Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What’s happening with the SR 162 Spiketon Creek Bridge in Buckley?

The inside scoop on future bridge plans, local detours and public safety

By Tina Werner 

In case you haven’t heard, the 82-year-old State Route 162 Spiketon Creek Bridge – also called the Pioneer Way Bridge – in Buckley is now permanently closed.
Pond forming on the bridge deck as a result of pier settlement. 

The closure was put into place on Aug. 16, 2018, prompted by pier settlement discovered by crews surveying the bridge in preparation for a month-long deck repair project. Our goal with the deck repairs was to keep the bridge operational until 2022, when it was scheduled for replacement.  Unfortunately, the discovery of the pier settlement changed that timeline. Out of concern for public safety, the bridge was closed and a detour for the 5,600 daily motorists who had been crossing the bridge was implemented immediately using Mundy Loss Road, SR 410 and SR 165.
A look at the detour during the Spiketon Creek Bridge closure.

If you went to the bridge today, you would not see much activity. That is because we cancelled the deck repairs and our teams have instead focused on design alternatives, permitting, funding options and timelines to find the best solution for the community. Jersey barrier blocks the bridge to motorists due to concerns over the stability of the structure.

Can we repair the bridge?

Initial estimates to reinforce the bridge structure to offset the settlement exceeded $2 million and over a year’s work for the repair to be installed. We felt that level of investment in a bridge that is already more than three-quarters of a century old did not make a lot of sense. We are still analyzing if other temporary options are feasible, including whether temporary Bailey or Acrow spans over the failing pier are feasible.

Will we replace the bridge?

Something that people by now have learned is that we had already programmed a replacement of this bridge, with design scheduled to begin in 2019 and construction scheduled in 2022. Our discussions are now focused on what kind of crossing we think should be built and if we have the option of moving that schedule forward. A crossing could be a bridge or embankment support of the roadway. Either strategy has both short- and long-term ramifications for the area’s transportation system.

Can you declare an emergency to get funding sooner?

You may wonder why the money isn’t available now.  Based on legislative direction, we schedule projects by biennial funding cycles, and that’s when the resources become available. Some of your neighbors have asked if we can declare an emergency and expedite the funding process. Unfortunately, the bridge closure does not qualify as an emergency since there was no natural disaster, and we already had the replacement bridge scheduled in our program. We know that’s a bureaucratic answer to the question. We also know how inconvenient the bridge closure is, and we are working hard to figure out alternatives.

We are as eager as you to resolve this issue, but it’s not as straightforward as one might think.  Complicating matters is that two fish barrier culverts identified in the 2013 U.S. District Court injunction, one under SR 162 and one under SR 165, are within close proximity of the bridge. The fish barrier removal will likely require relocating the stream into the ravine, something that could potentially increase the environmental timeline and the start of construction.

Our goal is to keep the community informed as we more clearly define a path forward. Community feedback is important to us, and we appreciate hearing from you.

To that end, we invite you to subscribe to an email distribution list for information as we move forward with the future of the SR 162 Spiketon Creek Bridge.

2013 U.S. District Court injunction

Friday, September 14, 2018

Drone technology: Saving time and highlighting safety following SR 11 rockslide

By Andrea E. Petrich

Technology. It can create some dangerous situations, like when people are paying attention to their phone rather than the road when driving. It can also help with safety, like it did this week on SR 11/Chuckanut Drive in Skagit County.

A rockslide has the highway blocked between Chuckanut Ridge and Pacific Rim Drives south of Bellingham. The slide also left the highway at risk due to more potential falling debris from the ridge above.
A rockslide on SR 11 at milepost 12 has closed the  scenic highway between Chuckanut Ridge Drive and Pacific Rim Drive.

Evaluating the condition and risk used to mean roping up the ridge, anchoring into a spot and evaluating, then coming down and repeating over and over. Not only is this incredibly time consuming, it can also potentially put the evaluator at risk.

Enter the drone. By deploying an unmanned aerial vehicle, our crews are instead able to get a clear, close-up view of areas that otherwise would be difficult and risky to reach and make evaluations and decisions much more quickly and safely than in the past.
Maintenance lead, Joe Wyman, a Skagit County native, measures some of the rocks that fell. Once the area is safe for equipment, his team will come in, breakup these large pieces, some are 5-7 feet long, and haul them out of the area.

Closing the road

Heavy rain on Wednesday, Sept. 12 led to the rockslide on SR 11 between Burlington and Bellingham. Our maintenance team arrived on scene and shut down the road at milepost 12 just north of Taylor Shellfish Farms. Supervisor Joe Wyman, a native of the Skagit Valley and someone who knows the terrain as well as anyone, saw that there was likely still some risky areas above the highway and called in our geotechnical team to take a look.

