Monday, December 24, 2012

Mount Baker Highway crews working hard to clear the highway

If you’re a skier, boarder or snow aficionado of any sort, the closure of Mount Baker Highway is probably an unwelcome pre-holiday present. An unusually potent combination of rain, snow and heavy winds forced us to close the highway (also known as SR 542) Tuesday morning, Dec. 18, just east of Glacier.

We know how important our mountain pass highways are to not only freight traffic but local ski areas – when we close, they close.  We want to get the road back open to drivers (and for the ski areas) as soon as it’s safe, but right now, our crews have to take it day by day. As our maintenance supervisor Theo Donk says: “Things can change completely in three hours.”

And they have. Starting Monday night, Dec. 17, nearly 100 trees came down across the highway in less than 24 hours. It’s now been more than 48 hours, and the tally is up to at least 120 trees – and counting.

Did we mention the snow? More than 6 feet (and counting) since Friday, Dec. 14. It’s a combination that has our maintenance crews on their toes. Donk said it’s the kind of weather that makes the hair stand up on the back of his neck: Whiteout conditions, and the all-too-real threat of a large tree crashing down at any moment.

As the snow continues, larger trees are falling. Not only are limbs snapping off, entire 30-inch-diameter trees that can’t handle the added weight of the snow are coming down across the highway.

Maintenance crews are staged at the Shuksan maintenance camp and ready to tackle the trees (and the snow) – as soon as it’s safe to get out on the road. They’ve got two large excavators, an assortment of chainsaws and plow trucks all on standby, ready to clear the highway at first light.

“We’ve got what we need to do our job – now we’re just waiting to go do it,” Donk said. “We’re taking it one day at a time.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

Becoming Bertha: the journey begins for the world’s largest tunneling machine

Bertha’s Twitter profile photo. More photos of her and construction in Seattle are posted
regularly on Flickr. A 10-foot-long interactive model of Bertha is on
display at Milepost 31, the project’s information center in Pioneer Square.
For more information about the SR 99 Tunnel Project, visit
Before you buy a car, you take it for a spin to see how it runs. 

Same goes for the world’s largest-diameter tunneling machine. With that in mind, leaders from the SR 99 Tunnel Project flew to Japan this week to visit Bertha, the five-story tall behemoth that will begin tunneling beneath downtown Seattle next summer.

They spent the day at the Sakai Works factory in Osaka, watching major components of the $80 million machine rotate, extend, retract and move. The goal? Make sure Bertha – whose name was chosen earlier this month as part of a contest for school-aged kids across Washington – is running smoothly before she boards a ship to Seattle.

“This machine is incredibly innovative,” said Linea Laird, WSDOT’s administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. “Using technology like this allows us to create a new highway 99 while keeping the viaduct open to traffic.”

With so much riding on Bertha, it’s no wonder Laird and others made the long trip. Seattle Tunnel Partners, WSDOT’s contractor for the project, will authorize shipment of the machine after testing is completed next month. Crews will then prepare the machine for its eventual departure to Seattle.

They will spend the early part of next year disassembling Bertha into 41 separate pieces – the largest weighing up to 900 tons – and loading them onto a single ship. After a month-long trip across the Pacific Ocean, Bertha will land at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46, to the west of CenturyLink Field. Crews in Seattle will transport the pieces a few hundred yards east to an 80-foot-deep pit where the machine will be reassembled and launched beneath downtown next summer.

When Bertha arrives in Seattle, she’ll bring with her plenty of excitement. But the project she’s a part of has already brought something very important to Washington: jobs. Construction to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct is boosting the local and regional economies, sustaining more than 3,900 jobs at the height of construction. Evidence of that can be found near Bertha’s launch pit, where crews are busily preparing for her arrival.

Bertha’s preparing too, according to her recently established Twitter profile. Step 1: get her travel documents in order.

“So nice to finally have an identity,” @BerthaDigsSR99 tweeted shortly after her name was announced. “Maybe now the passport agency will take my application.”

Laird and others are counting on that as Bertha’s journey to – and eventually beneath – Seattle draws closer.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kirkland area travelers, get ready to meet your new interchange

By guest blogger Anne Broache

After some 18 months of construction, we’ll soon be finished revamping the area where Northeast 116th Street meets Interstate 405. Our goals were to improve your access to and from the highway at this interchange, and to upgrade safety for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians alike.

What’s new?
For drivers:
  • New lanes and traffic signals on Northeast 116th Street and 120th Avenue Northeast
  • A rebuilt bridge with additional lanes over the railroad
  • A new interchange design aimed at boosting traffic flow (more on that below)
  • More space for vehicles on the I-405/Northeast 116th Street on- and off-ramps, resulting in decreased merging and collision risks
For bicyclists and pedestrians:
  • Improved lighting
  • Wider sidewalks
  • A continuous bike lane through the interchange area
For the environment:
  • A new storm water pond and drainage vaults to preserve water quality
Drivers traveled through the new Single Point Urban Interchange
(SPUI) at NE 116th Street and I-405 in Kirkland on its first day of operation, Dec. 20.
This SPUI is the first interchange design
of its kind on the I-405 corridor.
Most notably, we transformed this interchange from a traditional one to a more efficient half Single Point Urban Interchange, or SPUI (pronounced “spooey”). This SPUI is designed to maximize traffic flow in this notoriously congested area for Kirkland commuters heading to and from I-405.
How does a SPUI work?
With the new SPUI design, the on- and off-ramps converge at a single location controlled by one set of traffic signals at the center of the interchange. The signal in this case is located on the underside of the I-405 overpass.
The SPUI design increases the number of vehicles that can clear the interchange each time the light turns green for a particular stream of traffic.
Want to learn more?
This video explores the interchange’s new features so you’ll know what to expect. You can also see more photos of the construction progress at our Flickr page.
Finally, we’d like to send a special thank you to all of the Kirkland commuters who experienced the construction closures and delays while we worked to improve this interchange.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Sanpoil gets ready for service

By guest blogger Al Gilson

Here’s a different story about a boat getting flipped over.  No, there are no big headlines about a daring rescue at sea in this story.

Now being built near Longview, the “Sanpoil,” our new ferry vessel for the Keller Route across the Columbia River in eastern Washington reached a major construction milestone on December 11.
For the last several months, workers at the Foss Maritime boat yard have been fabricating this new ferry vessel.  They began by building the frame for the car deck then pieced together the hull frame, followed by the hull plates.  When that phase was completed, the center section, and two outer sections were upside-down on the shop floor.

The next move was to flip the 20,000-pound center section over.  In a process that took two cranes and about 45 minutes, the 56 foot-long component was lifted up, rolled over and placed on a special cradle aboard a multi-axle trailer.

Coming up, the ship builders will attach the bow sections.  (There are two “front ends” on the boat and no stern since it’s a double ended ferry.  Cars and trucks will drive on and off at either end so the boat never has to turn around.)  When those are connected, the center section on the trailer will be 22 feet wide and 116 feet long.  That’s the maximum size that will be able to squeeze along the highways and under any overpasses as it, the two outer sections, the pilot house, and other components are towed from the boat yard to Grand Coulee Dam for final assembly early next year.
The Sanpoil should enter service in mid-2013.

