Monday, May 23, 2011

It’s a bird… it’s a plane…no, it’s the super girder

By guest blogger Hilary Bingman

Driving south along the SR 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct, you may have noticed a lot of really big things in our construction zone: gigantic cranes, towering columns, huge machinery, and colossal trucks. These are the tools needed to build sections of the new bridge that will replace the viaduct’s south end. On May 19, something even bigger arrived and was added to this gargantuan list – “super” girders.

For a quick lesson in Bridge Building 101, girders are simply support beams used to support the roadway of a bridge. They serve as the heavy duty backbone connecting the bridge columns and form the base underneath the new roadway you’ll soon be driving on.

Girders vary in length, depending on the amount of space between the columns. The smallest girders we use are about the length of an articulated bus – the double-length ones that bend in the middle.  However, several of the girders we’re using to replace the south end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct are the largest ever produced in Washington state. Weighing in at 127 tons a piece, these “super” girders stretch to a length of 205 feet.  That’s as long as a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Each “super” girder is custom manufactured in Tacoma and transported on a truck specially-designed to hold the weight.  Due to their size, the girders must be transported to the construction area and set into place during the middle of the night to avoid shutting down major downtown routes. Once the girders arrive on site, crews use two cranes to set them on top of the new bridge column.

The girders will span the intersection of S. Atlantic Street and Alaskan Way S. and the railroad tail track, near the entrance of the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46. This intersection sees a lot of activity – including freight trucks, trains, commuters, bikes and pedestrians.  Using “super” girders to span the intersection avoids placing new columns where they may affect traffic flow through the intersection.

We’re proud of our “super” girders. On the viaduct, they make all the difference.

For more information on the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement program, visit

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We’re not crying wolf - some work is weather-dependent whether we like it or not

by guest blogger Lisa Copeland

A lot of behind-the-scenes planning goes into highway work zones that will have a significant impact to traffic. There are meetings, phone calls, e-mails, written drafts, corrected drafts, and eventually final drafts of news releases, all of which are sometimes pretty much washed down the drain by the whims of Mother Nature.

We can plan all we want, but in the end, a lot of the materials we use to improve our highways are weather-sensitive, which makes it difficult to pinpoint exact schedules.

A good example of this is the upcoming I-5 Clover Creek Bridge Deck Project in Pierce County.

Overlaying the bridge’s deck and replacing approach slabs requires two extended weekend closures (up to two lanes closed Friday night through Monday morning), and two weekends of Friday and Saturday night lane closures.

That’s four weekends of construction. It was scheduled to begin in April, which has five weeks, so the work could have be all done by May, right? As you saw with April's weather, it didn't match what we needed to get the work done. The work, which includes overlaying the bridge deck with a modified concrete that has rapid-cure latex in it, requires at least 45 degrees and no rain. So, as April showers continue into May, we could be in for even more delay.

But what makes some projects subject to weather while others march forward like the U.S. Postal Service through rain, sleet and snow?

If all or even a portion of a project requires dry weather, then that’s exactly what’s needed to get the job done so that the significant investment of tax dollars results in the long-term performance we expect.

It’s also why no one paints the exterior of their house in the rain. Some projects here are very similar to this – paint striping, concrete placement, asphalt paving, compacting embankments, and even putting down traffic buttons all use materials that need certain temperature and moisture conditions to ensure success. Concrete and asphalt don’t cure or compact well if temperatures are too cold and painting or putting down traffic buttons in the rain generally makes a mess, which is a waste of time and money.

Our job is to get the word out so travelers can plan ahead and defer as many trips as possible during high-impact construction projects and minimize the backups. We alert the media, post notification throughout our website, make hundreds of phone calls and send numerous e-mails asking drivers to avoid the impacted area.

We try to provide as much notice as possible and monitor weather forecasts like nervous brides planning an outdoor wedding prior to the event, but even with our best efforts, sometimes work is cancelled late in the game because of last-minute changes in the weather.

