Friday, October 31, 2008

Brief web site outage...

We are moving equipment around late Saturday night, which means the Web site will be down from 11-3 a.m.

Ferries information, the 5-1-1 information line and most of the Web site will be unavailable during this brief outage. This is one of those moves that is kind of like reorganizing the garage. We will be consolidating and organizing network and server equipment to make sure that if an event happens and causes something to go awry we will know exactly where it is to fix it.

If we do have that major event, like the flooding we had last year, we are excited about the opportunity of using tools like this blog, Twitter and Flickr to make sure you will always be informed of what's happening out there on the roadway.

On a seasonal note, the traffic management centers that provide 24 hour pass reporting start up again this Saturday. Here's hoping for a much milder winter than last year. Unfortunately for me, due to an ACL tear this last summer, my ski plans are off for the winter so I won't be paying as much attention to their reporting as usual. But I do find it reassuring that whenever I need the information to travel over I-90 or US 2 they will have it up to date.

For those of you who have mobile devices with internet access we have added pass reports to the mobile traffic site. Just point your mobile device to to get the same information we report on our Web site, after or before Saturday night of course.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Liquid de-icers on your driveway...

We get e-mail questions every day and I’m guessing that the answers include information that you didn’t know either – so we’re going to post some of those e mails and the responses here so you can weigh in.

This October 23rd e-mail from a Leavenworth resident went to North Central Region Communications Director Jeff Adamson in Wenatchee:
(Question) What kinds of liquid de-icers should I buy to use on my private driveway which is connected to Highway 2? The state snowplows leave a build up of snow when they plow and I have had a hard time deciding what to do about getting rid of this accumulation. I would like to know what brand of de-icer to buy that would be safe to use for our environment and still get rid of the snow on my driveway.

(Response) Typically, private citizens don't use commercial liquid anti icers for the same reason that they aren't used in parking lots - most are sticky (because of the anti corrosion agents in them) and make a mess out of carpets (The Bon Marche’ opened a new store in Denver a few years ago and used liquid anti icer in the parking lot and had to replace 50,000 square feet of carpet, the week after their grand opening...)

That being said - you can make your own (not sticky) simply by mixing the crystal de icer you can buy at any hardware store with hot water. I need to point out that we only use liquid as a pre-treatment - not to melt snow that's already there. Liquid is "anti icer" and solids (crystals) are de-icers. Apply the liquid before there's any frost, snow or ice on your driveway and when it comes, the water crystals won't bond to the pavement so when you shovel off the accumulation, your blade gets all the way down to the pavement and your driveway is bare and wet when you're done instead of still covered with a layer of hard packed snow or ice.

Once the snow has started falling and is accumulating on the roadway, we switch to solid (crystal) salt which is wetted with anti corrosive liquid. That accomplishes two things. One- it makes the rock salt stick where we put it, so the next truck through the zone doesn't blow it all onto the shoulder, and second, the wetted salt meets the state standard of 70% less corrosive than untreated rock salt. For residential purposes - you probably don't drive fast enough on your driveway to cause whatever you put on it to create a corrosion issue or a "blow off" issue - so pre wetting your “home” rock salt isn't necessary.

From an environmental standpoint, the amount of salt you are likely to use will be diluted with melted snow to nearly undetectable levels by the time it goes through the stormwater system and gets to the river. That's not to say, due to the topography of your driveway, that you might have a spot in your yard or garden where your driveway run off accumulates, that could produce some yellow spots in your grass next spring.

Finally, using chemicals to melt the snowplow curl at the end of a driveway is not very efficient in that it requires a lot of it. Spokane is in an environmental zone where the city and county are not allowed to use sand because when it dries, it becomes dust and violates air quality standards. Spokane uses liquid as a deicer and uses more of it than the entire rest of the state combined. We apply liquid as a pre treatment at the rate of 15 to 30 gallons per lane mile (depending on type of road surface and temperature). As a deicer, Spokane sometimes applies it at the rate of 100 gallons per lane mile. If you've driven there, you will note that at those levels, applied winter after winter, the practice has caused deterioration of both pavement and curbs on local streets.
I would recommend that you shovel or plow the curl at the end of your driveway instead of trying to chemically melt it (although I would certainly pre-treat that area with a liquid mixture so when the accumulation comes, it's easier to remove.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Drive safely in the mountains

Drive safely in the mountains - 1
Originally uploaded by wsdot.

While we try to communicate the fact that winter arrives a mile high in the mountains earlier than it does in the lowlands – sometimes a personal testimony tells the story in a way we can’t.

I sent out the first e-mail of the season on Sept. 22 to people who are signed up to get the North Cascades Highway winter/spring (close/open) updates. I was advising of overnight snowfall, slush on the road and the expectation for more, and sharing our “key message” – It’s winter in the mountains – be prepared!

