Thursday, December 27, 2007

Drivers work together to clear I-90

Every once and a while we hear fascinating stories about people working together to help each other. On I-90 Wednesday afternoon one of those situations occurred, here is that story. (Photos from the scene thanks to Igor Gulchuk.)

Westbound traffic on Interstate 90 came to an abrupt halt Wednesday afternoon when a tree came down and blocked the entire roadway near the Franklin Falls bridge. Three lanes filled bumper to bumper with holiday travelers skidded to avoid each other and avoid what could have been a major traffic tie-up.

Russ and Sheila Fode and their two teenage children Eric and Emily were traveling over Snoqualmie Pass from Wenatchee to Olympia to visit family Wednesday afternoon and witnessed the tree coming down. They were hoping for a smooth trip, trying to avoid getting caught on the wrong side of the pass when crews started avalanche control work later that afternoon.

“Out our window, we noticed snow cascading off a tree up ahead,” started Sheila Fode. “Then the tree started to sway and then just fell straight down across the entire road. It happened within a matter of seconds,” she said. The road was carrying heavy traffic, but no one was hit or injured. The Fode’s were three cars back from where the tree fell.

“It’s truly a miracle that on one was injured. A few seconds earlier or later, someone could have been seriously hurt or even killed,” she added. Drivers immediately began getting out of their cars to make sure no one had been caught under the tree.

“Everyone’s first thoughts were about drivers closest to the tree. The Christmas spirit came out in everyone,” she said. Information about the fallen tree was passed down the line of traffic. Once it was determined everyone was safe, Russ Fode began recruiting people to help him move the tree off the road.

“People standing around were saying it was too big to move, but my husband Russ knew that if we got enough people to help, we could move the tree.” After a short discussion about the safest way to move the tree, nearly fifty people positioned themselves along the tree trunk and slowly moved the tree out of the road. One person carrying an axe in his trunk trimmed limbs out of the way.

“We could hear cheers from people in the back up as we moved the tree; it was a great feeling,” Fode said. Within just a few minutes, the tree was out of the road and people were back in their vehicles. Fode estimated the total amount of delay was approximately 30 minutes. “It’s amazing the things you can accomplish when everyone pitches in and works together,” she said.

WSDOT maintenance crews remove hundreds of trees each year that pose a potential danger to motorists. Still, saturated soils and heavy snowfall can combine to drop trees along the roadway. Drivers are always encouraged to remain alert and watch for potential hazards.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Virtual open houses...

Would you be willing to talk to us about a project if you could do it from home?

Before you see construction workers building a bridge or expanding a highway, our engineers spend a lot of time carefully planning and designing a project. We do our best to engage you and your neighbors to help us make the best decisions along the way; however, we’ve noticed that fewer and fewer people are coming to our public meetings and open houses. We understand that you’re extremely busy and that it’s difficult to take time to talk with us about a project that might not be built for years. You can always call us, e-mail us, visit our Web site, read our newsletter or send us a letter, but none of those offer much opportunity for conversation and feedback. We need your perspective to help build community values into our plans and projects. How can we gain your perspective if an open house or public meeting doesn’t fit your busy schedule or isn’t your cup of tea? We’re looking for new ways to engage you in discussion about our projects that will affect all of us.

How about a virtual open house?
A virtual open house is an Internet based meeting where we can meet online and discuss transportation projects -- an online version of an open house. Anyone can attend the virtual open house by logging on to a Web site and joining the conversation. We could offer a live camera feed of presentations, documents and other materials and an opportunity to participate in discussions ask questions and receive feedback. You could participate without fighting traffic, hiring a babysitter or even putting on a pair of shoes.

Would you be more likely to attend a virtual open house instead a physical open house?

Our first virtual open house
The I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project is a $525 million, rural highway widening project located in the Cascade Mountains. This isn’t just a local project. It affects millions of people from Puget Sound’s deep-water ports and metropolitan cities to the farm communities, industries and outdoor recreation areas of eastern Washington.

In the summer of 2005, we held several public meetings in an effort to engage the public regarding the project. We held five meetings across the state in Seattle, Tacoma, Hyak (at the Summit of Snoqualmie Pass), Ellensburg and Spokane. This was an exhaustive and costly process. On average about 90 people attended each meeting.

The following year, we needed to talk with the public again. In an effort to increase public participation and save time and money, we tried a virtual open house in conjunction with just one public meeting held in Hyak. In addition to the 90 people who attended the physical open house, over 100 people attended the virtual open house – effectively doubling the public participation.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Got a storm story?

We often hear that WSDOT crews are out on the roadways taking care of whatever situation is
presented to them making the roads safe and passable to travelers whatever their destination. 

We talked to some of them to see what they had to do during the recent storm and we have some amazing stories of those crews and the situations they were presented with.  From a tree falling on a maintenance truck, to a crew that had to share a hotel room because they couldn't get home to their families, to the crews who cleared 58 avalanches to get a road open.

How did the storm affect you? What did you have to deal with. If you have a story to share, we'd love to hear it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Storm Damage...

We have some photos, taken by WSDOT crews, of the recent storm damage posted to our Flickr site. The damage on I-5 near Chehalis in Lewis county is just incredible.

Here is a sample:

Check out more of the devastating affects water and snow can cause.