Friday, February 26, 2021

Thanking Deputy Secretary Keith Metcalf for his dedicated service

By Roger Millar

For the past five years, I've had the privilege of working with one of our agency's finest. Now I'm taking this opportunity to publicly thank Deputy Secretary of Transportation Keith Metcalf for his dedicated public service and to congratulate him on his upcoming retirement. 

With nearly 43 years of service to the people of Washington under his belt, Keith can retire knowing he made our agency and the many communities he touched better for his leadership and contributions. Most recently, Keith's focus has been on developing and executing the agency's Strategic Plan and ensuring our goals of Inclusion, Workforce Development and Practical Solutions are part of everything we do. Never have those efforts been more important as during this time when we need to address a public health emergency, racial inequality and budget uncertainty.
Deputy Secretary of Transportation Keith Metcalf retired from our agency in late February after a 43-year career here.

Among his contributions, Keith has been a steadfast supporter of the National Highway System's purpose to provide a transportation network that moves interstate freight and regional trips efficiently. He demonstrated that support through his leadership in the delivery of the first stages of the North Spokane Corridor, and by protecting the public investments made in the US 195 corridor. Keith was also instrumental in bringing the new Keller Ferry to a reality, ensuring the communities that depend on this important Columbia River crossing would continue to have reliable transportation connections.
Keith Metcalf had a hand in almost every part of our agency over his 43-year career, culminating in his role as Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

Keith helped me to reorganize the department to better serve our multimodal mission. We created the office of Urban Mobility and Access and the office of Multimodal Development and Delivery, realigning our team to focus on these missions under the leadership of their own assistant secretaries. We created our Active Transportation Division, an organization committed to improving our active transportation infrastructure and maintaining our leadership as this country's most bicycle friendly state. 

Keith has also been a leader and strong advocate in our efforts to improve the department's results in the area of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. He led our efforts to expand the activities of our Office of Equal Opportunity and served actively on the Governor's Sub-Cabinet on Business Diversity.
Deputy Secretary of Transportation Keith Metcalf, who retired this week, snaps a picture during construction of the SR 99 tunnel in Seattle.

Equally important, Keith is a people person. He has shown his care and support for the people of his community and fellow workers time and time again. From being a strong advocate for the annual food drives, to supporting Public Service Recognition Week, to encouraging physical activity by leading agency wellness walks and participating in the Bloomsday Run, to attending staff functions, Keith's down-to-earth manner made him an approachable part of the team.

Keith started here fresh out of Washington State University and throughout his career went on to gain experience across multiple regions and functional areas like construction, design, program management, maintenance, and others. His calm demeanor, counsel, and dedication proved invaluable to me and many others both inside and outside our agency. Keith represented our work to many organizations and forums across the state and nationally.

We are grateful to Keith for his leadership and dedication to transportation for all Washingtonians in this state. Please join me in wishing him a long, healthy and enjoyable journey in the next stage of his life!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Nisqually earthquake 20 years later: We’ve made seismic improvements but there’s more work ahead

Our most visible response, the Alaskan Way Viaduct project, improved safety and helped transform Seattle's waterfront

By Mike Allende
After the Nisqually earthquake, the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle was closed for inspections and repairs, and later strengthened to keep it safe for daily use. In 2019 the viaduct was replaced with the SR 99 tunnel.

It's been 20 years since the magnitude 6.8 Nisqually earthquake shook the Puget Sound region and we're still seeing its effects today.

On Feb. 28, 2001, hundreds of buildings were damaged and an estimated 400 people injured as the ground shook and rolled for 40 seconds. While bridges across the region by and large withstood the earthquake well, one of the most visible impacts was several columns supporting the Alaskan Way Viaduct in downtown Seattle cracked and sank, but did not collapse.

Seismic bridge retrofit, lifelines and greater resilience planning

Seismic retrofit work was already underway on our bridges and other infrastructure before 2001, but since then it's increased dramatically, including:
  • We've spent $144 million in bridge seismic retrofitting, completely retrofitting 323 bridges and partially retrofitting another 114, which still need some work. 
  • Working with state emergency managers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), we prioritized our seismic retrofit efforts along a "lifeline" designed to ensure emergency response and supplies can flow into the Puget Sound from the north, south and east. This lifeline identified and prioritized the most vital routes and bridges needed for transport during major emergencies. We are working on delivering a $171 million seismic retrofitting program that should complete lifeline retrofitting over the next 10 years.
  • New projects have replaced aging bridges with updated structures built to modern-day standards. Examples include:
    • The new SR 520 bridge, which opened in 2016
    • In Pierce County, 18 new seismically-updated bridges or overpass structures have been built as part of the I-5/SR 16 Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program and the I-5 Lakewood to Joint Base Lewis McChord projects.
    • Two new bridges over the Puyallup River (SR 162 & SR 167)
The new and more seismically-resilient Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal opened in December and work continues on Colman Dock in downtown Seattle to build a new, seismically improved multimodal terminal. Going forward, terminal repairs/upgrades are included in Washington State Ferries' long-range plans (pdf 11.7 mb).

From Alaskan Way Viaduct to SR 99 tunnel

In perhaps the most visible response, that powerful earthquake also jolted our agency to accelerate existing conversations about how to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, the double-deck concrete highway that carried 100,000 vehicles a day along Seattle's waterfront via SR 99. A parallel conversation also began about the deteriorating 70-year-old seawall that protected the waterfront's loose fill soils from Elliott Bay.

