Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Maintenance crews act fast to repair burnt roadway on westbound SR 526 in Everett

By Joseph Calabro

If you encountered some unexpected slowdowns on State Route 526 in Everett earlier this month, you weren’t alone.

A crane truck traveling on westbound SR 526 between I-5 and Evergreen Way caught fire just after 9 a.m. on Monday, July 9, causing closures and long delays for travelers.
The crane truck that caught fire on Monday, July 9.

Our Incident Response Team immediately responded to the scene and assisted the Washington State Patrol and Everett Police Department in closing all lanes of the highway, and the ramps from I-5, to protect the traveling public and give the Everett Fire Department room to safely extinguish the fire.

Two of the three lanes and the I-5 ramps reopened by noon. However, completely clearing the incident was more extensive as 200 gallons of hydraulic oil and diesel fuel had spilled onto the roadway. That, combined with the fire itself, made for a lengthy cleanup.

The Everett Fire Department quickly put out the fire.

The fire melted the tires on the crane truck, making it extremely difficult to move. The spilled fluids also caught on fire, causing an even bigger issue. Generally, vehicle fires won’t significantly damage the roadway. But this fire was so hot that it literally burnt the roadway surface.

Due to the extensive damage caused by this incident, a 40-by-16 foot patch of the roadway became extremely slick and unsafe for travelers. Our maintenance crews had to act quickly and begin repairs so we could get the lane back open as soon as possible.
The burning crane truck leaked fluids that caused severe road damage.

In order to complete the work, we had to keep the right lane of westbound SR 526 closed overnight. This gave us room to grind down the damaged concrete before repaving the roadway on Tuesday morning. Then, of course, the rain came....

Paving is weather-dependent work, so this drizzle forced us to halt the process until the rain subsided. Thankfully, the weather cleared up, and we were able to repave the roadway and open the lane just before 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Lane closures are never ideal, but sometimes they’re necessary to ensure safety. This incident was a good example of the coordination between several agencies to safely handle the incident as well as its aftermath, and we send out a big thanks to all the responders, from the fire department to the police and of course, our maintenance crews. As always, we appreciate your patience as we worked quickly to repair the road.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Too close for comfort: quick reaction prevents tragedy in veteran employee's career

By Emily Durante

If not for the quick reaction of a fellow road worker, Greg Wornell's 35-year WSDOT career – and life – might have ended long ago.
Greg Wornell, an environmental compliance lead on the SR 520 Program, nearly had his
career cut short when a driver drove through his work zone back in 1986.

Assigned to inspect State Route 16 construction in Tacoma, Greg stood on the highway's shoulder with colleague John Anderson. With his back turned away from oncoming traffic, Greg heard tires skidding. The next thing he knew, John grabbed him by his shirt and hauled him over the guardrail, just out of the path of a vehicle zooming through their work zone.

The driver failed to notice them until it was almost too late, but fortune smiled that day in 1986; John and Greg walked away without injury. John's heads-up reaction was the difference between our two employees going home that night or going to the hospital – or worse. Shaken, Greg and John returned to their work, but not before moving their work truck between them and oncoming traffic as an extra precaution, and making sure to not turn their backs to traffic.
Greg has seen a lot of changes in his 35-year career with WSDOT. "These days traffic is so much heavier and there's so much more that can distract drivers. Everyone needs to take a more serious approach to work zone safety."

Thirty-two years later, Greg looks back on the near-miss with perspective. He still remembers it vividly.

"Highway workers are just like you," Greg said, reflecting on what travelers can do to reduce work-zone collisions and fatalities. "We are all doing our jobs and looking to come home safe each day."

That's why we're asking you to do your part in keeping our workers safe.
Greg enjoying a backpacking trip
in the Olympic Mountains

When in roadway work zones:
  • Slow Down
    Drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety.
  • Be Kind
    Our workers are helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways.
  • Pay Attention
    both to workers directing you and to surrounding traffic.
  • Stay Calm
    Expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life.
Today, Greg's environmental work on the SR 520 reconstruction project mostly keeps him out of highway work zones. But like everyone, he's noticed the region's uptick in traffic. That, combined with more distractions for drivers, increases the danger for roadway workers. We are working to reduce work-zone incidents through safer traffic control plans and increased public notification of construction. But we can't do it alone.