So, what can you do to help us out and still get where you need to go? Be flexible if your summer plans include travel through upcoming work zones. All of the planned highway summer construction is available at A weekly look at impacts is available at

If rescheduling your trip is not an option try to find an alternate route. If travel through an impacted area is unavoidable, allow yourself plenty of extra time to reach your destination, check our website for the BEST time to travel and get the latest highway information by calling 511.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Real Estate and Relocation along I-405...

If you have ever have had to move or have bought or sold a house, you know how demanding it can be. Now imagine having to do this on a larger scale - in multiples.

On the heels of the Legislature passing the 2003 and 2005 gas taxes, we embarked on a journey to provide relief to commuters who live on the eastside of Lake Washington. Our goal, as tasked by the legislature: to enhance I-405 to meet the needs of the ever-growing population.

If you’ve ever driven I-405, you can see for yourself how complex this project is. There just isn’t much room to make necessary changes as you approach SR 520 going northbound through Bellevue. In order to make those changes, we needed to purchase some adjoining properties and help relocate those businesses or individuals. As with any project, we follow a long and diligent process to make sure that the decisions we make provide the most value to you, the taxpayer, fairness to affected property owners and provide the most relief for safety and congestion to the commuter.

Just like buying a house, purchasing real estate and helping folks relocate can be quite a challenge.
We have established rules that we follow to be good stewards. I am sure you can understand how this could be an emotional process for some while for others it creates an opportunity that they may not otherwise have had.

On the I-405, corridor, 155 business and residential relocations were needed to improve this vital roadway. We used a cost-effective consultant to visit each business or property owner individually to provide a relocation plan. Washington’s Relocation Assistance program includes an appeal process for those needing to relocate. For this corridor project, only nine individuals went on to the next step of disagreement (approximately 6%). One individual out of that nine went on to pursue the entire appeals process.

Whenever you‘re dealing in real estate and relocation, there are times when a party is looking for a higher number. To ensure impartiality, we took the next step and sent this appeal to a third party, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

In 2009, the FHWA agreed with the decision on compensation that we provided the individual. They provided good recommendations in the consultant oversight process. We immediately added the FHWA recommendations to the state’s Relocation Assistance program in order to refine and clarify the process. During this appeal, the process we followed met the approval of the FHWA and two separate judges. The property owner’s claim was recently dismissed in April of 2011.

Following the direction we are provided, ensuring the process works for the property owners, businesses and individuals we work with, and at the same time, being good stewards of taxpayer dollars is never easy. When a third party reviews and confirms that you have done it right, it really helps to tell the story.

We are committed to on time and on budget project delivery. For more information on this project:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Skilled and ready construction workers save driver on I-90

by guest blogger Noel Brady
Glen Palacio and Kirk Whalen

Two contractor crewmen on I-90 were the right guys in the right place Thursday, May 5, when they ran to help a motorist having a heart attack in morning rush hour. Gary Merlino Construction workers Kirk Whalen and Glen Palacios likely saved the man’s life because they knew exactly what to do and didn’t skip a beat, according to the State Patrol.

They were working on a storm drain in the freeway median about 8:30 a.m., when they saw a green Toyota Corolla hit a Jersey barrier on Mercer Island. They found the driver unconscious and immediately pulled him out of the car. When they lost the man’s pulse, Whalen positioned him and cleared his airway; while Palacios started chest compressions. Both were trained and certified in CPR – Whalen as an EMT and Palacio as a U.S. Air Force firefighter.

"I heard him kind of breathing, but it was more of a gurgle," Whalen told the Seattle Times after paramedics rushed the man to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, where he was stable Friday afternoon.

Merlino Project Engineer Patrick Hafferty said the driver was lucky that two people as well trained as Whalen and Palacios were at the scene and ready to help. Merlino requires foreman to have company-provided first-aid certification, but it’s not uncommon for laborers like Whalen to obtain emergency and medical training outside of work.

