Monday, December 21, 2009

Remember December 2008? Did you go out in the snow and ice?

Headline from WSDOT's Web site Dec. 25, 2008: "Don we now our rain apparel? Warmer temperatures are welcome gifts to Washington drivers"

On the west side, we were just warming up from the most recent winter storm. Over the mountains and into Eastern Washington you could still find some spots of ice and snow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tools for navigating the mountain passes this winter

We watch mountain passes closely this time of year as the weather can make getting across the state more than a little challenging. We are constantly working to develop tools to help travelers make their journeys as safely as possible, but not everyone is aware of all of the tools in our toolbox. Here is a run-down of what we have to offer to help making crossing the passes a little easier.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cold weather's a drag...

4 p.m. update: Travel times are back on and some cameras are now going dark.

Unfortunately we are learning that this cold weather is affecting our fiber communication system in the Puget Sound area. Basically the pipes that help us provide travel times on VMS signs (those big black signs above and to the side of the freeway).

We have our crews out there working on them, and will be doing our best to provide workarounds until we can get the strands of fiber fixed and thank you in advance for your patience as we get these tools working again.

Thanks again for your patience, it sure has been cold outside :).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Amtrak Cascades renovations - Thanks for the feedback

By Guest blogger Vickie Sheehan

Thank you for sharing your comments, suggestions, and feedback on the proposed renovation of the Amtrak Cascades Bistro car. We received many insightful comments that we will take into consideration as we move forward in the design process. We really appreciate your time and interest in this project.

While reading through the comments, there seems to be some confusion on a few issues we'd like to clarify:
  • Wi-Fi will be installed and available throughout all trains. It will not be limited to just the Bistro car.
  • Both the Bistro and Lounge cars will be renovated. At this time we do not have a proposed design for the Lounge car.
  • The proposed design shown is an artist's rendering that has not been finalized. The Bistro design will continue to address passenger concerns with the current layout and how best to serve them more quickly and efficiently while retaining the Northwest styling unique to Amtrak Cascades.
  • We are working to develop the best solution for the location of Amtrak Conductors that would allow them to be easily accessible to the passengers (both Business and Coach), be the most effective in their critical on-board responsibilities, and have the best opportunity for communication with all on-board staff.
Thanks again for your comments. You can keep up to date on the progress of the Amtrak Cascades Trainsets Overhaul project through the project page. And to find out more about what WSDOT is doing to improve the Amtrak Cascades service including track upgrades, improved on-time reliability, reduced rail congestion, and enhanced service, visit our ARRA High Speed Passenger Rail Web page.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Amtrak Cascades renovations - first look

by guest blogger Vickie Sheehan

We are working with Amtrak to get ready to begin the next phase of renovations to the Amtrak Cascades train fleet. First up is the complete renovation of the Bistro and Lounge cars, in addition to adding Wi-Fi (yay!) and upgrading the video system. The renovation will begin shortly after the conclusion of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C. this March.  We have a concept drawing of the renovated Bistro car ready and want you all to take a look and let us know what you think!

Here is the current Bistro car:

Here is the proposed redesign:

Leave us your comments and any suggestions you have on what improvements you would like to see on the Amtrak Cascades trains below or send us an email.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Travel Smart Quiz

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Got the shopping done, china and silver dusted off? Whew, those preparations are done - now it's time to prepare for travel. We will be working all weekend, but need your help. Test your holiday travel smarts with our Thanksgiving Travel Smart Quiz. With these tips (and others on our Web site) you can get where you need to be this holiday weekend, whether you are taking a ferry, crossing the border, or just loading the car with the kids to see grandma. Just remember to Know Before You Go, and travel safely!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Photo Friday: The New Stanwood Station Edition

In April 2009 we began building a new train station on the northeast corner of 271st Street NW and 84th Avenue NW in Stanwood. The station will give residents of the Stanwood-Camano Island area access to Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger trains that travel between Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, BC, and ten intermediate communities.  The last time passenger trains stopped in Stanwood was over 35 years ago.

Don't you just love old photos? This is a great one. It's the old Stanwood station in the 1960's.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Point Defiance Rail Bypass project

By Guest Blogger Kevin Jeffers – Rail Engineering Manager

The Pt. Defiance Bypass project is a capital rail project that will reroute passenger trains that currently operate on the BNSF Railway main line near Pt. Defiance and along southern Puget Sound to an existing rail line that runs along the west side of I-5 through south Tacoma, Lakewood, and DuPont. Part of the bypass route is the same route that Sound Transit will use to extend Sounder commuter rail to Lakewood.

At a Lakewood City Council meeting on November 9, WSDOT staff from the State Rail and Marine office gave a presentation on the Pt. Defiance Bypass project. During the presentation, several videos were shown on traffic simulations for Bridgeport Way, Thorne Lane, and Berkeley Ave. There were also videos showing a comparison of train speeds between freight and passenger trains and a video demonstrating wayside horns.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deer: a seasonal driving hazard

November means it's the time of year where we start focusing a lot on preparing drivers for weather-related hazards. Studded tires are always a hot topic, the closing of mountain passes garners a lot of attention, as does the general anticipation /speculation of what this year's winter weather will bring. But we often overlook the fact that deer are a seasonal driving hazard as well. November is prime time for road kill—deer in particular. We remove approximately 3,000 deer carcasses from state highways every year with most vehicle collisions involving deer happening during the months of October- January.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Help us do what we do better - communicate with you.

What gets measured gets managed. It is a philosophy I have heard repeated countless times at the Washington State Department of Transportation. People here take the idea of accountability and transparency very seriously. Our quarterly Grey Notebook regularly tops 100 pages or more, jammed full of data and information about our agency’s performance.

As the WSDOT communication director, it is my job to see whether we are meeting the public’s expectations for quality two-way communication. We have many anecdotal examples of how we have met your expectations, and a few examples of how we have not. We now hope to build a qualitative baseline of public opinions about our communication and public involvement efforts. Do you think we do a good job reaching out the public? Are we listening well to what you are saying? Of course, you can post your thoughts here. But we ask that you take a few minutes to fill out our online survey.

