Thursday, February 28, 2008

Workzone safety...

You ever stood on the side of the road and had cars going by you at 60-80 mph within feet of where you were standing? That is what it is like for those road crews and construction workers who work on a daily basis to maintain and build the highway system.

The challenge we are presented with is how to get drivers to slow down in these areas with lane closures. As stated in the recent press release the top two reasons for crashes in work zones are speeding and inattentive driving. There were more than 1,000 collisions in 2006 in work zones.
What time of day do these accidents happen? Daylight, on a clear or cloudy day (I would have expected late at night, who knew.)

What type of collision is the most common?
Rear-end collisions are the number one type of collision, a completely preventable collision. Did you know that close to 99 percent of those injured aren't the workers but are the drivers and passengers of the vehicles?

The question is what would it take to get drivers to slow down or pay attention in these workzones? We asked some drivers recently and many of said they slowed down when they entered workzones. When Troopers went out and took some sample radar speeds we discovered that many of you don't slow down. A sampling that proves to us that you know you should slow down but don't once you are out there.

Here is the idea that the legislature approved. Put cameras in the workzones. Identify the cars who are speeding through these zones and send them a warning or a ticket. We are still working out the details of how that is going to work but that is the basic concept that we are going to test this summer during the construction season.

We don't plan on doing it everywhere just yet. We want to establish a project to test it on and then report back the results to determine if it will work as a deterrent and get drivers to slow down through work zones.

What can you do?
Slow down, pay attention and merge as soon as safe to do so. Don't wait until the last minute. Remember that traffic fines double in work zones, and traffic flows much smoother when everyone gets along.

More Tips for Driving in a Work Zone:

  • Don’t do anything except drive while you’re in the work zone
  • Don’t use your cell phone
  • Don’t eat or drink
  • Don’t change CD’s or radio stations
  • Don’t tailgate! Leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front of you

Even though these tips seem simple, if you had friends or co-workers working on the roads out there, we hope you would recommend any tips that would help drivers keep their eyes on the road.

What would you do?
What type of strategies would you implement to get drivers to slow down? How do you feel about these workzone cameras, let us know.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hood Canal Bridge

If you don't mind sitting through a seven minute video this new one out of the Hood Canal Bridge Project office provides a great perspective to what is happening or going to happen as part of the Hood Canal bridge East side replacement project.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What's in a name?

How does a thing or a place get named? Sometimes the name fits, sometimes it makes no sense. We've had a good laugh recently at some of the names in Washington State, and we thought we would share this with you.

If you didn't know already, we have close to four hundred "project pages." These project pages are Web sites that report information about projects in local areas with information about the process or phase of any particular project.

With each new project, we attempt to name them so that, when we post the project information to the Web, everyone understands the location and the type of work that is being done.

The funny part about this is when you sit back and wonder why those places were named the way they were. What is the history behind it? Why was it named a particular way?

Sometimes it seems very obvious, and sometimes the story is just plain funny.There are places like the "Dismal Nitch" rest area, near the Astoria bridge, crossing into Oregon. You know Lewis and Clark must have had a bad day to name something that strongly.

Sometimes the names reflect the local history. Names like Blakeslee junction, Iron Goat Trail, or Pickle Farm road. Sometimes the names seem like they don't make any sense, like Monkey Hill or Grand Mound (as opposed to little mound?).

Other times the names just tell it like it is: Road 100 (near Pasco), Ship canal bridge, Quiet Cove Road, and Rattlesnake Hills.

Sometimes there just is no name, like the Unnamed tributary, near SR 305.

One of our staff favorites is the a town name of Wilbur, WA. When we looked it up in the Tacoma Public Library's place-name search, we found this out: Wilbur is seventy miles west of Spokane in the San Poil Mining District on Goose Creek in northwest Lincoln County. In 1887, it was founded by Samuel Wilbur Condit, homesteader. The original name Goosetown was Sam Condit's nickname, Wild Goose Bill. It was applied to his trading post. Wild Goose Bill is presumed to have shot into a flock of wild geese, killing a neighbor's gander. In 1889, the name was changed to its present form, adopting Condit's middle name.

