Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Procession route for fallen trooper on March 1

We wanted to give you a heads up about a large procession Thursday morning to honor fallen Washington State Patrol Trooper Tony Radulescu. The first procession of Trooper Radulescu’s colleagues will begin at 7:30 a.m. on Kitsap Mall in Silverdale. Two other processions will join them and law enforcement officials estimate there could be up to 2,000 vehicles. They’re scheduled to begin arriving at the ShoWare Center in Kent beginning at 11:15.

The following is an excerpt from a press release provided by the Washington State Patrol and can also be viewed on their website

The procession will be led by Trooper Radulescu’s colleagues from the local State Patrol district office, followed by other law enforcement and emergency services personnel from Kitsap and neighboring counties.

The route will move onto SR 3 and then travel through the city of Port Orchard where Tony worked and lived.

The initial route is expected to be:
  • Exit Kitsap Mall to SR 3;
  • Southbound SR 3 to Gorst/SR 16 Interchange;
  • Exit to Bay Street (SR 166) just south of Gorst;
  • Travel through the City of Port Orchard along Bay Street;
  • Turn left on  Port Orchard Boulevard;
  • Right onto Tremont Street West and back onto SR 16. 
The procession will continue on SR 16 eastbound to I-5 and south to SR 512. They will meet up with additional law enforcement personnel staged just off 112th St. on Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) property.

The route for the family procession will leave Mountain View Funeral Home on Steilacoom Blvd, Lakewood at approximately 10:30 a.m. They will rendezvous with those staged at JBLM on SR 512 and proceed to the ShoWare Center in Kent and arrive at approximately 11:15 a.m.

The final leg of the procession route;
  • Leave Mountain View Funeral Home onto Steilacoom Boulevard.
  • Right on South Tacoma Way
  • Left on SR 512 East 
  • To SR 167 North
  • Exit  onto SR 516  to West Willis Street
  • Left onto 4th Ave. south
  • Left onto West James Street
  • Arrive at front of ShoWare Center on West James Street.
There will be no procession following the service.

For the public’s safety, please do not to stop on I-5, SR 512 or SR 167 during the procession.  

All on- and off-ramps to and from State Route 512 in Pierce County will be closed during the procession.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Air search and rescue

by guest blogger Alice Fiman

Over the weekend, a plane went down near Mount Baker – near the 7,800 foot level. Our Aviation Search and Rescue Division got the call and headed up to Bellingham to coordinate the search. What – you may ask – does the state highway department have to do with search and rescue?

Great question. Our responsibility, as directed by the Legislature, is to manage all Air Search and Rescue operations within the state as well as coordinating the use of aviation assets for disaster relief efforts. So that means when the emergency beacon went off Saturday night, we got the call.

Satellites monitor for emergency beacons – through a system called SARSAT. The SARSAT office then notifies the state Emergency Operations Center (Washington Emergency Operations Center is located at Camp Murray). The EOC Duty Officer got the call, which then came to us.

Once we had the location, and contact information for the beacon’s owner (good thing he registered – hint, hint), we called the family to confirm. Yes, the Bellingham man had taken the plane out over Mount Baker to take photos, and yes, he hadn’t returned as scheduled.

Our Aviation Search and Rescue team (led by Tom Peterson), then started up to Bellingham. We have a trailer that serves as a mission control center. He also called the U.S. Navy and it was fortunate a team from Naval Air Station Whidbey was available to start searching. Weather was cooperating also so the team could fly during the night.

The pilot’s wife then called the local sheriff’s office – apparently she received a short phone call and he was okay. Cellular reception is spotty in that rural area, so she didn’t have much more info.
With that confirmation the plane was actually out there, a team from the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office took snowmobiles out, starting from what is known as Shrieber’s Meadow. They found the plane - damaged and upside down on the edge of the Deming Glacier at the 7,800-foot level of Mount Baker. (A bit of trivia – those beacons actually work – the plane was less than 150 feet from where it was supposed to be.)

No pilot or passenger inside. As luck would have it, a group of snowmobilers were also out, and they got stuck and were able to radio some friends. On the way out, their friends found the pilot and his passenger, so they brought them back.

The pilot called from his home, reporting he was okay.

Our role was to find the plane, coordinating all available resources. We also do this during natural disasters – coordinate all aviation resources to help rescue those stuck during floods, etc. This time, it was fortunate the U.S. Navy and local sheriff’s office were there to help. That isn’t always the case.
Once we found the plane, we turn the rescue operation over to the local law enforcement and the FAA and NTSB come in to investigate the crash. Mission complete.

