Thursday, June 28, 2012

US 2 culvert replacement, Bickford Avenue overpass work to start in July

Crews carefully lower a specialized
 camera to inspect the culvert.
by guest blogger Alora Knapp

A big, two-part construction project is up and coming this summer – part one replaces culverts on US 2 near Snohomish and part two builds a new Bickford Avenue overpass. Live or drive near the area? Here’s the scoop:
Culverts under highways aren’t always noticeable, but they’re important. They collect water runoff and prevent it from settling under the road surface, something that can cause dips or potholes. Our maintenance crews noticed during a recent inspection that the culverts under US 2 near Snohomish were deteriorating. The metal pipes used to construct the old culverts were corroded, which prevented them from successfully doing their job.

This summer, WSDOT crews will replace five culverts underneath both directions US 2 between the Ebey Slough Bridge and Bickford Avenue. The new culverts will be made of thick, heavy, rubberized plastic, which will last longer and make long-term maintenance cheaper.
US 2 Bickford Avenue Intersection improvements
Culvert replacement is a big, invasive task: crews must open up the roadway, remove the old culverts and install the new ones. Since it’s not something we can easily do overnight, crews will close one direction of US 2 on six separate weekends this summer, starting in August. Closures will last from Friday night through Monday morning, and work should wrap up this fall. Detours will be in place during the closures. Drivers can expect to use SR 9 and 20th St. to access US 2 when it is closed in the eastbound and westbound directions. Complete detour maps are available online.

The culvert replacement work under US 2 is the first part of a larger project that includes building a new Bickford Avenue overpass. For regular drivers, construction of a new overpass from Bickford Avenue to westbound US 2 means no more left turns across traffic and a safer intersection overall. The Bickford Avenue intersection is one of the last intersections on US 2 near Everett where drivers have to turn across traffic without the aid of an overpass or signal. Taking traffic over US 2 rather than across it should help reduce the number of collisions and help reduce congestion in the area. Crews will also install upgraded lighting for more visible, stress free driving. This work isn’t as fast as culvert work, and we expect to be done with this part of the project in the fall of 2013.

For more information about the Ebey Slough to Bickford Culvert Replacement and Bickford Avenue Overpass, including links to photos, visit the project websites. Keep up with construction closures by checking the Snohomish County Construction Update page, which is updated weekly.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Naming of the new Keller Ferry

By guest blogger Al Gilson

Members of the Washington State Transportation
Commission, plus representatives of the Confederated
Tribes of the Colville Reservation and WSDOT pose
with a model of the “Sanpoil”—the newly-named
Columbia River ferry that is under construction. Left to Right:
Commissioners Dan O’Neal, Anne Haley, Tom Cowan;
WSDOT Eastern Region Administrator, Keith Metcalf;
Tribal Vice-Chair, Ernest Brooks; Tribal Elder, Jeanne
Jerrod; Commissioners Philip Parker, Joe Tortorelli,
Richard Ford, and Jerry Litt.
There’s another new ferry under construction for the state of Washington and it’s not one of the big ones that plies the salty waters of Puget Sound. This one is a lot smaller but still fills a very important role.

This ferry serves the Keller route across the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, and until this month, was without a name.

On Tuesday, June 19th, the Washington State Transportation Commission officially named the new vessel, “Sanpoil.”

“Sanpoil” is the anglicized form of the name that is applied to the original and current native residents of this area along the Columbia River. The name was chosen to honor the people who have lived on this land and crossed this river for thousands of years.

The Washington State Transportation Commission approves names for state operated vessels. Our agency used a public process to gather a suggested name to be submitted to the Commission. During March 2012, we hosted an interactive website where citizens submitted vessel name suggestions with a supportive statement. We created an information card announcing the naming process, guidelines, and the opportunity to submit suggestions. The cards were distributed to users of the route by the ferry deckhands. We produced a special electronic email newsletter from the WSDOT Regional Administrator to over 1,000 subscribers of our agency’s Eastern Region electronic mailing list.  We also sent out a media release announcing the naming process, guidelines and submittal procedure to print, broadcast, and web contacts within the Eastern Region.

As a result, over 500 suggestions were received.  Out of those, about 200 were within the parameters of the Commission Vessel Naming Guidelines with many duplicate suggestions. We sent those out to our committee of Tribal, Community, and Department representatives who reviewed the list.  At a meeting in late May, the committee met and reached consensus on the name “Sanpoil” to submit to the Transportation Commission.

The Keller Ferry crossing site was one of the most desirable in the whole territory for salmon fishing, and each year a huge trap was built across the Sanpoil River. It is estimated that as many as 400 people gathered in this area at the height of the salmon season.

Several components of new boat are under construction in the Foss Rainier, Oregon shipyard.  Later this fall, the parts will be trucked to Grand Coulee and assembled. The boat is expected to be launched in July 2013.

Friday, June 15, 2012

520 tolls: reasons behind rate increases

SR 520 toll rates are increasing 2.5 percent Sunday, July 1.
We’re hearing one of two reactions to this news:
  • Why are you raising SR 520 toll rates when traffic has dropped off?
  • Why not lower the toll rates? Won’t that generate more revenue?