“These guys are kinda local heroes here,” Hafferty said. “I don’t think they thought twice about it. That’s exactly what our company is all about – going above and beyond what’s expected.”

Safety is always a priority, said Bryant Bullamore, our project engineer for the I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations Project, which Whalen and Palacio were working on at the time. But it’s hard to anticipate something like this. “These guys deserve a lot of respect, not just for running to help, but for knowing what to do and never hesitating.”

What to do was never a question, Palacio said. "If you are trained and have the opportunity to use that training, why not if it's going to save a life?"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sign still a welcoming sight on I-5 in Vancouver, thanks to volunteers

by guest blogger Abbi Russell

2011 "Welcome to Washington" sign planting
A unique roadside feature greets drivers that cross the I-5 Interstate Bridge from Portland, Ore. into Vancouver, Wash. – a huge flowerbed shaped like Washington, welcoming them to the Evergreen State.

For years the “Welcome to Washington” flowerbed/sign was meticulously planted and maintained by Vancouver-based employee Sharon Morgan.  Every year she designed beautiful plantings that made the sign a living work of art and a pleasant sight for everyone who traveled northbound I-5 in Vancouver.

When Sharon retired in 2007 and the maintenance budget was cut back, the sign didn’t get planted for the first time in a long time. And boy, did we hear about it.

Drivers were upset that the famous sign wasn’t being kept up. Our Environmental team planted the flowerbed with a sustainable and perennial design of native northwest plants. Most things were planted in the fall so they could winter over and bloom in the spring.

The plants didn’t look like much that winter – some drivers thought the sign looked weedy and unkempt. Then a well-meaning citizen took it upon themselves to mow down the “weeds” without knowing that the native plants were poised to bloom in just a few months. Many plants died, so our crews removed everything down to bare dirt, and we all wondered – what do we do now?
2011 "Welcome to Washington" sign planting
Enter Vancouver resident Yvette Golemo, who contacted Roadside Maintenance Supervisor Bill VanAntwerp and asked about the Adopt-A-Highway program. Yvette wanted to know if she could adopt the “Welcome to Washington” sign. Bill was happy to bring Yvette and her volunteers on board, and in 2009 the sign was once again planted in all its glory.

Volunteer groups have planted the sign ever since. This year, we are working with the Washington State University Master Gardeners program (insert shameless Cougs plug here). The Master Gardeners grew all of the flowers and herbs we purchased for the planting; proceeds go to support Vancouver-area charitable programs.

Volunteers with the Master Gardeners program are planting the sign this Saturday in the shape of a state icon – a shiny red apple. Thousands of brightly colored petunias, begonias and salvia plants will be combined with alyssum, sage and parsley to create another living work of art along I-5 in Vancouver. Sharon would be proud.

Big thanks to the generous volunteers who are helping keep Washington a beautiful and welcoming state!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two in five? Please, Give 'em a Brake

Just a few short weeks ago, we held our annual Worker's Memorial to honor  our fallen workers and remind everyone about the importance of work zone safety. This event leads into our Give 'em a Brake program, the marketing effort to encourage safe work zone driving.

The men and women working to improve your highways work just feet from live traffic, from inattentive drivers.

Two of those workers were hurt within five hours early May 5.

Just after midnight, a vehicle struck one of our trucks that was parked on southbound Interstate 5 just south of Interstate 90 in the Seattle area. The car then fled the scene. Less than five hours later, a vehicle hit another one of our trucks on I-5 in the Chehalis area. Both employees were taken to the hospital, but are okay.

What were these employees working on? The first was part of a striping crew, adding a fresh coat of reflective paint to make it easier for drivers to see the road. The second was sweeping the highway. They were both protected by truck-mounted attenuators (TMAs). You can see a photo of the damage done by one the cars here.

Our workers improve road conditions and expand roads, keeping traffic and the economy moving. Do your part – give 'em a brake. Slow down and pay attention when driving through a work zone. Find more work zone driving tips.