Friday, February 10, 2012

New flyover ramps taking shape in Federal Way

Looking at two of the bridge columns that
 will support the steel tub girders over I-5.
By guest blogger Mike Murphy

It's not often that we build a new bridge over the freeway, but this weekend we're doing just that.

Crews are starting the final major milestone of a two-year project that aims to improve traffic and safety at the busy I-5/SR 18/SR 161 interchange in Federal Way. When all is said and done later this summer, drivers won't have to contend with the notorious weave as they jockey for position on the I-5/SR 18 ramps.

But it's no small task. For the next three weekends -- Friday and Saturday nights -- two huge cranes will lift the “steel tub girders” up and over I-5 and place them onto bridge columns that have been sprouting up alongside I-5. (They're called steel tub girders for obvious reasons; they resemble giant steel bathtubs.)

We'll need to completely close one direction of I-5 while the work is being done. Southbound I-5 will be closed near SR 18 the nights of  Feb. 10, 11 and 24. We'll close northbound I-5 the nights of Feb. 17, 18 and 25.

During the southbound I-5 closures traffic will be detoured onto Highway 99 and rejoin I-5 at 54th Avenue East in Fife. It's about a five-mile detour.

The northbound I-5 detour will send traffic onto eastbound SR 18 to Weyerhaeuser Way and back to I-5. You'll want to allow extra time for your late night trips during the closures. Roughly 7,000 vehicles use this stretch of I-5 on a typical weekend night. (Check the project website for detour maps.)

The girders will support the roadway for the two new flyover ramps -- one between eastbound SR 18 and northbound I-5, and the other from westbound SR 18 and to southbound I-5. Once they're in place we can begin to pour the pavement for the new ramps.

So what’s the benefit of a flyover ramp?

Anyone who travels between I-5 and SR 18 is probably familiar with the white-knuckle weave as they merge from one freeway to the other. It’s due to the cloverleaf interchange that was built in the 1960s. It was considered state-of-the art at the time but as the population grew, it quickly became obvious that it couldn’t handle the increasing traffic volumes.

The flyover ramps will completely eliminate the weave, and let drivers "fly" up and over I-5.

Funding for the $112 million project came from a combination of state gas taxes and federal grants.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The new State Route 7 Elbe Safety Rest Area

We've received a few inquiries about the SR 7 Safety Rest Area Project and wanted to provide you with more information about why the project cost what it did.

The $3.2 million project cost (not $4.2 million as reported incorrectly by some media) was higher than we would have liked. However, this project highlights the challenges of meeting an important safety and service need for hundreds of thousands of tourists who travel through Elbe, a community of 29 (according to the 2010 Census).

In a rural location, finding a location that met certain factors was not easy. Crews had to work to find a potential location and land that:
  • Met engineering and environmental standards
  • Satisfied grant conditions 
  • Included line of sight when entering/exiting SR 7
  • Required that visitors not have to cross rail lines 
  • Was available for sale
Beginning with initial site selection in 1998, we identified and evaluated several sites, both private and public lands. Each evaluation had costs, including site analysis and tests, preliminary engineering and so on. We continued to discover reasons that the sites, for one reason or another, would not work – and all of this added to the cost.

After 14 years of development and working through these challenges – we agree it’s been long and difficult – we are pleased we now have a facility open and operating and ready to service thousands of travelers who pass through Elbe each year on their way to Mount Rainier National Park.

Below, you can find a breakdown of the costs to adapt a two-story, 3,000-square-foot former Civilian Conservation Corps bunkhouse and garage that date to the 1930s. The structure fits within the rural landscape but is maintained to modern standards. While not what you may find along I-5, it’s far from what some have called an “outhouse.”

This project was funded with $1.913 million in federal funds, $748,000 in state funds, and $543,000 in Federal Scenic Byway Grant Funds for a total project cost of approximately $3.2 million. Our construction project budget was $1.44 million.

Here is our  project description and a breakdown of the costs:
  • Total award to contractor Pease and Sons: $1,101,689. The contractor’s cost breakout includes:
    • Rehabilitation of historic building with two urinals and five vault toilets: $749,085
    • Site lighting, pavement, grading, storm-water drain system, striping, walkways, and gates: $255,390
    • Landscaping: $17,500
    • Subtotal: $1,021,975
    • Tax (7.8%): $79,714
  • Our construction budget includes approximately $338,370 for construction engineering/inspections, risk contingencies, and project administration (for a total project construction cost of $1.44 million).
  • The right-of-way and acquisition was $271,000. This location was not a state property. 
  • The cost for this site selection and preliminary engineering was $1.493 million. This process, which began in 1998, included identifying and evaluating multiple sites, both private and public lands. In a remote location, finding that location was not an easy task.
So in the end, it was a 14 year process that brings much relief to travelers headed to Mount Rainier.

