Tuesday, June 15, 2021

New southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opening to one lane of traffic soon!

By Cara Mitchell

Believe it. It's really happening. This month, as part of an upcoming traffic shift, we will open one brand spanking new travel lane on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

Why is one lane important? It means we're just a couple months away from shifting all southbound lanes on to the new seismically upgraded bridge. It also means the 20-plus years of widening I-5 and SR 16 to build and connect HOV lanes is almost over. Yes, we know that's a long time. Building new bridges to widen I-5 while keeping lanes open during peak commute hours is kind of like remodeling your kitchen while trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner for three football teams, all at the same time.

Before we can honk horns and toss hard hats into the air in celebration, there's work to be done and traffic shifts to pay attention to. Here's what's coming up that travelers need to know about.

June traffic shift

Since June 2019, southbound I-5 drivers using exit 135 to Portland Avenue, Bay Street or northbound SR 167 have used what we call a temporary collector-distributor lane. This temporary lane was operating on the old southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge so we could provide access from the Port of Tacoma Road to southbound I-5 and access to exit 135 while the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge was being built.

This coming weekend, June 18-20 – weather permitting - crews will close ramps and shift this temporary collector-distributor lane on to the new southbound I-5 bridge.

From 11:59 p.m. Friday, June 18 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, June 20, the following will close around-the-clock:
  • Southbound I-5 exit 135 to Portland Avenue, northbound SR 167 and Bay Street
  • Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5
  • Southbound I-5 temporary collector-distributor lane

A look at how the temporary collector-distributor lane will shift onto
the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

During the around-the-clock closure, crews will reconfigure and rebuild both ramps so that they are accessible from the lane now coming across the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. Once the two ramps and collector-distributor lane reopen, drivers will be on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
The new temporary configuration for southbound I-5 exit 135 along with the temporary
collector-distributor lane rejoining mainline I-5.

Detour for southbound I-5 exit 135

Detour routes will be clearly signed during the weekend closure. With the collector-distributor lane closed, drivers exiting to Portland Avenue or SR 167 will use southbound I-5 to northbound I-705 to SR 509, and return back to southbound I-705 to northbound I-5 and exit at Portland Avenue. Drivers using the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 will detour to northbound I-5 to exit 137 for SR 99 North, and 54th Avenue East and back to southbound I-5.
Here are the detour routes for the upcoming weekend closure of southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge ramps and lane.

Why are we doing this?

Crews are shifting the temporary lane onto the new bridge to prepare for work demolishing the old southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
A Beam Moving System is being assembled to help remove the old girders from above the
Puyallup River on the old I-5 Puyallup River Bridges.

There is still work taking place on the new Puyallup River Bridge such as drainage, electrical and final pavement markings. The travel lane will be set up to provide crews the room they need to put the final touches on the bridge. We did something similar in 2018 when the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opened to traffic in stages as final work was completed.

What happens next?

Earlier we mentioned we were almost done with the project, and we really are. Here is a snapshot of the "honey-do" list to finish our kitchen remodel:
  • Remove the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge structures
  • In August, crews will finish realigning the Port of Tacoma on-ramp to the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. This work may require a 15-day closure of the ramp.
  • Finish the median barrier on I-5, south of the Puyallup River Bridge. This also ties into advancing work on the East L Street Bridge.
  • Later this year, all southbound I-5 travel lanes will move permanently from the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge onto the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. We will need to restripe northbound lanes across the bridge to bring everything into final configuration.
  • The icing on the cake will be getting new HOV lanes open. That will involve new striping on I-5 from the Fife curve to the Yakima Street overpass in Tacoma. That is scheduled for fall 2021.
About the new bridge...

We thought you might enjoy seeing some footage taken while crews built the bridge deck on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. The numbers that make up the size of this bridge are impressive – 84 girders, 1.3 million pounds of reinforced steel, and lots of concrete.
Stay aware

As always, please keep our crews, yourself, anfe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know these traffic shifts can take a little getting used to at first, so stay aware and make sure you give construction crews plenty of room soA they can get this work done safely.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

On the lookout for "murder hornets" along state roadways

Update Thursday, June 17: The Washington State Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have confirmed the first report of an Asian giant hornet for 2021. A resident in Marysville reported the deceased hornet on June 4.

By RB McKeon


While our maintenance crews are always on the lookout for noxious weeds along our highways, for the past year or so there's been another type of pest that has gotten our attention and probably yours. And while Japanese knotwood and Scotch broom may strike fear into some, it's nothing compared to hearing about the infamous "murder hornets!"

That's right, we're talking about the old Vespa mandarinia, AKA Asian giant hornets or, yes, murder hornets. And our crews have been taking an active role in helping prevent this new pest from spreading.
A close-up look at an Asian giant hornet
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

What's a murder hornet?