You can't make up stuff like that. Check out the amazing Washington place name search for yourself. Try it out, and see why the place you live near is named the way it is. Today, I learned that the word Keechelus means few fish, in contrast with Kachess, which means many fish.

Are their any names of towns or locations near you that seem to not make any sense? Give them a look up, they may be as interesting as the town of Wilbur.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How would you like us to provide you road closure information?

Whenever we have significant closures like what we had recently in the passes we use a variety of methods to get you the information you need to make your trip. We update several locations on the Web site, we send the information to news media to allow them to report it, we even have a phone number (511) you can call and check to see of the road has been re-opened.

How would you like to have received the information but didn't? We would love to hear from you about the methods you would like us to use to give you the information you need to make an informed decision about when to travel.

Thanks for taking the time to do this, we are always looking for ways to improve and your feedback helps.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The weather outside is frightful...

I thought I was clever with the title I gave to my last post: "snow, snow go away", but I now feel slightly haunted by it. Snoqualmie, Stevens and White passes are all closed again this afternoon for avalanche control work, with little hope of opening until sometime early Saturday.

The short story is that the passes got dumped on today, with conditions described as "blizzard-like." White pass was reporting two inches per hour this morning, and 40-50 mph sustained winds. Stevens was reporting one inch of snow per hour. All three passes had nearly 10 inches of new snow. Keep in mind the forecast only called for 6 inches or less.

I feel haunted by asking it to stop snowing because forecasts say that after 5-10 inches more snow tonight the temperature may rise in the next couple of days, the freezing level may go as high as 4500 feet. A dreaded Pineapple Express, normally not that much of a problem but with the recent snowfall it it could create extremely dangerous situations.

My favorite quote right now is from the national weather center storm warning: "This is the highest level of avalanche danger with widespread natural avalanches certain and large destructive slides possible." Need I say more?

Troubles with cameras
The Denny creek and Franklin falls Snoqualmie pass cameras got knocked out by recent avalanches. The bad news is that because of the amount of snowfall and because the wiring that supports those units is so torn up the cameras may not be replaced until spring.

Both Stevens pass cameras are out right now also. The extreme conditions knocked the power out to the area and the conditions are so bad that crews can't get up there to repair them.

It's hard to tell the long term outlook. I've seen reports that it could snow clear through next week. (NOAA, weather underground, I just hope those crews get a break up there.

If you haven't seen them yet a couple of maintenance crew members shot some great video of what Stevens pass looked like early morning yesterday. Here is an example of what they have had to deal with:

To get the latest information, keep checking the Web site, call 511, or just watch the message signs on the side of the highways. We plan on updating the status all weekend (and you thought state employees only worked Monday-Friday 8-5 :) ).

It's been a wild ride and it just keeps going.

Drive safely out there.

If you didn't see the answer to the trivia question, I asked when was the last time that three passes were closed at once. The answer was 1996, Snoqualmie, Stevens and White passes were closed. It has now happened twice in as many days.

US 2 Stevens Pass - Clearing snow off the road

What it looks like to be a maintenance employee clearing the snow after incredible amounts of snowfall early in the morning. Note, we didn't dub this music, its just a maintenance employee enjoying his job.

High winds on Stevens pass

What it looks like to be a maintenance employee clearing the snow after incredible amounts of snowfall early in the morning. Note, we didn't dub this music, its just a maintenance employee enjoying his job.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

US 12 White Pass Snowslides

US 12 White Pass Snowslides
Originally uploaded by wsdot.

This was once a two lane highway, really it was. Somewhere underneath there it still is.

Snow, Snow go away...

Amazing, just incredible, three passes closed at once. Snoqualmie, Stevens and White pass all closed due to the avalanche danger and avalanches that have come down across the road.

Any historians out there know when that last happened?
Answer: 1996, Stevens Pass was closed for 66 hours, White pass was closed for 71 horus and Snoqualmie pass was closed for 84.5 hours.

Crews got a short break the last couple of days but are back in action clearing snow off the roadway and hillsides and making it safe for travel.

