Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Restoring safety to I-90 near Medical Lake one month after destructive Gray Fire

By Joe McHale

It’s been just over a month since the Gray Fire burned more than 10,000 acres of property in the Medical, Silver and Four Lakes areas in eastern Washington. The devastating fire, which ignited on Aug. 18th, destroyed just about everything in its path. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate, hundreds lost their homes, and many are still counting their losses.

While it fails in comparison to what was destroyed by the Gray Fire, we have been in the process of replacing approximately 2,000 feet of burned guardrail along a roughly six-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in both directions.

Crews install new guardrail

Guardrail is, first and foremost, a safety barrier intended to shield a driver who has left the road. They can make roads safer and lessen the severity of crashes. So it was crucial for us to replace what was lost in the fire, much of which lined steep embankments and slopes.

Crews installing new guardrails

The guardrail that burned in the fire appeared in sections along I-90 between milepost 263 and 270, or approximately between the west end of the State Route 902 interchange and east end of the SR 904 interchange (see below). Contractor Frank Gurney Inc. was awarded the emergency contract and crews began pulling burned posts and guardrail and replacing them the week of Sept. 11th.

Map shows locations of fire damaged guardrail to be replaced

Typically, guardrail repair is something our maintenance crews do. But engineer Travis Morrison said that in this case, hiring a contractor helped move the process along quickly.

“We don't have the added staff and the added material for our maintenance crews to just pull them away and repair this,” he said. “So we brought (the contractor) in to quickly get this back up and in functioning order.”

Crews working with machinery to replace guardrail.

In addition to making repairs to the guardrail on I-90, the emergency contract includes fencing, guide post, and sign replacement on SR 902 through Medical Lake. Fourteen signs were either partially or completely lost in the fire.

The work is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Northbound US 101 Riverside Bridge in Hoquiam overnight closures resuming the week of Sept. 25

By Angela Cochran

At the beginning of summer, we kicked off a project to repair the machine rooms that help operate the northbound US 101 Riverside Bridge in Hoquiam.

The machine rooms are at the top of the two bridge towers. They house the equipment that operates the bridge when it opens to marine traffic. Repairs were needed to replace leaky roofs, wall systems and other items that protect the equipment from weather damage and erosion.

Riverside Bridge closing to road traffic

To make these repairs, our contractor planned to close the bridge to road traffic eight times in June and July. Work began in June with single-lane closures on the bridge, and four overnight closures. These closures were supposed to continue in July but had to be paused. Construction schedules are dependent on a lot of variables and subject to change. In this case, some components for the machine rooms could not be properly fabricated in time for the July closures. So crews did as much work as possible with single-lane closures until the pieces were ready.

The good news is that the components are now ready. Crews will be able to complete the project the week of Sept. 25. To do this, drivers will see overnight closures of the bridge starting Monday, Sept. 25 through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each night, the bridge will close to vehicle traffic from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. each following day.

During the closures, travelers will follow a signed detour over the Simpson Avenue Bridge, where flaggers will alternate one direction at a time to keep people moving.

What we were waiting for

The components in question are called shrouds. They cover the pulley wheels at the top of the bridge that open and close the span. There are four total for the Riverside Bridge that were custom fabricated. On top of that, the parts had to meet certain specifications. While the parts were actually made in time, unfortunately, they did not meet all of the specifications required for installation. So we had to wait while they were completed. Why are the shrouds so important? They protect the pulley system from the weather.

The project was delayed while we awaited shrouds, which cover the pulley wheels at the top of the bridge (seen on the left, circled). Without them, as seen on the wheel on the right,
the pulley system is susceptible to bad weather.

What’s done and what’s left to do

During the first four overnight closures and the daytime single-lane closures, crews were able to get several items completed. They used a large crane to lift materials to and from the roof of the west machine room. They reconstructed the roof, installed new railing and replaced the siding on three walls. One wall on the east machine room also has new siding. Some smaller items within the machine rooms, like door hardware, were also replaced. Crews even completed painting the operating room. That leaves one wall on the west room and the roof and three walls on the east room. And of course, installing two shrouds on each of the machine rooms.

