Monday, February 10, 2020

SR 706 road to Paradise a muddy, debris-covered mess after heavy rains

Updates

10:15 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21
Emergency contractor crews continue work 7-days a week on State Route 706. While the highway remains closed to most travelers until further notice at the Kernahan Road (milepost 10.18), this stretch of good weather has certainly helped bolster recovery efforts. Crews so far have removed hundreds of dump truck loads of mud, dirt and rocks. A major part of the work included installation of a new culvert to carry water under the highway.
Crews in this photo are building the new channel to divert the water away from the highway.

4:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18
Since arriving at the scene on Thursday, Feb. 13, the emergency contractor has made substantial progress at the slide site. Over the past six days, over 2,250 cubic yards of slide debris has been removed. The contractor is building new ditches next to the highway so that stream runoff from the hillside above has a place to go - instead of over the highway.

Moving forward, this week’s work includes continued debris removal, embankment construction and utility relocation. Once those items are taken care of, the next big item on the list is getting the culvert installed. Once installed, crews will be able to make pavement repairs and install highway markers. This work is weather sensitive and could get delayed.

SR 706 remains closed at milepost 10.18, blocking access to Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually entrance. There is no detour available. We strongly encourages travelers to not venture beyond the closure location, which is an active work zone.

We are hopeful that SR 706 can re-open with two-way traffic by mid-March. Weather conditions may alter this timeline. We will provide updates as they become available.

12:40 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14
On Thursday, Feb. 13, Granite Construction crews began bringing in large equipment to clear the slide debris covering SR 706 east of Ashford.

Today, crews began separating the rock from the wood debris, so the rock can be incorporated into the project. Crews are also hauling debris out of the work zone. The contractor estimates that it will take approximately one week to remove the slide debris, inspect for damage and identify repairs. The contractor will be working seven days a week during daylight hours.

We are hopeful that SR 706 can re-open with two-way traffic by mid-March. Due to the conditions of the slide and weather conditions, the timeline may change. We will provide updates as they become available.

The closure at milepost 10.18, which blocks access to Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually entrance, will remain in place. There is no detour available. We strongly encourages travelers to not venture beyond the closure location, which is now an active work zone.

4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12
Today, our crews worked with Pierce County Emergency Management to coordinate a single escorted convoy for residents on State Route 706. As our emergency contractor mobilizes tomorrow, we will continue to evaluate damage and how we can safely reopen the road beyond emergency and escorted access.

9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12
Our crews have cleared a path through the slides on SR 706 for emergency vehicle access only.  After we fully evaluate the extent of the damage and debris, we can develop a timeline for reopening one lane beyond emergency access. We’ll continue to provide updates here on the blog.

4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11
Today, our maintenance crews began moving debris and repairing several sections of SR 706 approaching the slide area at milepost 11.4. Under guidance from engineering geologists, crews are addressing safety issues concerning trees near power lines in the slide area near milepost 11. Crews are also preparing to move in larger equipment to the work area.

We also received the authorization today to initiate an emergency contract to begin repairs on SR 706 in the extensive slide area.

With rain or snow in the forecast, it is possible that the slide activity will again increase, which can cause unforeseen delays.  As crews clear away the debris, the creek and stream water coming down from the hillside has to be closely monitored.

After crews start to work on the slides and evaluate the extent of the damage and debris, we can develop a timeline for roadwork going forward and will continue to provide updates.
WSDOT crews began moving debris off SR 706 near milepost 11.

1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11
While visiting the site on Monday, Feb. 10, geotechnical engineers began outlining a plan for us to begin safely clearing the road to allow emergency access for local residents only who live and work near Mount Rainier National Park.

There are two known slide sites that our engineers are focused on. Both locations have unique characteristics that crews will be addressing. Crews will begin their work at the slide located near milepost 11. The work at milepost 11 will initially involve safely diverting the water and debris away from SR 706 and begin removing the debris from the highway. We will continue to provide updates once crews are able to safely mobilize and begin the temporary repairs.

5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10
SR 410 has reopened in both directions.