Our mission is to keep people and business moving by operating and improving the state’s transportation systems vital to our taxpayers and communities. We take this mission seriously. We would like to know your opinion about how we are doing. Your feedback will help us learn more about how we can improve our performance. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking for some property at a great price?

Remember back in August when we had all of those cabins up for auction near Mt Baker?  We had a lot of buzz around those little structures which garnered quite a turnout. We had another auction recently that seemed to fly a little under the radar as we have quite a few properties still up for grab.  This one pictured on the left is in Skagit county.  It's a 2 bedroom, 1 bath with a couple of detached outbuildings on 1.35 acres...and it's available on a first-come, first serve basis at the minimum bid price!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Photo Friday: The Random Sampling Edition

Poor neglected Photo's been a while hasn't it? Let's kick things off with this stunning beauty:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Safety tips for Halloween (and the dark nights ahead)

Halloween is Saturday, are you dressing up? Going to a party? Taking the kids around trick-or-treating? Or are you one of those people who turns off the porch light, closes the drapes and eats all the candy yourself? Whether you are spending your All Hallow's Eve in a hot itchy costume, or on the couch with a bag of Reese's Mini Peanut Butter Cups, it will most likely be dark by the time you get around doing whatever it is you have planned.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Earthquake simulation highlights the vulnerabilities of the Alaskan Way Viaduct

By guest blogger Ron Paananen

The double-deck Alaskan Way Viaduct, a fixture on Seattle’s downtown waterfront for more than five decades, was already showing signs of wear and tear when the last major earthquake struck in 2001. That 6.8 magnitude seismic event further weakened the structure by damaging its joints and columns and causing sections to settle into the loose fill soil in which it was built.

In the years since, crews have kept a close eye on the viaduct through quarterly inspections and have strengthened several columns to prevent further damage to the structure, but the threat of another earthquake was always present. During this time new soil data and a better understanding of local and regional seismic behavior clarified exactly how vulnerable the viaduct is to another earthquake. In 2007 we released a report that concluded there is a higher chance – specifically, a one in 10 chance in the next 10 years – of an earthquake occurring that could cause portions of the viaduct and adjacent seawall to collapse. The vulnerability analysis is available on our Web site.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hi. My name is Traffic Team. I’m here to help.

If you had told me five years ago that I would be able to find a government agency that would promptly and accurately answer just about any question I was able to throw at them, I probably would have checked to make sure you were still taking your medication.

Today, it’s no hallucination. There is such an agency. It’s WSDOT and their Ask the Traffic Team page.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

National Teen Driver Safety week

My first car was a 1971 lemon yellow Volkswagen Beetle with a Baja kit. It had gigantic tires and a teeny little Aftermarket steering wheel (wisely replaced by my father).  I would always get a circular soot mark on my jeans from one of the two chrome exhaust pipes while scraping the rear windshield on chilly Wyoming mornings. But my favorite thing to do was making it LOUDLY backfire by holding down the clutch as I coasted downhill on my way home from school.

That car was was my first love.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How high-tech tools can improve commutes

By guest blogger Noel Brady

George Jetson would be jealous. Sure, he flew to work in a domed commuter pod, but could his skyway tell him where the congestion was before he was stuck in it? I think not. But that’s exactly what we’re working on for some of the busiest highways in the Seattle area.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Massive landslide closes SR 410 near Naches

By guest bloggers Joe Irwin and Megan Pembroke

Drivers who use SR 410 near Naches are facing a traffic nightmare after a massive Oct. 11 landslide blocked a half-mile section of the roadway. The slide was powerful enough to demolish the highway and carry tons of dirt, pavement, and debris into the Naches River, shifting it off course. That new course took it right over the Nile Loop Road on the other side of the river, cutting off another access point for local residents.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Let's take the train!

Amtrak Cascades train en route to Seattle
Today we are are officially celebrating the addition of a second, direct round-trip Amtrak Cascades service between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, B.C at King Street Station with Governor Gregoire and the British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell. Since the second began on August 19, ridership is averaging 60 riders per day and growing, which is pretty exciting. So in honor of today's event, our photos are all about Amtrak Cascades.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How to prepare your car for winter

We are a week into October  and the weather has been mostly mild, which is a perfect time to get prepared for what winter will bring us.  I keep hearing opinions that El Niño will give us a milder winter, but just in case we have a repeat of last year's Snowpocalypse, take the time now to prepare your car for winter. Don't be left scrambling at the last minute when The Weather Event of Aught Nine hits and the stores are sold out of everything you need.

Note to self: Buy snow shovel...Just in case.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

And…Action! Take a look at our new low-light traffic cameras over I-90 Snoqualmie Pass

Night view of road conditions
By guest blogger Amanda Sullivan, I-90 Communications

Have you ever needed to travel over I-90 Snoqualmie Pass at night and tried to pull up WSDOT’s mountain pass traffic cameras only to see a pitch black image with the occasional car headlight?

Well, not anymore. WSDOT just completed installing eight new low-light traffic cameras on I-90 west of Snoqualmie Summit to Cle Elum. The new traffic cameras have infrared illuminators that provide around-the-clock views of highway conditions – even during a midnight snow storm!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Our new Web site redesign

New WSDOT webpage redesign
Our website is getting a clean new look just in time for the annual increase in Internet traffic caused by our changing weather. Today at 10 a.m. most of the pages on our site will automatically be converted to the new look.

The WSDOT Website remains the most popular government site in Washington, averaging more than 1.2 million page views each day during the busy winter weather season.

