Friday, August 5, 2022

Seafair, Revive I-5 and multiple sporting events makes for a busy weekend ahead

By Sean Quinn and Tom Pearce

Seafair weekend is always one of the busiest times of the year on our roadways in the Seattle and Mercer Island area. This year, though, it’s just one of several events that will make weekend travel through the area a bit tricky – and it’s why we need the public’s help to keep everyone moving.

So, what’s so special about this weekend? Whether it’s going to a park or beach along Lake Washington to watch the air show, heading to see Sue Bird in her last regular season game in her illustrious career or taking a boat out to a nearby marina, there will be much heavier traffic compared to typical weekends.

And this isn’t just any Seafair: the sunny, warm forecast and the return of the popular Blue Angels after a three-year hiatus means this year’s event will look a lot more like the ones from before the COVID-19 pandemic. That means very large crowds expected all along the lakeshore, and lots of folks driving to nearby parks and boat launches – and longer travel times.

And we have construction on I-5 that needs to continue this weekend as well to ensure it’s completed before the fall.

So, it’s going to be a challenging travel weekend. And that’s why we are telling everyone heading out to plan ahead and adjust travel plans if they can. That may include taking public transit, setting up carpools or planning to leave earlier than normal if you absolutely must travel.

The Blue Angels perform during the 2019 Seafair Air Show

I-90 floating bridge open all weekend

It’s the question that gets asked every year around Seafair weekend: Will the I-90 floating bridge between Seattle and Mercer Island be closed in both directions during the Boeing Seafair Air Show Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon?

Good news for drivers, it will not be closed. Like the summer of 2019, the I-90 floating bridge will be open in both directions all day, every day this Friday, Aug. 5 through Sunday, Aug. 7. The flight path for the Blue Angels, F35 Lightning II and Growler has changed and does not require a bridge closure. The bike and pedestrian path on the north side of the bridge will also remain open.

Seafair festivities

In addition to the Blue Angels, there are other Seafair festivities around the Seattle area that will increase the number of vehicles using all directions on SR 99, I-5, and I-90 this weekend. They include:

  • Umoja Fest in Judkins Park in Seattle, on Friday, Aug. 5 through Sunday, Aug. 7 from noon to 7 p.m. daily
  • Fleet Week on the Seattle Waterfront, on Monday, Aug. 1 through Sunday, Aug. 7 from noon to 5 p.m. daily
  • Lake City Summer Festival and Parade in Seattle, on Northeast 125th Street just west of SR 522/Lake City Way Northeast, on Saturday, Aug. 6 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • The Museum of Flight’s Jet Blast Bash in Seattle, on Saturday, Aug. 6 through Sunday, Aug. 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
  • Hydroplane races, a beach party, BMX stunt show, car show, and family fun zone in Genesee Park in Seattle, on Friday, Aug. 5 through Sunday, Aug. 7 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Seattle sports events

Most of Seattle’s professional sports teams also have events at stadiums in downtown Seattle that will bring large numbers of passionate fans with their vehicles to the streets this weekend.

  • The Seattle Mariners have four games at T-Mobile Park against the Los Angeles Angels. Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6 at 1:10 p.m. and 7:10 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 7 at 1:10 p.m.
  • Sue Bird’s final regular season game in her legendary WNBA career will be at the forefront of the sold-out Seattle Storm game against the Las Vegas Aces at Climate Pledge Arena on Sunday, Aug. 7 at noon.
  • The Seattle Seahawks have a training camp mock-game at Lumen Field on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 2:30 p.m. at Lumen Field.
  • Megan Rapinoe and the OL Reign have a home match against the Houston Dash on Sunday, Aug. 7 at 3 p.m.

Revive I-5 southbound lane reductions

Even with all the events this weekend, we still need to do Revive I-5 work on the southbound freeway near the I-90 interchange.