During the closure of the bridge earlier this year, cranes were used to lift
components to and from the west machine room.

Maintenance of the bridge

Even at 53 years old, the Riverside bridge is the youngest of the five moveable bridges in the Aberdeen-Hoquiam area, but it still requires a lot of upkeep. Also, like the other bridges, the Riverside Bridge has a “poor condition” rating from the federal government. While fortunately, the rating doesn’t mean it’s not safe for travel, it does mean that we need to monitor it regularly to see if conditions change. And if needed repairs are not made, that can mean load or lane restrictions and even closures.

Our Aberdeen bridge crew and project office work together to keep these bridges in good working order. In the past couple of years, we have had several projects aimed at maintaining the bridge. Construction crews repainted the bridge’s approach spans, which protects the structure from the elements. Crews also resealed the bridge deck to improve the driving surface. In addition to these projects, our bridge crews also do regular maintenance on the bridge.

Our bridge crews are constantly working to maintain our bridges to keep them operating and safe.

These repairs and others are part of our bridge preservation program.  All five of our movable bridges in Grays Harbor County are aging gracefully due to continued maintenance and construction from our Aberdeen project office and bridge crew. They each range in age from 53 to almost 100 years old. A bridge is expected to have a service life of 75 years based on current standards. More information about bridges in our state is available online in our Gray Notebook publication.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Fueling curiosity: Navigating the future at the PacTrans-WSDOT Summer High School Transportation Camps

By Sean Quinn

They say the choices we make today create the future that we are dreaming of. That’s why we include our younger generations to help us create a better future for transportation in our state!

This summer, we hosted two groups of high school students from across our state as part of the new and free PacTrans-WSDOT Summer High School Transportation Camps. For the first time, in partnership with the University of Washington, Washington State University and Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium, we offered high school students a chance to spend a week exploring the challenges and opportunities their generation will face in the transportation field with statewide experts, leaders and frontline workers from our agency and university professors. Students stayed on campus in university dormitories during the camp and all lodging and meals were covered by sponsors so there were no costs to the students.

Students at our UW camp listen to IRT drivers Dennis Smith and Ray McLeod describe their
daily work helping keep our highways safe.

Learning how the system works

The goal of the camps was to address how we decide where transportation systems go, what we’re doing to reduce our carbon footprint and how we plan for the future of transportation and incorporate multimodal objectives while keeping people and goods moving. The students didn’t need previous experience in engineering or transportation – but curiosity was a must!

Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar spoke to campers at both the UW and WSU about the
challenges and opportunities of our transportation system.

With plenty of field trips to experience hands-on learning, the camps explored a wide range of transportation topics such as urban planning, traffic safety, environmental justice, geography, supply chain logistics and the future of connected and self-driving vehicles. For some students, this could be the start of a career in transportation, engineering, planning or a whole host of other fields. But even if it’s not, the teens gained a better understanding of how we all get where we’re going, as well as how the things we buy and need get to store shelves or our homes – and what goes into making those trips as safe and smooth as possible. They also got some pretty good stories to share with friends and family about the unique experience they had at camp.

Students at the WSU camp tried their hands in robotics by building a robotic car.

Plenty to do

One group of students attended the camp at WSU in late July while a second group gathered at the UW in mid-August. While there were differences in experiences at each camp, many of the themes and some of the experiences were similar. Both camps heard from Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar, toured Transportation Management Centers in Shoreline and Spokane and heard from various leaders about the future challenges the transportation industry faces.

Each camp also took some unique field trips. Besides visiting some of our facilities near the campuses, the Seattle group toured facilities at King County Metro, Amazon and PACCAR and in Spokane they visited local ports to learn how produce grown on eastern Washington farms uses the transportation system to make its way to stores and tables.

Both camps visited our Transportation Management Centers, including this one in Shoreline, where they also toured our Emergency Operations Center and heard from engineer Kevin Radach.

