Friday, September 17, 2021

A decade later, the story of Daddy Bear still brings good memories and marks a change in the way we interact with the public

By Summer Derrey

We first started using social media with a job recruiting post on June 13, 2008 and were still just kind of getting our feet wet for a few years, not gaining a ton of audience interaction. And then came Daddy Bear.

Daddy what?

Daddy Bear. And yes, it's hard for us to believe that it's been a decade since a concerned grandma reached out to us for help. After that, our social media presence really took off.

Justice received Daddy Bear from her dad, who at the time was
stationed with the Army in South Korea.

In search of Daddy Bear
On Oct. 12, 2011, Patty Holland Sweeney reached out to us via a Facebook post for our help tracking down her granddaughter's lost teddy bear.

A plea on Facebook from a grandma asking for help tracking down Daddy Bear first showed us the
importance of connecting with the public via social media.

Patty's post made clear how important Daddy Bear was to her 6-year-old granddaughter Justice, and showed us what a powerful tool social media could be.

"At the time, I really liked Facebook and so my husband encouraged me to reach out to WSDOT that way," Patty said.

The lost teddy bear wasn't just any bear. It was given to then 2½-year-old Justice by her dad Chile, who was in the Army and stationed in South Korea, and she named it Daddy Bear. The very special lost bear was a reminder to a young girl that her dad was with her even though he was thousands of miles away serving our country. She slept with the bear. She took it to school. It was her best friend.

We knew we had to find Daddy Bear.

Besides asking our road crews for help, we turned to Twitter and Facebook, asking the public to be on the lookout. It got A LOT of attention and the public became invested in the plight of Daddy Bear.

Maintenance to the rescue
Two of our favorite maintenance dads, Harry Nelson and Terry Kukes, went searching and quickly located it on the shoulder of I-90 east of Cle Elum. Luckily, Daddy Bear appeared to still be in pretty good shape! Since that time, Harry has been promoted to Maintenance and Traffic Manager and Terry retired a few years ago.

Harry Nelson and fellow maintenance worker Terry Kukes rescued Daddy Bear from the shoulder of I-90 east of Cle Elum and reunited him with Justice.

"My daughter was very young at the time as well," Harry said. "She was in a horseback riding accident and so I got her a teddy bear too. I know how much it meant to Justice, and I was glad I found the bear."

A short time later, on their own time, they drove to Sedro-Woolley to reunite the Justice with her friend.

We announced on social media that Daddy Bear had been found and reunited with Justice, to much virtual applause from our social media followers. But it didn't end there.

The story to reconnect Justice with her lost Daddy Bear became a media sensation and hit the national headlines.

"ABC News wanted to watch the reunion and so they came to our door," Patty said. "At the time, Justice was very shy but happy to have her Daddy Bear back."

The story of Justice and lost Daddy Bear made national news.

An impact a decade later
A decade later, both Justice and Daddy Bear have changed a bit. Justice has gone from a shy little girl to a very outgoing teenager. She turns 16 today, Sept. 17. Daddy Bear is still going strong, though Patty has had to restuff him a couple times. One thing that hasn't changed much, though, is their importance to each other.

Another thing that hasn't changed is the kindness of our maintenance crews. At our maintenance shed up on Snoqualmie Pass we've seen our crews welcome cold, stranded motorists out of the snow. They have gone out of their way to provide a warm cup of coffee or two and even a spare Cup of Noodles.

Recently we've had workers rescue a kitten and a family of ducks on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and track down (and adopt) a cat on a Skagit Valley highway.

And it seems the generosity and willingness to help runs in the family. Harry's brother, Joe, recently helped a woman locate her lost bag on Snoqualmie Pass.

Our maintenance crews always go above and beyond to help. Earlier this year, Joe Nelson – the brother of Daddy Bear rescuer Harry Nelson – tracked down a woman’s lost bag near Snoqualmie Pass.

A rise in social media
Another thing that has changed is the importance of social media in our messaging and interaction with the public. We started with a Facebook page, one Twitter account, a YouTube channel and Flickr for photos. Since then, we've added a Facebook page for our ferries division, now have 13 Twitter accounts, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit and a blog to go along with YouTube and Flickr. Across all of those platforms we have well over a million followers who turn to us for news, information, updates, videos and even the occasional bad joke or two.

And it all really started with Daddy Bear.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Using Fife’s new SR 99 roundabout

By Lizzy Buechel

What do you call a round intersection with multiple lanes and exits? Well. …it depends! If you're in New England, you might call it a rotary; in New Jersey, a traffic circle; and in Fife: the newly opened State Route 99 roundabout!

