Friday, October 23, 2020

New Thorne Lane high bridge open, low bridge not far behind

By Cara Mitchell

Despite fall's typical rainy weather, we are planning for some big things on the project that improves mobility and safety at the I-5/Thorne Lane interchange in Lakewood. The weather creates some challenges for paving and striping work on construction projects. As a result, schedules change. Never fear though, the work will get done.

Here's the good news: the new Thorne Lane "high" bridge has opened. This also means design-build contractor Atkinson Construction is quickly moving towards opening the Thorne Lane "low" bridge.
The new Thorne Lane "high" bridge opened to traffic on Friday, Oct. 23.

We're not going to sugar coat this next phase of work – it will require some partial closures of selected ramps over a weekend. Once the new Thorne Lane "low" bridge is open, it will be in a temporary configuration for at least six months. Our goal is to keep travelers moving while minimizing closures and associated detours as much as possible.

Setting the scene and what to expect
As a refresher, here's a look at what travelers on I-5 near Thorne Lane and Murray Road currently drive through – three bridges – two new ones and one old one.

Opening Thorne Lane "high" bridge
Shortly after noon on Friday, Oct. 23, we opened the new 344-foot long Thorne Lane "high" bridge that spans both I-5 and the railroad. It connects local streets using new roundabouts at Murray Road and Union Avenue.

For the next week, southbound I-5 travelers exiting to Thorne Lane will continue to use the old overpass to turn right onto Thorne Lane or left onto Murray Road.

Travelers headed to Tillicum can either continue to follow the existing detour on Thorne Lane to Union Avenue or use the roundabout at Murray Road and cross the new "high" bridge to Union Avenue. This temporary traffic pattern will remain in place until the last weekend of October.

Weekend partial closure of Thorne Lane interchange
If the weather cooperates, from Friday, Oct. 30 to Monday, Nov. 2, several I-5 ramps at Thorne Lane will close so crews can finish building the connections that will allow the Thorne Lane "low" bridge to open. This weekend closure will officially close the old overpass.

The weekend closures will occur on the following ramps:
  • Around-the-clock closure of Thorne Lane on-ramp to northbound I-5
  • Overnight closure of southbound I-5 exit 123 to Thorne Lane. The ramp will be open during daytime hours.
  • Overnight closure of Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5. The ramp will be open during daytime hours.
Northbound I-5 exit 123 to Thorne Lane and the new "high" bridge will remain open. Here's an overview of what travelers will see during the weekend partial closure:

Once the new Thorne Lane "low" bridge opens on Monday, Nov. 2, a temporary detour will be in place for several months.

Here is what travelers need to know:
  • Access to southbound I-5 from Thorne Lane will only be available from the Tillicum neighborhood via Thorne Lane. Travelers coming from Murray Road, JBLM Logistics Gate or the Woodbrook neighborhood will detour on northbound I-5 to Gravelly Lake Drive to southbound I-5.
  • Southbound I-5 travelers exiting to Thorne Lane will turn left and cross the new low bridge to reach the Murray Road roundabout. There, they can choose which direction they want to go – across the high bridge to the Tillicum neighborhood or to Woodbrook neighborhood.
This temporary detour will be in place until late spring or early summer 2021, when a new shared exit for southbound I-5 travelers headed to Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street opens. This video shows how the new interchange will operate once all the I-5 widening is finished.
Removing the old Thorne Lane overpass
Last but not least, one week after the Thorne Lane low bridge opens, construction crews will demolish and remove the old Thorne Lane overpass. This allows crews to finish widening I-5 and build the southbound I-5 collector/distributor lane that ties into the new shared exit the video describes.

The old overpass will be demolished and removed over two consecutive nights. For safety reasons, this work cannot take place over live traffic. Just like the removal of the old Berkeley Street overpass, crews will again reduce I-5 down to one lane in each direction. That one lane of traffic will be detoured up and over the ramp connections at Thorne Lane.

The lane closures occur at night when traffic volumes are at their lowest. That said, it is very possible travelers will see miles-long overnight backups during this work. There is no convenient alternate route around this work zone. We need travelers to go early or avoid the area during the demolition work. We will share details on the closure hours as we get closer to this work.