By Doug Adamson

Many travelers who visit Mount Rainier National Park often refer to State Route 706 east of Ashford as "the road to Paradise." But after several days of torrential rain, the road to Paradise now resembles a muddy creek bed complete with large boulders, six-foot deep debris and several streams in areas where they shouldn't be. In short, the roadway is a mess and the hillside above is extremely unstable. That means the road, which first closed due to slides at 4 a.m. on Feb. 6, will remain closed with no timeframe for reopening.

While we know keeping the highway closed is frustrating to residents and backcountry adventurers seeking the tranquility of one of our state's most notable landmarks, until water from the displaced streams is redirected, we can't reopen the highway.
What's the problem?
On most slides, once our geotechnical engineers give us the all-clear, contractors or maintenance teams break out the heavy equipment to scoop off debris. Once the debris is clear, we sometimes need to reduce the roadway to one lane of alternating travel to ensure safety while we complete repair work, depending on the conditions of the site.

However, this slide is much different and much more dangerous.

Following early-February's driving rain, the area around a U.S. Forest Service road above SR 706 collapsed in at least two locations. Early on Thursday, Feb. 6, the slide was reported to our crews as debris and water began to cover the highway. SR 706 now resembles a creek bed, complete with a new creek and other running water in at least two locations. Additional slides have been reported along a 4-mile section that our crews have not yet been able to reach.
Left: an overhead look at the origin of the slide above SR 706. Right: The second slide on SR 706 further east cutting through Forest Service Road #59 with an unidentified source of water runoff.

If we simply cleared the debris – which is up to six-feet deep in places – running water, which is still eating away at the hillside above the highway, could still cause the highway to collapse. According to geotechnical engineers, the crews that inspect hillsides all across our state, this creates an extremely hazardous situation for anyone in the area, as running water could trigger additional mudslides or landslides.

The bottom line: crews need to have the spigot turned off before we can begin to clear the roadway, and that's really in Mother Nature's hands. While the dry weather of the past couple days has helped a little, she doesn't seem eager to let off the accelerator. Inspections of the highway and any repairs will then need to occur before we can reopen SR 706. Right now, we have no timeline for when the water and debris will stop flowing.

We're going to do everything we can to safely clear the roadway for the people who rely on it every day.
Left: An abundance of debris blocks the highway at milepost 11.6 in Pierce County with no estimated time of reopening. Right: Our Assistant Regional Administrator of Maintenance and Construction, Troy Cowan observing the debris and devastation across SR 706. Much work remains for our crews.

Stay out, your life could be in jeopardy
We cannot overstate the importance of staying out of this area. Do not go beyond our road closure location due to the imminent threat to life and safety. The hillside is unstable and running water only compounds the problem. People who venture into the area potentially endanger themselves and the lives of rescuers who go to the area.

We will update this blog with any new information in terms of progress of reopening SR 706.

Nearby slides on SR 410
SR 706 isn't the only road affected by the heavy rain this month. Our crews along with other agencies have been responding to or monitoring more than 20 slides around the state. While many have reopened, several remain closed, including on SR 410. During the course of three days, four landslides fell onto SR 410, resulting in a closure between Mud Mountain Road and Greenwater. These slides took down trees and power lines. On Sunday, crews were able to restore power and clear three landslides to open up SR 410 to milepost 48 for local traffic only. However, debris from the farthest landslide remains, keeping SR 410 closed to all traffic between these two points. Crews continue to work on this last closure. Until all debris is cleared, SR 410 cannot be opened to all.

People can stay updated to any road closures by checking our travel alerts page and by downloading our app.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Happy Birthday, SR 99 Tunnel

By Laura Newborn

One year ago today, we opened the State Route 99 tunnel and quickly watched it become a fast, easy way to bypass downtown Seattle traffic. Traveling SR 99 through Seattle is much safer than it was pre-tunnel, when the Alaskan Way Viaduct carried SR 99 through the city. Drivers now travel underneath Seattle inside a tunnel designed to survive strong earthquakes, with state-of-the-art ventilation, fire suppression and intelligent traffic systems.
Seattle's SR 99 tunnel opened on Feb. 4, 2019 and in the year since, the downtown waterfront has completely transformed.

In the year since the tunnel opened, the Alaskan Way Viaduct was demolished. Seattle’s central waterfront has transformed visually and audibly – it’s hard to describe how much quieter it is to walk along the water today without two decks of highway traffic roaring overhead.