Tolling terms, conditions and fees – oh my

It has been an interesting week with tolling. We thought we’d take a minute to provide a little more insight and background on a few of the issues that made the rounds.

Unintentional fees
We unintentionally charged some customers additional 25-cent fees for crossing the SR 520 bridge.  A system glitch caused the toll sensors to read a Good To Go! pass and a license plate on the same vehicle as two separate transactions, which lead to an unwarranted $0.25 Pay By Plate fee, duplicate or over-axle charges. We are sincerely sorry about those charges and will be issuing credits to affected customers’ accounts.

What is an inactive fee?
There also were a few stories about the $5 inactive-account fee that we have in place. It’s exactly what it sounds like. If a Good To Go! account hasn’t had any activity on it for two years, we’ll make two attempts to reach a customer. If we can’t reach them we charge $5, close the account and issue a check for the remaining balance. Customers can close their account at any time and be issued a full refund of the remaining balance without a $5 fee. Charging the inactive account holder is the fairest way to cover the costs for this. The $5 charge includes the cost for locating the account holder, generating and mailing two statements, issuing a check for the remaining balance on the account and maintaining the inactive account for two years.

Where is my $10 for signing up early?
We’ve also heard from customers who want to know what happened to their $10 incentive. Before tolling started on SR 520, we offered customers who signed up early a $10 incentive if signed up before April 15, 2011. Now that tolling has started, they’re wondering why they haven’t seen the credit yet. It should be on your monthly statement for January, which should be arriving soon. Something else noteworthy about the incentive is that it’s only good for three months after tolling started. The credits will expire at the end of March if they’re not used up before then.

What is Pay By Plate?
We offer Pay By Plate accounts to customers who want to pay the lowest toll rate without having to buy and install passes on every vehicle listed on their account. It’s great for rarely driven cars, cars with metallic windshields, classic cars and your out-of-town visitor’s cars. You simply register the license plate and a photo is taken of the plate when crossing the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges. We charge a 25-cent fee because while the license plate recognition software is good, it’s not perfect, and some photos require us to review it and match the plate to an account. This takes time and money.

Unfortunately, with a tolling system that generates tens of thousands of transactions every single day, we will probably have a few more issues that pop up as we move forward. We’ll continue to be diligent about responding them as quickly and courteously as possible. And, if you notice something that’s not right, please don’t hesitate to contact our customer service center right away. We want to work with you to get it resolved. Thank you for your patience thus far.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Behind the scenes of equipment repair during a snowstorm

Kelly Heathman from our Transportation Equipment Fund office sent us this on the morning of January 18 and although it's a couple of weeks old, we thought we would share it with you to give you some behind the scenes detail about the people and the work that goes into maintaining and repairing those snowplows and trucks you see out on the roadways.

by guest blogger Kelly Heathman

I was watching the news Wednesday morning (January 18) as snow was falling all around my house.  The reporter was commenting on our efforts on how well we were keeping the roads clear.  It gave me a sense of pride and got me thinking about the unsung heroes at the Transportation Equipment Fund (TEF).

Every truck that was plowing snow that morning has undergone a thorough check of all its components by TEF technicians.  These mechanical marvels are a menagerie of components just waiting to fail.  Just a simple hydraulic problem can cripple one of these beasts.  As technologically advanced as these trucks are, only so much can be done to safeguard them from the corrosive agents being spread on the roads.  They are exposed to a cruel world. They simply won’t operate without maintenance and fuel. 

What happens to these trucks when the unthinkable happens?  They go to one of the six shop locations in the NW Region manned by TEF technicians, and in some cases they are repaired on the site of the breakdown.  With TEF mechanics on a snow event contingency schedule, all shops are open 24 hours to respond to any problems.  There are also 25 WSDOT fuel sites that need constant monitoring and maintenance during inclement weather.

What are the most common components that fail?  As mentioned, hydraulic problems are a common occurrence.  Since the plow and dump body functions are operated by hydraulics, one small problem can disable the truck.  When this happens, a technician usually has to repair the truck on the side of the road.  He must determine the problem and manufacture a new hose from the tools in his service truck.  This has to be done safely and in the most adverse weather conditions.

TEF takes theses trucks maintenance very seriously.  They are meticulously cared for from the minute they arrive to the Corson shop from the dealership.  We install all the controllers, mount the plows, install the lighting, safeguard the components from the elements and do all the custom fabrication.  They are on a strict preventative maintenance schedule of fluid and filter replacement, tires, brake system and hydraulic maintenance. 

So when you see that yellow dump truck traveling down the highway on the 6:00 news, please remember the blood, sweat and tears that went into the fabrication and maintenance of it.  That’s what I see.