part of a new bridge project.

On-ramps and off-ramps

There will be ramp closures associated with the highway closure, including ramps that must be used to transport the 220-foot-long girders from Concrete Technology Corp. in Tacoma where they were made, to the new 70th Avenue Bridge site in Fife.
Several on and off ramps will close as part of the overnight I-5 closures in Fife Aug. 28 and 29.

The bottom line

  • A five-mile stretch of I-5 will close between the I-5 / 54th Avenue East interchange in Fife and the I-5 / SR 18 interchange in Federal Way
Closure times
  • Friday, Aug. 28 and Saturday, Aug. 29
    • Lanes begin closing at 8 p.m.
    • 11 p.m. – 8 a.m.- full closure
    • Lanes begin opening at 8 a.m.
    • I-5 fully open by noon
Ramp Closures

Southbound I-5 to Port of Tacoma Road off-ramp
  • Aug. 28
    • 9 p.m. – 5 a.m.
  • Aug. 29
    • 10 p.m. – 6 a.m.
54th Avenue East to northbound I-5 on-ramp
  • Aug. 28
    • 7 p.m. – 9 a.m.
  • Aug. 29
    • 8 p.m. – 10.a.m.
Eastbound SR 18 to southbound I-5 on-ramp
  • Aug. 28
    • 10 p.m. – 8 a.m.
  • Aug. 29
    • 11 p.m. – 9.a.m.
Westbound SR 18 to Southbound I-5 on-ramp
  • Aug. 28
    • 10 p.m. – 8 a.m.
  • Aug. 29
    • 11 p.m. – 9.a.m.
Additional lane closures after bridge installation
  • Aug. 31 – Sept. 3
    • Once the girders are installed, we will need to close lanes of I-5 to prepare the bridge for the next step in the construction process.
    • Two lanes in each direction will be closed immediately north and south of the new 70th Avenue Bridge in Fife
      • I-5 northbound: 7 p.m. – 4 a.m.
      • I-5 southbound: 9:30 p.m. – 6 a.m.