Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Why we need to reduce lanes on SR 520 for a few years

By Steve Peer

With population and job growth booming across the Seattle metropolitan area, drivers want to know why we're reducing the number of lanes on State Route 520 between Seattle and the Eastside. Some folks say the state should add lanes on SR 520, not take them away!

The fact is...we're doing both.

Keeping traffic moving during construction
We've long planned SR 520's six-lanes-to-four constriction between Seattle and the new floating bridge. It's part of the highway's ongoing reconstruction from I-405 to I-5. A key element of this megaproject is the replacement of the highway's aging, structurally vulnerable bridges.

To keep traffic moving along this critical urban freeway, we're doing the work in stages. First, we replaced the old four-lane floating bridge with a six-lane bridge across most of Lake Washington. A year later, in 2017, we finished a three-lane bridge that connects the westbound lanes from the floating bridge across Union Bay to Montlake.
And now, changing directions, we're preparing to remove and replace the original, 1960s-era SR 520 bridge over Union Bay. (We restriped this older bridge two years ago to temporarily carry three lanes of eastbound-only traffic).
Looking west across Union Bay toward Seattle in this August 2019 photo, SR 520 traffic moves westbound on the newer, taller bridge, while eastbound traffic travels on the existing, 1960s-era eastbound bridge.

Why the lane reduction?
That old bridge between Montlake and the new floating bridge was built as a single structure, with two lanes in each direction. Supported by hollow, concrete columns, it could fail in a severe earthquake. The replacement for this 1.2-mile-long span will be two side-by-side, three-lane bridges on stronger columns.
Conceptual illustration of a new, eastbound SR 520 bridge across Lake Washington's Union Bay

We're removing and replacing the old bridge with a newer, eastbound span within the same general footprint. But to do that, we have to shift all eastbound SR 520 traffic during the interim onto the existing westbound bridge, which we're restriping to carry two lanes in each direction. Weather permitting, we'll do that work during this weekend's eastbound closure of the highway, and complete the lane shift by Monday morning, Nov. 11.

Afterward, there will be two-way, two-lane traffic over Union Bay for the next three to four years as we build a seismically stronger, three-lane bridge for eastbound-only traffic. This graphic shows how the lane shift and interim highway realignment will work.

View larger image (pdf 552 kb)

Come Monday morning, Nov. 11, drivers crossing Lake Washington on SR 520 basically will encounter the same highway configuration they saw three years ago: three lanes in both directions from I-405 to the west end of the floating bridge, and then two lanes in each direction from the floating bridge to I-5.

Expect longer commutes during construction
Understand that this traffic shift will cause some travel delays. With the HOV lanes temporarily gone between Montlake and the floating bridge, peak-period commutes will be a bit longer. And because the reduced lanes move through a construction zone, we've lowered the speed limit to 40 mph. We encourage people to follow the new limit – for their own safety and that of our construction crews.

One way to avoid the heaviest congestion is to alter your schedule, if possible. Leave home a bit earlier or a bit later than normal, and do the same for the return home. Try to miss the traditional peak commuting times – roughly 7:30 to 9 a.m., and 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Another option is to ride the bus or a three-person-plus carpool. The HOV lanes remain open on the floating bridge, and they'll save a little time if westbound traffic is backed up coming into Seattle.

And don't forget. There's a 14-foot-wide bike and pedestrian path that crosses the lake. It's virtually congestion-free – and there's no toll.

Start your game plan early for getting to Sunday’s MLS Cup - With 70K fans expected, know your options for traveling to the stadium

By Mike Allende

It’s not every day that a major sports championship is played in Seattle. But that’s what’s happening this Sunday, Nov. 10, when our Seattle Sounders will play host to Toronto FC at noon at CenturyLink Field. And while these two teams meeting for the title is nothing new – this is the third time they’ve played for the trophy in the past four years – this is the first time it will be in Seattle.
Our partners Sound Transit has plenty of Link Light Rail connections
that will drop Sounders fans off near CenturyLink Field.