That's where Greg's veteran perspective comes into play.

"When entering a work zone, take your foot off the gas just a bit, and pay just a bit more attention to your driving," he urges drivers. "An accident in a work zone will not only ruin the day and maybe the life of the worker, but will also ruin your day. There is nothing more important than taking just a bit of time and care. Our lives depend on it."

Friday, July 6, 2018

Summertime highway construction heralds final phases of work for three I-5 projects in Tacoma

By Cara Mitchell

Longer days and warm nights are perfect for construction crews to advance work on three of four funded high occupancy vehicle (HOV) projects in Tacoma. Much to the delight of commuters, two projects are anticipated to wrap up later this year, with a third project expected to finish in mid 2019. The fourth project that builds a new southbound I-5 bridge over the Puyallup River is still on the horizon.

Here is a look at what crews are building and what drivers can expect over the summer.

Future HOV lanes and new overpass taking shape down the center of I-5
Contractor crews on the I-5 M Street to Portland Avenue HOV project are converting the old lanes of northbound I-5 near Pacific Avenue to future northbound and southbound HOV lanes. This work involves replacing the original roadway surface, installing new drainage and installing barrier. Much of this work is taking place at night, when traffic volumes are lower. Drivers will see single and double lane closures at night for this work, allowing large trucks to make their way in and out of the work zone.
This summer, crews are converting the old lanes of northbound I-5 near Pacific Avenue
to future northbound and southbound HOV lanes.

Crews are also advancing work on the McKinley Way/East D Street overpass that spans I-5 next to the Tacoma Dome. Barring any weather delays, the new overpass is expected to open to traffic in fall 2018. Keep in mind that when this project is complete, the new HOV lanes won’t open to traffic. We need to complete other work through the corridor before the HOV lanes have connecting roadways in place.

Northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge
Now that the new northbound I-5 bridge across the Puyallup River is open to all traffic, contractor crews are finishing the following items:
  • Storm water ponds
  • Interchange connections at East 28th Street
  • Reconstructing a portion of northbound SR 167 near the Emerald Queen Casino
In July, contractor crews finished setting girders for the new McKinley Way/East D Street overpass that spans I-5 in Tacoma.

Crews are also building the new alignment of the future HOV lanes near the Puyallup River using GeoFoam blocks – which provide a lightweight but durable support for the roadway – instead of dirt. These large, white blocks are visible to drivers while they are being stored on both the old and new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. This project is also expected to finish in fall 2018.

Mountains of dirt and new overpasses at SR 16 and I-5
At the interchange of SR 16 and I-5, design-builder Skanska has crews building several new bridges and ramps, including a new overpass across South Tacoma Way for SR 16 HOV lanes. This work involves moving approximately 300,000 cubic yards of dirt and building three new soil nail walls to support new roadway alignments.
Geofoam blocks are being temporarily stored on the old northbound I-5 bridge while crews finish
building the new alignment of the future HOV lanes near the Puyallup River.

Increased congestion at SR 16 and I-5
We know the merge from SR 16 to northbound I-5 and from SR 16 to South 38th Street west is slow going during commute hours. The good news is the current ramp configurations are temporary for construction. Once work is complete later this year, we will revise both ramp configurations.

To help SR 16 motorists bypass some of the backups getting onto northbound I-5, we encourage people to try an alternate route that uses SR 7. More information about this route is available on the WSDOT YouTube video below.
Design-builder Skanska is building new bridge piers for future
overpasses for southbound I-5 and SR 16 HOV lanes.

When does the fourth and final funded HOV project start?
The final funded Tacoma/Pierce County HOV project will begin in early 2019. This project builds a new southbound I-5 bridge over the Puyallup River and takes approximately three years to complete. In addition to building a new bridge, this project will make the following improvements:
  • Replace the existing concrete pavement on I-5 from McKinley Way to Portland Avenue
  • Upgrade signs, lighting, and storm water ponds
  • Demolishes and replaces the L Street overpass that crosses I-5
  • Demolishes the old northbound and southbound bridges that span the Puyallup River
  • Opens HOV lanes in both directions of I-5 through downtown Tacoma, providing a complete HOV system that extends from SR 16 in Gig Harbor to I-5 north of Everett.
This is one of three new soil retention walls (soil nail walls) being built in conjunction with connecting
HOV lanes and ramps at the intersection of I-5 and SR 16.