“It was just really cool to see how it all goes down – I’ve never seen such a large operation,” said Ollie, a student at the UW camp, after visiting the Shoreline Transportation Management Center. “It really puts into perspective the hard work that gets put in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, keeping people moving from Point A to Point B.”

Some students were able to explore emergency equipment inside of multiple Incident Response Team trucks and watched the hundreds of live traffic cameras showing highways across the state inside the two transportation management centers. Some took a close look at one of our drones and survey equipment we use in 3D mapping, surveying, etc. Others visited engineering and chemistry labs, learned about traffic data analysis, worked on a robotic car group project and learned about how diversity and equity play a role in transportation planning.

Students at the WSU camp toured local ports to learn how agriculture grown in eastern Washington
uses the transportation system to reach stores and our tables.

Thinking forward

At the end of each camp, students were tasked with a final project showcasing their understanding of the challenges and opportunities present in transportation in our communities.

The summer camps not only provided the next generation of minds with valuable insights into the dynamic world of transportation, but also left them with everlasting memories and newfound skills. During the camps, the students engaged in hands-on experiences, explored new technologies, and learned from industry experts, all while meeting other students with similar interests and building their confidence. As they return back for the school year, they carry with them a deeper understanding of the role transportation plays in our lives and the exciting career opportunities that lie ahead. We hope their time with us ignited their passion for innovation, sustainability, and the ever-evolving field of transportation, inspiring them to become the next generation of leaders in this vital industry.

Jeremy Rinauro spoke to some of the WSU campers about his job as a project engineer and the changes in technology we’ve used. He explained how survey tools and drones are used in designing projects.

Keep an eye out on our social media channels and our blog for future opportunities for camps should they become available. You can also learn more about the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans) on their website.

Friday, September 15, 2023

IRT swoops to the rescue of stranded motorcycle driver

By Elizabeth Mount

When Timothy Nored’s motorcycle ran out of gas on Interstate 5 near the 130th Street overpass in Seattle, he was nervous about the potentially dangerous situation. He was partially blocking the carpool lane, had no way to safely cross the freeway to the right shoulder and AAA was 90 minutes away.

That’s when Incident Response Team member Ray McLeod zoomed to the rescue.

“The noise of heavy traffic and having no room to get out of harm’s way, all I could do was watch the cars and buses trying to get over to avoid me,” Nored said. “All of a sudden an Incident vehicle showed up and covered me.”

McLeod quickly assessed Nored’s needs and gave him fuel to get him on his way. That’s when they both discovered the motorcycle battery was dead. McLeod called in support and soon two more IRT arrived to briefly block traffic so Nored could move to the right shoulder. McLeod helped push Nored’s motorcycle to safety.

“The IRT truck came out of nowhere, they are watching!” Nored said. “The response was so quick, the IRT driver was machine-like in his actions, focusing on the task at hand.”

When Tim Nored’s motorcycle ran out of gas and battery died on I-5 in Seattle, our Incident Response Team came to the rescue to get him safely back on his way.

This is an excellent example of why our IRT program is so important.

The goal of the program is to keep drivers and their passengers safe and traffic moving. If debris or a collision is blocking a lane or another emergency is taking place, IRT can be called to the scene by dialing 911. On average, our IRT can clear incidents about 13 minutes after they’ve been dispatched, which goes a long way in keeping highways both safe and moving.

We’re so grateful for our IRT members, who we often call our highway superheroes. McLeod has been with the IRT since he started at our agency 20 years ago. He says he particularly enjoys being on the road responding to calls.

“No office for me,” he said. “I love being out in the field assisting with whatever happens next.”

Our Incident Response Team are key in keeping people on the highway safe and traffic moving.

Nored said his experience has changed his impression of our agency.

“I am much more appreciative of the function your team performs on a daily basis,” he said. “I will be much more conscious when I see the IRT trucks on the road, give them a wide berth and let them safely perform their job.”

Nored says motorists should be conscious of stalled traffic on the road and give IRT trucks all the room they need because they are vital to drivers and vehicle safety on our roads.

“When they are needed, the IRT team will do just what is required to get a driver to a safe place,” Nored said. “To say I am still appreciative is woefully understated.”