Sunday, May 19, 2024

WSDOT searching for missing plane near Snoqualmie Pass

Final update: 5 p.m. Monday, May 20

WSDOT Air Search and Rescue has concluded the search for a missing pilot and plane after the discovery of aircraft wreckage near Humpback Mountain. The plane's 69-year-old pilot, Jerry Riedinger was found deceased in the airplane wreckage in a heavily forested area of the mountain. The crash site was discovered by ground search crews. WSDOT offers our sincere condolences to the entire Riedinger family for their loss.

This concludes WSDOT’s involvement in the mission. Further information will be released by the King County Sheriff's Office. The contact there is Sergeant Eric White at 206-263-2560. Media questions about any investigation of cause can be directed to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Update: 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 20

WSDOT and partners continue to search for the missing plane and pilot. A 50-person ground search is underway including one aircraft searching from the skies. The team is focusing efforts on a concentrated area in the Humpback Mountains west of Snoqualmie Pass, where last known cell phone analytics were recovered. The tail number for the aircraft is 22MW. WSDOT requests other pilots give the air search and rescue team room to work safely.

Anyone who thinks they saw or heard the plane Sunday, May 19 or spotted anything in the area should call the State Emergency Operations Center at 800-258-5990 with details. The next update with be provided at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 21.

By Tina Werner

OLYMPIA - The Washington State Department of Transportation is searching for a missing plane in the vicinity of Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass.

WSDOT Air Search and Rescue was notified Sunday evening of a missing 2001 Extra Flugzeugbau 300/L piloted by Jerry Riedinger. Riedinger left the Arlington Municipal Airport Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Riedinger's wife reported him missing around 6 p.m., after he did not arrive at his destination in Ephrata. An air search is underway and includes assistance from King County Search and Rescue and the King County Sheriff’s Office on the ground.

The pilot was reportedly carrying a parachute, and the aircraft was equipped with a new 406MHz Emergency Locator Transmitter. There has been no communication from the aircraft and no emergency beacon signals received. Riedinger was the only known occupant.

Search efforts will continue through the night and WSDOT Air Search and Rescue will resume efforts Monday, May 20. Anyone who thinks they saw or heard the plane Sunday or spotted anything in the area should call the State Emergency Operations Center at 800-258-5990 with details. At this time, search officials do not need volunteers to conduct air or land searches.

Updates on the search will be posted on the WSDOT blog. Email updates from WSDOT are also available online by signing up and selecting the emergency news "air search and rescue" option. Barring new developments – which would be announced on the blog – the next update is planned for 11 a.m. Monday, May 20.

WSDOT, by statute (RCW 47.68.380), is charged with the coordination and management of aerial search and rescue within the state. The agency works in conjunction with volunteer search and rescue groups, law enforcement and other agencies, such as the U.S. Navy, in carrying out such searches.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Stay Saddled Up for Bike Month 2024

By Hannah Weinberger

Few inventions have the staying power of the bicycle. The basic design hasn't changed much since it took on the shape we know and love more than 100 years ago. From improving our health to reducing our fuel use, bikes come with seemingly endless benefits – and they’re fun to use.

We are passionate about making bicycling more comfortable and accessible, and helping more people use bikes confidently. One of the ways we can do that is by improving cyclists’ safety for their entire trip. We do this with grant programs like Safe Routes to School, the Pedestrian/Bicyclist Program, the Sandy Williams Connecting Communities Program, our Statewide School-Based Bicycle Education Program and much more.

Five cyclists in colorful clothing ride facing away from the camera on a clear day. They are on a shared use path lined with gravel and goldenrod, and coniferous trees are visible just ahead of them.
Cyclists spinning among the wildflowers near Gardiner on the Olympic Discovery Trail,
May 2021. (Briana Weisgerber/WSDOT)

Gov. Jay Inslee officially designated May as Bike Month. People around the state are celebrating the humble bicycle by riding every chance they get. You can see a list below of some of this month’s events to celebrate our favorite two-wheeled vehicle. Many of us also ride all year and we’ve been reflecting on how we motivate ourselves. We want to keep commuting, exercising and riding just for the whimsy of it. We hope some of these tips inspire you to dig in on a long day in the saddle or even try commuting by bike for the first time. (We would love to see tips of your own in the comments!)