The average number of people visiting WSDOT Web pages fluctuates with the seasons. On an average summer day, 35,000 users visit the site. In the winter, that average increases all the way up to 70,000 users, we have seen the user count go as high as 300,000 on a "snow day."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Check out Central Washington State fair on WSDOT’s Webcam

WSDOT's booth at the Central Washington State Fair
By guest blogger Meagan McFadden

It’s that time of year when the smell of corn dogs, elephant ears, and cotton candy fills the Yakima Valley. It must be time for the Central Washington State Fair. This year if you go to the fair in Yakima, which starts on Friday, (Sept. 25 through Oct. 4) you may be caught on candid camera because WSDOT in South Central Region (SCR) has a new addition to our outside fair booth – a Webcam!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Photo Friday: I-90 Lake Easton Vicinity to Bullfrog Road Interchange Westbound Concrete Replacement project

cracked pavement
Deteriorating Concrete Pavement. We have several miles of this stuff in the right lane of westbound I-90.  Since July we have been working at night to minimize traffic impacts due to heavy summer traffic, but now that summer is almost officially over (where did the time go?) traffic has subsided and now we are working both day and night. Which means it’s serious crunch time because we want to get this work done before the first winter storm. For the safety of motorists and construction crews, we have restricted traffic to one lane in each direction during the weekdays, but on weekends, three lanes – two in the peak travel direction - are open to accommodate heavier traffic volumes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Boring Machine

WSDOT takes another step in designing and building the SR 99 bored tunnel project.

By guest blogger Eric Balliet

As the proposed replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the SR 99 bored tunnel promises to be a challenging undertaking. It would be one of the largest diameter bored tunnels in the world, with an outside diameter of approximately 54 feet. At almost two miles long, it would also be one of the longest highway tunnels in the United States.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Photo Friday: WSDOT Labor

avalanche control
In honor of Labor day I wanted to showcase just of few of the many workers who toil in less than idyllic conditions to make sure our lives run a bit more smoothly. Your hard work is very much appreciated.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Labor Day - Remember the Workers

by Dustin Terpening
I don’t know about you, but when Labor Day weekend approaches, I can’t help but feel a little sad that summer is coming to an end. The saving grace for me is that we at least had a really nice summer this year. Though, I have to admit, I’m getting a little excited about fall in the Pacific Northwest and all that it has to offer – leaves changing colors, spiced ciders, football, etc.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Washington Jobs Now - ARRA: Restoring jobs, self-worth

WSDOT worker Erik Buholm
When work dried up, life went on. A wife battled cancer, a child was conceived, an aging relative required care – and strong men did their best to hold things together, despite being jobless and, at times, hopeless.

“You shouldn’t feel like less of a man, but you do,” said Erik Buholm, (above) a 35-year-old Lacey man with a wife, a 3-year-old daughter and a baby on the way. Buholm has been out of work for nearly a year. That is, until now.

Read the full article.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Photo Friday: Bridge Fires and Beauty Queens

Lightning sparked a brush fire that consumed the old timber bridge that crosses Dry Creek on State Route 241 in Yakima County. Don't worry! It's out. More photos from this set can be found here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I-405 closure in Renton: Prepare yourself

Tomorrow night at around 9 p.m. we will be closing the carpool lane on southbound I-405, which will have the potential to wreak havoc on traffic over the weekend. I would just stay home, but that's not necessarily feasible for a lot of people - plus, there are Mariners and Sounders games to go to! We are really trying to get the word out and let people know that the HOV lane closures this weekend have the potential to affect not only I-405, but SR 167 and SR 181 as well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Repaving AND recycling... at the same time

You’ve probably heard of recycled paper, recycled glass or recycled plastic, but we’re wiling to bet that you’ve never heard (or thought) about recycled asphalt.

Photo Friday: Amazing WSDOT Images of the Week

Here is a sampling of some the best photos uploaded this week to flickr.

Workers moving 200lb blocks of Geofoam into place as fill material for the east and west approaches of the Royal Brougham Way Bridge. Check out more photos and information on the project. Geofoam is pretty cool stuff. We'll talk about it a little bit more next week.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Five bucks for a ski cabin?

by guest blogger Mike Murphy

On Wednesday we held an auction for more than two dozen cabins on property we recently purchased for a bridge project near Mount Baker. Some of the cabins went for as little as five or 10 dollars. But here’s the catch: the buyers must move the cabins from the state-owned land by the end of September. One house mover told me that could cost between $5000 and $7000 for the smaller cabins. The buyers also had to pay a refundable bond of at least $5000 to ensure they actually followed through.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A second Amtrak Cascades train starts today.

Portland and Vancouver, B.C. are now directly connected by the addition of a second Amtrak Cascades train. We have been working for over a year to get this new train on the rails. Amtrak typically needs 90 days to start up service, so getting the second round trip train to Vancouver, B.C. going within 45 days is a major accomplishment and incredibly exciting.

Previously, riders going up to Vancouver, B.C. had to deal with both a layover in Seattle and a train change. Not only is this new train is going to be a lot more schedule friendly for travelers along the corridor, it will be a fantastic transportation alternative for the 2010 Olympics. Not having to hassle with parking is going to be glorious (getting tickets to events, however, is another problem).

Bicyclists take note: bike racks are back! The Talgo trains with bike racks are back in service after having their interiors refurbished. Starting last summer we were substituting the Talgo trains with Amtrak Superliners. These trains did not have bike racks, which made bringing a bike along a complete hassle. So: bike racks, new interiors and a direct route to Vancouver - I see a weekend get away coming. Don't forget to double-check the items you will need for crossing the border.

Do you take the train? What was your experience like?
 Will this new service change how you think about traveling? Let me know!

Monday, August 10, 2009

New simulations showcase proposed Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement

Trying to convey the changes that will result from a large transportation project is a challenge. For smaller projects – repaving a road, adding a roundabout – it’s easy for people to picture what the end result will be. For a project like the SR 99 bored tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, it’s a little more complicated.

Not only does the proposed replacement include an almost two-mile-long bored tunnel beneath downtown, we also plan to rebuild the surface street along the waterfront. People ask – What will the tunnel look like? How will I be able to access it? How will the new waterfront street be different than what exists today? Well, we now have some new tools to help provide answers.