This invasive species of hornet from Asia was found last year in Whatcom County. While native hornet species are a natural part of the state's eco-system, these non-native hornets can dominate local species and pose a serious threat to Washington honeybees – thus earning the nickname murder hornets. Although these insects are not typically aggressive towards humans, their stings are extremely painful and can leave permanent scars. And if you want to see these murder hornets murdering, you can watch this video shared by our friends over at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Why do we care?

As managers of more than 100,000 acres of public land across the state, our agency plays an important role in identifying, managing and mitigating invasive species. Most of the time this work, in partnership with the County Noxious Weed Control Boards and the Washington state departments of Agriculture and Ecology, is focused on combatting a host of noxious weeds found along highways. This work is vital in being stewards of our public lands, including protecting crops that support economic health and preserving native vegetation that is necessary for a healthy eco-system.

Watching for and trapping suspect hornets may not seem like one of our agency's duties, but it's all part of our commitment and responsibility to protect the environment. We live here too, and don't want our crews to be stung by these hornets or see native species harmed in our communities.

"As stewards of state lands, we have a responsibility to minimize any harm that our transportation system has on the environment and the economy," said Ray Willard, our roadside maintenance program manager. "When something like invasive hornets threaten our state, our crews are always willing to go the extra mile, learn new protocols and support our state partners."
Our crews will be putting out and monitoring traps like these in search of Asian giant hornets.
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

OK, so what's the plan?

This year, we will again help track these hornets. Beginning in July, our crews will set hornet traps in Northwest Washington along the highway right of way and monitor them throughout the season. This is part of the Department of Agriculture's overall focus on trapping in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan, Jefferson and Clallam counties. The plan is to have at least 1,200 traps in place across the state between all agencies and citizen scientists, along with working with cross-border agencies in British Columbia to track the hornets.

Traps are relatively simple to make, requiring a plastic bottle and simple ingredients like orange juice, rice wine or brown sugar. Traps are placed at least 6 feet high on trees near forest edges. As our crews are out doing regular maintenance, preservation and construction work they are able to check traps weekly for any captures and turn anything of note over to the Department of Agriculture for further analysis. If you are interested in participating in trapping as a citizen scientist, WSDA has details on its website.
This Asian giant hornet was found with a nest during a 2020 tree removal.
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

How can I tell if it's a murder hornet?

But how do our maintenance crews (or you) know what to look for? What's the difference between a murder hornet and any old regular hornet? The Department of Agriculture created a short training video for workers, highlighting the risks these hornets pose and what to do if we come across them. Asian giant hornets are:
  • Usually 1½ -2 inches in length
  • Have a large orange head with prominent eyes
  • Have a black and orange/yellow striped abdomen
  • From large colonies that usually nests in the ground
If you see a suspect hornet

If you see or think you've seen one of these hornets, please report it online at agr.wa.gov/hornets or via email hornets@agr.wa.gov. If it's safe to do so, photograph it and send the photo to the contact above and put the specimen in a jar or baggie in the freezer until you hear back. These hornets are not typically aggressive toward humans, but they will still sting people who attempt to handle them. They will also sting while defending their nest or defending a beehive they are attacking. Please don't swat at or otherwise disturb the hornets and just focus on reporting the sighting or specimen. The Washington State Department of Health has information about what to do if you are stung.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The next generation of Good To Go!

Update: June 14, 2021

Good To Go! customers now have more time to prepare as we will be delaying the transition to our new system by two weeks.

The call center and website will now be available to customers until Friday, July 2, and passes can be purchased until Monday, June 28. 


By Chris Foster


As part of our work to improve Good To Go! for our customers, we will soon transition to a new Good To Go! system and new call center. Before we can do that, we need to take our current Good To Go! system offline for about two weeks. 

The Good To Go! website, phone line, and customer service center will be closed for about two weeks beginning Friday, June 18 while we transition to a more modern, user-friendly system. We are still completing final testing of the system, so if there are significant issues we encounter before June 18, there's a chance that date may change.

During the two-week closure, you'll be unable to access your account, pay tolls, or reach customer service. Check our website to learn how you can prepare for the two-week closure.

For about two weeks starting in mid-June, our Good to Go! website, phone line and customer service center will be closed while we switch to a new system.

We've been hard at work making our system better

Our current system is more than 10 years old and hasn't kept pace with technological advancements or customer needs so we're excited to introduce new features as part of the update. Many of the new features are the result of feedback we've heard from customers throughout the years. The new system makes it easier to save money on tolls and has more tools to help yourself online without having to call customer service.