The three sections of the new “Sanpoil” ferry.
The center section was placed on the trailer.
Help up by the crane.
Being rolled over to set on the trailer.
The cradle and trailer under the boat.
All done.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Putting it back together again

When a vital roadway gets knocked out of service, it's our job to get it back open as quickly as possible for drivers, and emergency responders. Fixing something like a bridge fixed is by no means, a small feat. An average of 15,000 vehicles each day use the northbound lanes of the SR 529 Snohomish River bridge from Everett to Marysville. This hard-working blue-collar bridge has been around for 85 years and took quite a beating this weekend when a driver smacked an SUV into a couple of support beams.

For safety, our inspectors closed the northbound bridge until the damaged support beams could be fixed. These are critical pieces that support the bridge deck. Replacement parts can't be ordered out of a catalogue, we had to custom make them from raw steel.

A team of about 30 worked in shifts around the clock to design, fabricate and install a new diagonal and vertical support beam.

We didn't want to risk further stress on the bridge deck, so we needed to park heavy equipment on the ground and use boom lifts to access the damaged support beams. Replacement parts were up to 30 feet long and weighed as much as 1000 pounds. It's really tough to safely get those pieces in place in the driving rain with high winds.

After about 500 combined hours of work, the northbound SR 529 Snohomish River bridge reopened to traffic at about 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 4. We don't roll the dice on safety. It's pretty amazing how quickly it all came together. In 81 hours, the bridge went from damaged to repaired. We closed it, stabilized it, designed replacement parts, fabricating and installed them - and only disrupting one event commute for drivers.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fixing US 2 near Monroe in August so we’re ready for November

by guest blogger Bronlea Mishler

Rainy weekend forecast puts fix to the test

“When we inspected the culverts last summer, they really looked like Swiss cheese – holes everywhere,” said John Tellesbo, WSDOT’s Area 3 assistant maintenance superintendent. “We’d patched a few minor sinkholes on the shoulder, but it was just a matter of time before we got a big one that could have caused a serious problem.”

Snow. Ice. Mud. Rivers of rain. When winter weather flings its worst at the northwest, it’s not just drivers that have to bear the brunt of the unpleasantness. The roads themselves take a constant beating from the elements – and that means our maintenance crews have to be on their toes to keep the highways drivable.

Crews use the dry summer months to inspect and repair the highways – everything from filling cracks and patching potholes to replacing signs and maintaining culverts. Getting all that work done in the good weather means that the highways are prepared and ready to meet the bad weather – and that’s good news if you plan to hit the road during the winter months.

While all maintenance is important, our crews give special attention to highway drainage culverts. If you’re like most drivers, you’ve probably never noticed our culverts – that is, unless something has gone wrong. Flooding, potholes, sinkholes and big dips in the road are all highway maladies that can result from clogged or damaged culverts.

Despite our best intentions – and attention – sometimes old culverts don’t make it through a winter unscathed. There’s not much maintenance crews can do in the winter when the corroded old pipes begin to fail, except patch the resulting potholes and road divots. Until recently, the stretch of US 2 near Bickford Avenue was a particular headache for maintenance crews. Five culverts cross beneath the highway, carrying stormwater to nearby detention and treatment areas. And all five of those culverts were one storm away from falling apart.
New piping in place under US 2
Fortunately for drivers – and our maintenance crews – those culverts got ripped out this summer as part of a larger project to improve the nearby Bickford Avenue intersection. Installed in their place were five new culverts made of thick, heavy, rubberized plastic to better withstand the elements.

“We’re very fortunate we fixed them when we did,” Tellesbo said. “This is one less area we have to worry about this winter – and that means our crews can be out cleaning drains and catchbasins and keeping the highways safe.”

Holding true to our word: US 101 Simpson Avenue Bridge reopens to traffic one week ahead of schedule

By guest blogger Kelly Stowe

Holiday shopping season. Those three words were the driving force for our crews and contractor, Bergerson Construction, Inc., when we had to shut the US 101 Simpson Avenue Bridge down to pedestrian and vehicular traffic for up to four weeks.

More than 13,000 vehicles cross the US 101 Simpson Avenue Bridge each day in the Grays Harbor city of Hoquiam – for many local businesses, it serves as a direct route between them and their customers. When cars are bypassed around the route, it is a big impact to local businesses and the already struggling economy.

Bergerson Construction crews preparing to install a fender
pile during the Simpson Ave. Bridge closure on Nov. 8
“We know how much this bridge means to the community and that was on the forefront of everyone’s mind as we set out to make final stabilization repairs on the bridge,” said Scott Ireland, WSDOT Project Engineer.

The final stabilization of the bridge is a continuation of work that started back in August 2010 after our maintenance crews discovered unusual movement of the bridge.  A follow-up inspection revealed there was severe degradation of the most easterly pier and the US 101 Simpson Avenue Bridge closed until crews could stabilize it enough to reopen to traffic.

The bridge was stable enough to reopen to traffic in January 2011, but another closure would be necessary to finish all the repairs and give the citizens of Hoquiam a reliable bridge.

In July 2012, crews began preparing the bridge and the community for another closure. On Oct. 22, the bridge was closed to traffic while crews completed work that would install additional pier supports at the northeast and southeast corners of the pier; strengthen walls of the existing pier; transfer the remaining weight of the pier onto two new supports; remove the temporary tie-back anchors and cables; and remove and replace the bridge’s pier fender system.

With dedication and diligence, our crews and contractor worked with the common goal of reopening the bridge to traffic before the busy holiday shopping season.

Great weather and hard work paid off. During the early-morning hours of Sunday, November 11, the bridge reopened to traffic—an entire week ahead of the original four-week schedule.

Crews still have work to do under the bridge, but nothing that will require closing the bridge to pedestrians and motor vehicles.

“It was a great feeling to know that the community would be getting their bridge back sooner than expected,” explained Ireland. “And just in time for the busy holiday shopping season.”

Let your visitors skip the lines at the toll booths

 By guest blogger Emily Pace

Good To Go! customers can add out of town visitors
to their account so they don’t have to stop at the
Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll booths.
It’s the time of year when family and friends start coming into town for the holidays and we wanted to remind drivers how easy it is to temporarily add out-of-towners to your existing Good To Go! account. If you’re a Good To Go! customer there are two ways to pay tolls: install a pass in your car or register a vehicle’s license plate on your account. By simply adding a vehicle’s license plate to your account, called Pay By Plate, you can pay the tolls for that vehicle when it crosses the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges. You don’t need to install a pass.

With Pay By Plate, visitors can skip the lines at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll booths. We typically see heavy traffic eastbound on SR 16 near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll plaza on Thanksgiving Day between 5 and 11 p.m.; usually after dinner wraps-up. You can also use the 24th Street on-ramp to bypass the toll booths. Drivers without a Good To Go! account can choose to Pay By Mail on the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges and we’ll mail a bill to the registered vehicle owner within 14 days.