Like you, we want these projects to cross the finish line sooner than later. To prepare for this work over the summer, our best advice is to know your alternate routes and check the construction schedule posted at Expect reduced lanes on I-5 at night through Fife and Tacoma all summer, and give yourself extra travel time. Also, be sure to use the WSDOT app for current traffic conditions.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The First Question Is Always WHY?

Why are so many people hit, injured, and killed walking or bicycling on Washington's roads?

By Barb Chamberlain

When we hear about people dying, whether it's one person or a lot of people, the first question is always WHY?

We ask this partly to understand whether it might happen to us, and partly to understand what we need to change so this doesn't happen to us or to others in the future.

When it comes to injuries and deaths of people walking and biking we have a lot of possible “why” questions. Let's take a look at some of the numbers found in our active transportation safety report for 2017 (pdf 5.3 mb) and what you can do to make it more likely that everyone gets where they're headed no matter how they get around.

This post addresses one of the numbers we reported – we'll cover others in future posts.
Creating streets that are accessible for all modes of travel leads to safer trips for everyone.

Why are 62 percent of the serious injuries and deaths occurring on city streets? 
We don't have precise numbers on how many people walk or bike in any given city or town; we do know that of the roadway miles in the state just over 21 percent are city streets. We know people are more likely to use active transportation in more urban areas that offer destinations within a walkable or bikeable distance. In those same places, more people are driving by at any given time. Cities have more human interactions of every kind.

Washington looks like the rest of the U.S. in this regard. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently put out a report on pedestrian deaths noting the rise in frequency and severity of crashes, mostly in urban or suburban areas.

Different street designs can influence different assumptions and behaviors. A bigger, wider street encourages faster speeds, for example, regardless of the posted speed limit. Society collectively has spent decades developing streets that signal to people driving that their interests are the primary focus of the transportation system. Changes to address all modes are coming one street segment at a time. We work with local agencies, providing funding, technical assistance, training and best practice guidance, to address these issues.
It's vital that transportation systems create
opportunities for people to use whatever
mode of travel works for them.

What you can do
  • As a driver, expect people to be walking and biking, stay alert and drive accordingly.
  • Take a look at the safety tips in the post we wrote heading into Daylight Savings Time — the advice applies year-round.*
  • Whether you walk, bike, take transit, drive, or someone else drives you to your destination, report your concern or question. More and more cities are adopting an app, or have a reporting page or contact for this purpose, as noted on this list maintained by Cascade Bicycle Club.
    • Bear in mind that contacting them doesn't mean the agency responsible for that stretch of street or trail can fix or change it immediately. Working on it in the context of a future planned paving project, for example, makes good use of your tax dollars and lets them potentially address multiple questions in one pass rather than tearing up the same street more than once.
    • When you get in touch you can ask additional questions, for example:
      • when they have plans to work in that area;
      • whether they're applying for grants or seeking other funds to change the street;
      • their overall approach to reducing the likelihood of crashes occurring and providing street designs appropriate for all users;
      • whether they have a Complete Streets ordinance in place (which makes them eligible for Transportation Improvement Board grants, by the way);
      • whether the city or county has a safety plan (which our Local Programs Division requires if they want to apply for safety funds);
      • whether they have a Pedestrian/Bicyclist Advisory Committee (maybe they're looking to fill a seat on it and you're interested in serving);
      • what master plans they have for walking and bicycling and when those were last updated;
      • whether their freight route plans address interactions with people walking/biking;
      • whether they use camera enforcement for things like school zone speed limits and red lights;
      • whether they've adopted a Neighborhood Safe Streets ordinance to lower the speed limits on non-arterials to 20 mph; 
    • When you contact an agency you're letting them know someone uses that connection and it matters. If they're one of the cities that operates on a complaint-based prioritizing approach, you just added a point for that spot. (If you're reporting a problem with bicycle detection at traffic signals, state law specifically requires jurisdictions to track these and prioritize updates based on complaints.)
    • Bicyclists can submit a report to one of the crowd-sourced bike incident sites such as BikeMaps or Bikewise. Researchers and some jurisdictions use this information to better understand factors affecting bicycle transportation. 
    • On state highways:
      • Contact the town or city if it's a stretch within city limits; we work closely with our partner agencies on design and operations. 
      • Between towns, look at our list of programmed projects and contact the appropriate team if we already have something in the works.
      • For maintenance needs such as sweeping or vegetation, email us. We'll try to work it into our schedule as time and other priorities allow.
      • Otherwise contact the Region office that has responsibility for that highway
Safe and efficient travel for all modes of transportation is a top priority in street design.