The head start I got by riding every single day during April for the 30 Days of Biking challenge gives me a boost into May for #BikeEverywhere. I enjoy tallying up rides taken for different reasons and to different destinations, like my ride May 2 to my hairdresser. Businesses participating in the Intercity Transit Bicycle Commuter Challenge in Thurston County are offering perks like treats for people who arrive by bike and that doesn't hurt either! – Barb Chamberlain, ATD Director

I like to look ahead at how I can replace different kinds of trips (commute, errands, recreation), or chain them together, with bicycling. And then there are the social opportunities of group rides or events as we celebrate the bicycle and cycling - so much fun and camaraderie that keep me coming back for more. – Chris Hawkins, Transportation Planning Specialist

I don't own a car – it's a choice I make because the mental and financial costs to driving aren't something I want in my life. But choosing biking over walking and busing sometimes happens because the bus schedule doesn't fit where I want to go, and sometimes proactively, reminding myself how much fun it is to zoom around and be outside. There are always small goofy joys seen while on a bike. – Ursula Sandstrom, Complete Streets Statewide Planner

How do I keep riding? I never stop. So, I am riding in January, Feb, March . . . riding is such a habit that even when I don't feel like it, I end up doing it anyway. And any lack of motivation disappears with the first pedal stroke! I don't add any requirements to ride more in May than in the prior months. I already ride enough, and if I can fit more rides in then I will do so (in May, or June, or any other month). – Brian Wood, State Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator

Whenever I don’t feel the oomph to saddle up for a commute, I think about all of the dogs I’ve pet, farm animals I’ve passed (even in Seattle – shoutout to the Burke-Gilman leashed goats), street art I’ve seen, and life-affirming interactions I’ve had by bike whenever I ride around Puget Sound. Keeping my mindset focused on the joy of discovery and time spent with friends reminds me that every ride comes with a hint of wonder, even if I’ve ridden a route dozens of times. -- Hannah Weinberger, Communication Lead

Here are a few major events happening in May that can help you get on your bike.

May 17: Bike to Work Day

Look forward to the workday by building riding into it!  Many Washington communities allow for bikes on trains, light rail or even buses, and the micromobility boom means some cities have rentable bikeshare for quick transit connections.

On the west side of the state, dozens of communities are hosting Celebration Stations to work into your commute as far north as Bellingham and south as Puyallup. On the east side, cyclists can ride with elected leaders and hit up ‘energizer stations’ for free treats.


May 22: Bike Month Send Off

Seattle-based cyclists will find free food, bike accessories and even an on-site bike mechanic available at South Lake Union Park courtesy of Commute Seattle and the Seattle Department of Transportation.


May 22: Kendall Yards Night Market and Neighborhood Bike Ride

Boost the local economy before a loop on the Centennial Trail and South Gorge Trail.


May 30: Fiddy Ride
Second Cycle is kicking off a summer of free group rides with a 50-miler exploring Tacoma.


May 18: Family Ride

Gather for an accessible 5.38-mile family morning bike ride along the PTC Reconnection Trail.

And make sure to also check out offerings from Snohomish County, Sequim, and beyond, and let us know about Bike Month events that you’ve enjoyed!