The program team has posted two simulations to YouTube. The first video shows the current design concept for the proposed SR 99 bored tunnel. The drive-through starts at the tunnel’s south portal, which is near the stadium district and the Port of Seattle’s terminals, and takes you to the exit in the north, onto Aurora Avenue N. Along the way, you can see the ramps at either end of the tunnel that will allow drivers to access the downtown street grid from SR 99, as well as the new street connections that will be built over the tunnel’s portals.

Once the tunnel is built and the viaduct is removed from the waterfront, what will go in its place? The answer is in the second video. We plan to build a new Alaskan Way boulevard in the footprint of the current viaduct. The new road will connect to Elliott and Western avenues, which is important for those traveling to the northwest section of the city, and will provide access to downtown and SR 99. Removal of the viaduct will allow creation of new public open space on the waterfront.

You can visit the Alaskan Way Viaduct program Web site at to learn more about these and other improvements that are part of the viaduct’s replacement.

Bored Tunnel


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's that noise?

When John from the Ravenna neighborhood e-mails me at 2 a.m. saying pavement grinding work on I-5 in Seattle sounds like “airplanes landing in [his] neighbor’s backyard,” I decide to check out the noise myself. I don’t see any crash-landing Boeing jets, but it sure does sound like it.

To get a good idea of how loud it is, listen to this video with your headphones on. I shot this video at midnight 200 feet from I-5 near John’s house at NE 72nd Street.

Pavement grinding is that loud.

No question about it, grinding down 40 years worth of battered, rutted concrete is noisy. However every night our grinders are out there making noise, our highway is getting safer for drivers. The stacked, circular, diamond blades create a textured, corduroy pattern that improves traction for drivers and helps keep standing water off the road, preventing collisions.

During the past few months folks like John have put up with a lot of construction noise on I-5.

The noise started back in February with screeching concrete saws ripping out crumbling concrete panels in the snow (photo, right).

In the springtime residents endured pavement grinders grinding out rutted concrete 24 hours a day all weekend long.

Neighbors enjoyed a reprieve in early summer while crews working for WSDOT shifted their schedule to finish another WSDOT pavement grinding job in the eastern part of the state.

From the sound of things, the crews are back in town. We are grinding down portions of I-5 in both directions from just south of the Ship Canal Bridge to NE 145th Street in Shoreline. We're running at least three grinding machines at the same time to complete the project as fast as possible. Depending on where you live we will finish up the grinding by the fall, a month or so later than we had earlier thought.

Most of the folks I’ve chatted with about the project understand the work needs to get done. They want to know when we will be working near their home and what they can do to block out the loud noise robbing them of sleep at night.

I-5 neighbors can check the site to see where grinders will be working that week. It takes one of our grinders about 10 minutes to grind 60 feet of concrete four feet wide*. The average property lot along I-5 is between 50 and 60 feet wide. This means that if the grinders are working directly near your home, you will hear the noise ramp up and then ease off over a period of about an hour as the grinders move down the highway and away from your area.

I empathize with neighbors and will personally mail free earplugs to anyone who requests them. These earplugs are the same type of ear protection our pavement grinding crews use so there is a good chance they will block out more noise than average earplugs you may find at the corner store.

Finally, I want to thank all those living along the freeway for your patience and understanding while we smooth out nearly 20 miles of wheel ruts, cracks and uneven pavement.

When the work is finished everyone who drives this stretch of road will breathe a sigh of relief from a smoother ride, improved traction and a safer highway.

*Each lane is 12 feet wide, we will grind across all lanes of I-5. The 12-foot lanes require crews to make several passes in order to grind the whole width of each lane. The process is similar to mowing a lawn row after row, only this “lawn” is 72 feet wide and six miles long – in both directions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mudslide blocks SR 20

Mudslide blocks SR 20
Originally uploaded by Washington State Dept of Transportation.

On July 29th a mudslide west of Rainy Pass closed SR 20 in both directions at the east- and west-side closure gates. They had about 300 yards of mud and debris in a 10-foot-deep swath across the highway to remove, and needed to ensure the slope is stable before they reopened the road.

Where is Rainy Pass? cades/map.htm.

The gates were closed on the west side just east of Diablo (milepost 134) and 14 miles west Mazama (milepost 171) on the east side. The gates were manned overnight to make sure anyone camping or hiking in between the gates could get out.

The slide was reported about 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, and responding crews began bringing in equipment and working last night. They stopped at dusk because it was too dangerous to work in the area in the dark. Crews were back early this morning. How quickly they can safely remove the debris and ensure that the slope is stabilized will determine when the highway reopens.

This area (nearly a mile high) had been hit with fast moving thunder, lightning, rain and hail storm cells all week. The slide was triggered by a thunderhead that passed through Wednesday afternoon which went on to start some 20 fires from there to Loup Loup Pass, 60 miles further east.

The road was reopened on July 30 at 3:15 p.m.

You can also check the North Cascades Web page for more information -

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Working in the heat

When it comes to the weather, sometimes we just can’t win.

During the winter, it’s hard to get much road work done because it’s either too wet, too cold or both. And if you look back at our winter blog posts, we were waiting impatiently for the warm, dry summer weather.

Well, it’s summer. And, depending on the day, it’s either been warm and dry or painfully hot and humid. This week has been mostly the latter. For the most part, we’d rather be working in this weather. But the heat and humidity come with their own set of challenges for our crews.

The most obvious challenge for crews is simply working outside for eight to 10 hours every day on the hot pavement. If it’s 90 degrees outside, it feels even hotter for crews standing on a road that’s just soaking up the heat. And for paving crews…well, you can imagine how scorching that must be.

Needless to say, keeping hydrated is key for everyone. Crews are drinking tons of water before they start their day, during the heat of the day and after they’ve finished work. And everyone stays on high alert for signs of heat exhaustion: disorientation, profuse sweating, nausea or dizziness.

Another less-apparent challenge for crews is compensating for the effect the heat and humidity have on asphalt and concrete. We know what you might be thinking: Aren’t you always worried about bad weather? Isn’t this hot weather a good thing? Yes … and no.

