Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Road trips...

What is it about driving that we love so much? Is it the instinctive nature of humans to want to roam? Is it the sense that there is adventure out there somewhere?

Those thoughts come to mind as I reflected on a recent summer vacation when my family and I took a road trip. We started in Olympia, drove up through Seattle, took the Mulkilteo-Clinton ferry (which is far too short of a ferry ride to really enjoy, but just enough to eat a fantastic Ivars lunch), then headed up Highway 20 through Whidbey Island - including Oak Harbor - and across the Deception Pass bridge - definitely a must see; what a view. We then stayed with some family in Mount Vernon for a couple of days, then came back down I-5 back down through Seattle, Tacoma, and back home to Olympia.

The highlight of this trip for my kids was definitely the ferry ride. My oldest had already been on a ferry before and was very excited about the opportunity but my youngest hadn't yet and was very curious and definitely picking up on her older sister's excitement. It was fantastic to see the glimmer in their eyes as we rode across the water towards Clinton. I lost count of the number of times that they went to both the front and back of the boat, arguing in that childlike way about which side was the front.

But trips like this to some folks are more than just an adventure, they are a hobby. Take David Corcoran for example. His goal is to drive every single state highway in the country. Not sure exactly where he started, but he has almost completed his goal for this state. What is even more interesting is that he has documented most of his journey from his Web site http://www.washingtonhighways.org/.

As the summer winds down, the leaves start to change color and you reflect on your summer, what was your favorite drive? What was the most scenic adventure you took in Washington state? Where is the point on the state highway map you would like to go next?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stevens pass cameras...

Unfortunately, it looks like the Stevens pass cameras will be down for a week or more. On Wednesday of last week a backhoe digging up a sewer pipe at the summit accidentally damaged the fiber optic cable. Turns out several hundred feet of that cable will need to be replaced before the camera will be back online.

The camera is a lot more fun to watch when the snow is falling as snow falls on the roadway and the ski resort parking lot fills up daily with skiers. Luckily it happened while the sun is still shining!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First day of fall left an impression

Well, it’s fall in the Northwest again. You know what that means: Crisp, sunny days. The changing colors of the leaves. Snow in the passes.

Wait. What? Snow? In September? Yep, that’s right. A freak snowstorm hit the North Cascades on Monday, dropping several inches of wet snow on the North Cascades Highway and forcing the closure of the 3-mile road to Artist Point.

Personally, I was hoping for a few more of those balmy 70-degree days. But I guess we’ve been overruled by mother nature.

On Monday, WSDOT crews working on Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) near Artist Point decided to close the last three miles of the road to Artist Point as a safety precaution. It’s a steep, windy road with narrow shoulders and no guardrail – a beautiful drive in good weather, but not for the faint of heart in snowy or icy conditions. Because of that, we typically close the road in mid-October and don’t open it again until mid-July.

Fortunately, the snow didn’t stick around for long, and the road was only closed for one day. Of course, if we get more cool weather – or more snow – anytime soon, we may have to close the road for the season. Here’s hoping for warmer weather.

You can find photos of our snowplows in action – on the first day of fall – by visiting our Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wsdot/sets/72157607451604559/

Friday, September 19, 2008

“This project is amazing”

For more than a decade, stop-and-go traffic on SR 202 frustrated drivers and was only expected to get worse with more housing and population growth on the Sammamish Plateau. Nobody likes to sit in traffic.

We recently widened three miles of State Route 202 from SR 520 in Redmond to Sahalee Way to help break the bottleneck on SR 202 – and Johnna Jones (photo above), who commutes on SR 202 is pretty happy about it.

“This project is amazing,” said Johnna about the SR 202 Widening project. Johnna wrote to WSDOT back in April when the first new lanes started to open on SR 202.

We’ve stayed in touch with Johnna throughout the summer and invited her to share her remarks at the SR 202 – SR 520 to Sahalee Way project ribbon cutting event we hosted in Happy Valley yesterday.

With Johnna’s permission, here is what she had to say.

“I live in Fall City and commute to Redmond. All of my commute is on 202.

I have lived in the area all my life (34 years). 21 years of that in the Happy Valley itself. I have seen all the growth in the area and dealt with the traffic that has resulted from it. I remember how bad attempting to get off the plateau was during certain hours of the day. In fact, we lived right off NE 50th St and many times during backups travelers would use our road as a way around it.

The road improvements have given me more time and a less stressful commute. I do not have to wake up so early to get to work on time. I don't purposefully work late so that I can leave after the worst of the traffic has passed. I don't have to be frustrated about just sitting in a long line of cars, not going anywhere! Who wants to start or end their day grumpy because of traffic?

I also want to let you know that it is not just the weekly work commute that has improved. It was getting to the point that reaching Redmond on weekends was becoming a hassle as well, and this too has been remedied.

I have also witnessed the wetlands being destroyed by poor building planning. In addition to improving our roads, you guys have done an excellent job in trying to preserve and protect the streams in the area! Thank YOU!”

Thank you, Johnna. We could not have said it better ourselves.

Cable median barrier continues to save lives

This week we released the 2008 annual report on cable median barrier in Washington State. The report is a follow up to the June 2007 report requested by Governor Chris Gregoire.