On April 26th, 2024, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a document proclaiming the following:   WHEREAS, the bicycle is a healthy, convenient, affordable, enjoyable, and environmentally sound form of transportation and recreation; and   WHEREAS, throughout the month of May and beyond, Washingtonians will experience the joys and benefits of bicycling through educational programs, Bike Everywhere Challenges, Bike to School Day, trail workdays, races, and group events, or simply going for a ride; and   WHEREAS, consumers in Washington spend over $26.5 billion per year in the outdoor economy, supporting 264,000 jobs in every part of the state, including over $2.92 billion on bicycling activities, for equipment, apparel, lodging, services, and more; and   WHEREAS, bicycling serves as essential transportation for many who do not or cannot drive so they can access jobs, education, essential goods and services, transit, and recreation; and   WHEREAS, creating bicycling-friendly communities has been shown to improve health, well-being, and quality of life; grow local economies; improve traffic safety and mobility for all; reduce pollution, congestion, roadway wear and tear, and reliance on fossil fuels; support transportation independence for all ages and abilities; and provide families with healthy time together; and   WHEREAS, these partners and state agencies are promoting greater public awareness of bicycling to reduce collisions, injuries, and fatalities; and   WHEREAS, the Washington State Department of Transportation is working to improve connections for people on bikes as part of Washington's integrated, multimodal transportation system, while supporting programs that improve people's access to the skills and resources needed to ride comfortably; and   WHEREAS, Washington Bikes, Cascade Bicycle Club, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, the League of American Bicyclists, schools, cities and counties, parks and recreation departments, police departments, public health districts, health care providers, companies, and civic groups across Washington will be promoting bicycling during May 2024;   NOW, THEREFORE, I, Jay Inslee, governor of the state of Washington, do hereby proclaim  May 2024 as Bike Month in Washington, and I urge all people in our state to join me in this special observance.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed a ceremonial proclamation designation May 2024 as Bike Month.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

WSDOT Maintenance and Arborists tackle bark beetle infestation, changing the look of I-5 in Seattle

By Aisha Dayal

When our maintenance crews were working along Interstate 5 in north Seattle, they noticed something on several nearby trees – something unusual, something different. The crews weren't sure what this meant, but they knew that someone needed to be notified, someone that was an expert.

An arborist team dedicated to tree risk and health care

Three people in high vis vests and hard hats walking along a road among trees holding equipment.
A member of the arborist team training two crew members on proper pruning for healthy trees to be protected at the site near Interstate 5 in north Seattle.

The experts are the arborist team within the Northwest Region's landscape architecture office. This specialized group includes Hailey Mak Mackay, Joe Sutton-Holcomb and Taylor McNeill. The goal of the team is to preserve, maintain, and manage trees on state right-of-way. For example, they work with our maintenance crews to assess and manage trees with health or structural issues near state roads. They also work with real estate services to assess trees near adjacent private and municipal property. Within the Landscape Architecture Office, they work with designers to protect trees from construction impacts associated with our road maintenance and improvement projects.

This team investigated what our maintenance crews observed on I-5 around Northeast 45th Street in Seattle. Researching the local area, they found these trees had been infested by bark beetles.

The team worked with the Department of Natural Resources to determine the species of bark beetle likely responsible – Ips paraconfusus. Then, they conducted a field survey to determine the level and area of infestation.

Unfortunately, treatment of the infested trees is not effective. The best chance to control the spread of the beetle is to remove the affected trees. This helps reduce the beetle populations and limit the spread to nearby healthy trees. So, by removing some these sick trees now, we have the best chance of protecting the remaining trees from beetle attacks.

We need to remove those infested trees during the second and third weeks of May, which will require overnight lane and ramp closures. Here's what that looks like:

First Closure: May 13-16, nightly 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
  • Northbound I-5 off-ramp to NE 85th St.
  • NE 70th St. on-ramp to northbound I-5.
Second Closure: May 16-17, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
  • Northbound I-5, right lane from NE 42nd St. to just south of NE 50th St.
Third Closure: May 20-23, nightly 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
  • Northbound I-5 off-ramp to NE 85th St.
Fourth Closure: May 23-24, 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
  • Northbound I-5, right lane from NE 42nd St. to just south of NE 50th St.
Interstate 5 in Seattle with a white pickup truck parked on the right shoulder. Trees and brush off the right shoulder with overheard exit signs and traffic in the background. Some trees are bronze or orange to indicate a bark beetle infestation.
A maintenance truck is parked along northbound Interstate 5 in north Seattle
with bark beetle infested trees nearby.