When we pave with asphalt, that asphalt goes down at 300 degrees. And at that temperature, it’s a lot like cookie dough when it gets taken out of the oven: soft and gooey. Naturally, we have to wait until it cools down before we can let traffic drive on it. That’s where the heat and humidity come into play.

When we put down hundreds of tons of 300-degree asphalt, it’s a very concentrated mass of heat. Consequently, it takes a long time for that heat to dissipate and the asphalt to reach a temperature suitable for traffic – 150 degrees or cooler. When the surrounding air is 80 or 90 degrees, it’s much harder for that heat to dissipate. Add in the humidity, which makes the ambient air temperature feel even warmer, and the asphalt will take even longer to cool.

Concrete has exactly the opposite problem: It cures too quickly in the heat. Unlike asphalt, concrete needs humidity to cool and cure properly. When it’s too hot out, water evaporates out of the concrete too quickly and can lead to cracking. Typically, crews blanket the fresh concrete with visqueen (they look like giant white tarps) to help trap the moisture. When it’s extra hot, crews have to work at warp speed to cover up the concrete before it gets too hot. They’ll also layer burlap rags soaked in water atop the fresh concrete and then cover it with visqueen to trap even more moisture.

So while we may have to do a little bit of extra planning when it’s this hot out, we’re taking advantage of the summer weather to get as much work done as possible.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Yes, you can shrink-wrap an entire bridge

No, we’re not kidding. We’re shrink-wrapping an entire bridge on SR 542 (Mount Baker Highway) in Whatcom County. It looks a bit like a giant Twinkie.

Before you start thinking that we’ve lost our minds, there’s method to the madness. Crews will spend three months cleaning, repairing and repainting the Nooksack River bridge on Mount Baker Highway just west of the town of Glacier. Built in 1931, the bridge gets repaired and repainted every 15 to 20 years.

The giant sheets of shrink wrap swaddling the bridge help keep any debris from falling into the river and keep crews on schedule, regardless of the weather. Plus, it looks really cool. This is the first time we’ve used the industrial-strength shrink-wrap method as a way to contain debris.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wrapping up two years of construction on SR 20 near Burlington

Crews are wrapping up two years of work between SR 536 (Memorial Highway) and the SR 20/ I-5 interchange in Burlington. Last week, local officials and electeds celebrated completion of construction on the project, while crews continued completing minor tasks throughout the project zone.

Cutting the ribbon

The week of July 20, crews began removing barrels on the last two lanes of the widened highway. A new signal at Pulver Road is yet to be turned on. That is expected to happen in about a week.

The majority of crews will begin packing up their gear and heading to their next job, or maybe some well-deserved time off. Some workers will remain to complete minor “punch list” items for the next month or so. Crews are completing the project almost two months ahead of schedule.

WSDOT’s $118-million project, funded by the 2003 gas tax package, widened a five-mile stretch of SR 20 between SR 536 and the I-5 interchange and transformed the congested two-lane highway with a history of collisions into a wider, safer four-lane highway.

KING 5 TV films paving on SR 20 in Burlington

The project completes a vision that started more than 30 years ago. The stretch of SR 20 from Anacortes to Memorial Highway (SR 536) was widened in the 1960s and 70s.

Crews began in spring 2007, working to widen and improve the highway near its intersection with SR 536. Opening the new I-5 on- and off-ramps in June was the last major milestone for crews.

SR 20, I-5 on- and off-ramps - 48

SR 20 to the west of I-5 serves several communities including Anacortes and its ferry terminal, the main transportation access to the San Juan Islands. SR 20 provides the only road-based access to Whidbey Island. Along the route are many smaller communities and important tourist, agricultural and business interests, such as the March Point refineries, Whidbey Naval Air Station and Deception Pass State Park. On an average day, more than 22,000 vehicles use the highway.

During construction, crews:

- Widened the highway from two lanes to four, with two lanes in each direction from SR 536 at Fredonia to the I-5 interchange (ten lane-miles).
- Installed a new signal at Higgins Airport Way.
- Divided 2.5 miles of the east- and westbound lanes with a 32-foot median and cable median barrier (from SR 536 to Pulver Road).
- Improved the on-ramps and exits at the I-5/SR 20 interchange.
- Permanently closed access to and from SR 20 at the intersection with Peterson Road and Goldenrod Road in Burlington.
- Built new roads to join Peterson Road and Nevitt Road to SR 20.
- Installed a new signal at the SR 20 intersection with Pulver Road in Burlington.

Between 2001 and 2006, there were 384 collisions on SR 20 between SR 536 and I-5 that involved almost 800 vehicles and resulted in eight fatalities.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Final journey for massive bridge joints

Photo of I-90 bridge joint inspection
Posted for Jeff Switzer

To be honest, I'm feeling a little jealous of the two new expansion joints bound for the I-90 floating bridge. They've already seen more of the world this year than I will!

They were created in Ohio, painted in Pittsburgh and assembled back in Ohio using special Teflon bearings made in Turkey. They were hauled thousands of miles across the U.S. to the Seattle waterfront where they waited until the big moment.

Friday marked the final journey for the joints (pdf 720 KB), each weighing 65 tons and measuring 65 feet long. The two joints got a pretty sweet tour of Seattle before going to work on the I-90 floating bridge. It was no Argosy Cruise past Bill Gates' house, but there's no stopping the barge Los Angeles, tended by the tugboats Crown II and Redwood City. Instead of the longer-than-advertised three-hour tour on Gilligan's Island, the trip was expected to be a more dependable six hours from the Seattle waterfront to the I-90 floating bridge.

Along the way, the joints followed the Duwamish and gave tourists an eyeful as they climbed through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks to Lake Washington. News helicopters planned to film the trip from high above the city streets. Drawbridges across Seattle saluted as the barge and joints passed beneath at a 4 mph walker's pace.

Like putting a heavy box of holiday decorations away on a top shelf, it’s no easy feat to lift the giant joints from Lake Washington onto the I-90 floating bridge. It takes a massive barge 250 feet long and 75 feet wide to haul the joints and a seven-story-tall behemoth of a crane to the I-90 work zone.