With the viaduct out of the way, the City of Seattle is building its waterfront of the future. One of the first elements of that project will open later this winter: a new, two-way bus route on Columbia Street to connect thousands of bus commuters between Third Avenue and points south and west of downtown.

Tunnel usage
The SR 99 tunnel now averages more than a million trips each month. To no one’s surprise, the busiest travel times are the peak hours – weekday mornings between 6-9 a.m. and weekday afternoon/evenings between 4-7 p.m. Tolling started in November 2019, and 83 percent of drivers using the tunnel have a Good To Go! account, which means they pay the lowest toll rates possible ($2 less than having no pass or account). The tolls help pay back construction bonds and pay to keep the two-mile-long tunnel running safely and smoothly.

Did you know?
Drivers can sign up for a Good To Go! pass and save $2 off every trip in the tunnel and other toll roads in Washington. It only takes about 15 minutes to open a Good To Go! account online – here’s everything you need to know.

Even if you used the tunnel without an account and received a bill in the mail, it's not too late to save money on your bill.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Did you receive a civil penalty in the mail? Don’t panic – you may be able to waive it!

By Lauren McLaughlin

It's been almost three months since tolling in Seattle's SR 99 tunnel began. Many people are paying the lowest toll rate possible through a Good To Go! account. Drivers without accounts will receive a bill in the mail for their trips.

Early tunnel-users who've forgotten about their bill or let their due date pass may see a Notice of Civil Penalty in their mailbox.

What is a Notice of Civil Penalty?
If you don't pay your first toll bill, you'll receive a second bill with a $5 reprocessing fee. If the toll remains unpaid after 80 days, you'll receive a $40 civil penalty for each unpaid toll.

Please don't ignore a Notice of Civil Penalty.

The good news is, if you're receiving a Notice of Civil Penalty, you may have an option for lowering that bill through our customer forgiveness program.

Get first-time forgiveness of penalties
You can contact Good To Go! to see if you qualify for a one-time waiver of all unpaid late fees and penalties if you pay all of the original tolls at the time of the request.

Call 1-866-936-8246 or visit the customer service centers in Bellevue or Seattle to request your civil penalties be waived.

I've requested penalty forgiveness once before – can I get it again?
If you request forgiveness a second time, you will be required to create a Good To Go! account to receive the waiver. You'll also need to pay all original tolls and any late fees.

Don't wait too long to pay those bills
If you have a civil penalty that has not been paid or disputed after 20 days, the state Department of Licensing may place a hold on your vehicle registration.

Learn more about vehicle registration holds.

Questions about your bill?
If you haven't paid that bill because something doesn't seem right, please give us a call. Contact Good To Go! to dispute the bill. There are several valid reasons for disputing a bill such as the vehicle being sold prior to the tolls being incurred, the license plate on the bill not matching the plate on your car, or because the vehicle was stolen.

You can also dispute the civil penalty fees for other reasons, including if you have a Good To Go! account and there was an issue which led to the tolls not being deducted from your account.

I have an account. Why am I getting a toll bill or Notice of Civil Penalty in the mail?
If you have an account and receive a bill or notice in the mail, don't ignore it! This could mean there's a problem with your account.

Any notifications you receive in the mail are not connected to your account so adding more funds will not resolve the problem. Call customer service at 1-866-936-8246 immediately so we can fix the root cause of the issue.

You could receive a mailed notification if:
  • Your account balance is negative
  • Your credit card information on your account is not up to date and it couldn't replenish automatically
  • You purchased a new vehicle, or got a new license plate and did not add them to your account
We're here to help
While you have to call customer service, 1-866-936-8246, or visit one of our customer service centers to take part in the forgiveness program, we're available to help with other issues on Twitter and Facebook. So don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions and concerns.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Drivers, Move Over Three Feet or More to Pass: It's the Law

By Barb Chamberlain

People who drive, walk, use a wheelchair or ride a bike should be aware that a new law went into effect on Jan. 1 that clarifies how various users of the road are to operate. The law is intended to reduce the number of collisions and risks for vulnerable users of the roadway.
State law specifies who vulnerable road users are, and includes those on a bicycle, pedestrians and someone on a farm tractor, and it's important that everyone shares the road safely.

What's a vulnerable road user?

