Thursday, November 19, 2020

New timeline for the I-90/SR 18 interchange improvement project

By Bart Treece

For people who live and work in the city of Snoqualmie, the project to replace the Interstate 90/State Route 18 interchange is something to look forward to due to the chronic backups and delays during busy daytime commutes.

In the past few years, we worked with local leaders, tribes, partner agencies, and community members to develop a diverging diamond interchange as the design concept for construction. This year, we had planned to advertise this project for a contractor to complete design work and then begin construction. However, this will be moved to August 2021 at the earliest.
A look at the improvements planned for the I-90/SR 18 interchange in the Snoqualmie area.

We know there's a lot of interest in seeing this work continue but given new challenges that have surfaced, we need to adjust our timeline for moving forward. Much of these issues stem from the changing realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Revenue shortfall due to the pandemic
There is a significant revenue shortfall to the department due to reduced travel and gas tax stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the reduction in revenue, we took proactive steps earlier this year by implementing furloughs, and a freeze for new employee hiring and consultant agreements. This has affected the I-90/SR 18 interchange project as we were unable to bring staff onboard to assist us in completing specialized tasks for environmental permitting and documentation.
A project to help relieve backups and congestion at the I-90/SR 18 interchange is planned though it won't start until Aug. 2021 at the earliest.

We are committed to the successful delivery of the interchange improvement. Our best approach to do this is to allocate resources as they become available.

Ferries crews step up when needed most this fall

A series of rescues highlight the training and customer care by our workers

By Justin Fujioka and Mike Allende

While summer is typically the busiest time for travel about our ferries, the fall has been very busy for a different reason for our crews.

Since September, we've been involved in six rescues and/or medical emergencies, including three by our Puyallup crew alone! All of our crew members receive extensive safety, first-aid and firefighting training and regularly conduct rescue training exercises, and these events illustrate why.
Our ferries crews undergo extensive safety training including firefighting, and regularly conduct
rescue boat training, to prepare for emergencies.

Two in one day for Puyallup
On Labor Day, Sept. 7, our Puyallup crew saved the lives of multiple boaters in two separate rescues! The first involved a man suffering from heart problems on a nearby pleasure craft by our Kingston terminal. Our crew quickly deployed its rescue boat with Second Mate Jesse Rongo and Able-Bodied Seaman Cory Weitz aboard. The two of them began chest compressions and used an automated external defibrillator (AED) before safely navigating the vessel back to shore where medical responders took over. Just a few hours later, Jesse and Cory were back in the same rescue boat to assist in saving five people and two dogs after their vessel capsized off Edmonds. Incredible work by Cory and Jesse!
Puyallup crews deploy the ferry’s rescue boat to assist in a rescue off of Edmonds on Sept. 7, one of two
rescues they made on that day! (photo courtesy Janine Harles)

Puyallup crew back at it
On Nov. 1, the Puyallup crew stepped up again when two jet skiers and their dog were stranded in the water between Edmonds and Kingston when one of the jet skiers fell off their vehicle thanks to a large wake. Chief Mate John McMillen noticed one of the jet skiers waving a handkerchief for help and a rescue boat was launched. Our crew gathered the two people and dog and once aboard the ferry, the crew and three passengers who happened to be nurses treated the person who was in the water for 20 minutes for hypothermia until emergency medical services took over upon arrival in Kingston. Again, great job Puyallup crew!
Able-bodied seamen Steve Long and Jon Gordon Pine saved two jet skiers and their dog in the waters between Edmonds and Kingston on Nov. 1 (photo by Michele Soderstrom)

Saving a life aboard the Wenatchee
A week after our Puyallup crew pulled the jet skiers from the water, our crew aboard Wenatchee helped save a rider suffering from a medical emergency on Nov. 7. After our crew alerted 911, they used an AED on the rider until emergency medical services met them on board at the Bremerton terminal. Fantastic work in this life-saving emergency by our Wenatchee crew!
Shortly after departing Bainbridge on Nov. 1, Wenatchee returned to the terminal
as crews assisted with a medical emergency.

Walla Walla, Tokitae crews to the rescue
On Nov. 18, our Walla Walla crew noticed a kite surfer struggling in the water off of Edmonds. Launching a rescue boat from the terminal, they reached the person and brought them ashore into the care of emergency medical services. At about the same time, our Tokitae crew jumped into action when a paramedic transporting a patient alerted them that the person's condition was worsening. Our crew assisted with CPR and expedited the sailing from Clinton to Mukilteo.
While docked at Edmonds, Walla Walla crew members spotted a kite surfer in distress and launched
a rescue boat to bring them to safety.

We are so proud and thankful for our ferries crews for stepping up when needed most. These events highlight why their first aid and rescue training are so vital. Safety and care of our passengers is always our top priority and we salute all of our colleagues who were involved in these rescues!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

We’re working hard keeping roads open this winter during the pandemic, but we need your help

By Barbara LaBoe

Winter may not officially start until mid-December, but winter weather has certainly arrived in our state and our crews are once again working hard to pre-treat and clear roads.

But as with many things in 2020, they're also adjusting to a new normal, including additional safety equipment and procedures. We've been working hard to prepare for a COVID-19 winter, but this year more than ever we also need the public's help.
Extra COVID-19 safety precautions may mean more time between
 shift changes before our plows get back on the highways during storms.

To be clear, we're still staffing around the clock to prepare for and respond to storms. Our crews take pride in the job they do, day in and day out, to keep people and freight moving. But due to the pandemic, our levels of service may be affected this year, especially during heavy or long-lasting storms.