How Pay By Plate works: log into your online account or call customer service to add a vehicle’s license plate, make and model to a Good To Go! account. When the vehicle travels across the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges, tolling equipment will take a photo of the vehicle’s license plate. The license plate is then matched to the correct Good To Go! account and the toll is deducted.

When using Pay By Plate, drivers will be charged the posted Good To Go! toll rate plus an extra 25 cent fee for each toll transaction. Why the extra 25 cents? The extra fee helps cover the costs associated with processing these transactions. While our license plate recognition software is good, it is not perfect and some of the photos require a person to review.

While there is an extra fee, Pay By Plate is a great option for out-of-towners who are visiting someone with a Good To Go! account. You can have up to six vehicles on an account at any time, with a mix of vehicles paying with a pass or using Pay By Plate. Both options provide the lowest toll rates and allow visitors to skip receiving a bill in the mail or stopping at the toll booths on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Pay By Plate only works on the SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges. Solo drivers wanting to use the SR 167 HOT lanes still need a Good To Go! pass.

And remember, this is not just a special holiday offer. Pay By Plate is available year round. So whether you have family coming for Easter, friends in town for SeaFair, or you’re caravaning on a road trip, consider adding your visitor’s license plates to your Good To Go! account. You can call customer service or log into your online account to add and remove vehicles and passes as needed.

Friday, November 9, 2012

New SR 522 Snohomish River Bridge takes shape in Monroe

Crews secure a girder section that will support the
new westbound SR 522 Snohomish River Bridge.
By guest blogger
Meghan Pembroke

Widening SR 522 between the Snohomish River Bridge and US 2 in Monroe is a massive undertaking with a lot of moving parts. All along a four-mile stretch of SR 522, crews are blasting rock, building bridges, digging ponds, constructing walls and hauling out dirt to make way for two new lanes. And that’s not all. In the next year, before construction wraps up in 2014, they’ll also build a new roundabout, a noise wall and a wildlife undercrossing.

The most herculean undertaking of all is the creation of a new 1,700-foot-long Snohomish River Bridge that will carry westbound SR 522 across the river. Crews reached a major milestone last week – though daily drivers might have missed it entirely. Well below the sight of drivers on the existing highway, behemoth girders arrive daily, one by one. Crews are working steadily to piece together the new bridge, one girder at a time.

The first of 49 steel girders arrived Nov. 1, after an overland journey that began in Libby, MT, at Stinger Welding. The last leg of its journey took it up I-5 and east on US 2 to the SR 522 interchange, where it picked up a WSP escort. Each of the next 48 girders will make a similar journey to their final destination above the Snohomish River.
But getting the girders to the project site isn’t as simple as it seems. Once the trucks arrive at the existing bridge, crews have to get the girders down the steep embankment to the work area below the bridge. The solution: A temporary off-ramp. Crews took out a section of guardrail and on a rainy Tuesday night, built a temporary ramp from westbound SR 522 to the ground-level work area. They covered it with steel plates to keep the truck tires from sinking in and give the big semis some extra traction. Using brief overnight rolling slowdowns, the girders roll down the ramp and are unloaded before the trucks head back out on Tester Road.

Crews are using an army of cranes to set the first batch of girders this fall. Each assembled girder ranges in length from 150 to 305 feet and weighs between 30,000 and 55,000 pounds – and those are the small ones. The smaller girders will form the backbone of the eastern end of the bridge – primarily over land – on the north side of the river.

But the real action will come next spring, when the massive, river-spanning girders arrive on scene. These girders will be even longer and heavier than the girders we’re setting now. Crews will use huge steel rollers to launch the girders up, out and over the river, where crews will secure them between piers in the river.

Even though drivers might not see a difference as they pass by the project area each day, these girders are good news. It means that we’re one step closer to opening two new lanes of SR 522 by fall 2014. Crews pushed hard this summer to complete the piers during a limited in-water work window. Their efforts meant the girder setting – what’s known as “critical path work” in WSDOT lingo – could start right on schedule. 

If you’re a westbound passenger, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the new bridge coming together as you approach the Snohomish River. For the rest of you, we’ve updated our Flickr set with photos of the work.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Not snakes on a plane. Socks…on a car.

Each year, when the first snowfall hits, we seem to get the same questions. One that always comes up is what does it mean when the sign says “Chains Required.”

Basically, it means most cars have to chain up – and yes, even those with studded tires. Studded tires don’t take the place of chains.

Most of the time, those with four-wheel or all-wheel drive don’t have to chain up. You may be surprised to know that even four- and all-wheel drivers do need to have chains available in the vehicle. Yes, that is the law (check under WAC 204…section 1a).

Other “FAQs” don’t usually change much. But there’s a new answer to this:

• My vehicle cannot accommodate tire chains. Can I drive when chains are required?

Now, the answer is YES – if you have socks.

Huh? What, socks, on a car? (or truck or van or other passenger vehicle – no for semi-trucks)

This year, the company that makes AutoSock was certified “as meeting or exceeding chain requirements for use when Chains Required signs are posted.”

Please remember, only AutoSock. It’s brand name. There may be some other tire sock-type products out there, but they aren’t legal for use (yet) in Washington. That’s from the Washington State Patrol.

The Yakima Herald has a story today that gives more of the background: Tired of messing with tire chains? Put a sock on it.

Want to know the law in full? You can read the complete Washington Administrative Code or WAC (204-24-035) on traction devices.

Any other questions, you can always call or email either us or the Washington State Patrol.

Washington State Patrol Equipment and Standards Section: (360) 596-4017 or

WSDOT Headquarters Customer Service: (360) 705-7438 or

These aren’t staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but we’ll try and answer as soon as we can.

Safe driving!

Friday, October 26, 2012

I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project reaches first major milestone before wrapping for winter

By guest blogger Meagan McFadden

Drivers traveling across Interstate 90 have patiently waited to hear these words: Delays related to work zones on Snoqualmie Pass are almost finished until next year. Rock-blasting closures are done for the season, the new westbound lanes are open to traffic and roadside work zones will be cleared by November.

The new wider lanes opened to traffic on Oct. 19
between Hyak and Rocky Run Creek
Despite very rainy conditions, a stalled semi-truck in the construction zone and a delayed asphalt truck, all lanes of I-90 opened to traffic on Oct. 19. Travelers are now driving on a stretch of new, wider westbound lanes and bridges between Hyak and Rocky Run Creek.

It has taken four years, more than 84,000 dump-truck loads of material, 163 closures for rock blasting and enough concrete to fill over 470,000 wheelbarrows to reach this first major milestone. By next fall the first three miles of the five-mile project will be complete, with the remaining two miles of six-lane roadway and bridges scheduled to be complete in 2017.

This work is part of the $551 million I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East – Hyak to Keechelus Dam project, which widens a five-mile stretch of the highway from four to six lanes and improves travel reliability and safety.