How to spot an infested tree and why it happens

The most common look of a tree infested by bark beetles is when it starts to turn orange. Once infested, nearby and adjacent trees are also at risk. Managing an infestation requires removing dead trees and even some healthy neighboring ones, as we are doing at the end of May.

Bark beetle infestations don't just happen out of nowhere; infested trees are a secondary symptom. Often, the primary and most likely cause is drought. Trees can also be stressed by chronic factors including climate change, hotter and drier summers, fires, soil composition and pollution. When trees are stressed their immune systems are weaker. That makes it harder for them to repel swarms of the beetles. This can also leave nearby healthy trees more vulnerable.

Several trees along the roadway with traffic in the background. Some trees are bronze or orange to indicate a bark beetle infestation.
A view of the state right of way showing a site where there are several trees infested
with bark beetles that will need to be removed.

The affected trees that we must remove were planted in the 1960s to give vibrancy along the interstate. The goal is always to preserve trees in the long run and maintain the canopy along highways. Experts have determined that 126 trees need to be removed in the north Seattle area. Most of these are along northbound I-5 near Northeast 45th and 50th Streets, Northeast 80th Street, and State Route 522 (also known as Lake City Way Northeast).

What can we see in the future?

This is a chance to establish more diverse and resilient roadside canopy on the I-5 corridor in north Seattle. Landscape architects and arborist specialists are developing a replanting and restoration plan for the area. Our team is looking at different options, keeping in mind the outlook and longevity for the new trees. The kind of trees will depend on the specific area. In general, the replacement species will include a diverse mix of evergreen and deciduous trees. Trees will be selected for environmental resilience and resistance to common pests and diseases. The team is also considering attributes such as cultural significance, pollinator habitat, and aesthetics. The possibility of cherry trees in the 45th and 50th street interchanges have also been discussed to align with the famed cherry trees on the nearby University of Washington campus.

Replanting will likely happen in fall and winter of 2024 and 2025, depending on the life cycle of each kind of tree and the optimal time to plant. Our arborists remind you that replanting the trees can be a long and involved process. Removing a damaged tree and replacing it with a new one doesn't mean that it'll look exactly like it did before. Remember, these existing trees were planted in the 1960s and it will take time for them to fully grow to the size we currently see along I-5.

With several teams and experts working to improve the health of the natural world around us, we can see the landscape of I-5 in north Seattle morph into new and exciting things to come, stay tuned!

Monday, May 6, 2024

Three back-to-back work zone crashes in one week leaves paving crew shaken up

Our crews often start their workday with the attitude that it's going to be a good one. However other people's careless decisions to drive distracted or speed through work zones can turn the day upside down – or even make it tragic.

That was the case for several contractor crew members working on a paving job in September 2023 on State Route 28 in Douglas County.

Site inspector Jimmy Ply said their team worked mostly at night when traffic volumes were lower.

The first work zone crash

On the night of September 21, 2023, a suspected impaired driver sped into the marked work zone and started a chain reaction collision that involved more than half a dozen vehicles.

Emergency personnel wearing reflecting vests and helmets inspect the site of a crash that involved several vehicles including a black pickup truck and a black sedan. In the upper right-hand corner, the lights from emergency vehicles light up the night sky.
On the evening of Sept. 21, a work zone crash occurred near a work zone on SR 28 outside of Rock Island in Douglas County that would turn out to be the first of three crashes
near the same work zone during the span of a week.

There were nearly 20 people in the work zone that night. That time none of our crews were hurt, but it could have been much worse. Any collision in a construction area means work stops. Our team checks on the wellbeing of the crew, other drivers, and nearby pedestrians. They also alert law enforcement and request medical aid if necessary. If equipment is damaged or crew members injured, work for the night might be called off altogether. This can delay repairs and stretch out the project longer.