Changes Good To Go! customers will notice
  • New Pay As You Go option – In our new system, you can open a Good To Go! account without pre-paying $30 in tolls. This will give another way for people to save money with a Good To Go! account. With Pay As You Go, tolls are charged to your credit card twice a month. 
    • How is this different from our current system?
      Our current system requires customers to pre-pay $30 in tolls to pay a lower toll rate. Many customers prefer not to pre-pay their tolls, especially those who only use express toll lanes toll-free as a carpooler.

  • Toll bills tied to Good To Go! accounts – If your Good To Go! account balance becomes negative for any reason, you'll still be able to manage all toll trips through your account. 
    • How is this different from our current system?
      Currently if your balance is negative and you drive on a toll road, the system is unable to apply the toll to your account. Instead, the customer receives a toll bill in the mail that they must resolve separately.

  • More self-service options – New tools will give you greater control over your account, including the ability to reset your password, dispute tolls online through your Good To Go! account, and more. 
    • How is this different from our current system?
      In the current system, to reset your password, change payment methods or dispute tolls from your account, you must contact customer service. 
Changes Pay By Mail customers will notice
  • Easier for Pay By Mail customers to save money by opening an account – If you Pay By Mail you'll be able to open an account as you pay your bill online and save money.
    • How is this different from our current system?
      Today, customers who Pay By Mail, which is $2 more per trip than the Good To Go! rate, must call customer service if they want to lower their bill by opening a Good To Go! account.

  • Toll bills will include all outstanding unpaid tolls, even those from prior billing cycles – Your bill will show you all unpaid tolls tied to your vehicle from the past 30 days, 60 days and longer. It will also reflect any civil penalties which have been issued.
    • How is this different from our current system?
      In the current system, customers only see unpaid tolls from their last bill and civil penalties are billed separately. This can cause confusion about the total amount due for some customers.
What else is new?
  • Customer call back option
    – Instead of waiting on hold to speak to a representative, you can request a call back.

  • Track the status of your inquiry – If you need to contact customer service, you can open a case, submit a message, and upload files. You'll then receive a link to track the status of your case.

  • Text notifications – You'll have the option to receive important account alerts directly to your phone via SMS messaging. So if your credit card has expired or a payment failed, you'll know right away.
We're excited to offer you these new features – but it may be challenging in the short term.

Large-scale software projects are complex and challenging. We know issues will arise once we reopen and we ask for patience as we work through them. 

When Good To Go! reopens, we expect very long wait times at our customer call center. These long wait times could last for months as we settle into a new normal, so make sure you're prepared ahead of time. 

We've been working on this new system for several years, and we know many of you have been awaiting its launch. While we hoped to launch the system sooner, our priorities are the safety and security of your information, as well as your experience with our system in the long run. 

We're taking the extra steps to make sure that our handling of customer information throughout the process follows the strict guidelines of the industry's security protocols. We are also ensuring that the system offers a better user-experience.

These steps take time. We know that in the end, we'll be able to offer a new system and an improved user-experience for our nearly two million customers.

Questions?

If you have questions about the new system, or the upcoming two-week closure of Good To Go!, please reach out to us by calling 1-866-936-8246, or sending an email to GoodToGoTolling@wsdot.wa.gov.


Friday, May 14, 2021

How and why messages on highway signs are created

Coordination with Governor's office and Department of Health determines safety messaging

There's a lot of thought and coordination that goes into any communication we do, whether it's on social media, on our website or on our signage. It's never one person deciding what and how to say something.

Since the beginning of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we've been instructed by the Governor's office to use our digital highway signs to support messaging about staying healthy. We are one of more than 30 states across the country using similar signs for this type of messaging. Those messages have encouraged mask use, physical distancing and, most recently, getting vaccinated. We work with the Governor's office as well as the Department of Health in crafting the messages.

While we typically use these signs for traffic messages, federal and WSDOT guidelines state they can be used for certain other circumstances, including "safety messages" and "emergency homeland security messages." Governor Inslee and President Trump, and subsequently President Biden, have declared emergencies in response to the pandemic. The Federal Highway Administration has also clarified that the use of these signs is allowed to support the current national emergency and the federal Centers for Disease Control also issued guidance for COVID-19 messages on VMS boards. Our messages follow these messaging themes.

COVID public service announcement (PSA) messaging also does not replace other messages to motorists about traffic, crash and other vital emergency information. Like other PSA messages such as DUI enforcement and seatbelt use, they do not take the place of vital emergency information. If there is a need to message about crashes, construction, congestion, etc., any PSA type messaging is bumped. 

We know some people are frustrated by highway signage featuring public health messaging. It's also easy to forget that the people who work for government agencies are human beings. If you reach out, we ask that you do so in a constructive, respectful way. We all have jobs to do, and we do them the best we can.