We still have more dump-trucks to fill, rock blasting to complete and more concrete to pour, but as winter weather closes in, we are taking a break until next spring.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why are the express lanes going the wrong way?

by guest blogger Bart Treece

Whether it’s a weekend 520 bridge closure or people leaving a football game, we hear this question fairly often and usually from folks who were stuck going the opposite direction of the express lanes.
The simple answer is that the reversible, congestion-fighting powers of both the I-5 and I-90 express lanes add capacity to the direction of travel that can benefit the most drivers. Or, to put it another way, the direction with the most cars, wins. The decision to flip the switch and add lanes doesn’t come from a whim, a guess or a coin toss. It’s driven by hard numbers collected by sensors in the roadway and crunched by traffic engineers, (engineers love numbers).

Take for instance I-90. More people are heading westbound into Seattle during the weekday morning and vice-versa for the afternoon and evening commute, which is why the express lanes are switched to add lanes to all those drivers. During a weekend-long 520 bridge closure, I-90 is the go-to route for people trying to get across Lake Washington. Since our traffic sensors record the number of cars on the road, we know more people take I-90 westbound into Seattle from morning until early afternoon, and vice-versa for eastbound later in the day.

Not so, say some folks who were stuck westbound near Mercer Island late on a Saturday. Darren posted this on our Facebook page, “WSDOT, why not open the WEST bound express lanes on I-90 tonight? 520 is closed and EVERYONE is headed into Seattle. It's a parking lot out here and EAST bound is wiiiiide open.”

Driver feedback is important to us, so we checked the numbers. If we made a mistake, we want to know about it. Turns out, we made the right call. When Darren noticed the stark difference in east and westbound traffic flow, eastbound I-90 had an average of 600 more cars per hour. Anything that blocks the roadway, like a stalled car or a crash can also throw traffic flow out of whack, which is what happened the Saturday night Darren tried to make his way into Seattle.

We also hear from sports fans who want the express lanes to take them to a game at CenturyLink Field and then back across the lake after the final whistle. Sometimes we will, if the extra fans plus the typical normal users will create a larger demand. But, if we know more people will be heading the opposite direction of sports fans, the I-90 express lanes will be there for the majority of drivers. For example, we sometimes get a Monday Night Football game. Look, we love the ‘12th Man’, but during the weekday our first consideration is for the people who use the lanes regularly to get home from work, so we keep them eastbound for commuters.

What about I-5?
The other set of express lanes to consider is on I-5. These lanes are a great way to pass by a lot of Seattle-related traffic and they’re used mostly by folks who just want to get through downtown. If you’re trying to take the I-5 express lanes to CenturyLink Field, your only option is exiting before the stadium at Cherry/Columbia or afterward near Tully’s. Either way, you have to fight surface-street traffic, which doesn’t really help you.

We’re always reviewing traffic patterns to see if we can make improvements, because they can change. We want people to get to the game on time and home safely. We will make some changes with the upcoming UW Huskies and Sounders FC games, keep an eye on the schedule and plan ahead. Switching both the I-5 and I-90 express lanes help us manage traffic congestion and can make for a smoother ride.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I-5 construction in Kent

By guest blogger Jamie Holter

Crews smooth out fresh concrete with a concrete roller.
Interstate 5 is the backbone of the Washington state economy. In fact, given that it runs from Mexico to Canada, it could be considered the economic backbone of the West Coast.  But, that doesn’t really matter to the folks in Kent and Federal Way. They just expect the pavement to be drivable.

This week, WSDOT and Interstate Improvements begin a six month project that nibbles at the tip of the concrete iceberg.  Between October and late spring 2013, crews will replace 64 broken and cracked concrete panels and grind down more than three miles of rutted northbound interstate between Military Road South and S. 272nd Street in Kent. Crews will close lanes overnight Monday through Friday.

People don’t get too excited about pavement. When drivers use I-5, they focus on their destination not the concrete journey that gets them there. But we care about concrete, a lot.  Without these repairs, potholes grow larger, those jarring bumps get harder and that pooling water in wheel ruts on the interstate grow wider and longer.

In short, without these repairs, the road falls apart faster and faster.

We don’t have the money to fix all of I-5, but this triage approach will get a better driving surface, a safer road and a longer lasting road. Thank you for your patience while you drive.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

We really want to reach you

 by guest blogger Emily Pace

You might’ve seen recent article in the media about a customer who received a civil penalty for unpaid tolls, but never received a toll bill. We mail two toll bills to the registered vehicle owner on file with Department of Licensing. We give drivers 80 days to pay before we mail a third notice, this time with a $40 penalty for each unpaid transaction.

As with all mail, there are many reasons why a bill may not reach someone or is returned to us by the post office, some examples include:
  • The registered vehicle owner has recently moved and not updated their address with DOL. State law requires vehicle owners update their address with DOL within 30 days of moving.
  • The customer sets up a temporary hold (which can be in place for up to 30 days) but does not pick up their mail within 30 days, the mail is then returned to the sender.
  • The customer’s mailbox becomes too full to deliver mail, they moved and did not provide a new address, the address provided was incorrect etc.
We note in our files any mail that is returned to us for whatever reason. If a forwarding address is provided to us by the post office we reissue the toll bill to the new address. We have no way of knowing if the vehicle owner has moved, if they’re temporarily out of town or if they’ll eventually pick up mail at that address.

This brings us to an important point: If you don’t get a toll bill call us. You should receive a toll bill about 14 days after crossing either the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges. If you don’t get a bill for any of the reasons listed above, or you misplace it or throw it away – give our customer service center a call. When you call, if you have your license plate, state and name they will be able to look up any outstanding toll charges and you can pay them right then over the phone. You can also visit us at any of our walk-in centers in Seattle, Bellevue or Gig Harbor.

Quite a few people have asked why we don’t allow drivers to enter their license plate online so they can see any toll charges. It comes down to privacy. We don’t want people to be able to enter their neighbor’s license plate online, or anyone else for that matter, and be able to see all their toll crossings.

Ultimately, there must be consequences for drivers who don’t pay their tolls on time. If we don’t enforce the tolls, it isn’t fair to the drivers who are paying. Toll enforcement is also about ensuring we have enough revenue to provide funding for the bridge replacement.

If you have questions or concerns regarding a toll bill, civil penalty or Good To Go! account please call 1-866-936-8246 or email

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bridge building 101: Salmon Creek Interchange Project

 by guest blogger Heidi Sause

Take a digital trip to the Salmon Creek Interchange Project in Vancouver for a high-flying journey of rebar, clamshells and cranes – here’s a step-by-step overview of how crews are building the base of the new interchange at Northeast 139th Street. (Note: Don’t try this at home.)

Step one: Dig a hole to China. Alright, not quite, but 130 feet deep is close enough. Crane operators use a giant oscillator to drill large metal casings (nine feet in diameter!) into the ground.  A huge clamshell attaches to the end of a crane and bites mounds of dirt out from the inside of the casings.

Crews assemble one of the 54 rebar cages that
will form the interior of the bride piers on the
new NE 139th Street bridge in Salmon Creek.
The end result is something engineers call a bridge shaft – a deep, cylindrical hole reaching from sun and sky to bedrock – that is, the Troutdale Formation. Trivia fact o’ the day: the Troutdale Formation is a layer of rock and silt several millennia old that was carried more than 500 miles and deposited in this area during the Great Missoula Floods. Cool, huh? But I digress.