How is cable median barrier performing? Well, there’s good news and more good news. Cable barrier continues to save lives in Washington. Statewide, cable barrier successfully restrained 95 percent of vehicles from crossing highway medians.

Additionally, in areas where cable barrier has been installed, there has been a 73 percent reduction in serious injuries and fatalities from crossover collisions. While no barrier can protect drivers 100 percent of the time, drivers who strike cable median barrier are less likely to be seriously injured because the cable barrier absorbs the force of the collision. Vehicles that hit the rigid concrete barrier are more likely to ricochet back into traffic. Occupants are at risk of suffering injury from the force of impact with the rigid barrier and from colliding with other vehicles.

So if cable median barrier is so great, why is WSDOT replacing 10 miles of it with concrete barrier in Marysville? Last July, WSDOT, the Washington State Patrol and independent experts completed a detailed review of statewide cable median barrier and cross-median collisions on I-5 in Marysville at the request of Governor Gregoire. The report noted a higher-than-average number of crossover collisions on I-5 in Marysville, for reasons not completely understood by safety specialists. Due to the history of cross-median collisions in this area, the report recommend installation of concrete barrier on the northbound inside shoulder of 10 miles of I-5 through Marysville while leaving the existing cable median barrier adjacent to the southbound lanes. Using both cable median barrier and concrete barrier will help keep southbound traffic from crossing into the northbound lanes.

You can find more about the 2008 Cable Barrier update at: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Cablebarrier/Report2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Beep! Beep! Road widening in Issaquah

You may have heard about the big traffic snag on SR 900 in Issaquah last week. Drivers sat in traffic for up to 45 minutes on a trip that usually takes less than 20.

Flaggers temporarily stop traffic on SR 900 to allow a truck safe access to the work zone. View more SR 900 construction photos.

Our phone lines lit up with calls from drivers wanting to know the cause of the delay and what WSDOT was going to do about it.

We learned that crews from WSDOT, Puget Sound Energy and the City of Renton were all working along SR 900 at the same time. Not to mention it was the first week of school for the Issaquah School District.

Within 24 hours we held an emergency meeting with the City of Issaquah and came up with a plan to coordinate lane closures and keep traffic moving.

Here is a blog entry about the work we are doing on SR 900 so you can get a better understanding of the project and how it will affect and benefit drivers.

– Broch Bender, WSDOT Communications

Two things pop into my mind when I think of Issaquah: Salmon Days and traffic congestion. While our traffic engineers may know little about how to pull off a famous festival, they do know a thing or two about how to reduce the notorious traffic bottleneck on SR 900 near I-90.

About 36,000 vehicles travel on SR 900 to and from I-90 each day. In 2004 our crews widened the roadway, and provided some congestion relief for SR 900 drivers through Issaquah until they reach Newport Way.

Now road construction crews are back on SR 900, also known as Renton-Issaquah Road SE, to finish the job.

(Another big project just down the road is steering Renton drivers to the already popular route, at times adding to construction backups. More on that later.)

We're on track to add a lane in each direction, doubling capacity on SR 900 from Newport Way to just south of Talus Drive. This will make it easier for traffic to get to and from I-90.

The widening project is expected to take about a year and a half to complete. We know a lot of drivers depend on this road to travel through Issaquah, so we are working to limit lane closures and traffic slowdowns.

This month, crews are expanding the bridge over Tibbetts Creek about a half-mile south of Newport Way. We're also building a retaining wall just north of Talus Drive.

Drivers can expect to see flaggers.

A couple times an hour, crews will funnel traffic into one lane at both locations weekdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. while construction trucks and equipment move in and out of the area.

Look for electronic message signs at both ends of the project for current wait time information. Delays are expected to last no more than five to ten minutes at a time.

Crews also will close the southbound right-turn lane to Talus Drive for the next month or so to help create a safer work zone for our orange vested folks.

Our closures have not affected traffic too much. However construction crews from the City of Renton have closed Duvall Avenue NE/Coal Creek Parkway to traffic between Sunset and SE 95th Way for approximately one year as part of the City of Renton’s Coal Creek Widening Project.

A lot of drivers are taking SR 900 as an alternate route to avoid Renton's ripped up roads.

On top of all that, utility and tree service crews within a mile or two of our work zone, near May Valley Road, also are conducting periodic lane closures. This might cause northbound SR 900 traffic slowdowns weekday mornings after 9 a.m.

At the end of the day, Issaquah and the surrounding areas are growing by leaps and bounds and we need to widen our roadways to accommodate this growth by increasing capacity and hopefully speeding up drivers’ commute times.

Besides wider roads for commuters on two legs, in a few weeks we'll make things better for commuting salmon. All this with Salmon Days just around the corner on Oct. 4 and 5.

We'll replace an aging, narrow culvert beneath the roadway at Clay Pit Creek at the south end of the project. In its place, a big, new fish-friendly culvert will be installed. When we say big, we mean BIG. This thing is 47-feet long, 8-feet wide and 6-feet tall, about the size of a semi trailer.

Check back in two weeks for the next slap of the fish tale and the upcoming temporary road closures.

Drivers can find out more about the SR 900 widening project and related lane closures by visiting http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ .

September 22, 2008 - UPDATE - Due to changes in the project construction schedule, The SR 900 crew have postponed their fish culvert replacement at Clay Pit Creek until spring 2009. I'll keep you posted. --Broch