With 70,000 fans expected to fill the stadium – many from out of town – traffic will be a big story. We’ve partnered with our friends from the local transit agencies and law enforcement to provide a one-stop shop for tips and tools to help everyone get to the stadium safely and in time for kickoff.

Transit. Did we mention transit? Transit.

The streets around CenturyLink Field are going to be packed. Parking is going to be TOUGH. Anything you can do to avoid adding to that congestion is going to be a plus. And that means transit. In addition to regular Link light rail service that runs from the University of Washington to Angle Lake, Sound Transit is running special Sounder commuter rail service to the game serving several stations between Everett to the north and Lakewood to the south that drop riders within walking distance of the stadium – this is how I’m getting down there Sunday. King County Metro and Community Transit also all run routes that drop you close to the field, and Pierce Transit is an option from the south. You could even try the Monorail from the Seattle Center to Westlake Center and take Link light rail or walk 1.2 miles to the stadium.
Sound Transit will be running special Sounder train service to this Sunday’s MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

Sounder isn’t the only train that can get you to the stadium, though. Amtrak Cascades serves 18 cities between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon, dropping fans at King Street Station in Seattle at 11:30 a.m. from the north and 11:50 a.m. from the south. There are group rates and this is a popular service, so be sure to make reservations for trains to and from the match.
Be aware, transit is going to be busy, busy, busy. Trains and buses will be crowded, so get to park and ride lots early and be prepared to get cozy with your fellow fans. Have your ORCA card ready before match day, or download the Transit Go Ticket app to pay for fare on Metro Bus, Sound Transit Link Light Rail, Sounder Train and Express bus service, Monorail, and Seattle Streetcar, which will have extra cars running this weekend.
King County Metro will be on regular Sunday service with routes ready
to take fans to watch the Seattle Sounders win MLS Cup.

What are my other options?

Again, driving – especially by yourself – is the last thing you want to do. If you have to drive, try to carpool. With 70,000 fans coming to the game, it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone you know – or don’t mind getting to know – to share a ride with. Car services are also an option, but consider getting dropped off away from the stadium and walk several blocks, if you can.

Riding your bike is also a great option. There is plenty of bike parking at the stadium. Maybe combine it with a transit trip. Don’t have a bike available? No problem, you have several options to take advantage of a bike share.

If you absolutely must drive, here’s a list of parking lots in Seattle.
The MLS Cup arrived aboard one of our ferries earlier this week, and we expect plenty of fans
to arrive to Sunday’s championship game aboard our boats as well.

With all of these options please remember that scores of your fellow fans likely will be doing the same thing, so plan ahead to arrive early and enjoy some of the pre-match celebration, grab a meal or just take in the waterfront views. You don’t want to wait until the last minute only to discover everything is taken or already booked.

Taking the ferry
Riding a ferry is a quintessential part of living or visiting the Puget Sound area, and there’s never a shortage of Sounders fans who ride our boats. In particular, walking onto the ferry from Bremerton or Bainbridge can be a great option, as it’s only about a half-mile walk from Colman Dock to the stadium. We encourage walk-on passengers to purchase their tickets ahead of time to make boarding after the match easier. Also, construction at Colman Dock means that space is a little tight for those walking on, so please be prepared for that.

If you’re visiting from out of town or don’t travel through this part of the state often, be aware that the SR 520 bridge across Lake Washington (for those of you coming from the east side) and the new SR 99 tunnel (starting Nov. 9) are both toll roads. There are several ways for people to pay the toll. If you are from out of town, or are not a frequent user of either of those roads, here’s a guide about tolling and your options.
CenturyLink Field has plenty of bicycle parking so riding a bike – maybe even combined with a transit trip
– would be a great way to avoid the MLS Cup traffic rush.

There is one major piece of construction that those headed to – or more accurately, from – the match should know. The eastbound SR 520 floating bridge will be closed all weekend. If you’re coming from the east side, you can take westbound SR 520 – remember, there is a toll for the bridge – but to return, you’ll need to use I-90 or head south on I-5 to I-405. Also be aware that there is ongoing construction on Seattle’s waterfront so be prepared for some possible disruption in that area.