We know. Summer construction is frustrating and even more so on a big event weekend. But this work is important for safety and long-term life of the interstate and can only be done during warm, dry summer months. So far, 24 expansion joints have already been replaced, but we’re only about halfway done when it comes to the number of weekends we need to finish the work – so we can’t delay the work, even with all the events bringing people to town.

Three right lanes of I-5 south will close where the collector/distributor rejoins mainline I-5 from 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5 through 5 a.m. Monday, Aug 8. This will require several changes:

  • The collector/distributor ramp to southbound I-5 will be closed. People will be able to enter the collector/distributor, but must use one of the exits, which include I-90, Dearborn Street, Fourth Avenue South and Airport Way.
  • People will be able to use the on-ramp from James Street into the collector/distributor, but they will have to use one of the exits.
  • The Forest Street off-ramp will be closed.
  • The Spring Street on-ramp will be closed.
  • The eastbound and westbound I-90 ramps to southbound I-5 will remain open all weekend.
  • The express lanes will operate on their regular weekend schedule.

While we couldn’t cancel the work, with all the Seafair events, Mariners games and Seahawks event at Lumen Field, we did work with our contractor to find a way to keep the eastbound and westbound I-90 off-ramps to southbound I-5 open all weekend to help keep traffic flowing.

You can read more about the project on our I-5 - SB S Spokane St to I-90 W-S Ramp - Deck Overlay & Expansion Joints project page.

Before we go…

With all the above events happening throughout the weekend, travelers should plan on congestion for any weekend travel – even if you’re just running errands and avoiding the major events. That includes increased travel times on both directions of I-90 between Seattle and Mercer Island, and SR 99 and I-5 in Seattle.

The WSDOT real-time travel map can help plan your travels – or adjustments

Don’t forget to follow our WSDOT Traffic Twitter account for updates on any major traffic disruptions, and either visit our real-time travel map on our website or download our app to let you know which roads are most congested and alert you of any disruptions that may impede your progress.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Taking care of the environment vital to any highway work

By Doug Adamson

Trees are vital to our state. We aren’t called the Evergreen State for nothing, after all. Not only are they lovely to look at, but they’re an incredibly important part of our ecosystem. But there are times when we do need to make changes to work on our state infrastructure.

So how do we balance the importance of trees with the need to get this work done?

Great question.

Protecting the ecosystem

We start projects with an eye to help protect the entire ecosystem, including the surrounding trees. We look over every tree, and we keep every one we can. Before construction, a team identifies and marks each tree. This ensures that only trees that pose an obstruction will be removed.

For those that have to be removed, we create an aggressive tree replacement program. We plant more than twice the number of trees than are removed. We replace any removed trees with Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Cascara Buckthorns. They’re much more than aesthetic. They enhance air and water quality.

A look at plantings during a fish passage project in May 2020 and the same site with plants flourishing in June 2022

An example

Let’s take a look at our upcoming fish culvert project to improve Murden Creek under State Route 305 on Bainbridge Island. Our goal is to restore the creek to a more natural state, remove barriers for fish to help salmon recovery and enhance the local ecosystem.

The fish barrier under Murden Creek will be replaced and the area replanted.

But first, the painful part of clearing the way for this work, including removing trees, needs to happen. Besides replacing those that go away, we also will plant 3,000 shrubs. These include Western Sword Fern, Salmonberry, and Evergreen Huckleberry and other native plants.

So the short-term work will lead to long-term gain for future generations.

The plan for replanting around the Murden Creek fish passage project

The project kicks off on Monday, Aug. 8 with occasional night one-way alternating traffic and a reduced speed limit so please be aware, stay safe around road crews and know that when it’s done, we’ll have a wonderful new culvert surrounded by thriving foliage to enjoy. Work will be complete fall 2023.

What’s going on under the I-90 bridges across Lake Washington?

By Tony Black

If you’ve been driving over the I-90 floating bridges across Lake Washington these last couple months you’ve likely seen a big ‘ol crane sitting in the water. Well, technically it’s a crane sitting on a large barge, but it sounds more fascinating to keep it simple.