For example, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, we must sanitize equipment such as plows and other machines between each shift, lengthening shift change times. We can call crews in early during heavy storms, but physical distancing requirements also mean we must carefully time that this year to avoid excess crowding in the maintenance sheds. We also are keeping a frugal eye on overtime and materials to be good financial stewards during statewide budget reductions. And, due to hiring freezes and other reductions, hiring and training temporary winter crews started later this year and we have fewer overall Maintenance workers who can backfill crews during long storms or if several of our crew members get sick.
While our crews are still working 24/7 during storms, new physically distancing requirements
 and other safety protocols means shift changes must be timed well to avoid overcrowding.

What does this mean for travelers?
  • Roads or passes may close sooner than they normally would during storms. 
  • Closures may last longer as leaner crews will need more time to complete treating and clearing. We know closures are frustrating, but we must be sure our crews can work safely and that all the needed steps have taken place before we reopen a road to travelers. Safety remains our priority.
  • Lower priority roads may not be cleared as often as crews focus on the more heavily traveled high priority roads in their area.
  • Tire chains may be required more frequently. It's possible that chains will be required more often than a "normal" winter as leaner crews may not be able to keep roads to bare and wet conditions. 
As with any winter, location and severity of a given storm also play a role in response. But we want everyone to be prepared given the extra challenges this year.

Prioritizing which routes are plowed first and most often – like here on I-90 in Spokane –
will be even more important this winter.

So, how can you help? Be prepared for winter travel and stay informed both before and throughout your travel. Often, pass closures are due to collisions or slide-offs caused by drivers going too fast or not having proper winter travel equipment. Once a crash happens on a pass, for example, the entire road may have to be closed to allow tow trucks and others to reach the area. So one driver going too fast or failing to install chains can close an entire pass for thousands of travelers. That's why we need everyone's help to keep traffic moving.
Pass closures could take longer to clear this winter so it's vital that everyone be prepared
 for unexpected delays or closures.

What can you do?

  • Be prepared for possible delays and ensure you carry winter travel gear.
  • Stay informed. It's even more important to check weather and conditions before you leave and during travel – never check from behind the wheel. Use our travel alerts and many tools and social media accounts and the 511 phone system to keep informed of conditions and any possible closures or alerts.
  • Carry chains and know how to install them. Requiring chains allows us to keep moving during storms rather than closing a pass or roadway. If you haven't before, look into getting chains or the traction alternatives recommended for your vehicle. And practice putting them on at home, so you know how to do it if they're ever required.
  • Carry extra masks and hand sanitizer. Be prepared for unexpected delays and possibly needing to make unplanned stops or getting assistance such as towing. You'll want to be sure to stay safe in these interactions.
  • Expect less than ideal conditions.  Drive assuming snow and ice conditions. Even when it appears wet, it might be black ice. Reduce speeds and leave more space between vehicles.
  • Consider altering travel plans during heavy storms. If you're unsure about your winter driving ability or your vehicle's equipment, there's no shame in delaying or altering your travel plans.

Our crews have been and will continue working around the clock to keep traffic moving this winter. We thank you in advance for your patience during closures and ask all travelers to do all they can to help keep traffic moving. We want everyone to get where they're going and make it home safe and sound at the end of each day.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Traffic incident response work not for the faint of heart

By Mike Allende

Responding to traffic incidents on our state highways is not for the faint of heart. Whether it's our Incident Response Team or maintenance workers, or our partners with Washington State Patrol and other law enforcement, fire and medical response crews or tow truck companies, working amongst live traffic can be dangerous, challenging work.

But it's also vital in helping keep everyone safe and moving on our highways.

This week – Nov. 9-13 – is both national and Washington Traffic Incident Response Awareness week, where we recognize the fantastic work road crews do to keep the public safe. And we want to ask your help to do your part in keeping those crews safe.
A driver suffering a medical emergency crashed into the back of our Incident Response Team truck on I-5 near Federal Way in late October. Our IRT worker had pulled over to help another vehicle on the shoulder of the highway.

It's not unusual for us to hear about near-misses or worse that our road crews experience. Almost every one of our IRT and maintenance teams can recount an incident where their safety was compromised. Recently we saw two such incidents.

On Oct. 30, Matt, one of our IRT workers in King County, pulled over to the shoulder to help a vehicle that was stopped on the side of southbound I-5 south of SR 18 near the Federal Way weigh station. As he was preparing to exit his truck to see if the occupant of the car needed help, another car rear-ended his IRT truck. The driver of that vehicle reportedly had a medical issue, leading to the crash. Matt went to the hospital with back pain.

Meanwhile, on Nov. 5, one of our road crew was directing traffic on northbound I-5 south of Woodland when a car crashed into their truck just before 9 a.m. According to the Washington State Patrol, the vehicle failed to merge right and struck the rear of our work truck, which had flashing arrows directing traffic to move right.

Both our worker and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital for evaluation. The WSP said the driver of the other vehicle was charged with negligent driving.
The driver of the black car failed to merge over at an I-5 work zone in Woodland, crashing into the back of our attenuator truck doing traffic control. Both our driver and the driver of the car went to the hospital.

These are just two of many incidents our crews regularly encounter. And we need your help to prevent them. Always focus and stay alert when operating a vehicle. Slowing down when you are near road workers also helps protect everyone's safety. Give them as much room as possible. Remember, the Move Over, Slow Down state law requires drivers to move over at least one lane whenever possible near emergency response or temporary work on highways and shoulders. Failure to do so can result in a $214 ticket, but even more importantly, can create dangerous conditions for road workers. If you can't move over for emergency or temporary work, the law states you should slow down to 10 mph under the posted speed limit as you pass crews.

We train with our roadway partners to be as efficient and safe as possible when clearing a crash or making emergency repairs. But we also ask that you do your part to help them help you, and let's keep everyone as safe as possible on the highways.