It’s going to be a party around the stadium starting early on Sunday. There are going to be tons of pedestrians walking around Pioneer Square and SoDo and plenty of Seattle Police Department officers directing traffic. Please be alert for everyone, especially if you’re driving. Keep your eyes on the road, slow down, follow the directions of those directing traffic and be patient. If you do end up running late, please remain calm as you finish traveling. No match – not even this one – is worth risking injury or death. And, as always, if you will be drinking at the game, please don’t drive.

Stay engaged
These days there are tools galore to help you plan your trip and stay in the loop. We’ve linked to several of them in this blog already but there are other ways to stay updated.

On Twitter, follow:


Monday, November 4, 2019

The gain was worth the pain on 35 miles of fresh highways

Four highways in three counties resurfaced safely before busy holiday travel season

By Frances Fedoriska

First things first. Thank you. Thank you to drivers on SR 542/Mt Baker Highway, SR 547, 548 and US 2 who planned ahead, took alternate routes, slowed down or waited out lengthy delays as contractor crews resurfaced those highways on some of the hottest days of the year. It's never fun to reduce a highway to one lane, let alone in the summer heat. But we needed that heat to get this down. More on that later.

But, I'm here to tell you our Bituminous Surface Treatment (BST) – or resurfacing work – on those highways is done.

Join me on this trip in the way-back machine for a look at what was accomplished between June and October.

What got done
Spot repair, crack sealing and a new surface was put down on roughly 35 miles of the following portions of these highways:

Snohomish County
  • US 2 between Mount Index Road near Index and Eagle Falls west of Halford
King County
  • US 2 between NE 182nd St/east of Baring and NE Old Cascade Highway/Money Creek campground
Whatcom County
  • SR 542/Mount Baker Highway between Britton Road in Bellingham and St. Peter's Catholic Church/Markel Road west of Kendall
  • SR 547/Kendall Road between Peaceful Valley Drive and Saar Creek/Hillview Road
  • SR 548/Grandview Road between North Starr Road and the Blaine Road roundabout
This work prevents the need for future costly and untimely emergency repairs.
The crack sealing that happened in June is a quick and cost-effective way to keep fall and winter rain from
seeping into the road, freezing, and damaging the surface.

Contractor crews didn't just make repairs to the road surface. They also repaired old expansion joints and resurfaced a handful of bridges.
Bridge rehabilitation didn't just happen on Mount Baker Highway. This is the waterproofing material we put down on a smaller bridge on US 2 just east of Baring. The material protects the bridge structure from water damage.

Why were some delays in August upward of 45 minutes?
As I explained in this blog post in July, the final stage of resurfacing required putting down the new surface that is a mix of oil, sand and gravel. The mix had to be put down during the hottest days of the year because the heat of the roadway helped the material bond and cure.
Crews were constantly moving down the highway during this stage, so a long stretch of road was blocked off
in advance so they could quickly get the surface down without stopping.

To keep the area safe while keeping traffic moving, a pilot car alternated traffic through the work zones. Speed limits were temporarily reduced to 35 miles per hour because loose gravel may have been present on the highway and higher speeds increase the risk of kicking up the loose gravel. A safe following distance was – and always is – recommended.
To help reduce the amount of loose gravel, the help of "Superior Broom" was enlisted to sweep the highway.

Preserving our infrastructure
While we wish we could repave every stretch that starts to pothole or crack, we don't have the budget to do that. With 5,000 miles of highway from the King-Pierce county line to the Canadian border, there is a huge amount of pavement for us to manage. Projects like this one keep lower-use highways preserved until larger improvements are funded.

Thank you for staying engaged
At times, weather conditions postponed work on this project in one area but not another. So again, thank you for staying engaged. Even though this project is done, there is still a wealth of information about current and upcoming construction on our construction update page and the WSDOT North Twitter account.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Repair for damaged SR 99 Aurora bridge begins Thursday night

By Thomas Charlson

Repairs to Seattle's damaged SR 99 Aurora bridge will begin at 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31. During the repair work, the bridge will be reduced to two lanes in each direction for about 10 days as crews repair a damaged support beam section below the bridge.

