Friday, November 18, 2022

Workforce development key to ferry service restoration

By Justin Fujioka

To address our ferry crewing situation, we must focus on workforce development. That includes hiring new employees, training existing ones and making the maritime industry attractive to the next generation as we look ahead to long-term stability.

These 16 new deck employees, seen here with a few of their trainers, completed orientation and training
at the Seattle Maritime Academy on Nov. 2.

While it remains important to continue hiring new crewmembers, our biggest short-term constraint continues to be a lack of licensed deck officers (captains and mates), who require significant training time.

These 14 new terminal employees began working for us on Nov. 8 after finishing orientation and training.

Earlier this year, we created two new programs that encourage our current employees to take the necessary courses and exams to obtain a mates’ credential. We expect more than 40 to graduate these programs between April 2023 and April 2024, which is great for future system stability. We’re seeking to make these programs permanent.

Twelve of our able-bodied sailors recently completed mate training at our local
Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies.

Our latest Service Restoration Plan (PDF 794KB) Progress Report (PDF 631KB) shows that we’re now on track to confidently restore full service on our Edmonds/Kingston route early next year. Around the same time, we expect to begin trialing a full, three-boat schedule on our Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth run. The timing of full restoration on our Seattle/Bremerton and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes is dependent on the number of new mates who complete training in April 2023. We do not anticipate being able to restore Sidney, British Columbia service any sooner than summer 2023.

Sea Potential program students along with their chaperones and Relief Chie Mate Brett Wheeler aboard the Walla Walla.

Looking far down the road, we must be sure that we will be able to sustain service for many years to come once we are fully restored. We are already looking for potential future crewmembers to fill this void.

For the second time this year, we hosted seven BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) youth aboard one of our ferries in early November. The middle schoolers, part of the Sea Potential program that helps attract diverse students to maritime jobs, toured the wheelhouse and engine room of Walla Walla.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Taking steps to improve stretch of I-5 through Nisqually River Valley

By Mark Krulish

Over the next couple of years, we’re taking a closer look at a critical section on Interstate 5.

I-5 through Thurston and Pierce Counties moves goods, people and the US military. It passes directly through the Nisqually River Valley, the traditional home of the Nisqually Tribe, and it is a habitat for threatened salmon and steelhead fish.

Two bridges take I-5 over the Nisqually River – northbound was built in 1937, and southbound in 1967. A lot has changed since then. The population of the South Sound has grown by leaps and bounds and that is expected to continue, which will bring more people traveling throughout the region.

Just as our world has changed, so has our approach to how we build highways. If the Nisqually River Bridges were built today, they would be built in a much different manner. Over the decades, we’ve moved to a mindset where we must also be good stewards of the environment. The work done in 1968 would probably not meet the current environmental regulations passed from the National Environmental Policy Act or the Washington State Shoreline master program. While the roadway is structurally and seismically sound, we now recognize they are not the best structures for the environment. Removal of the fill in the Nisqually Delta requires the replacement of the I-5 Nisqually bridges.

The Nisqually River bridges carry I-5 through the Nisqually River Valley but current environmental
standards mean the bridges must be replaced.

We want to be sure the highway system is ready for any man-made or natural disaster and the environmental impacts on the river and fish, and that starts with a federal Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study.

This phase of the study focuses on I-5 from Marvin Road to Mounts Road (Exits 111 to 116 in Thurston and Pierce counties), with a Focused PEL to consider additional technical analyses and stakeholder input.

The state legislature has set aside $75 million to start working on a project on I-5 through the Nisqually River Delta. This funding allows us to look at ways to improve mobility between Marvin Road and Mounts Road for all types of travelers. We’ll explore a preliminary design for a new bridge and look at any parcel of land we might need to acquire to address flood risk.

This stretch of I-5 through the Nisqually River Valley is being studied as we look to make environmental
 and mobility improvements to the area.

Part of that funding also goes towards three roundabouts on State Route 507, which will be a vital alternative route in the event of a disaster affecting I-5.

We may adopt the Purpose and Need – a statement that describes why the project is necessary – and identified alternative(s), which are determined during this process, into the National Environmental Policy Act environmental review. Doing this work now will help speed up the NEPA process.

We expect to learn a lot more about how people use this corridor through this study, and we’ll share updates as we have them. Keep up to date with the latest news on our project page.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Emergency repairs will require SR 28 bypass closure in East Wenatchee starting Thursday

By Lauren Loebsack

Regular commuters of SR 28 through East Wenatchee have probably noticed the bump on the eastbound SR 28 bypass near Fred Meyer and know this isn't the first time there's been settlement on this section of road. Maintenance crews have been out to repave at this location which smoothed out the bump for a time.

Since then, we've been investigating what caused the bump and have determined the problem is related to a failed subsurface stormwater pipe. That means water has been leaking under the road for some time and eroding away the fill. This has caused voids underneath the roadway that settle.

Signs of settling and strucural issues at the Apple Capital trail underpass on the SR 28 eastbound bypass in East Wenatchee

Increased runoff from winter weather is likely to make this issue worse, leading to bigger problems for the roadway and retaining wall. Because of the urgency of these repairs, we've hired Pipkin Construction for an emergency project that will begin on Thursday, Nov. 10.