The bottom line
While we report on statistics and will continue to do so, the reality is that in your everyday life, every statistic is 100 percent for the people it affects.

It's 100 percent for the driver who goes home knowing they changed – or ended – someone's life forever.
It's 100 percent for the person who gets hit.
It's 100 percent for every witness, every first responder, every family member or co-worker.
And it's 100 percent better for everyone, every day, if these collisions don't happen.

Traffic Safety Tips
*In case you didn't click over to that blog post on safe transportation habits, here's the short version:

People Driving
  • Stop for people in crosswalks — every intersection is a crosswalk.
  • Put the phone down.
  • Don't drive impaired.
  • Look and then look again before turning.
  • Watch for people walking or biking near senior centers, schools, community centers, and other destinations.
  • Pass at a safe distance.
  • Drive the posted speed limit, or slower if conditions make visibility difficult.
  • Use your lights.
People Walking or Bicycling
  • Walk and bike where you can be most visible and expected.
  • Take care when crossing roads and driveways.
  • Use eye contact and hand signals to communicate.
  • Use lights as required and take advantage of lighted crossings.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Changes at Colman Dock on Seattle’s waterfront

By Broch Bender 

The year is 1882. Scottish engineer James Colman builds a modest ferry dock at the foot of Columbia Street in Seattle, setting in motion what would become Washington state’s marine transportation mecca for tens of millions of people. …and their automobiles.

Today, we are in the process of rebuilding the facility from the waterline up. The Seattle Multimodal Terminal Project at Colman Dock helps preserve our state’s flagship ferry terminal as a regional multimodal transportation hub decades into the future.
Colman Dock is under construction until early 2023.
Keeping Colman Dock open during construction without cancelling sailings will require some adjustment for customers. The entrance for all vehicles, including vanpools and motorcycles, is now located at a neighboring pier, south of the toll plaza, at South Jackson Street.

People driving on to a ferry enter at South Jackson Street from northbound or southbound Alaskan Way South, drive north in a dedicated toll plaza access lane, and buy tickets at the existing toll plaza. There are no access changes for pedestrians; travelers riding bicycles will continue to use the Yesler Way bicycle entrance next to the toll plaza.
From 1882 until mid-1920s, Colman Dock, the largest of more than 100 whistle stops up and down Puget Sound, is used as a “Mosquito Fleet” passenger terminal only.  By the early 1920s, Puget Sound Navigation (Black Ball Line) retrofits a smattering of steamships and launches the first auto-ferry service on Seattle’s waterfront. Washington State Ferries takes over operations on June 1, 1951.

In addition, the passenger terminal is smaller while critical work continues to replace the seismically vulnerable flagship terminal. The load zones in front of the terminal will remain the same and there will be additional on-street parking between Yesler Way and Madison Street through the busy summer months.

View pro tips to prepare for (and avoid) long waits inside the passenger terminal and at the drive-on entrance this summer.

Colman Dock is the busiest ferry terminal in the country. In 2017 alone, more than 9 million people, including 5 million foot passengers, traveled through the facility. This critical safety and preservation project completely replaces the seismically vulnerable terminal building and sections of dock that are currently supported by 70-year-old wooden piles. In addition, your future ferry terminal is designed to eliminate conflict between pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles and includes a new passenger-only dock to serve the King County Water Taxi and Kitsap Transit Fast Ferry.

We know keeping the busiest ferry terminal in the nation open to the public during construction, with no reduction to service brings some big changes for people, and we appreciate your cooperation. The project is on track for completion in early 2023.