In state law a vulnerable road user is a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, moped rider, someone riding an animal, or someone using a farm tractor or other vehicle or device used in agricultural operations that doesn't have an enclosed shell.
New state law says on one-lane roads, drivers
must move into the lane going the opposite
direction if it's safe to do so when passing
a vulnerable road user.

Driver requirements for passing

With the passage of Substitute Senate Bill 5723, the new requirements for drivers overtaking bicyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable road users are:
  • When there are two or more lanes in the same direction of travel, the driver must move left into the adjacent lane to pass, after making sure it's safe to do so.
  • When the driver has only one lane for traffic moving in the direction of travel, the driver must move into the lane going in the opposite direction to pass, if it's safe to do so. If not, they should pass when it's possible to do so at a distance of at least three feet and slow down to a safe speed for passing relative to the speed of the individual being overtaken.
  • Drivers must also allow sufficient space for safety when following behind a vulnerable user.
Bicyclist lane positioning

The new law clarifies an important element of bicyclist lane positioning. Washington law already specified that riders are to position themselves in the lane as far to the right as is safe. SSB 5723 specifies that riders may position themselves in the lane as needed to avoid grates, debris and other hazards. They may also bike in the right-hand turn lane even if it's discontinued after the intersection; this enables them to maintain position at the right side of the through lanes.
Bicyclists may use a lane of travel
as needed to avoid hazards like
debris and grates.

On a roadway with parked cars, riders know they need to stay out of the door zone. This is the space where a driver might open a door without first looking. RCW 46.61.620 already directs people not to open the door on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless this can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic. That's why we recommend the "Dutch reach," and it's another reason a rider might position more toward the middle of the through lane.

Pedestrians and accessible sidewalks

Pedestrian movements received an important clarification: They are directed to use sidewalks if the sidewalks are accessible. If not, they may use the shoulder or roadway. The law also clarifies that a pedestrian should move clear of the roadway "when practicable" if there's an oncoming driver. That's not always possible if, for example, there's a deep ditch or rock wall along the shoulder they're using.

Some sidewalks are not accessible due to lack of ADA infrastructure. Weather is another factor that can affect accessibility. With winter conditions affecting sidewalks, drivers particularly need to be on the lookout for people who don't have an accessible walkway available.

This video helps tell the story:
What's the penalty if I don't?

Fines for drivers who violate the new requirements are doubled, with those revenues going into a vulnerable roadway user education safety fund.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Spinouts, downed power lines and trees create challenging 24 hours on US 2

Updates
3:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16
US 2 will fully open at 4 p.m. across Stevens Pass! Crews spent the day clearing the final downed power lines and addressing potentially hazardous trees, followed by plowing and treating the highway. While drivers may still see utility crews in the area, the highway is fully open in time for the weekend. The highway closed on Sunday after heavy snowfall brought down power lines and trees between Gold Bar and the Stevens Pass summit, creating hazardous travel conditions. We know this has been a stressful and at times frustrating week and we extend a huge thank you to the residents of the area and the rest of the public for their patience throughout. We also offer our gratitude to all the crews who worked to keep people safe and reopen the road, including our maintenance crew, the Washington State Patrol, Snohomish PUD, Puget Sound Energy and King County and Snohomish County Emergency Management. Please be cautious as you travel through the area!

9:25 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 16
While US 2 remains closed between Skykomish and Stevens Pass, we have resumed work in that area. While conditions were too dangerous to work overnight, at daylight it was safe enough for our crews to return to the area to remove trees at risk of falling and for utilities to deal with downed power lines. Once the trees and utility lines are clear, we will use a snow blower and plows to clear the road. At this time there is still no estimate for when it will reopen. We will update this blog as soon as conditions change.

2:00 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15
An additional portion of US 2 is now open for local access up to Skykomish for people living between Money Creek tunnel (milepost 46) and Skykomish. US 2 remains closed between Skykomish and the Stevens Pass summit (mile post 64) as that stretch remains unsafe for travel as there are still power lines across the roadway. As has been the case all day, high winds are in the forecast and the highway could close again depending on conditions and any associated risk to the traveling public. We will update as we get further information.