In case you didn't already know, as part of the SR 167 Completion Project, we built the first SR 99 roundabout in the state. This work connects SR 99 to the new Wapato Way East Bridge over I-5. The roundabout replaced a nearby traffic signal where significant backups were common. Now, traffic flows through the roundabout to reduce congestion and improve freight mobility between Fife and the nearby Port of Tacoma.

The SR 167 Completion Project includes a new SR 99 roundabout and four-lane Wapato Way East Bridge.

What to expect
As we mentioned, multi-lane roundabouts like the one in Fife move traffic more consistently than traffic signals. The reason is simple; traffic is not required to stop – only yield – which allows more vehicles to move through in the same amount of time.

Skeptical that we can all share one roundabout? It does take some getting used to. Rest assured, we worked with the city of Fife, the Port of Tacoma, and the freight community to make sure the roundabout could safely accommodate the large trucks that will use it frequently, as well as cars and people who walk and bike through the area. Washington has plenty of experience to draw upon, with more than 100 multi-lane roundabouts (some in place for more than a decade). There are multi-lane roundabouts on US 2 in the Spokane area, in the Yakima and Tri-Cities areas, and several in the Bellingham/Lynden area. National studies prove that roundabouts are safer than intersections with stop signs or signals. Studies from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Federal Highway Administration show:

  • 90 percent fewer fatality collisions in roundabouts
  • 75 percent fewer injury collisions in roundabouts
  • A 40 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions
  • A 37 percent reduction in overall collisions

Two important tips for driving a multi-lane roundabout
It may be a little intimidating the first time around, but these two important tips could make your travels safer.

  • Tip one: Many people don't know that by law, large trucks are permitted to straddle the lanes to move through the roundabout. So your best defense is to give trucks plenty of space. Don't drive next to or try to pass a truck inside the roundabout.
  • Tip two: Always slow down when entering the roundabout; the posted speed limit on SR 99 is 35 mph and a safe roundabout speed is 15 mph.

Driving the new SR 99 roundabout
Drivers enter the roundabout from either SR 99 or Wapato Way East and then travel in one of three directions: South on SR 99, north on SR 99 or onto Wapato Way East. Like other high-volume roundabouts designed with trucks in mind, this roundabout has two lanes that are wider than typical lanes, which make it easier for trucks to navigate the roundabout. There are also two "slip" lanes for vehicles to enter or exit the bridge without going through the roundabout. The new SR 99 roundabout also has sidewalks and crosswalks for people who bike, roll, and walk in the area. These crosswalks have pedestrian activated flashing beacons for added safety. Drivers should always yield to pedestrians and pedestrians should always use the marked crosswalks and wait for traffic to stop before crossing roundabout lanes.

Know before you go
The graphics below will help you plan your trip so you know what to expect before you travel through the roundabout.

If you are continuing south on SR 99 or getting onto southbound SR 99 from the new bridge,
you can use either lane of the roundabout.
To access the new bridge from northbound SR 99, use the right “slip” lane to bypass the roundabout.
To access the new bridge from southbound SR 99, use the left lane and stay in it as you proceed through the roundabout.

If you've been trying to wrap your head around roundabouts throughout this blog, but feel like you are just going in circles, we have some excellent resources you can circle back to. Below you will find everything from safety tips to instructional videos.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Plan ahead for three big Seattle projects weekend of Sept. 11-12

Update: September 9, 2021

  • The Montlake Bridge closure will now begin at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10.
  • One sidewalk over the SR 513 Montlake Bridge will remain open on the weekend of Sept. 10-13 for pedestrian and bicycle access.
  • SR 520 Montlake Project construction will close Montlake Boulevard between Lake Washington Boulevard and the Montlake Bridge, as well as all SR 520 ramps at the interchange.

By Tom Pearce

Summer is always a busy construction time, but as we move toward the end of the season, we have a doozy of a weekend coming up on Sept. 11-12. Three major closures in Seattle are scheduled from Friday night through early Monday:

  • Southbound I-5 – All traffic will funnel through the collector/distributor as we start replacing expansion joints.
  • Northbound I-5 – The express lanes will be closed all weekend so we can replace broken concrete panels.
  • State Route 513 – Montlake Bridge will be closed all weekend for mechanical work.

Yep, that's a lot for one weekend, but we can't work on Labor Day weekend and we have more work on other weekends in September and need to get this done while the weather is warm and dry. Each of these projects will create traffic issues but with some planning people still should be able to get to where they need to go.