Back to bridges… The shafts are important because they form the foundation of the bridge. They are the crucial first step toward getting a bridge off the ground and in the air.  

Step two: Build a rebar cage. Using a variety of large rebar, construct a continuous structural web of metal. Some of the rebar pieces are more than 2 inches in diameter, and each rebar cage weighs up to 80,000 lbs!

Step three: Use two large cranes and a complicated rigging set up, lower the massive metal web of rebar into the drilled shaft.

Step four: Pour 230 cubic yards of concrete into the shaft. Keep in mind, concrete needs to flow at a steady pace in order to set correctly. A well-orchestrated fleet of concrete trucks tags out at the pump truck to keep the pour flowing smoothly.

Step five: Remember the large metal casings mentioned in Step one? Crews will use the same casing pieces to drill 54 separate bridge shafts for the new interchange, and the casing can’t stay in the ground while the concrete sets. An oscillator steadily lifts the casing out of the ground so when the concrete goes in, the casing comes out.

Step six: Detach and remove each casing piece as it’s lifted above ground. Set aside for cleaning.

Repeat steps four through six until the concrete pour is complete and the hole-to-China has been replaced with a concrete bridge shaft, waiting to cure. 

Then brace yourself and get ready to start over – one down, 53 to go!

Friday, October 12, 2012

SR 3 ‘slides’ to finish line

SR 3 before slide repairs
By guest blogger Claudia Bingham Baker

With months of record-setting dry weather gracing the area, it’s hard to remember that just a few months before, heavy rains caused many landslides along our state highways. One such slide on State Route 3 just north of Shelton had reduced the highway to one alternating lane of traffic since mid-March. On Oct. 4, WSDOT completed a repair that allowed the second lane to reopen.

The concept of the repair was straightforward enough – build a 120-foot-long retaining wall to reinforce the damaged section of highway. The execution of the repair, however, was another story.  Steep slopes and tough terrain added challenges to the crew as they drilled H-shaped steel piles deep into the slope and reinforced them with ground anchors. They then installed treated horizontal timbers between the piles to stabilize the slope and support the road. 

SR 3 slide repairs
Photos tell the story the best. The ‘before’ photo shows water damage and erosion to the aging retaining wall and hillside. The ‘after’ photo shows the width and breadth of the repairs. “Those repairs will ensure that this section of highway is stable for years to come,” said WSDOT Project Engineer Scott Ireland. “We sure appreciate the patience that drivers showed us while the road was down to one lane.” 

Contractor Rognlin’s Inc. of Aberdeen completed the $1.3 million emergency repair on time and within budget.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Testing our traffic camera images in the cloud

The way people are using the Internet is shifting: Cellphones are getting smarter, tablets are more easily accessible and all of these devices are finding their way into more hands as Internet access becomes more affordable. We’re paying close attention to this and are seeing it reflected in our own Web statistics.

Wait, a transportation agency that focuses on state highways and ferries is worried about how people use the Internet? Why yes, we are!  

Here's what we’ve seen:
  • The number of people who are accessing our website on a daily basis has increased since the same time last year, from 78,000 unique visitors a day in 2011 to nearly 90,000 a day in 2012.
  • Mobile device usage is also surging. Compared to the same time last year (January-June), the number of mobile devices visiting our website has gone from 4.5 million visits to 8.7 million visits.
  • We now have more than 200,000 downloads of our iPhone and Android mobile app.
Example of one of the traffic camera images that
gets a lot of use during a winter storm.

So why pay attention to this? During the snowstorm on Jan. 17, 2012, we saw more than 800,000 people access our website. That's nearly 12 percent of Washington’s population. What happens if that grows? How can we best position ourselves to handle that amount of traffic, or higher, again?

Building the infrastructure that would be needed to handle these infrequent weather spikes just isn't a good use of taxpayer dollars. Over the years, we've made numerous improvements so that we can function during those types of bad weather days. However, to ensure the information that you need to make informed travel decisions is available whenever and wherever you need it, we need to think outside the box. 

Instead of buying a whole farm of computer servers to accommodate the amount of requests for information we might get during one crazy storm, we will be testing cloud technology.  Essentially, we’re renting the ability to handle that spike in requests so that you can make travel decisions in an emergency.

What is cloud technology? Think of it this way – if we use just one computer to provide information, it can only handle so many simultaneous requests. If instead, we put our camera images to a location that has access to a really big server we can ensure the images you want to see will be available when you need it.

So what does this mean to you? On Wednesday, Oct. 10, and Thursday, Oct. 11, we are shifting all of the traffic camera images from our servers to the cloud to test our ability to make this change.  Testing this now means we’ll be ready when that crazy weather or emergency situation causes people to immediately go to our website to see what is happening.  On a more technical note, for those of you who have linked to the images, you won’t notice a difference; the urls will remain the same.

You may have to be patient with us Wednesday and Thursday, but we're crossing our fingers that you won't notice a thing.  If, however, you do see something unusual, be sure to let us know.

Friday, October 5, 2012

WSDOT volunteers educate fairgoers

By guest blogger Mike Westbay

There’s nothing quite like the Central Washington State Fair for getting reacquainted with old friends, sharing deep-fried foods and viewing exhibits.

For at least ten years, our volunteers have hosted two fair booths in Yakima, both inside the Sundome and outside among the vendors and food booths. Large, full-color posters of highway construction and maintenance projects always attract attention and help get conversations started.

Our fair booths are a personal way to show and tell what we do and how drivers benefit from the gas tax they pay at the pump.

Tanya Martinez and Chris Kroll, WSDOT volunteers,
greet fair booth visitors at the Sundome in Yakima.
This year our fair booth volunteers talked with fair visitors from all walks of life about how the featured projects (I-90, SR 410 and US 97) affect their families, their businesses and their commutes to work and school.

The most often asked question about the projects is “When will it be done?” Some were disappointed to hear that the US 97 Satus Creek Bridge replacement and US 97 wildlife crossing bridge projects would take another season to complete because of delays due to high fire danger. But many were pleasantly surprised to learn that the new section of SR 410, around the landslide in the Nile Valley, was already completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

Opening the new section of SR 410 around the landslide is a popular topic. This leads to conversations about where people were and what they were doing when the landslide buried the highway, destroyed homes and flooded farms. Cabin owners expressed appreciation for opening the new route ahead of schedule and for shortening their drive to the nearest store and restaurant from 15 to six minutes.

Most booth visitors wanted to know how we are planning to replace the old snowshed on I-90 where most of the avalanches happen. Many were interested to learn the contractor is proposing to save long-term maintenance costs by building bridges instead of a larger snowshed so that avalanches can slide underneath the highway.

