Thursday, March 4, 2021

Coming soon: 3-month closure of Thorne Lane ramp to southbound I-5

By Cara Mitchell

Yes, it's true. Knock on wood, the project that rebuilds the Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane interchanges so we can widen Interstate 5 in Lakewood will wrap up this year.

The work, which adds auxiliary and HOV lanes to I-5, will require a significant ramp closure starting the night of Friday, March 12, weather permitting.

Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5
Since November 2020, access to southbound I-5 from Thorne Lane has only been available from the Tillicum neighborhood via Thorne Lane. Travelers coming from Murray Road, JBLM Logistics Gate or the Woodbrook neighborhood are following a detour on northbound I-5 to Gravelly Lake Drive to southbound I-5.

As early as March 13, construction crews will permanently close the Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 from the Tillicum neighborhood. This important ramp connection will reopen in its final configuration, from the new overpass, three months after the closure begins.

This map shows the detour route for travelers coming from Murray Road SW.

During the temporary three-month closure:
  • Travelers coming from Murray Road, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Logistics Gate or the Woodbrook neighborhood will continue to detour on northbound I-5 to Gravelly Lake Drive, then onto southbound I-5.
  • Tillicum travelers will use the Berkeley Street interchange to reach southbound I-5, or use the new Thorne Lane overpass and follow the same detour as travelers coming from Murray Road.
Signal timing at Berkeley Street
You have told us about backups at Berkeley Street getting to I-5, and we've seen it ourselves. More travelers coming from Murray Road are detouring through Tillicum and using Berkeley Street instead of detouring to Gravelly Lake Drive. We will continue to monitor and adjust the signal timing at Berkeley Street, but we need travelers coming from the Woodbrook area, especially freight haulers, to use the Gravelly Lake Drive detour.  

Why a three-month closure of the ramp?
Closing this connection creates work zones for the contractor to do the following:
  • Finish the roundabout connection from Union Avenue and to the new Thorne Lane high bridge.  Once finished, this will officially remove the railroad crossing at Thorne Lane. Travelers will instead cross the railroad using the new overpass. 
  • Complete the collector-distributor lane barrier that will guide travelers from a shared exit on southbound I-5 to Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street.
  • Build a new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 from the new overpass.

Permanent change to southbound I-5 exits
In three months, a new shared exit on southbound I-5 will open to travelers going to Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street. The barrier that is being built will eventually separate mainline I-5 traffic from those taking the exit. Studies show that using barrier in this way can prevent excessive weaving and merging that can often cause collisions.

Anyone traveling to Madigan Army Medical Center, Camp Murray, JBLM's Logistic Gate or Lakewood's Tillicum and Woodbrook neighborhoods will be using this shared exit. It's a permanent change coming that drivers will need to take note of.

New on-ramp
After the three-month closure, a new on-ramp to southbound I-5 will open to travelers from the east side of the interstate. We've previously referenced this new on-ramp as the Thorne Lane "low ramp", and it's only accessible from the Murray Road roundabout. Here is the important part: travelers will no longer cross the railroad before heading to southbound I-5. Instead, drivers will turn left from the new overpass at a signalized intersection and continue south to the collector/distributor lane to Berkeley Street. From there, drivers will merge on to southbound I-5.

This video shows how the new interchange will operate once all the I-5 widening is finished.
We will continue to share the weekly overnight lane and ramp closures that accompany this work on our Travel Planner web page.

As a reminder, the reduced speed limit is still in place on I-5 while crews finish the work. Thank you for your continued patience and support.

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