Ply recalls what it was like to get the phone call that night.

"When I got the call, I needed to check on the safety of my team and remain calm." Ply says he has been in a lot of work zone crashes during his tenure, so he tries to stay calm for the wellbeing of his team who are often shaken up from the crash.

Once Ply arrived on scene and saw paramedics were there to tend to the injured driver, (the only person injured in the accident)he called his crew off the roadway. That night shook up the entire crew, but they had a job to do. They went back out the following day to finish paving the highway - when it happened again.

A second work zone crash in less than 24 hours

This time, a driver was speeding through the work zone at night. They were also cited by WSP for being on their cell phone.

A white pickup truck after crashing into vehicles stopped near a work zone on the evening of Sept. 22 on SR 28 near Rock Island in Douglas County.
The driver of this truck crashed into other vehicles and ended up getting arrested in September of 2023

This is more common than you might think. In 2023, there were 231 distracted driver/inattentive citations issued in state roadway work zone crashes. In fact, according to the Washington State Patrol, the top three reasons for work zone collisions in 2023 (in this order) were following too closely, excessive speed, and inattention/distracted driving.

Our crews say they regularly see drivers looking at phones, texting, watching shows or using other devices while blowing past signs about slowing down or stopping – which puts everyone on the road at risk.

A few travelers who were struck in vehicles were sent to the hospital for evaluation and law enforcement arrested the driver.

A white passenger car with severe damage in the front and the back after being involved in a crash during the evening of Sept. 22 on SR 28 near Rock Island in Douglas County.
A speeding driver crashed into other vehicles, including this one, on Sept. 22, 2023, on SR 28 near a work zone. The speeding driver was arrested, and travelers were sent to the hospital.

The team was alarmed, but hoped the worst was behind them. Sadly, that wasn't the case.

A third crash – another distracted driver

Five days later, on Sept. 27, a driver tried to pass another vehicle, did not slow for the work zone queue and rear-ended another car, damaging multiple vehicles. The driver, who was injured but not critically in the crash, was speeding and was reported to be using their cell phone.

Three separate work zone crashes in one week is astounding. Even with advanced warning displays, signs and flashing lights alerting drivers of the upcoming work zone, people were still traveling way too fast, or simply not paying attention.

All the required safety measures were in place, Ply said. "This was poor driver behavior."

A row of vehicles parked with their lights on in the evening of Sept. 27 after a speeding driver crashed into one of them.
A driver, reported to have been using his cellphone while driving, crashed on Sept. 27, 2023, while trying to pass another vehicle near the work zone on SR 28, damaging several vehicles.

It makes them frustrated because they are just trying to do their jobs and get home to their loved ones at the end of each shift. Three serious crashes in one week in their work zone made them all think twice.

Ply's crew says they hope more people become aware of the importance of work zone safety, slowing down, and staying alert. All three of these crashes could have been much worse. For crew members trying to improve the highway for everyone, witnessing crash after crash leaves its mark. Far too many of our workers have had close calls, serious injuries and even deaths in our work zones. It's hard to find a crew that hasn't had an injury or numerous close calls.

Our teams follow standard safety protocols for signs, lighting, traffic control set up and other safety considerations. In some cases, we hire the Washington State Patrol to do additional work zone emphasis patrols to address people who may be speeding in our work zones or driving under the influence – which puts everyone at risk.

Another thing you might notice in these three crashes, is that it's not just road crews at risk in work zones. Nearly 95% of people injured in work zone crashes are drivers, their passengers, or nearby pedestrians. It is in everyone's interest to pay attention and drive safely in work zones.

For our crews, the work zone is their "office." As you travel through their office this summer, do it in the way that you would show the same respect as you entered your doctor's office, your kid's classroom, or your lawyer's office.

Oh, and please be kind. These workers are out there for you, smoothing the roads that take you home. They deserve to go home, too.