That crane is part of some interesting work to maintain the safety and integrity of the bridges. Between Mercer Island and Seattle, contractor crews are working on replacing more than 30 steel anchor cables which help keep the bridges stable and floating. But you may not see them doing the work. That’s because most of it happens underwater. So you’ll probably see the crane and barge (eyes on the road by the way!) but important work is happening below.

Why this work needs to be done

On average the work happens every 25 to 30 years as the cables endure years of pressure and stress from wind, waves, currents, and traffic loads. There are 108 cables total holding the bridges in place against those forces of wind and waves and over time, the cables corrode, rust and fray. The picture below is one of the first cables crews replaced when the project began in late April.

An old anchor cable pulled out from under Lake Washington. The cables that help hold the I-90 bridges up need to be replaced every 25-30 years.

What they’re doing

So, what are they actually doing under there? Well, I know I’m not putting on scuba gear and diving into Lake Washington so the next best way to find out was from the project’s chief inspector.

The crane sitting on top of a large barge in Lake Washington is how crews tighten the new cables and remove the old ones. It takes about two days for each cable to be replaced.

He told me the crane is used to help tighten the anchor cables as they’re installed. Each anchor cable takes about two days to remove and replace and once the process starts it is continuous until the new cable is re-tightened.

Lake Washington is no small lake – it’s more than 200 feet deep in some places and its sludge bottom is home to many items of history’s past including the old floating bridge which sank over Thanksgiving weekend in 1990. In fact, some of these anchor cables crews are working on are still connected to the old bridge.

That makes it pretty tough to see what’s going on down there (check out this video from a 2010 anchor cable replacement to get an idea.) Divers have a camera attached to their helmets so crews up top can use monitors as a guide and to see the divers’ movements. Divers are the critical element in replacing the cables as they locate the anchors on the bottom of the lake where the cables are attached, disconnect the old cables, and attach the new ones.

Divers have cameras on top of their gear to allow crews above water to monitor where the divers are going. They can talk with them in real-time to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Once the divers have the cables in place, the crane gets to work. The cables can weigh several tons, so the cranes are used to help lift and position the cables so divers can work with them. Now while I haven’t jumped in Lake Washington, I have gone inside the pontoons that support the bridges and that’s the next critical step after the cables are in place.

Crews inside the floating pontoons under the I-90 bridges help secure the new cables to the pontoons
to keep them firmly in place.

Crews inside the pontoon position the cable for tightening along with the crane. This is how the cables stay in place once they’re set. The pontoons are watertight, and crews can safely complete their tasks without the need for oxygen tanks or scuba gear.

A closer look at how the anchor cables are secured to the pontoons

Before we go…

A question we get a lot is about the divers and just how intense the work is they are doing. The answer is: It’s not easy by any means.

The work requires divers to work at depths of 180 feet for up to two hours at a time. Only one diver goes in with another on standby on the barge in case anything happens. Divers resurface in a cage which allows the dive team on board to carefully control their ascent.

A diver prepared to enter Lake Washington as part of the I-90 anchor cables replacement job. Divers go in one at a time and can be as deep as 180 feet for up to two hours.

After resurfacing, the divers are taken to a decompression chamber as fast as possible. The diver is not in distress but using the decompression chamber is a standard part of the work to ensure the diver’s health and safety.

One of the new anchor cables preparing to be connected to pontoons under I-90

What’s next?

Since April, crews have replaced 18 steel cables – about half of the total they plan to do. Work should wrap up in September. These new cables will have a shelf life of 25 to 30 years, but remember there are 108 cables holding the bridges in place, so this won’t be the last time you see the crane and barge out on Lake Washington. At least now, you know what’s going on.