Don't lose sight of the goal posts
With the on-going and never-ending nightly ramp and lane closures, it's very easy to forget why this work is taking place: we are adding capacity with auxiliary lanes and ultimately HOV lanes to improve traffic flow and move as many people as possible through the JBLM corridor. The old interchanges had to go so we could widen I-5. The new interchange design removed conflicts and delays that travelers have historically faced with the existing railroad.  

It takes a lot of coordination and careful planning to complete a project like this, while keeping travelers moving. We will work through this next phase of construction as efficiently and quickly as possible, and keep you informed on what to expect.

Thank you for your continued patience and support while crews finish this work.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Guardrail safety improvements: The Sequel

Contractor crews expand safety improvement project to include more than 80 guardrails

By Frances Fedoriska

Round two of a multi-county highway safety improvement project kicks off in November. Contractor crews will replace dozens more guardrail ends on 13 state highways in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish and King counties.

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is. Just like the first phase of this safety improvement project, which wrapped up in early 2020, most of the work requires overnight lane or ramp closures. Signs warning travelers of those overnight closures will be placed at the ramps at least five days in advance. When ramps are closed, detour signs will route traffic.

What needs replacing

Many of the big, curvy end pieces (known as terminals) on our highway guardrails need an upgrade.
Curved guardrail terminals like this on I-5 are outdated
and need to be replaced to meet current standards.

The new terminals have larger reflective ends, and are better suited to absorb more energy in a collision. They also have lower anchors and other refined safety features.

You can stay looped in to where work is happening by checking our travel alerts page or following @wsdot_traffic on Twitter. 

Why now?

The curved endpiece design has been in use for decades. Just like car safety technology evolves to keep people safer in a collision, so does guardrail technology. We're working to replace these outdated end terminals so they align with new technology and meet federal safety criteria.
This non-flared guardrail terminal was one of dozens
installed during the first phase of this project last year.

Determining replacement locations 

When selecting which terminals to replace, our engineers look at many factors:
  • Crash history on a given stretch of highway
  • Traffic speeds
  • Road elevation 
  • Abrupt surrounding roadside ditches
  • Road angle and curve
  • Immovable objects (overpass foundations, large sign posts and trees)
  • Installation and maintenance costs
We need your help

Don't let your phone, the radio, passengers or other things distract you from operating your vehicle. Drivers always need to focus on the road. When you see a work zone, slow down and move over if there's room to do so. While these guardrails are designed to help keep travelers safe, we would prefer nobody ever put them to the test.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Repairs mean closures, lane reductions on SR 99 Duwamish River Bridge

By Tom Pearce

If you follow the work that our crews and contractors do, you will notice that most of it is preservation – repaving highways, maintaining facilities, repairing structures, etc. This work protects the investments the people of Washington have made to build our highway system.

That's what's happening right now on the southbound State Route 99 Duwamish River Bridge – also known as the First Avenue South bridge – in Seattle. We started this preservation work after our crews noticed wear on the bearings of two piers during a regular inspection of the bridge. These bearings are critical as they allow the bridge deck to move up and down a little when traffic goes over the pier.
A worn bearing under a support beam for the SR 99 southbound Duwamish River Bridge
has created a gap, as the pen inserted in the opening shows.

Our bridge maintenance crews began implementing a temporary fix for these bridge bearings this past Wednesday, Oct. 7. We're now developing a project for a permanent repair.

Bridges 101
When you build a bridge, it needs to be strong to support the weight of whatever will cross it, but it also has to be flexible. Heavy loads add stress to the bridge. Hot or cold weather causes a bridge to expand or contract. We're not talking large movements, only fractions of an inch, but being able to move a little as conditions change means less stress than a rigid structure may endure.

Bridge bearings are the support for the bridge deck and floor system. The bearings sit on top of the bridge piers. Some bearings are fixed or pinned; others tilt or slide. Whatever the bearing, it allows the bridge to move while maintaining support.
In this case, the bridge bearings have worn to the point that the bridge settles a little when heavy loads go over it. The video above starts with a heavy maintenance vehicle parked over the bearing. As the truck moves off the bearing, you can see the deck rise slightly. In immediate terms, this isn't too big a deal, but it should be fixed as soon as possible. Left as it is, eventually it will become a big deal.