Twenty years later, those conversations have utterly transformed central Seattle's waterfront. Traffic on SR 99 now travels beneath the ground in the 2-mile SR 99 tunnel,  built to withstand strong earthquakes.

The last visible trace of the looming concrete fence that once separated Seattle from Elliott Bay was removed in November 2019. Seattle's new seawall opened in 2017, built to modern seismic and environmental standards and atop that seawall, the city of Seattle is building a new waterfront street flanked by new public space and multimodal transportation facilities.

Today, the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program is almost complete. The Battery Street Tunnel that once linked to the viaduct's northern end is gone, and the chasm it cut through neighborhoods near the Space Needle is replaced by a surface street. The final project of the program is set to begin construction later this year, which includes a new pedestrian plaza connecting Seattle's sports stadiums to the waterfront.

Looking back but planning for the future

Timelines have been hard to gauge during the COVID-19 pandemic, when weeks blend and a month can feel like a year. But the 20th anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake is a good time to pause and take stock of all that has been accomplished.

We still have more work to do, but in the 20 years since the ground shook from Olympia to British Columbia, we've made major safety improvements across the state to help us all have safer, more resilient infrastructure across the state.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Winter storm February 2021

Last updated: Feb. 15, 2021 at 7:45 a.m.

Clark and Skamania counties:

  • SR 14 - Both directions of SR 14 are again closed between Evergreen Blvd east of Washougal and the Hood River Bridge near White Salmon due to hazardous weather conditions. There is no estimate for reopening.

Lewis County:

  • SR 6 - Closures at MP 34.0 and MP 46.0 have both been cleared.

Yakima county

  • Cleared: SR 241 has reopened near Sunnyside due to blowing snow and poor visibility

For the full list of real-time storm related road closures head to our travel alerts website.

With a first round of snow on the ground and more expected going into this weekend, we're setting up a place to communicate with you what you need to know about closures and conditions across Western Washington.

Check back here for updates on any closure or other weather condition news.

Agency Twitter accounts:

  • @wsdot - Statewide updates
  • @wsdot_traffic - Traffic and construction reports for King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties
  • @wsdot_sw - Traffic reports for Vancouver and southwest Washington
  • @wsdot_passes - Mountain pass reports
  • @wsdot_tacoma - Traffic and construction reports for Pierce, Thurston, Mason and Kitsap counties
  • @goodtogowsdot - Good To Go! tolling information
  • @snoqualmiepass - I-90 Construction updates
  • @wsferries - Ferry alerts and updates
  • @wsdot_east - Traffic and highway news and information east of the Cascade Mountains
  • @wsdot_jobs - Current job openings
  • @wsdot_north - Highway traffic info for Whatcom, Skagit and Island Counties
  • @wsdot_520 - SR 520 traffic info and construction updates
  • @Amtrak_Cascades - Information and updates regarding travel aboard Amtrak Cascades

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Construction work progresses thanks to crew vigilance

By Hannah Britt

It's been almost a year since our state started experiencing the first effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic. This meant some adjustments at our construction sites and we are seeing the results of implementing successful safety protocols on all our highway construction projects.

Initially, construction projects across the state were paused when Governor Inslee issued the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. That meant a temporary work stoppage on 65 of our construction sites. Crews used that time to develop and implement new COVID safety protocols so they could safely restart work and move forward. Today, the rate of COVID-positive tests on our construction projects is considerably lower than the statewide average, and all cases are believed to be from exposure off the job.  
The SR 520 Montlake project in Seattle sat empty in March and April 2020 until statewide COVID-19 safety guidelines were adopted and new procedures enacted to allow construction to resume safely.

Scaling down while keeping fish moving 
During the initial construction pause, work continued on fish passage projects so they could stay on track to meet the deadline of the federal court order. Our Construction and Safety offices followed state and federal recommendations to keep those workers safe while protocols were developed for all construction projects.
The Minter Creek fish passage project on SR 302 in Pierce County was one of the projects that remained active in the months of the pandemic.

All in the details – resuming construction 
Our staff joined other agencies and the Governor's office to develop the safety protocols needed to safely resume construction projects statewide. They had to consider the best ways to resume work while learning about COVID-19 risks and how to mitigate them, all while the world was still learning about the spread of this new virus. 

A limited amount of low-risk activities resumed in Phase 1 in May 2020, and the rest of construction activities resumed in Phase 2 later that month. We worked with our contractors and sub-contractors to implement the Governor's new safety protocols (pdf 213 kb) on each site. Where would the hand washing stations go? How would each employee check their temperature? Who would ensure the protocols were being followed? In some cases, it was like trying to learn how to ride a bike all over again, with pedals six feet apart. The staff on each project worked out the details before crews reported – again – for their first day on site. 

Construction site changes - PPE 
Job sites look and operate a little differently with new safety measures. Crews must take their temperature before reporting for work, wear COVID-19 personal protective equipment and stay six feet apart. If a task requires that crews be within six feet, they must wear even more PPE. All crews are required to attend a COVID-19 training to learn about site-specific protocols to follow the statewide guidelines.
Crews on the SR 520 Montlake project must stop at the temperature check station each day before beginning work.

Making progress while keeping safety first 
These safety precautions are working! If a crew member is exposed to COVID-19, they must quarantine to keep their fellow employees safe. As of Dec. 31, 2020, there were 30 confirmed COVID cases on our construction projects, an infection rate of .006 (six people per 1,000). The statewide rate, as of Jan. 4, 2021, is .034 or 34.2 people per 1,000. We're still sorting out how the pandemic effected many project schedules, but we're proud of both our construction staff and partners who keep projects moving along safely!