Fairgoers visit the WSDOT fair booth at the Yakima Sundome.
Concrete pavement was also a hot topic. Most comments were about how nice and smooth the new pavement is near Easton and how rough the old pavement is. Funny and far-out guesses were offered again and again about the mysterious “three slots” in the wheel paths of the right lane on I-90 and I-82. Of course, the brief answer of “dowel bar retrofitting” was not acceptable.

In-depth explanations of how and why polymer-coated steel dowel bars strengthen the old pavement were necessary. Even after much debate, one gentleman stuck to his idea that uranium fuel rods were being placed in the roadway to melt the snow.

Attendance at the fair was down at first, likely due to the thick smoke in the air from nearby forest fires. As the smoke cleared, fairgoers came streaming in and in the end, attendance surpassed last year’s count.

Conversations are the key to this effort’s success. This year, the comments were mostly positive about our work nearby and across the state. Many visitors took time to stop and thank us for a job well done.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Toll enforcement program helps ensure fairness for those who pay their tolls on time

 By guest blogger Emily Pace Glad

Did you know that the vast majority of tolls are paid on time? It’s true: nearly 90 percent of SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows Bridge drivers pay their tolls on time. Furthermore, between 75 and 80 percent of tolls are paid with a Good To Go! account. To all those drivers – thank you for paying on time!

If you travel either of the bridges – even occasionally – we encourage you to open a Good To Go! account to ensure you  pay the lowest toll rate.

As you may have heard, we recently started the next phase of our toll enforcement program to collect tolls from those who don’t pay on time. We started mailing the first civil penalty notices for unpaid tolls in April. Now, some vehicle owners with unpaid civil penalties may not be able to renew their vehicle registration with the Department of Licensing until all tolls, fees and penalties are paid.

Our goal is to not only collect the unpaid toll amount, but also to ensure we are being fair to the majority of drivers, who continue to pay their tolls on time. Enforcing tolls also strengthens one of the main reasons we’re tolling these bridges – to pay for them. This effort allows us to put collected tolls, fees and penalties back into each bridge program.

Though they’re getting a lot of media attention, it’s important to keep in mind that these toll scofflaws represent a very small percentage of toll transactions. To put it into context, we’ve had over 21 million toll transactions on the Tacoma Narrows and SR 520 bridges and less than one percent of those transactions have become civil penalties. And less than half a percent of all transactions have resulted in a hold on someone’s vehicle registration.

If you aren’t Good To Go!, here are some tips on what to do if you receive a bill:
  • Keep an eye out for a bill about two weeks after you cross the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges. We mail bills to the registered vehicle owner on file with DOL. If you don’t receive a bill, please call us at 1-866-936-8246.
  • Make sure to pay within 15 days of receiving the bill to avoid a $5 reprocessing fee.
  • If you fail to pay within 80 days of crossing the bridge, you will receive a $40 notice of civil penalty for each unpaid toll transaction.
  • We only notify DOL to place a vehicle registration hold when a civil penalty remains unpaid for 20 days. Before placing a hold on vehicle registration, we’ll have already mailed two toll bills, a notice of civil penalty and given vehicle owners more than 100 days to respond with payment or dispute.
You can contact the Good To Go! customer service center to settle unpaid tolls or to check if they have a registration hold for your vehicle. DOL will notify vehicle owners of any registration holds via renewal notices or when owners attempt to renew their tabs. Learn more about vehicle registration holds for unpaid tolls.

I-5 gets rehabilitated in Tacoma

By guest blogger Claudia Bingham Baker

On budget and ahead of schedule – those words describe our  I-5: 48th Street to M Street Concrete Rehabilitation project.

Crews pour fast-curing concrete into an excavated 12’x15’ space
to replace a broken concrete panel. All work was done
at night to minimize traffic impacts.
Since mid-July, crews have been busy removing and replacing 76 concrete roadway panels on northbound and southbound Interstate 5 in Tacoma. The 76 panels were cracked and broken from 50 years of daily pounding by cars and trucks. Despite the best efforts of maintenance crews to keep concrete panels intact, these panels needed a fresh start.  Crews used upwards of 38 concrete-truck-loads of fast-curing concrete to replace the 12’x15’ panels over the last few months to get the job done. Didn’t see the work happening, you say?  That’s not surprising because all of it occurred at night to minimize impacts to the traveling public. Crews also ground over five miles of I-5 in addition to replacing the concrete panels, which extends the life of the concrete and provides drivers a smoother ride. 

You may be wondering about all the other concrete panels out there that didn’t get this fresh start.  Their turn is coming, when two more projects rehabilitate I-5 in a big way. The first project will rehab I-5 and build HOV lanes between M Street and Portland Avenue, and the second project will realign and rebuild I-5 through the SR 16 interchange and build an HOV bridge and ramps through Nalley Valley.

Friday, September 21, 2012

State Route 99 – Two years in the transformation of Seattle’s first freeway

By guest blogger Greg Phipps

In summer 2010 contractor crews working for WSDOT started work to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct south of Downtown Seattle. Two years later the seismically vulnerable viaduct is gone and drivers are traveling on a brand new, seismically-strong State Route 99 from SODO to Pioneer Square. This section of SR 99 won’t be truly complete until it connects to the SR 99 tunnel at the end of 2015. Still, it’s pretty cool to see how replacing the southern mile of the viaduct has changed the landscape south of downtown.

The southern mile
Our first photo shows the southern mile of the viaduct in May 2010, before crews started building the new SR 99. Besides the viaduct, keep an eye on a couple things that will change. The first thing is Alaskan Way South, the street on the west side of the viaduct. The second thing is the railroad tracks between the viaduct and Alaskan Way South.

The southern mile in September 2011
One year ago crews were close to finishing the western half of the new SR 99, the piece that would eventually become the southbound lanes of the highway. What happened to Alaskan Way South? Part of it is in the footprint of the new SR 99 bridge, while the rest has become a construction zone. And the railroad tracks? They’ve moved west, out of the way of the new highway.

Southern mile demolition – October 2011
Just one month later and the viaduct is a shell of its former self, literally. Demolition machines are hammering and crunching the double-deck viaduct into piles of concrete and rebar rubble.  In a little more than a week most of the southern mile has disappeared. Meanwhile, crews are getting ready to open the western half of the new highway and the construction bypass that takes traffic from the new highway up to the remaining section of the viaduct north of South King Street.

The new Highway 99 - September 2012
It’s 11 months after the southern mile demolition and we’ve got twins!  Bridges, that is.  Southbound traffic rides on the west bridge and northbound traffic uses the east bridge, until they meet again and travel on a construction bypass around SR 99 tunnel construction.  On the photo trace a line from the end of the east bridge through the tunnel construction zone toward the blue cranes on the bottom right. That’s your route into the tunnel starting at the end of 2015.

Bright, tougher lane stripes coming to a highway near you

Crews start restriping major highways this week
and plan to finish by fall 2012, weather permitting.
By guest blogger Meagan McFadden

The worn-out stripes along some of the state’s busiest highways will soon be a thing of the past as crews restripe about 40 miles of roadway, in eight counties, along five routes.