The crane stretched its even longer 173-foot boom to deliver the joints to crews on the bridge. After hours of maneuvering, the joints sit in a cradle of rebar and are locked into place with tons of concrete.

These stronger, thicker joints allow the floating bridge to flex with the wind and water and span the westbound lanes of the I-90 floating bridge and the bicycle pedestrian path. They replace their lesser cousins that began cracking soon after they were installed 20 years ago.

It's a complicated choreography for construction. At the same time, drivers face their own two-step as they slog through the construction bottleneck we put in the I-90 freeway to get 70,000 daily drivers around the work zone.

In about a week, we'll all start pummeling the new joints daily. The road reopens by July 20, and for the next 50 or more years the joints will signal their presence to millions of everyday drivers with the familiar “vrrrp – vrrrp” as they drive across Lake Washington to Seattle.

It took months to create these special 65-foot-long joints for this special bridge. Pieces were bolted, welded and connected with strong rubber gaskets meant to last. Despite their long journey from the Midwest, they never traveled I-90. Instead, tractor trailers opted for I-70 and I-75 out of Ohio, I-80 from Cheyenne to Utah, and later I-5 from Vancouver.

And when the autumn winds pick up, storms again will paint whitecaps across the lake. The joints will flex with every powerful surge, but keep the bridge deck connected to Seattle and Mercer Island, and traffic will continue to flow safely. Whenever I drive my kids across the bridge, I'll tell them, "did you know what it took to get these joints into place? Let me tell you ..."

For updated travel information during I-90 construction, go to

Scheduled Web site outage

We have site maintenance tonight from 11:30 p.m. and scheduled to end at 5:30 a.m. on July 11, 2009.

Ferries and most of the Web site will be unavailable during this outage, however, the 5-1-1 information line will still be available. We will have one page in place which has links to our external sites, like this blog, Twitter and our Flickr account available but that is about it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Know before you go to avoid "Are we there yet?"

I have to give some "props" to a reporter at The Seattle Times. He’s working on a story about our Fourth of July travel information and wanted to give the story a bit more depth. So he asked me what I would do if I had a child and we were going to be stuck in traffic.

Well, yes, I do have a little one to entertain. We have our hand-held video games and portable DVD player. Technology today – spoiled kids! Okay, so Transformers was good the first three times, but I really really don’t want to watch it again.

I think back to my own childhood and car trip games like I Spy, the license plate game (oh! oh! I see Hawaii) and find letters on the highway signs (yeah – Z is tough). No video games but we had fun. Don’t forget those “old school” games are still great ways to teach the kids.

Today, with that Internet thingy, we can even get some great information that’s fun and educational about what they will be seeing outside the car window.

Going over Snoqualmie Pass? On our I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Web page, you can find an award-winning activity book about the wildlife that call Central Washington home.

And you can visit Washington’s tourism site Experience Washington to get information on lots of spots your may be just driving through.

Any other ideas for your fellow travelers? Come on teachers…this is your chance to help us clueless parents and make those “what I did on my summer vacation” reports more interesting.

Hey, great idea Armando…hope your story helps keep those kids busy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Plowing snow in July to open the road to Artist Point

It's that time of year again: Time to start clearing the mile-high path to scenic Artist Point.

(Crews clearing snow in 2008.)
SR 542 Clearing Mount Baker Highway

July is usually one of our nicest months of the year in Washington. So it's always weird to me when we're clearing snow from the highway this late in the year.

The short 2.7-mile-long stretch of road to Artist Point at the end of SR 542, Mount Baker Highway, sits above the Mount Baker ski area. It spends most of the year buried in snow and is only open two to three months of the year. Artist Point draws a great multitude of visitors every year because of its iconic views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and surrounding peaks and wilderness.

Crews will start plowing through the snow on Monday, July 6. The work will take up to three weeks to complete. We will hopefully have the road open by late-July.

The June heat-wave helped melt a significant amount of snow for us. As a result, there’s very little snow at the lower gate, near the upper ski lodge. There’s approximately 4 feet of snow at Terminal Lake parking lot. We should have the lower gate moved and the road open to Terminal Lake within the first day or two of work. After that, the snow gets deeper and the work gets harder. We don’t know yet how much snow is at the top. We haven’t been up there to see it.

Artist Point enthusiasts can follow our progress with pictures, videos and a GPS tracking device from the Artist Point Web site -

Every year we field questions and comments from business owners, locals and tourists wanting to know when the road will open and why it hasn't opened already. Here is a bulleted list of what we usually respond with:

  • We have to coordinate our work with the US Forest Service because they own and operate the lands and trails surrounding the highway. We coordinate our efforts with them, making sure they're ready to open as well.
  • We either borrow equipment from other areas of the state or rent equipment to help with the snow removal. If we're borrowing, then we have to wait for the equipment to get freed up for our use. If we're renting, then we want to rent it at the optimal time so that we don't have to pay when we're not using it (e.g., over a holiday weekend).
  • The road to Artist Point is nearly a mile above sea level. Since it's so high, it's subject to inclement weather (and snow) far later into the season than lower elevation areas. And, since the road is bombarded with nasty weather, it's void of many of your typical safety features, like guardrail, to protect drivers. They just wouldn't last long enough to make it worth it. We have to make sure the road is safe to open to drivers and that weather/snow threats have subsided before opening.
  • We have to schedule around other projects crews are doing.
  • Then there's a little thing called the budget that we have to stick to as well.
For the last six years the road has opened in late June or some time in July. We opened the road to Artist Point last year on July 18, 10 days earlier than we did in 2007, and 9 days earlier than we did in 2006. The road opened on June 29 in 2005 and June 30 in 2004. And the road opened on July 15 in 2003. Here's the history, if you'd like to see for yourself -

Last year's pictures and videos of the opening can be found on our Flickr account - They’re pretty spectacular.