Upon arriving, geotech Mike Mulhern saw some overhang areas with cracks and others penetrated by scotch broom and other roots that could be at risk of falling onto the road, especially if more wet weather arrived. Keeping the highway closed overnight would allow our crews to get a better look at the condition before deciding next steps.
Mike Mulhern, a WSDOT engineer with our geology team, measures distances in the slope along SR 11 just south of milepost 12.

Enter the Drone
Rather than have our geotechs rope up onto the ridge to evaluate, our IT drone operators were dispatched to the scene from Olympia. Drone operator Peter Burkhead was able to fly the UAV along the hillside. The video from the drone streamed down live onto a screen in our mobile operations video, allowing our geotechs and maintenance crews a clear look at the conditions, giving them all the information they needed to make an assessment.
This saved a tremendous amount of time and also kept our workers safely away of potential hazards.
Members of our SR 11 maintenance team view drone footage live from the back of the mobile command vehicle.

What's Next
The road will stay closed at least through this weekend and won’t reopen before Monday, Sept. 17. We’re bringing in an emergency contractor trained to safely remove the debris threatening the highway. Once the threat above the road has been removed, our maintenance group will use a loader with a rock-breaker to bust up the larger rocks – some measure 5 to 7 feet across – and haul them out of the area. At that point we’ll be able to reopen the road, but we don’t yet know when that will be and some of it depends on the amount of rain we continue to get. The latest updates can be had by following us on Twitter. Until then, people who typically drive on SR 11 should stick to I-5, and those who bicycle on the highway may consider using county roads. It may not have the same view, but like our use of drones, it will keep everyone safer.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Trees next to SR 520 will become a sanctuary for wildlife

By Steve Peer

Commuters may have noticed numerous cottonwood trees north of SR 520 in Redmond that have reached the end of their life. Because they're so close to the highway, they pose a safety risk to drivers. Although it rarely happens, a strong wind from the north could knock the old 80- to 100-foot-tall trees into traffic and that's not a risk we want to take.

A generation ago, we would have cut the trees down to the stump and simply removed them from the area. We've learned that leaving a portion of the trees standing in place (essentially “topping" the trees) can be helpful to the environment – especially to wildlife habitat. According to biologists, leaving most of the dead or dying trees, known as snags, in place helps breathe life into the surrounding area in a few ways. Snags provide wildlife a place to nest, find food, and court mates. Over time, snags decompose and provide valuable nutrients to nourish nearby plants and streams.
Several dead and dying trees shown here next to SR 520 near Redmond will be topped during an upcoming project.

Up next
Starting the week of September 17, we'll begin to remove the treetops. Our maintenance crews will close a westbound SR 520 lane to do the work and Washington State Parks crews will work 10-hour days for up to four days to perform the work. They plan to be strategic about what part of the dead trees they will remove. Left standing will be 30- to 50-foot-tall tree snags.
Wildlife foraging on snag pulling off the bark to get to the insects underneath. Photo Credit: Patricia Thompson

And we likely won't haul away all of the tree tops cut from the dead trees – much of the material will be placed on the ground to naturally fortify the area. The snags will be far enough away from SR 520 to not pose a risk for drivers but close enough to help enrich Redmond's adjacent Bear Creek habitat area.

A brief history of the area: In 2015, as part of the Bear Creek Restoration Project the City of Redmond enhanced Bear Creek by adding curves, bends, and wood to the stream, and planting thousands of trees and shrubs along the banks. The restoration project improves habitat for fish in Bear Creek as well as wildlife along the stream banks, and the snags will expand opportunities for wildlife to flourish.

Our partners
We're not doing this alone. We're working closely with the City of Redmond, Washington State Fish and Wildlife, Washington State Parks, and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe to make this tree loss a silver lining for the environment.
Closure Details
  • Monday. Sept. 17 – Thursday, Sept. 20: Crews will close the right lane of westbound SR 520 from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily between Redmond Way and West Lake Sammamish Parkway SE for the work

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Back-to-back full weekend closures will result in safer intersections on SR 524 in south Snohomish County

Crews will use closures to build new roundabouts at Locust and Larch ways in Lynnwood

By Ally Barrera

Depending on your age, the phrase “it takes two” could either make a dream come true or make a thing go right. For those who use SR 524/Filbert Road in south Snohomish County, they hope it takes two roundabouts to make a safer commute between Bothell and Lynnwood.

In order to make that happen, contractor crews with A-1 Landscaping and Construction, Inc. need to close SR 524 for two whole weekends while they build brand new roundabouts at Larch and Locust ways.
The new roundabouts will be located on SR 524 on each side of I-405. This illustration shows what the Locust Way and Larch Way intersections would look like with roundabouts.

A lot of work in very little time
The closures will happen from 9 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Monday on Sept. 21-24 and Sept. 28-Oct. 1. Crews will work on the Larch Way intersection during the first weekend closure, then the Locust Way intersection during the second weekend closure.