The walkway on the west side of the bridge will also close.

We've coordinated the closure with our partners at the city of Seattle and King County Metro to try to keep traffic moving as well as possible through the area. The bridge is safe for traffic but there will be a new lane configuration and delays are expected, especially during peak travel times. If possible, consider using alternate routes, carpooling or public transit.

The lane closures are needed to create room for the contractor to stage equipment. Temporary lane markings will shift a single lane of southbound traffic into the northbound lanes, allowing two lanes of travel in each direction.

We typically try to give the public as much notice as possible for significant lane closures. But sometimes, it just isn't possible. In this case, a right-lane closure on the southbound side was put in place quickly, and without much warning on Sunday, Oct. 27 when bridge inspectors discovered advanced deterioration of a steel support beam during an in-depth inspection. We immediately began developing a repair plan and hired Guy F. Atkinson Construction to make the repairs.

We have more than 3,300 bridges that we maintain statewide and they each get regular inspections to ensure they're in good working order and to identify any issues that need attention.

This past September was time for the SR 99 Aurora bridge to get its regular checkup. Structural engineers found a few areas of concern so we did a much closer inspection this past weekend, Oct. 26-27. During this time, they discovered the damage to the support beam (known as a stringer), leading to added pressure on the next beam, which is now carrying twice the weight it was designed for.
This diagram shows the exact location of the problem area under the right southbound lane of the SR 99 Aurora bridge.

What is a stringer?
Stringers are long steel beams that run length-wise under the bridge, parallel to the lanes of traffic. The stringer under the far-right southbound lane is losing strength due to corrosion, and a support plate has separated half of an inch from the stringer itself.
The stringer beam's support plate separated half of an inch from the stringer beam.

It will be important to plan for added travel time if you're headed south into downtown. Be sure to check our app, Twitter account and webpage to help navigate the lane closures.
The area that needs to be repaired is over water, so our repair plan will have to safely access the underside of the bridge.

It's never convenient to close lanes, especially on short notice, and especially on a highway as heavily traveled as SR 99. We'll work as quickly as we safely can to get the bridge repaired and traffic fully reopened, and we appreciate everyone's patience as we get this work done.

Innovative ideas helping to manage our work in water

By Ann Briggs

Recent flooding this fall highlights the need to understand the dynamics and power of rivers and streams. There are about 200 major river systems in Washington state and more than 260 bridge structures that cross these bodies of water. This is in addition to approximately 2,000 fish barrier crossings and 50,000 drainage culverts statewide.
The Elwah River bridge on US 101 near Port Angeles, showing river erosion of one of the piers

That's why when we set out to update our state Hydraulics Manual, we enlisted the help of hydraulic engineers from across the state, federal agency representatives and subject matter experts. The manual is used by state and local engineers, consultants and private developers. It provides step-by-step design guidance and standards for water crossings and stream restoration, especially in fish bearing waters. The manual also incorporates two-dimensional hydraulic modeling – a tool used to communicate the complex interactions between a river and transportation elements – that helps us develop solutions for river erosion around bridge foundations, known as “bridge scour.”
2D modeling of the Elwah River bridge helped engineers develop emergency repairs of bridge scour.

This collaborative work – a yearlong process that started in 2017 – was sponsored by the Washington State Transportation Innovation Council or STIC for short. STIC brings public and private transportation interests together to evaluate innovative solutions and help spread that knowledge so that we are using the best science and technologies available.
Fish barrier corrections can be complex. This shows the old SR 202 Little Bear Creek culvert inside
the new streambed and the pipe that carried the stream water during construction.

In early October, the American Association of State Transportation Officials and Federal Highway Administration recognized the collaborative work on our Hydraulics Manual with a STIC Excellence Award. Not only will the updated manual benefit engineers across our state, but it will also share our best practices with engineers across the nation.