Here are some interesting stats for I-90 Snoqualmie pass:

By the Numbers (2/8/08) as of 8 a.m.:
12 inches today
70.5 inches of snow in February
390 inches for the winter so far
See how this compares to historical snowfall depths.

Avalanche control work from last night:
19 shots with the artillery rifle = 95 pounds of explosives
10 shots at the six avalanche zones on the pass = 285 pounds of explosives

Closures so far on the pass this winter:
146 hours and 35 minutes for the eastbound lanes
126 hours and 14 minutes for the westbound lanes

Crews and equipment at pass today:
Operators: 31
Plows: 25
Graders: 6
Blowers: 6

While plow drivers and avalanche crews are taking care of the conditions on the mountain, only a handful of WSDOT mechanics are taking care of the equipment. As one shift ends and another one starts, mechanics only have a few minutes to take a look at equipment and make sure things are running smoothly. You might be surprised to know that during a huge winter storm our mechanics aren't busy. They are anxiously waiting for the storms to subside so they can get their hands on the dozens of plows and blowers. Our mechanics are the one's who work behind the scenes to change oil, make repairs, change tires and anything else that needs to be repaired before our knights in the green and yellow hit the road to clear the snow.

One of the decision points that they are facing a challenge with right now is with the estimating re-opening time for the passes. Whenever possible we are trying to make it easier for you to know when the pass will re-open by giving an estimated opening time. Unfortunately it's only an estimate, mother nature doesn't always agree.

This morning we tried to announce that Snoqualmie pass would re-open at 6:30 am. Once they got the road clear they found numerous obstacles that prolonged the opening time. A broken guardrail that needed to be fixed, a truck stuck in the left side of the road and they are running out of places to put snow on I-90. They had to put snow from the westbound lanes into the eastbound lanes then from there off the highway. That's why the westbound lanes opened first.

We have some great new photos still coming in from workers on the passes that we are posting on our Flickr site. Amazing shots continue to come in of Chinook pass and White Pass.

Just in (Feb. 8th): We posted some video of what Stevens pass looked like the early morning of Feb 7th. There were wind gusts of near 100mph!

Traction tires...what are they?

Mountain pass conditions are changing all the time, from snow to ice to slush, and that can create very difficult driving conditions.

Crews constantly monitor the changing conditions throughout the winter months and post advisories on the pass Web sites and on signs on the highways to let you know how safe the passes are to cross. They have been busy lately, but that's another story.

The three advisories we use are:

  • Traction tires advised
    Oversize loads prohibited. Oversize vehicles may be restricted from roadways during severe weather conditions.

  • Traction tires required
    Passenger vehicles must use approved traction tires. Chains are required on all vehicles over 10,000 gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), including large passenger trucks and SUV's over 10,000 GVWR.

  • Tire chains required
    Chains required on all vehicles - except four/all wheel drive. In extreme weather conditions, the advisory may indicate chains are required on all wheel drive vehicles.

Traction tires must be labeled with a M+S rating (mud and snow), be an all season tire, or have a mountain snowflake symbol on it.

Types of traction tires:

  • Stud alternative
    This stud-less tire has over 3,200 sipes to help grip the winter roadway. The soft rubber compound helps during wet weather conditions, but is too soft for warmer, summer driving.

  • Studded
    This studded tire has staggered studs designed to wear with the tire. While providing additional traction on snow and ice, studs wear down the roadway and are only permitted November 1 through March 31.

  • All season
    This all season tire is designed for everyday driving. The rubber compound is suitable for all weather conditions. Siping (small slots cut or molded into a tire tread surface) greatly increase this tire's traction on winter roadways.

Interesting that Wikipedia states this tire is "neither an excellent summer tire nor an excellent winter tire" and "have become almost ubiquitous as original and replacement equipment...due to their convenience and their adequate performance in most situations." Hope that helps explain what a traction tire is.

The state patrol also has some great information on their Web site and even links to the WAC 204-24-040 that defines the law for traction devices if you are so inclined.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Video with details of the Snoqualmie hazard

KING 5 posted a video today of this mornings press event which provides great detail as to what is happening right now at Snoqualmie pass.