SR 542 Mount Shuksan in View

For those of you who can't wait to get up to Artist Point before the road is open, we ask that you please be mindful of our crews and the equipment. It's a difficult enough task to clear the snow from the highway without having to worry about visitors getting too close to the work. For your safety and our peace of mind, please stay out of the way. Thank you for your help.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

But I don't have a boat...

Getting across Lake Washington is hard enough when all the lanes on the highway are open. It sometimes makes you wish you had a boat. And in July we’re completely shutting down the westbound mainline lanes for a while.

“What?! You guys are shutting down the westbound I-90 lanes on the floating bridge for two weeks in July?!?”

Yup. Starting July 6, work starts on the westbound I-90 floating bridge. By July 6, all westbound traffic will be funneled into the two express lanes for two weeks while crews replace cracked expansion joints.

This work improves safety on I-90 it will temporarily snarl traffic from Issaquah to Seattle all day long unless drivers change their habits.

We don’t want you to sit in traffic any longer than is necessary.

Our traffic-fighting experts have been working day and night creating new tools to help you avoid congestion and stay moving:

Keep an eye on I-90 traffic with new traffic cameras
WSDOT traffic engineers welcomed five more cameras to the traffic flow map family. Now Eastside drivers can check the backups before they leave home. The cameras are located at Front Street, 161st Avenue SE, East Mercer Way, Shorewood Drive and Island Crest Way.

See into the future with travel time graphs
We’ve pushed pencils, studied trends and travel time data for months so you won’t have to. Go here to see the best and worst times to travel I-90 during this construction work. (Hint: leave early, before 6 a.m.)

Read a book, drink coffee, share the ride
Sharing the ride has never been easier. Visit WSDOT’s commute options Web site for a (van)pool full of time-saving commute option ideas. Who knows? After trying out transit and a few new ways to get there, you may never return to driving alone. You might even score a gift card for carpooling.

Sometimes two wheels are faster then four – give the bike a try
I know some of you already are thinking about reasons why biking to work is not for you. Well, what if biking to work meant you could skip gridlock, and try out two cool new temporary bike and pedestrian bridges on the I-90 floating bridge? If that doesn’t sway you, maybe WSDOT’s Web site with resources for bicycle commuters will.

If the island life is for you, get the skinny on Mercer Island detour routes
These detour routes will help Mercer Islanders fight gridlock and safely navigate their way to I-90. Note: Only two westbound I-90 on-ramps will be available for Mercer Island drivers in July – 77th Avenue SE and Island Crest Way.

Did someone say Twitter?
During construction WSDOT will send real-time traffic conditions via Twitter. Passengers in carpools or vanpools can then help the driver choose the best route. Solo drivers also can receive the information, just not when they're driving. Remember, it is illegal in Washington state to use a handheld cell phone while driving.

If tweets make you twinge - no problem. We’re going to send real-time traffic conditions to your favorite news radio station around-the-clock. Feel free to tune in during your commute.

The work on westbound I-90 begins July 6 for two weeks. For more information, please visit

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rethinking the Seattle traffic site...

Ever have one of those days where you look at something and say, "why did I do it that way?" I had one of those moments the other day and it made me take a closer look at the Seattle traffic Web site.

Here is what we know about the Seattle Traffic homepage:
  • It averages 20 percent of site usage every day. We guess a lot of that is due to those of you who open it up and maybe forget about it and leave it open to constantly refresh in the background all day. (For comparison, the WSDOT homepage, is less than 5 percent of daily site usage.)
  • We have up-to-the-minute information about incidents, which usually affect traffic the most, but you have to go to a separate page to find it.
  • Most of you aren't interested in the Yesler Way camera. (That’s the default camera you see when you click on the homepage.) Since it refreshes every time the page does, it takes up bandwidth that it doesn't need to
  • We have some great information in the blue box at the bottom of the page, but very few of you click on those links, and you didn't click on the fancy rounded button we had at the top of the page either.
  • We have Spokane and Wenatchee links on this page. None of you click on them.
  • Many of you didn't know there was a mobile version of this site.
Based on these factoids, (and knowing that we have to design the page around the existing traffic map) we decided to take another look at how we present the information that’s most important to you. This is what we came up with:, here is a page with a camera and here is the current page for comparison. You will notice that none of the camera icon links work on the beta page, we are looking for feedback on design right now and will patch that up later.

Here are the changes we made:
  • Simplified the left navigation to make it easy for you to find what you need
  • Added incident information to the Seattle homepage
  • Removed the camera image from the homepage
  • Removed the cities that weren't relevant to you
  • Added a direct link to Snoqualmie and Stevens pass. These are our most used sites in the winter, but also great to check for traffic in the summer.
Let us know what you think!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What would you like to hear more about?

We have covered a lot of topics during the past few the years on this blog, from snow storms to wildlife on bridges to the making of a Bailey bridge. We have even created other project-specific blogs for the Hood Canal Bridge project and the SR 539 Guide Meridian project. However, we have never taken the time to ask you what you want to hear about.

We would like to leave the next blog topics up to you. What would you like to hear more of or more about? What have you always wondered about but have been afraid to ask?

Let us know in the comments below!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I-5 Mailbag

Every day I get a few e-mails and messages from drivers about the pavement repair work we’re doing on I-5 in Seattle. Tom from Greenlake writes, “My drive in downtown Seattle is finally smooth and quiet.”

Yay! We love hearing from happy drivers. The pavement on I-5 in King County is more than 40 years old. It’s lasted twice as long as engineers thought it would. Cracked and rutted concrete are telltale signs of it being 20 years overdue for a do-over.

Since February we’ve worked nights and weekends replacing hundreds of cracked concrete panels and ground out miles of rutted and bumpy pavement.

Drivers also are noticing that it is taking awhile for crews to finish the work.

Janet from West Seattle says, “Your crews have been out here
night after night. It looks like you started to grind the pavement, but why is it taking so long to finish the work?”

It’s true. If you’ve driven the six mile stretch of I-5 between the University District and Shoreline, you’ve probably noticed some sections of the highway have been ground down, and some sections haven’t. It does look as if we started to grind the pavement but haven’t gotten around to finishing the work.