We try to avoid major events when we schedule work like this, but we can't always. For example, the Mariners have a weekend homestand, including a Saturday afternoon game, and the Sounders have a match Saturday night. The Huskies football team is out of town, so that clears the way for the Montlake Bridge work.

The biggest backups of the first weekend of work on southbound I-5
this summer reached the University District.

It's all about planning
Games in SODO require coordination with the two I-5 projects to be sure people can get to and from the events. With the collector/distributor handling all the traffic, you'll be able to get to the stadiums, but you'll need to plan ahead and allow extra time. After the games, we'll have the ramps from I-90 to southbound I-5 open to help you get home.

We frequently see southbound I-5 backups between the University District and Mercer Street, but it usually starts to open up south of there. The last time we moved all traffic through the collector/distributor, during the late afternoon we saw a continuous backup to the University District, about 4 to 4½ miles of slow-moving vehicles.

For those using northbound I-5, you usually get a little break when we open the express lanes between 1 and 2 in the afternoon, but then traffic builds up again. Given our closure, you won't see that relief the weekend of the Sept. 11-12.

Getting around Montlake
Though the current closure of the Montlake Bridge wraps up Sept. 3, the second phase of work begins the weekend of Sept. 11-12. It will be the first of five weekend bridge closures – from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday – to all traffic, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

Crews finished installing the scaffolding and containment system for the Montlake Bridge this week.

We've seen delays on city streets around the bridge this month as travelers find another route. In particular, folks have experienced backups on and around the University Bridge and routes to I-5, like Northeast 45th Street. With southbound I-5 backups that could reach beyond the University District during peak periods, it will be tough to get to and from the interstate. We will continue to monitor and adjust on-ramp metering, and coordinate with the Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro to keep people moving.

You can still get there
It all comes down to planning ahead. You need to allow more time or think of different ways to get to activities in Seattle or the surrounding area.

  • Allow extra travel time – leave early for that game, wedding or whatever you have planned.
  • Use transit – this reduces the number of vehicles on the road and reduces your stress because a professional is handling the driving
  • Adjust your schedule – if you're coming to town for a game, make a day of it. Plan to spend some extra time downtown, on the waterfront or enjoy a meal somewhere. If you can travel earlier or later in the day, that will reduce congestion. And if your trip is purely optional, consider rescheduling it.
  • Stay on top of traffic – use the WSDOT traffic app and follow us on Twitter: @WSDOT_traffic

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Shields not needed to armor this beach

By Bryn Vander Stoep

When we think of beaches, we might think of sand, swimming and marine life. Armor isn't usually the first thing that comes to mind, but it's an important word to remember as we work to create safe environments for those who use our shorelines.

Take our restoration project happening now near the Tahlequah Ferry Terminal at the southern end of Vashon Island. A team of engineers and contractors are restoring 700 feet of shoreline, which will allow for fish passage to nearly 5,000 feet of stream through Tahlequah Creek and more habitat for forage fish. Forage fish feed salmon which in turn feed our endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

No, we're not using shields and swords to armor the beach. Our process is a little more modern.

A look at Tahlequah Beach in winter 2019, before restoration work began

Bulkheads along the shoreline protect the ferry terminal and nearby properties but are aging, eroding and don't align with our environmental efforts so they need to be replaced. With the help of local experts from the Vashon Nature Conservancy and specialists from King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, our team is stabilizing the shoreline in an environmentally friendly way to keep the environment safe for everyone.

But where does the armor come in? Good question.

Our crews are also removing creosote-coated timber and concrete bulkheads from the beach, placing new rock, and are planning to restore native vegetation that will protect and enhance the upper beach habitat. What's this process called? You guessed it: Soft-shore armoring. And as you can see, armoring our beaches throughout Puget Sound will impact generations of beach and shoreline users.

Creosote pilings being removed from the beach as part of restoration work

This work is being done as part of our 2021-2023 Washington State Ferries Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) (PDF 2MB). The plan includes goals related to reducing emissions with hybrid electric technology, incorporating the most current environmental practices into our terminal and vessel maintenance, and promoting biodiversity.

A look at shoreline armoring at Tahlequah Beach. Adding material to the beach will also protect Southwest Tahlequah Road

As we look toward the future, we are committed to finding the greenest route for our ferries service. We will continue to implement the actions outlined in the sustainability plan and keep our customers updated on how we plan to remain the nation's most sustainable ferry system.