10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15
Some good news for the US 2 Gold Bar/Skykomish closure. The highway is temporarily reopened to Money Creek at milepost 46. That said, high winds are in the forecast and the road could close again for safety depending on conditions. The road remains closed from Money Creek to Skykomish as that stretch remains unsafe for travel as there are still power lines in the roadway. We will update as we get further information.

3:45 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14
Our crews were back out at US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area on Tuesday. They found several dozen more trees that fell overnight. There are more trees leaning overhead loaded with snow and there is more snow in the forecast Tuesday night into Wednesday. We are working to clear what we can during the daylight hours, and utility crews are also onsite trying to restore their lines. On Wednesday, we will be out with additional crews to continue working but there is still no estimate for reopening.
By Frances Fedoriska

A fierce weekend winter storm brought down power lines and trees and led to the overnight closure of US 2 between Gold Bar and Skykomish on Sunday, Jan. 12, leaving many travelers huddled in for the night and into Monday morning. We know this was frustrating for travelers as well as the crews working through the night trying to provide options or reopen roadways, but safety has to be the driving force behind all our decisions. And on Sunday – and today as well – the risk of downed trees and falling power lines was just too high to reopen the road.

On Monday morning, utility crews were able to access the downed power lines to begin restoration work. Once the lines are restored and the area is secure, our maintenance crews will remove any downed trees and assess the area for any additional hazards. This work can’t be safely done in the dark so it was suspended Sunday night until Monday morning, and because evaluation is ongoing as power lines are removed, the closure will remain in place through the night of Monday, Jan. 13, until further notice. We know travelers would like an estimate for reopening, but at this point conditions and needed evaluations just don’t allow us to provide one. (Those with urgent needs should contact local emergency services).
Left: Crews need to assess the potential hazards of trees on US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area before the highway is safe enough to reopen. Right: Trees leaning under the weight of heavy snow continue to be safety risks
on US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area.

So what happened?
A combination of worsening weather exacerbated both travel and road clearing plans across US 2 on Sunday.

Backups and closures started up on Stevens Pass in the afternoon around 2:30 p.m. due to collisions and spin outs and while that was being cleared, deteriorating weather increased the amount of snow on the roadway while vehicles waited to be allowed back through the area. Crews were able to start clearing backed up traffic off the pass – both to the east and west – around 5 p.m. Then, at just before 6 p.m. trees and power lines came down on US 2 near Skykomish, making conditions dangerous for both response crews and travelers. At one point a tree struck one of the work trucks – thankfully no one was injured – and at 7 p.m. it became clear that the road needed to be closed in both directions.

The closure was needed to keep crews and travelers safe, but it also meant that traffic that had headed west down off the pass was now stuck between closures with no ability to go east or west. Crews responded to begin trying to clear the debris and assess the situation, but conditions made it extremely difficult to do so accurately.

With the utility agencies, State Patrol and us, there were a lot of moving parts and teams worked to try to coordinate what was going on and what the plan was. Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of good options for travelers given the conditions.
Left: Leaning and fallen trees continue to pose safety risks for drivers and road workers on US 2 near Gold Bar and Skykomish. Right: Several trees blocked US 2, necessitating the closure
of the highway in the Skyview/Gold Bar area.

For some time, drivers at Skykomish were advised that they could head back east from Skykomish over Stevens Pass and stay in Leavenworth/Wenatchee or go around using Blewett and Snoqualmie passes. Their other option was to stay in Skykomish, but there would be no estimate on when the highway might reopen.

As Sunday night slipped into early Monday morning, conditions reached a point at Stevens Pass that sending people eastbound up and over the pass was no longer possible and word was delivered that people should find a safe location in Skykomish and wait until Monday morning when crews were able to better assess the situation, though later that very early morning some other vehicles were allowed to go eastbound. Some convoys were able to get some of those vehicles out Monday but conditions are still challenging and the closure remains in place.

Getting stranded overnight can turn a fun day at the pass into a long, difficult night. That’s why it’s so vital this time of year that people who are traveling, especially in higher elevations and mountain passes, be prepared for winter conditions, including possible closures and delays. They can come with little warning and last for an extended time. We worked with partners to keep people informed as conditions changed but we’re also always looking for ways to improve those efforts.

While our crews work to clear closures as quickly as possible, their safety and that of the public is always the main priority and we can’t reopen roads until we are confident that conditions are safe for everyone.