During each 57-hour closure, crews will:

  • Demolish the existing roadway
  • Construct a roundabout, including the center island and apron for larger vehicles and trucks
  • Lay down fresh asphalt
  • Install new signage and temporary striping

Detours will be in place for local residents as well as cars, small trucks/buses and cyclists who use SR 524 on the weekends. There will also be a separate detour for larger commercial trucks. All detours will be signed, but travelers should prepare to add some extra time to their trips while the detours are in place.
This detour will be in place during both weekend
closures of SR 524. Local access detours
are also available.

In the name of safety
From 2011 through 2015, there were 81 collisions at these two intersections that injured 36 people.

  • 47 rear-end collisions
  • 16 turning collisions
  • 11 fixed object collisions
  • 6 opposite direction collisions
  • 1 overturned vehicle

This was a higher collision rate than the state average for highways of similar size and capacity. Many of these crashes happened while vehicles stopped on SR 524 to make left turns.

Roundabouts have a proven history of reducing collisions and their severity because they encourage lower travel speeds and keep traffic constantly flowing. This prevents travelers from speeding up and trying to “beat the light,” like they might at traditional intersections.

This is great news for the 16,000 people who use this stretch of SR 524 every day.

Why roundabouts?
Many of you may be wondering why we choose to build roundabouts at these intersections rather than installing left turn lanes or traffic signals. We considered six different options – including the ones I just mentioned – and most required a wider highway to implement them.
This is what SR 524 looks like before roundabout
construction. Vehicles wanting to turn left would stop in the
 highway, resulting in collisions and traffic backups.

Widening the highway would cost substantially more money than is currently available because crews would need to address two creeks, a wetland, a narrow bridge built in 1935, right of way, and the columns that hold up I-405.

On top of that, roundabouts are less expensive to maintain compared to traffic signals and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions due to the lack of acceleration in and out of the roundabout.

What we need from drivers
Be prepared for the drive between Lynnwood and Bothell to take longer than usual.

  • Our website will have closure updates.
  • Sign up for weekly email updates on Snohomish County projects.
  • Our Twitter account will have info about traffic.
  • Download our mobile app for traffic maps and other news and updates.

Thanks in advance
We know there’s no good time to close a highway, and we thank you in advance for any adjustments you make to help us complete this important safety project on SR 524.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Early environmental work key to successful construction project

By Andrea Petrich

Be on the lookout for Beth Toberer and her team and help keep them safe

When we talk about road workers, what often comes to mind are the people flagging traffic through a work zone, helping at a collision site, or repairing a guardrail or pothole. But those are just some of the people who work hard to keep our infrastructure safe. We have many other road workers who may not be as noticeable, but who are just as valuable.

People like Beth Toberer.

Toberer, a transportation planning specialist in our environmental group, works out of our Burlington office but in reality, our environmental team are involved in every highway project we build around the state. They go out early in the design process to scope the environmental effects a project might have. For instance, if she finds an occupied eagle’s nest near a project site, Toberer will make note of that and our design engineers will restrict allowable work hours in the project contract to avoid its nesting season.
Beth and a colleague work to temporarily remove fish from a habitat before construction.

Toberer’s work over the past 16 years has been crucial to our construction process as it allows us to protect sensitive areas, gather proper permits, restrict work hours during critical wildlife periods and minimize environmental impacts before a project even breaks ground.

Beth spends a week each month in the field looking for sensitive habitats and protected species during the design phase of highway projects.

When our environmental team is out early in the construction process, there is no big hoopla around their work. You won’t see excavators or giant orange barrels near where they are working. But they’re there.

“Work zones do not always have active construction,” Toberer said. “Often, I am one of two biologists studying wetlands in major project intersections, wearing my bright personal protective equipment. I work efficiently to reduce my time near traffic and stay aware of traffic at all times but please be aware that sometimes there are just a couple of us out on the road without any big construction equipment.”

Beth Toberer has worked on our environmental team for the last 16 years.
Each year, Beth helps train and teach interns and new employees about the environmental side of WSDOT, here she works with a team to safely remove fish from a waterway before construction.

Toberer has a BS in Biological Science and a minor in Botany and she enjoys passing on her knowledge and experience, especially to our summer interns or young engineers, including how to do fish exclusion (basically herding fish to get them out of the way) before a fish passage project.

Beth and her daughter, Luna, enjoy hiking the Anacortes Community Forest Lands...

...and skiing at Mount Baker.

When she isn’t working to protect marbled murrelets, juvenile salmon and wetlands, explaining techniques to our communications team, or helping to pass on knowledge to others, she enjoys hiking near her home in Anacortes or skiing at Mount Baker, activities that always include her daughter, Luna.

So please remember, just because there isn’t giant equipment and a ton of activity doesn’t mean there isn’t an active work zone. Stay aware for signage and workers in their orange vests and hard hats. Be alert, slow down near work zones and move over to give them room whenever possible. And remember, under that safety equipment are people with hobbies, plans and, most importantly, family and friends who want to see them walk safely through their front door at the end of every work shift.