The project will include excavating an 80 ft. long trench on the bypass to replace the damaged length of pipe, fill in the voids caused by water infiltration, and rebuild and repave the road. To accomplish this safely and efficiently, the contractor will close the eastbound bypass beginning Thursday at 6 a.m. This means travelers headed east on SR 28 towards Rock Island and Quincy will be detoured over the George Sellar Bridge to reconnected to SR 28 eastbound. The Fifth St. NE westbound access from Valley Mall Parkway will also be closed to the roundabout to help maintain traffic flow. This also means access to Fred Meyer from the ramps will be closed. For everyone needing to shop there, you'll need to use the right turn at the intersection of SR 28 and Grant Rd. The Apple Capital Loop trail will also be closed at the underpass.

The eastbound detour for SR 28 will be over the SR 2185 George Sellar Bridge to turn around
and access SR 28 at in the Grant Rd. intersection
  • In order to accommodate all vehicles, including trucks and larger vehicles, travelers that are eastbound from SR 28 on Sunset Highway heading to Rock Island and Quincy will be detoured over the George Sellar Bridge to turn around and access SR 28 at the intersection of Grant Rd.
  • Travelers that are eastbound from Wenatchee who want to travel north to 9th St., Valley Mall Parkway or Sunset Highway towards the junction of US 2/97 will still be able to use the underpass.
  • Westbound access to the George Sellar Bridge on 5th St. NE from Valley Mall Parkway will be closed to maintain detour traffic flow.

The bypass must remain closed through the entirety of project, which could take up to 10 days. The exact timeline is still unknown because the extent of the damage and needed repairs won't be fully known until the roadway is opened up. It's expected that this will cause some heavy traffic and longer travel times around the George Sellar Bridge and Grant Rd. intersections, so it'll be important to add some time to your travel plans or consider alternative routes depending on your destination.

Monday, November 7, 2022

A metal detector, waders and a robot named Elvis: a culvert inspection story

By Joe Calabro

When you’re on a state highway, it’s easy to see certain hazards like potholes or debris. Things get complicated when an issue lies below the road’s surface in one of the thousands of culverts that carry water, and sometimes fish, beneath a highway.

That’s where Chau and Elvis come in.

Chau Nguyen joined our agency in 2021 as an intern with a degree in Environmental Engineering. She enjoyed working with an experienced team and eventually accepted a job as a stormwater and drainage engineer.

Chau Nguyen (right) tests Elvis the robot before sending it in for a culvert inspection

She now leads the culvert inspection program in our King/Snohomish/Skagit/Whatcom area, assessing maintenance work and identifying how to avoid emergency failures of the roughly 14,000 culverts in that area. How does Chau do it? With a robot.

Elvis is her robot’s nickname. The remote-controlled vehicle allows Chau to explore drainage infrastructure that would otherwise be inaccessible.

“Roadway drainage is like a tucked-away underground world that people aren’t aware of – it keeps the traveling public safe,” she said.

Elvis the robot is outfitted with a camera in the front and two headlights to illuminate any obstructions. The corded connection is more reliable than wireless and allows Elvis to be retrieved if inactive.

These inspections pay huge dividends. Rust, corrosion or leaks can lead to culvert failures. A collapsed culvert can require immediate lane closures , and costly reconstruction that can be inconvenient for travelers and freight movement. Moreover, fish migration and other environmental impacts can occur.

In the field

On a recent inspection below State Route 99 in Lynnwood, the purpose of the mission was two-fold: inspect the condition of the culvert and obtain measurements for a new fish passage to be designed in the coming years.

Ryan, a member of our maintenance team in the area, donned his waders and climbed about 10 feet down into the catch basin where he was greeted by knee-high water. Elvis, weighing about 75 pounds, was lowered down to him. Our maintenance teams do regular culvert inspections, looking for obvious blockages or collapsed areas. If they notice an issue, they flag it for Chau (and Elvis) to do an in-depth inspection.

Chau drove the robot through the 36-inch diameter culvert. The feed transmitted back to her is always well-lit and clear thanks to its headlights.

A crew on the other side of the road located a catch basin hidden by gravel. Using old plan sets, they set to work with a metal detector, shovel and broom. They dug up the utility cover in minutes and bragged about their discovery from across the road as any good treasure hunter should.

Chau uses Elvis’ mounted camera and headlight to maneuver the robot through the culvert (left).
A still image from the inspection recording (right).

The team confirmed the culvert’s alignment, material and length and didn’t find anything of major concern. Measurements were taken at each catch basin and the process was repeated at the culvert’s outlet. The robot’s recorded footage can be used for future reference.

The length of a culvert on SR 99 in Lynnwood was measured by marking the length of cable used by Elvis.

This season’s rain and snow will send water flowing through our culverts. Monitoring their conditions will ensure infrastructure is appropriately maintained and safe for travel

Job opportunities

Four different work groups were represented at the culvert inspection on SR 99: Maintenance, Environmental, Fish Passage Design Engineering, and Communications. It’s a small slice of the different fields and career opportunities we have to offer. Check on job openings at our careers webpage and learn more about the benefits that come with working with us.