Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Next Era of Traveler Information

By guest blogger Michele Villnave

Its morning, the alarm is blaring and you have to drive to work today. After the coffee and figuring out what to wear—how do you decide which way you are driving to work? Like most of us, there is more than one way to get there, how do you decide? Do you go to the WSDOT website to determine the best route, do you check out the WSDOT iPhone or Android mobile app or do you take your chances and just wait until you see the first variable message signs on the roadway? Do you do the same for the trip home? These and other questions in this survey want to see how we are using information to plan our commutes.

We are asking your help to fill out “The Next Era of Traveler Information” survey. This 17-question survey asks you for information about how you use traveler information, and how it affects your commute decisions. The survey is part of an effort that is looking at how real-time traveler information technology is changing.

This survey will be part of a bigger project that will help member agencies understand how real-time traveler information is changing, and how to understand trends and new approaches to managing real-time traveler information programs. The project is part of the Enterprise Pooled Fund Study consortium of which WSDOT is a member. It is a multi-national group dedicated to the advancement of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). This consortium includes members from the United States, as well as Canadian and European agencies.

Thank you for your time and assistance in filling out “The Next Era of Traveler Information” survey.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Banding Peregrine Falcons on the Ship Canal Bridge

Peregrine falcons are great to have on bridges. The falcons prey on pigeons and keep starlings away. The droppings of those birds can be quite corrosive to bridges so the peregrines help keep those populations on bridges in check.

This pair of falcons has been on the Ship Canal Bridge for about a decade. They typically have three or four chicks each year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alert! SR 520 bridge openings – getting information to you faster, better

Update:  We've worked with the Coast Guard to change the  rules of the bridge opening times.  They are now prohibited between 6:30 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays

by guest blogger Jamie Holter

As you probably know, we are building a new SR 520 bridge parallel and to the north of the existing bridge. If you don’t know that, stop here and take a moment to check out that story. That’s okay. We’ll wait.

To build the bridge, our contractor crews are working in the water and blocking the east navigation channel, the channel used by boats between 45 and 64 feet tall to travel from one side of the bridge to the other. During construction (through 2015), these boats must pass through the SR 520 drawspan to get to the other side. Yes, we must open the drawspan for these boats, it’s not an option.

We did work out an agreement with the Coast Guard to prevent drawspan openings during the peak commute (6a – 9a and 4p – 7p).

We alert drivers with yellow flashing lights and overhead signs and we do send out a press release when we are inside that one hour window of an opening, but we’ve been hearing through our WSDOT twitter feed that you’d like more warning, maybe even warnings sent to your phone so you can plan ahead and leave early to beat the boat.

Done! We’ve spent the last few days working out the bugs on a new automated alert system that will send a text message to your phone or email when we are within that one or two-hour window of a bridge opening. Just go to our email alert system page and choose SMS/Text from the drop down menu, punch in your phone number (or email if that’s what you like) and sign up for the new alert called “SR 520 Bridge Opening”. Voila! Done. You will get a text message sent to your phone or email with the closure time and date.

For long range planners, we post all our scheduled bridge openings on our marine page and our What’s Happening Now page. People tell us the What’s Happening Now page is very useful because it just has the big closures in the greater Seattle/Bellevue area.

We do know some folks are frustrated with the bridge openings and we do know some want those “do not open” times expanded, but we’re working within current Coast Guard guidelines and it’s not in the cards.  We’re trying to balance the needs of boat traffic, rubber tire traffic and construction work. It tough, but we’re all looking forward to the new beautiful floating bridge as soon as December 2014.

We'll get the road to Artist Point open this year

Snow buries the road to Artist PointWe made the call this week to reopen the road to Artist Point, despite some seriously deep snow. It’s going to take some work, but we're going to make it happen. (Where and what is Artist Point?)

We hopped in a couple snowcats yesterday, courtesy of the Mount Baker Ski Area, and climbed up the side of the mountain to Artist Point to check snow conditions and measure depths. 

Technically, we didn’t make it all the way to the top in the snowcats. We ended up getting stuck a short distance from the upper parking lot. The sun and warmth had softened the snow too much for the snowcats. So we had to get out and hike the last quarter mile or so. No biggie; it was a beautiful day to be on the mountainside. It was a little tough to hike in the soft snow but we managed – I know what you’re thinking, “boohoo for me.” J

Taking GPS depth measurements
Let me tell you, Mount Shuksan looked amazing. What a special place Artist Point is. The pictures from the trip are great, but they just can’t do it justice; you have to be there to experience it.