What's happening now
We have coordinated with the Seattle Department of Transportation on brief daytime closures of the bridge that began Wednesday, Oct. 7. These closures, which occur several times during the day, are about the same length as an opening for marine traffic. They allow crews to repair these bearings. During each closure, crews jack up the deck a little, put in shims – in this case a piece of metal to close the gap – to counter the settlement, then lower the deck onto the shims.

This sort of repair is good for several months, but it's not a permanent answer. Remember, the bridge moves. That could eventually cause the shims to move, which means we'd need to go back every so often to replace them. The bridge remains safe for travel, and we'll continue to monitor the temporary repairs until we are ready for the permanent fix.

A permanent repair in 2021
In early 2021, we'll have a contractor crew replace the worn bearings atop the piers. We're still designing how this work will take place, so we don't have all the details yet. Right now we're looking at a project that will require us to reduce the bridge to two lanes for about four weeks to replace cement and grout. This will eliminate the settlement on that side of the bridge. When one side is finished, it will take another roughly two weeks to do the same thing on the other side. This could change as plans are finalized.
Drivers have several alternatives if they want to avoid the brief closures
on the southbound Duwamish River Bridge.

The SR 99 southbound Duwamish River Bridge carries about 50,000 cars a day. Reducing its capacity by half is going to mean heavier traffic. Drivers can help by using alternate routes like Interstate 5, Tukwila International Boulevard, East Marginal Way and the South Park Bridge.

We understand that reducing highway capacity temporarily is a challenge for the people who rely on these roads. But regular maintenance and repairs help keep our highways in good condition, reducing the need for costly major projects later. We appreciate your patience!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Join our team to help keep roads open and everyone moving this winter

By Mike Allende

Every winter we hire multiple non-permanent maintenance workers to help keep our highways open for travelers across the state. These positions are vital to our ability to keep state roads clear and to help freight and travelers make their way around as safely as possible.

And as the calendar flips to October, it's that time of year again. We're looking to fill many positions on our maintenance team all over the state. We need people comfortable working outdoors and with the public who are dedicated to keeping roads open and travelers moving as we move into the wet, cold months of winter.
Being prepared to respond to winter weather events 24/7 is a big part of our winter maintenance operations. 

So what kind of jobs will these positions handle? Great question:

  • Operating a variety of heavy equipment including snow plows and applying anti-icing materials to the roadway
  • Maintaining and repairing roadways, catch basins, culverts, guardrails and other infrastructure
  • Removing debris from highways and reporting possible issues with a highway such as potholes and cracks
  • Providing traffic control at work sites and collision scenes
  • Conducting minor maintenance and repairs on equipment
  • Conducting grounds keeping and upkeep at maintenance facilities
  • Being prepared to respond to emergencies 24/7
  • Providing excellent customer service when interacting with the public

Maintenance workers need a CDL as they're asked to operate a variety of large vehicles.

Now you know what you'd do in this job. But are you qualified? Here's what we're looking for:

  • Someone able to respond quickly and calmly to fast-changing situations
  • Someone able to stand and sit for long periods of time
  • Have a Commercial Driver's License Class A or Class B without restrictions, and a current medical card
  • Minimum of one year experience doing highway maintenance, roadway construction or related experience like landscaping, farming, forestry or heavy equipment operation
  • Comfortable operating large equipment in winter conditions on any type of roadway and around traffic
  • Able to communicate well with diverse groups, including verbally, written and electronically
  • High school diploma, GED or equivalent
  • Basic computer/table skills
  • Can lift and transport equipment up to 50 pounds
  • Ability to climb ladders and work at varying height levels

Making basic repairs to equipment is part of the
job for our winter maintenance crew.

Those are the minimum requirements. But we'd love it if you had a Commercial Driver's License Class A with N (cargo/tanker) endorsement without airbrake restrictions. If you have flagger and/or first aid certification, that will definitely get our attention, as would having at least two years of highway maintenance or construction experience.
In winter our maintenance crews are also responsible for clearing debris and other hazards from highways.

These positions typically last about 3-6 months to cover the winter maintenance season. Some might be part-time or on-call. But they're all vitally important to our ability to keep the public and freight community moving throughout the winter. So if it sounds like something you're up for, please check out our wsdotjobs.com page. You'll find multiple listings for winter maintenance positions. Throw your hat in the ring and help us make this a safe winter for everyone.