The weather since then hadn’t returned to “fall,” until this week when the second “snow” e-mail went out. The second e-mail prompted a response from a member who shared his experience after the first e-mail: How he totaled his new AWD Subaru, despite being: 1) a frequent traveler over the highway; 2) 25-plus years of experience driving in mountain snow; 3) and having read the e-mail update and expecting he might encounter weather.

"It was like nothing I'd ever seen...literally I crested the top of the pass and was in 2" of slush immediately. I braked and the backend fishtailed, got off the brakes and straightened it out and was headed for that 45mph left-hander near Bridge Creek and braked again hoping the ABS would do its job, and it was like being on ball-bearings. The car got sideways, I crossed the oncoming lane and slammed front-end first into an embankment and then started rolling once the tires caught the dirt. Had I hit 25' earlier I would've gone into a vertical rock wall, and 25' later would've t-boned the end of the oncoming guardrail...another 25' after where I stopped rolling would've wrapped me around a stand of trees. I got seriously lucky."

He eventually ended up in the hospital in Brewster where the verdict was no internal injuries, despite some world class seat belt bruises:

"Long story, short - the side curtain airbag probably saved my bacon and the car did very well in the rollover as far as driver protection. However, the lesson learned for me is that those passes can be highly unpredictable and obviously have their own micro-climates. It just pays to be very vigilant at this time of the year. There were flurries on Washington when I drove home at 2 pm yesterday...."

Please drive safely up there.

(Submitted by Jeff Adamson)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

2008 Winter Driving - Don't Break the Egg

I admit to my Western Washington upbringing. We don't get snow very often, but guess what? It doesn't take snow for the road to freeze - and those icy temps are coming very soon, maybe even tonight in your neighborhood. The first rule of snow and ice driving? Slow down. And then slow down again.

As luck would have it, my first year as a driver we had snow and lots of frozen roads. And mine was the only car in the family with even front-wheel drive. Mostly, my parents got the car. But, I will never forget that Tuesday night trip to a basketball game at Tiger Gymnasium (or as we call it - Ron's House) with my Dad riding shotgun. It was time for my first snow and ice-driving lesson. Growing up in Colorado, Dad had some experience. "Pretend there's an egg under the pedals," he said. "Don't push too hard on the gas or the brake...or you'll break the egg." That's great advice, as most experts will say either accelerating too much or braking too much is a reason drivers lose control on icy roads. (My Dad also let me spin out in the parking lot a few times just in case I didn't quite believe him.)

I am sure many of you have similar tips for those who just aren't used to driving on ice and snow. We've put together our annual Winter Driving Website and are very thankful that Les Schwab tires helps us distribute our Winter Driving brochure. The brochure should be arriving in the next 5-10 days at your local Les Schwab. You can also download a copy to talk to your kids, spouse, friends or anyone else you think may need a refresher. If you need some hard copies, send me a note and I'll get them to you.

And for those of you with four-wheel or all-wheel drive, please take a few moments to read it also. My parents sent me off to WSU with an old Jeep Cherokee. But, when that first snow hit, in the mailbox came an article Mom cut out from Parade magazine (God bless her) on how to operate that four-wheel drive.

Driving on icy roads is different so be ready. Don't get overconfident. Even the most expensive four-wheel drive SUV is only as good as its driver. And speaking of expensive...ever been in an accident? Those costs add up quick..and then go up again...and again.

What's your best winter driving tip? Leave it in the comments below. Oh, and thanks Mom and Dad.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How do you want the information?

With freezing levels and snow falling in the passes we are doing our best to prepare ourselves and the Web site for the winter season. We have made changes which should allow the site to handle more visitors and withstand the heavier usage that always comes when the weather goes south. What else can we do? This is the question I ask myself.

We offer RSS feeds as a way to keep up on news and the latest pass reports without having to visit the Web site to see what's new. We also have a Twitter account which allows us to publish quick updates to our followers which can be instantly sent to a mobile phone if you choose. We have been kicking around the idea of publishing the Seattle Area Incidents to Twitter - is there value in this for you?

We want to be able to provide you with the information you are looking for in the most efficient way possible so you can make informed decisions. Does this mean custom Google Gadgets for your iGoogle page? Is it an application you can add to your Facebook account? Facebook and other Social networking Web sites can be powerful forms of communication.

So I ask you, when you come to our site what are you looking for? Are there other ways we can provide you with that information?

Let me know.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I did it, I took the bus...

I did it. I took the bus. Wasn't as easy as I thought. I read the schedule wrong and luckily another bus rider pointed me to the right stop so I didn't take as direct a route as I wanted but I still got to work.

I kept talking about it, about how much in gas money it would save me, about how much better I would feel about the amount of emissions I am putting into the environment. I finally did it this morning, and you know what, it feels really good! Now that I have taken this first step, I plan to do this much more often.

But what about you? Each of us get to work somehow, and unfortunately many of us via a car. But what drives you to get into that car every day? If you know you are contributing to congestion, you know the price of gas is burning a hole in your wallet and you know that you are contributing to pollution, why get in that car?

What if you could reinvent your commute. What would it look like?