This week, we start work on a $2.7 million safety project to restripe high-traffic locations on Interstate 5 in Marysville, Lynnwood, Lacey, Tumwater and the express lanes in Seattle, State Route 240 in Richland, US 2 in Cashmere, US 12 in Walla Walla and I-205 near Vancouver.

We have all been in driving conditions where it’s really hard to see the stripes, so that’s why we are going to improve visibility for drivers by putting down tougher stripes thanks to funding approved by the Legislature.

Crews will spend the next 40 days laying down more durable, plastic-like lane lines across the state and, weather permitting, finish by the end of October. This time we aren’t using paint, we are using a more durable striping material called methyl methacrylate. This material should last longer than paint and withstand the wear and tear from weather and vehicles.

Don’t worry; we are going to limit the impacts to your commute by avoiding peak-travel times and stripe at night through the early morning. But if you are out and about during this time, please make sure to look out for our crews, slow down and give ‘em a brake.

Friday, September 14, 2012

New interchange at SR 500 signals safety improvements for Vancouver drivers

by guest blogger Heidi Sause

Celebrating safer drives at SR 500 and St. Johns Blvd.
Secretary Paula Hammond, local elected officials and several
project neighbors opened the interchange to
drivers three months early on Sept. 12.
At WSDOT, we value efficiency, sustainability, transparency and responsibility. But above all else, we value safety.

There are other values that govern the way we do business, and we recently cut the ribbon on a project in Vancouver that embodies many of these attributes. But at its core, the project advances our commitment to safety.

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, crews opened a new interchange at SR 500 and St. Johns Boulevard. The interchange was open to drivers three months ahead of schedule. This accomplishment was due in large part to the incredible planning and management of our prime contractor, Tapani Underground Inc.

But the real accomplishment is that the interchange replaces a traffic signal on the busy highway. For years, this location averaged more than 50 collisions a year. Many of those collisions occurred in the backups that clogged the highway when drivers had to stop at a red light.

During the past 15 months, crews raised St. Johns Blvd., built a bridge over the highway and completed four new interchange ramps. The end result is a grade-separated interchange that erased the traffic signal from one of the busiest highways in Vancouver.

The new interchange alleviates backups and makes a huge leap toward reducing collisions for 65,000 daily drivers. This was no small feat, and we’re pretty proud of the end result.

We joined elected officials, stakeholders and the local community to celebrate the early opening at a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 12, but the celebration didn’t end when those scissors snipped the ribbon. It was renewed when crews pulled barrels from the roadway and drivers rolled onto the new ramps – that’s an achievement that will be quietly celebrated for years to come.

White House “We Can’t Wait” initiative spotlights WSDOT’s Point Defiance Bypass project

By guest blogger Melanie Coon

Our Point Defiance Bypass rail project was in the national spotlight when the Obama Administration included it among four US transportation projects that President Obama wants accelerated under his “We Can’t Wait” initiative. The “We Can’t Wait” announcement highlighted an executive order issued by the president last March launching a government-wide effort to make the permitting and review process for transportation projects faster and more efficient.

This rendering shows a rail crossing at Berkeley street near
Lakewood with proposed updated safety features and signals.
We have completed comprehensive studies related to moving the Amtrak Cascades route away from Tacoma’s Point Defiance waterfront, exploring potential effects on traffic, noise and the natural environment near the bypass route through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. The proposed inland passenger rail route is shorter and will create room for Amtrak Cascades to add more daily trains between Seattle and Portland and will shorten travel times by avoiding rail congestion and delays.

The executive order pushes the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) who provided federal high speed rail funding for the project, to accelerate its internal review process and enable us to make those studies available to the public this fall. Shorter internal review cycles have shaved about six months off the project schedule.

We plan to publish the Point Defiance Bypass Environmental Assessment later this month and will let the public know when it’s available for review and comment. Part of that outreach includes public open houses on Oct. 10 and 11 in DuPont and Lakewood. Visit the Point Defiance Bypass webpage for times and locations. We expect a decision from FRA if we can move forward with final design by the end of this year. If all goes well, we’ll start construction in 2015 and we’ll be using the bypass by 2017.

Friday, September 7, 2012

SR 410: A highway restored

By Summer Derrey

Members of the 14th Legislative District and staff from FHWA,
WSDOT and Yakima County cut the ribbon to open the
new stretch of SR 410 at the base of the 2009 landslide
in the Nile Valley, west of Naches.
Three years ago, a massive landslide in the Nile Valley on State Route 410 uprooted a small close-knit community. The landslide crushed homes, buried the highway and rerouted the Naches River.

Federal, state, city and county officials came together quickly, to restore a temporary route for the Nile Valley.

On Aug. 30, 2012, a new section of SR 410 opened in time for Labor Day travel. The new section follows along the base of the landslide. Community members and officials celebrated the new route at a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"This project required courage, leadership, passion and caring to get things done. Above all, it required cooperation. Everybody came together to get the job done." said Schuyler Hoss, Gov. Gregoire’s regional representative.

 “One of the most striking things to me, I will always remember, is how this community came together to support the people that lost their homes…” said Sen. Curtis King, 14th District. “Those are things that show quality and the character of a community.”

“The entire project that we see today was made possible through the cooperation of the federal, the state and the local government. And, you know, that seldom happens. This is a good example of how government needs to work,” said Rep. Norm Johnson, 14th District. “Nature handed us one whale of a lemon, and today, we’ll cut the ribbon and taste the sweetness of that lemonade because the folks of the Nile Valley have their peace and quiet back.”

“It is today that we see what government is really, really for – infrastructure and allowing us to travel our state and nation freely,” said Rep. Charles Ross, 14th District. “I give this project an absolute A+ when it comes to government efficiency.”

“We are going to turn back over $1 million of federal emergency relief money,” said Don Whitehouse, WSDOT regional administrator. “This project really is under budget.”

Next time you’re headed over the mountains, take SR 410 to check out the new route, just nine miles west of the town of Naches.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pre-flight check: Can we find you?

On July 23, we got that dreaded call: someone wasn’t where they were supposed to be. A pilot, flying his home-built airplane, didn’t show up. Family members notified authorities and WSDOT Aviation launched an air search.

Working out of the Wenatchee airport, searchers flew grid patterns (based on the route he most likely took), scoured mountainous terrain and chased leads. Sadly - after six and a half days of searching, dried-up leads and exhausted resources – we had to suspend the search.

When a plane goes missing, it’s a race against the clock to try to get as much information as possible. When hours turn into days, the chances of a favorable outcome decrease drastically.

So now we have a sobering reminder to pilots and anyone who cares about someone who flies. No one wants to think they might one day be the subject of a search. However, the old adage –“expect the best and prepare for the worst” might just be the key to saving a pilot’s (and any passengers’) life.

Our goal is no plane ever goes missing. But if the worst happens, here are some things that will make it easier for emergency crews to find the plane faster:

File a flight plan  – a flight plan will tell searchers where you were heading and your intended route. This information can be critical during a search.

Use flight following – talking to air traffic control (ATC) during your flight can pay dividends if you go missing. ATC would have radar information and details about when they last spoke to you, where you were heading, and if you had reported any in-flight troubles.