Truth is we’re right on track to finish the project on time.

It’s like mowing a lawn row after row, only this lawn is 72 feet wide and six miles long – in both directions!

Each 12-foot lane requires crews to make several passes with the 4-foot grinder in order to grind the whole width of the lane.

Grinding the surface of I-5 not only makes for a smoother ride, it improves traction. Grinding also helps improve drainage on the highway so there is less standing water on the surface when it rains.

You can rest assured that we are still on schedule. We promise to finish all of the I-5 pavement repair work by the end of the summer. And trust me: it will be worth the wait.

Want to know more? Check out our common questions site and the I-5 Pavement Repair project page.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Temporary noise shields are like 7-layer bean dip

When I was growing up, we had to take home economics. The home ec teacher was fanatical about contrasting colors, textures, and flavors to maximize food exposure. I was thinking about that teacher (who marked me down for macaroni and cheese and carrots as an overuse of a single color) when we took a tour of the noise barriers on the I-90 express lanes where we are using jackhammer and generators to remove the 40-ton expansion joints from the bridge deck.

Our temporary noise shields are like seven-layer bean dip. Each layer serves a function. These shields are designed to eliminate some of the noise during the operation of a hand tool, jackhammers, generator, compressor or a a light machine. We use these shields on many of our projects, especially when we work at night, or when working close to homes during the day.

Here is a diagram:

You can see the different types and width of the materials, each piece blocking sound or performing some other essential function, working in its own way to reduce the noise. For example, the cedar lattice holds the sound absorbing materials in place and provides some protection from the elements while allowing the sound access to fiberglass insulation. The fine mesh aluminum screen helps to keep the sound absorbing thick fiberglass material from settling to the bottom of the wall.

Here is a picture of the shields on I-90. You can see how we shield the busy construction site noise from the surrounding neighbors. A secondary benefit is that drivers on both sides of the I-90 bridge do not slow down to "look" at what is going on by the construction site.

Do they work? I checked in with our noise office recently. They’ve been out on Mercer Island every third night with the noise meters to assure residents that we are in compliance with our noise permits. Larry tells me the only thing he’s picking up is the waves lapping on the shore and traffic on the highway and local streets.

Submitted by Jamie Holter.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Don’t be a congestion victim! Leave the planning to us.

WSDOT’s 2009 construction season is in full swing. We began three-week expansion joint replacement work on I-90 on Monday. The I-5 panel replacement and grinding through Seattle continues for another three months. In fact, construction work will close both the I-90 and I-5 express lanes around the clock this weekend. The Hood Canal Bridge closure is in place for another five weeks.

2009 is our single biggest construction season ever. The 2003 and 2005 gas tax funding is reaching its peak and, yes, there is federal stimulus money too. It’s no illusion, you are seeing orange barrels everywhere and that’s a good thing because it means jobs, infrastructure repair and congestion relief.

A lot of folks are asking, what’s next?
If you are reading this, the answer is only a mouse click away.

We have some great Web pages. You can drill down to find information that matters to you. This is a great place to start Here you can find out what’s happening now, what’s next and the big picture.

What’s happening right now clearly spells out the major closures in the Seattle-Bellevue area today. It’s updated numerous times each day especially when a major construction project is on the roads. No jargon, just the facts, what’s closed and when – thank you very much. Go here before you leave the house:

What’s happening this week delivers a road-by-road list of every single lane closure planned for the next seven days. The list is long and meticulously organized. If you are detail oriented and like to plan ahead down to the lane, this is your site:

Month by month construction schedule is my favorite. It’s for the super uber-planners like me who like the big 30-day picture with colorful maps and information that can cause congestion, like a Sounders game or the Northwest Folklife festival. Oh and if you want to know more about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, there are links for that too:

Last weekend (May 2 and 3) more people came to our site via twitter than any other Web media. We think that’s cool. We’re trying hard to keep our twittering current and useful. Two accounts to watch: and

If you are a City of Seattle driver, SDOT just launched a very cool construction site. Check it out: This page will help you check traffic conditions on city streets if you’re looking to avoid a section of highway.

Take a tour and let me know what you think. We’re always open to suggestions.

Here is a video we did in April letting you know the details of what is happening on the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington:

Post written by Jamie Holter.

Friday, May 1, 2009

We like to provide information...

Ever get one of those awards that makes you take a step back and go "whoa"? We received one of those recently and it caught us off guard (thus the mildly shocked picture of me and Lloyd to the right).

Did you know that as an agency, we have sent out 2.5 million e-mails in the last eight months? Keep in mind these e-mails weren't to just one person; there are over 36,000 of you that we are keeping up to date with information about road closures, construction updates, traffic alerts, mountain pass updates and more.

We were recently awarded an "Excellence in Communications Award" from GovDelivery, a company we use to send out our e-mail updates. We won this award for sending out more than 2.2 million e-mails during the first six months of service. This is even more impressive when you consider their list of clients.

These e-mails weren't subscribers to just one list. We have over 170 different lists that you can subscribe to. Many of those millions of e-mails we recently sent out were due to the crazy weather we had this winter that at one point effectively shut down all north-south, east-west routes in Washington. An e-mail was sent out every time a road was closed or opened during these storms, which was very appreciated by freight haulers and those just wanting to know if they could get home.

We also sent out an e-mail every time the pass report changed, and if you know mountain pass weather this can happen several times a day. Other e-mails were just letting you know what is happening with transportation in Washington and how you can get involved in the decision making process through open houses and environmental document review.

If you haven't already signed up for our e-mail service, you will be amazed at what you can learn and how your commute will improve because you will be one of the first to know what areas to avoid. Be sure to sign up for our weekly "Express Lane", it's a roundup of weekly activities for the agency and a couple of featured projects which can prove to be very enlightening.

If you don't like getting emails, we have all sorts of other ways to keep you informed of what's happening. Here are a few:
pssst... and stay in touch with this service because we are also hoping to use it to send out text messages for traffic alerts in the Puget Sound area...stay tuned.