Monday, August 1, 2022

I-5 HOV lanes through Tacoma opening in August

By Cara Mitchell

This is it. The moment we've all been waiting for. The opening of the HOV lanes on Interstate 5 through Tacoma will happen in late August. It's a surreal moment for us too.

Over the past three years you've hung in there with us through work zones, shifted lanes, ramp closures, overnight closures of I-5, and more new configurations of I-5 than this author can remember. Since 2019, we:

  • Built a new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge
  • Removed all but a few remaining pieces of the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge
  • Widened I-5
  • Replaced the East L Street Bridge
  • Added new auxiliary lanes
  • Added HOV lanes
  • Installed enhanced lighting, stormwater collection and filtration improvements
  • Replaced aging pavement

This video visually highlights all the work that has gone into this effort from the past three years to open HOV lanes and ultimately finish the project.

Opening the HOV lanes signals a monumental moment for Pierce County transportation. To finish this final I-5 HOV project in Tacoma, we still have a few items to complete by this fall. This includes:

  • Levy fortification
  • Removing old bridge piers
  • Completing the public art installation on East 28th Street
  • Work to add dedicated left turn lanes on Portland Avenue under I-5
  • Some landscaping and river habitat restoration
  • Install final striping and recessed pavement markings on I-5
  • Rebuild the SR 167 on-ramp to southbound I-5

New East L Street Bridge opens in August too

As part of this project, crews replaced the East L Street bridge spanning I-5. The new bridge has wider lanes, wider sidewalks, and has dedicated bike lanes in each direction. The East L Street bridge was removed and replaced to accommodate I-5 widening beneath it. Neighbors on both sides of the bridge have been incredibly patient with us over the last three years as our crews worked to complete this bridge.

An overhead view of the new East L Street bridge that spans I-5 in Tacoma

About that remaining highway work

Once the HOV lanes open, you won't see much work happening on I-5. In fact, if you're not driving in the middle of the night, you may not see any work happening on I-5 near the Puyallup River.

The overnight work that is planned for I-5 on either side of the Puyallup River includes lane closures to grind and place new asphalt on southbound I-5 near the Port of Tacoma exit. Overnight lane closures will also happen when crews install the permanent reflective pavement markings and final striping throughout the project. The southbound SR 167 on-ramp will close for repaving and to remove two partial spans from the old bridge that remain near the ramp. This ramp closure time length is still to be determined and we will let drivers know the timing of this work once the schedule becomes available.

We also anticipate the reduced 50 mph speed limit will be removed, and the previous 60 mph speed limit be restored once the work zones on I-5 have been removed. The new speed limit will be enforceable once the signs are installed and uncovered.

Northbound I-5 already dodging traffic headlines

In June, our crews put northbound I-5 in its final configuration (minus opening the HOV lane). This final configuration added one general purpose lane and an auxiliary lane to northbound I-5. We noticed immediately the disappearance of this area as a trouble zone from the morning traffic reports.

The new northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River bridges, connecting Fife and Tacoma

Honestly, this made all our transpo-nerd hearts skip a beat and made us even more excited for the upcoming opening of the HOV lanes. We recently compared traffic data between May 2022 and July 2022 on northbound I-5 at M Street. The data shows that congestion has dramatically decreased in July, while a 12 percent increase in traffic volume occurred.

The amount of time we see congestion during peak commute hours is dramatically less. Instead of seeing four or five hours of backups and heavy traffic on northbound I-5 through downtown Tacoma, we’re seeing an hour and a half.

Summer traffic volumes are different than the rest of the year. We know this data could change once school begins in the fall. By then, however, the HOV lanes will be open. Opening the HOV lanes will add additional capacity to all lanes on northbound and southbound I-5 in Tacoma.

Safety, always a priority

We know you may be excited to drive on I-5 through Tacoma on the new, wider highways. It does take time to get used to new lanes and travel movements so please stay focused on the road and drivers around you. There may still be occasional work zones in place. We ask that you keep our crew safe while we finish this project.