Make sure you have an operational emergency locator transmitter – the key word here is “operational.” Check it out every so often to make sure it’s working. ELTs  transmit distress signals in emergencies and help search crews find your location. ELTs are required in most U.S. registered civil aircraft.

Consider investing in a new 406 ELT – several years ago, a more advanced model of the ELT (406 mhz) was developed. This version will cost around $550 per unit, but has an 80 percent chance of activating upon impact. And it will tell searchers your tail number and exact location. This could mean the difference between hours and minutes when it comes to searches.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Fish-friendly culvert to open after SR 167 closes next weekend

by guest blogger Steve Peer

Crews install a section of culvert during
another fish-friendly project. 
Our culvert is similar…but twice as large!
Throughout the Puget Sound region, many culverts and drainage systems inhibit fish access to area waterways. Over the years, we have been working to replace the antiquated systems with new fish-friendly ones.  Panther Creek, which flows under SR 167 in Renton, is next to undergo an upgrade. To accomplish the work, we’ll completely close down a section of freeway for an entire weekend.  Crews will dig a 65-foot wide and 35-foot deep trench for the new culvert. Crews will then install a 19-foot wide pipe that will make passing through the culvert easier for fish and other aquatic wildlife. In addition to providing fish access, the project will lay the groundwork for future SR 167 improvements and help reduce seasonal flooding to properties west of SR 167.
Although there never a good time to close a busy highway, we chose this weekend in August to make the most of the dry, warm weather, and light summer traffic.
Closure Details
For 58 hours, spanning from 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 10 to 5 a.m. on Monday, August 13, we’ll close SR 167 between I-405 and the S. 180th Street/SW 43rd Street exit to the IKEA district.

What should you do?
  • Know Before You Go: check our website, call 511 for real-time travel information and plan for delays and added travel time.
  • Delay discretionary trips, especially during high traffic periods, such as between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. 
  • Anticipate heavy congestion on alternate routes such as I-405, I-5 and SR 181. 
  • Expect increased congestion on local streets, especially on Lind Avenue, South 180th Street, South Grady Way, Rainier Avenue South, Talbot Road, and SR 181/West Valley Highway.  
  • Carpool and use transit. Here are some links to help you plan your trip: 

The SR 167 closure isn’t the only large project shutting down a highway during the weekend.  Crews in Bellevue will also install a fish-friendly culvert resulting in a 55 hour weekend closure of SR 520.  For the latest on the regional closures, please check out our What’s Happening Now page.

Friday, August 3, 2012

SR 14 project moves one (exciting) step closer to completion

By guest blogger
Abbi Russell

Sometimes it’s not an activity itself that’s exciting, but the resulting ripple effect that brings a sense of anticipation and purpose.

Night time girder setting advances SR 14 project,
keeps traffic impacts in Washougal to a minimum.
Take, for instance, this week’s girder setting on State Route 14 in Washougal. Crews placed nine girders over Second Street Monday and Tuesday nights, essentially putting into place the backbone of a new bridge that will carry the highway up and over the cross street. Exciting, eh? Eh?

If you’re a transportation geek like me (and any number of people around here), this is great news. If you’re a driver passing by every day, it means things look a little different. Now there are some grey concrete bars connecting two grey concrete walls. Yay.

Girder setting may seem like a mundane milestone, but it’s an exciting one for us because it shows that things are moving forward. It shows that a project we and the community have been planning and laboring on for at least 10 years is actually coming to fruition.

Pretty soon, those grey concrete bars will support a bridge deck. And not long after that, the deck will support cars. Eventually, SR 14 will be a smooth-sailing, four-lane highway from I-5 to Washougal, bringing safer, faster trips to local drivers, tourists, and commerce. That’s a vision that’s been a long time coming – decades, in fact.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Crews still have a ton of work to do before we can open a wider SR 14 and two new interchanges to traffic. We plan to be finished late this year or early next year, and until then, we’ll keep celebrating each step that gets us there.

Round-the-clock closures on US 2 this weekend to replace “Swiss cheese” culverts

 By guest blogger
Erica Taylor

After 40 years of service, the culverts that run under US 2 near Snohomish are so corroded, maintenance crews say they look like Swiss cheese. It’s time to replace the old steel culverts with thick, durable, rubberized plastic pipes that will reduce long-term maintenance needs and costs. Though they’re invisible from the roadway, the culverts are a very important part of the highway drainage system – leaky culverts can lead to potholes, bumps, cracks and potentially sinkholes.

Crew perform prep work for culvert removal
and installation underneath US 2.
So, what do Swiss cheese culverts mean for your travels? If you’re planning to take eastbound US 2 in Snohomish this weekend, allow some time for detours.

Crews will cut open the highway and dig underneath to remove the old culverts and install the new ones (see video below). That means a weekend-long closure of eastbound US 2, from 20th Street SE to Bickford Avenue. Lanes will close at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, and won’t reopen until 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6. This weekend is just the first of six directional closures on US 2 between now and October. During closures, we’ll post a detour along SR 9 and 20th Street SE. The detour will add 10 to 15 minutes to most trips, but if you’re traveling Saturday or Sunday afternoon, plan to add at least 20 minutes extra travel time.

Visit our project Web page for up-to-date information and closure schedules. Keep up with construction in Snohomish County by signing up for email updates and bookmarking the construction update page.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You're invited to the unveiling of Seattle's most “boring” exhibit

Tunnel boring machine unveiled at
Milepost 31, 211 First Ave. S., Seattle
By guest blogger
KaDeena Yerkan

It’s not often someone would purposely advertise a new exhibit as boring, but in this case, the description fits. Because we’re literally talking about boring – a tunnel, that is.

All this boring-ness is taking place at Milepost 31 in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood. For those who haven’t visited it yet, Milepost 31 is a new project information center for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. It provides an inside look at the SR 99 Tunnel Project, and celebrates the people and projects that shaped Pioneer Square.

Now, Milepost 31 was already a pretty exciting place to visit. It’s filled with artifacts and interactive exhibits that describe the tunnel, the neighborhood’s changing landscape and the role transportation has played in the city’s development. In fact, Milepost 31 recently received the American Association for State and Local History’s Leadership in History Award, the nation's most prestigious competition for achievement in state and local history.

But we’re not ones to rest on our laurels. Which is why we’re introducing a new exhibit in August - a 10-foot long, 1/35th-scale, motorized model of the massive SR 99 tunnel boring machine (TBM). The TBM is the most important part of this project. Its size and capabilities are what makes the tunnel possible. So having a working model that people can examine and explore will help us better explain what’s happening with the project as it progresses.

The public is invited to join in the fun on Aug. 2 when the model makes its debut. The event will include remarks by Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond followed by an open house and opportunity to talk with project engineers.
Unveiling of SR 99 tunnel boring machine model
6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2
(during the First Thursday Art Walk in Pioneer Square)
Milepost 31, 211 First Ave. S., Seattle
If you can’t attend the unveiling, you can check out the model and other exhibits at Milepost 31 anytime between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. And remember, admission is free.