Measuring snow depths in the shadow of Mount ShuksanAnyway, the snow was about 30 feet deep in the upper parking lot. It was 26 feet deep over the restroom in the upper lot. There was one spot, just before the upper lot, where the snow was in the ballpark of 50 feet deep – that’s where the wind typically drifts and piles it up. For the most part, the snow was between 20 and 30 feet deep over the entire stretch of the roadway.

We have our work cut out for us this year. The plan is to send some equipment to the upper parking lot next week to start working on the deepest spots and cut some drainage ditches. We can’t do a whole lot of work until after the big Ski to Sea race at the end of May. They kind of need the snow in place for a successful event. We hope to hit the snow clearing hard by mid-June, provided the weather cooperates, and then, if we’re lucky, we could have the road open sometime in July.

Let’s hope this warm weather continues because it can move a whole lot more snow a lot faster than we can with our snowblowers and bulldozers. Last year’s spring was dismal (to put it nicely), and we never really got the warmth needed to melt the snow. Consequently, we didn’t open the road all the way to Artist Point. If I remember correctly, it continued to snow through June. Bleh!

Artist Point is open year-round, but it should be a whole lot easier to get to this year with the road open. I’m sure this comes as great news to many. 
View of Mt Shuksan from Artist Point

With views like this, it's easy to see why Artist Point is such a special and beloved place. It boasts 360-degree-panoramic mountain views of the Cascades, Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker and more. People come from all over the world for the incredible views.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Next stop: the great beneath

Giant blue cranes and drill rigs prepare a path for the tunnel boring machine.
Giant blue cranes and drill rigs at the SR 99
tunnel boring machine launch pit site.
By guest blogger Chad Schuster

They stand in clusters, a half-dozen or so of them, 170-foot towers of steel in a large field of dirt to the west of Seattle’s stadiums. From the sky they look like giant robots chatting it up, or preparing for battle, maybe. Whatever they’re doing, you can tell it’s big. Really big.

"They’re a little bit like trailblazers," said Matt Preedy, WSDOT’s deputy administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, of the giant blue cranes and drill rigs at work on the SR 99 Tunnel Project. "Their job is to prepare a path for the tunnel boring machine."

This being a tunnel, that path ultimately leads underground. But before the boring begins, crews must first build a launch pit – the task currently being undertaken by the cranes and drill rigs – where the machine will begin tunneling next year. Significant work also must occur in the ground alongside the tunnel route, which is why the tunneling operation, mammoth machines included, is set to begin a slow march north toward the ferry terminal before stopping just south of Yesler Way.

To make room, crews today rerouted six blocks of waterfront traffic from Alaskan Way to a newly improved road beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct. For visitors to the waterfront, that means big changes to traffic, parking and ferry access starting today and lasting through at least early 2014. For fans of extreme engineering, it means the show is about to begin.

"These cranes and drill rigs are amazing, but they’re really just the machines behind the machine," Preedy said.

The machine is the project’s 57.5 foot diameter tunnel boring machine, the world’s largest. Currently being manufactured in Japan, the machine is scheduled to arrive next spring and begin its northward journey by the middle of 2013. Its departure point? You guessed it – the dirt field currently occupied by the blue machines.

Right now the machines are drilling concrete piles 100 feet into the ground to form the walls of the launch pit. Excavation of the pit will begin this summer. Crews are also busy relocating utilities and reinforcing a two-block section of the viaduct near Yesler Way, above the path of the future tunnel.

If all of that sounds complicated, you’re right.

"Tunneling is complicated business," Preedy said. "Coordination is key because crews have to deal with so many moving parts. We have a lot of exciting work to do before we turn the keys on the tunnel boring machine."

Fortunately you don’t have to be an engineer to enjoy the spectacle.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime project," Preedy said. "People really should come down and see it for themselves."

Note: Visitors to the waterfront can learn more about the SR 99 Tunnel Project and the nearby Pioneer Square neighborhood by visiting Milepost 31, WSDOT’s information center at 211 First Ave. S.