So here are some answers to your burning questions.

We’re on track! SR 520 bridge traffic is actually higher than forecast
It’s true that traffic has dropped on SR 520 floating bridge since tolling started –we expected that to happen. In fact, we were prepared to see SR 520 traffic to decrease by nearly 50 percent after tolls started. But the drop hasn’t been that big.  Between January and March -traffic was 57 percent of pre-toll levels, a 43 percent drop. SR 520 had even more drivers in March – traffic was 62 percent of pre-toll levels, a 38 percent drop. We’re also seeing revenue six percent higher than our original forecast.

Why not lower rates?
We sold $550 million in bonds last fall and that funding is already paying for SR 520 construction. Tolling will raise more than $1 billion to help replace the vulnerable SR 520 floating bridge. So we are carefully following our financial plan and this rate increase is part of that.  The financial plan also includes four more annual increases of 2.5 percent through 2015 but the transportation commission will be reviewing traffic and revenue data each year to determine if the planned increases are necessary and the amount.

Traffic on SR 520 is free flow for the first time in decades and we’re on track with revenue. Still, many drivers suggest that lowering toll rates will bring in more revenue. It might seem counterintuitive, but a lower toll rate doesn't necessarily mean more revenue. Instead, it could mean congestion. For example, if the toll rate was reduced by 50 percent, twice as many vehicles would need to pay a toll to make the same amount of revenue. That means traffic volumes would need to be higher than before tolling started!

Curious about how SR 520 tolls are doing? Read SR 520’s toll first financial statement. We’ll continue to post future financial statements online too – just like we do for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and SR 167 HOT Lanes.

The US 12 Burbank area highway project is completed, let the celebrating begin

Elected officials and a coalition of regional supporters
 cut the ribbon representing the completion of the US 12,
 State Route 124 and Humorist Road project.
By guest blogger Mike Westbay

Burbank area drivers, residents, school administrators, business owners and elected officials all have many reasons to celebrate now that the new US 12/SR 124 interchange and Humorist Road overpass bridges are completed.

On Wednesday June 6, in the Burbank Fire Station, there were a lot of handshakes and congratulations being shared for a job well done, a major highway project completed about $1 million under budget and about two months ahead of schedule. The new interchange and overpass are the ultimate long-term solutions for the dreadful collisions and traffic flow problems on US 12, SR 124 and Humorist Road.

The $21.3 million safety improvement project reduces the risks of collisions in an area with a long history of serious injuries and fatalities – 56 injury collisions, six fatalities in the past 12 years. In 2007, Judi Estes lost her son Mike, a Walla Walla County sheriff’s deputy, who died when his car was hit by a semi-truck at the US 12/SR 124 intersection. The Estes family attended the ribbon cutting to show their support for the project that will prevent similar tragedies.

School teachers, students and parents are celebrating the fact that they can now cross over the highway safely for work or school, even on bicycles.

State Sen. Mike Hewitt, State Rep. Terry Nealy and Jim Kuntz, Port of Walla Walla executive director, joined highway department executives and the Burbank middle school band to celebrate the safety benefits of the newly completed interchange and overpass.

"Thanks go to Sen. Mike Hewitt for making the tough vote for the gas tax and fighting to bring this project to our community," said State Rep. Terry Nealy.

“It took a lot of partners a long time to get this project funded,” said Don Whitehouse, Washington State Department of Transportation regional administrator. “We also had a great partnership with Selland Construction to get a quality product that will serve this community for a long, long time to come.”

It took about 15 months to build the new interchange at US 12/SR 124 and a new overpass at US 12/Humorist Road for the 16,000 drivers who use these state highways each day.

A new entrance to Hood Park, an extension of Jantz Road and a new roundabout at the Fifth Street/Gateway Road intersection will improve traffic flow within the town of Burbank as well as access to US 12, SR 124 and Humorist Road.

This project was funded by the 2005 gas tax approved by the Legislature.

Saying farewell to the SR 529 Ebey Slough Bridge

by guest blogger Erica Taylor

Although its service may have gone unnoticed by many who fly by the little steel bridge in the roar of I-5 traffic, those commuting from Marysville and Everett have appreciated the SR 529 Ebey Slough bridge for 86 wonderful years. From 1927 to mid-2012 the bridge has stood slightly to the east of what is now I-5 spanning the Ebey Slough. 

What makes this little bridge so great? Maybe you always take I-5 to get where you need to go. I always do. Well, when construction on the Ebey Slough bridge started in 1925, there was no easy way to travel between Everett and Marysville (at least not without a boat) and there certainly was no I-5. When it opened in 1927, the swing-span bridge had one 11-foot lane in each direction, was the pinnacle of technology and was a revolution for transportation. The bridge could swing open to let marine traffic through and then close to allow drivers to commute north and south. The two sleepy little towns of Marysville and Everett were now connected to each other and to the rest of the state. Commerce boomed and the towns thrived.

Eighty-six years later, the hustle and bustle of these not-so-sleepy towns made this little steel bridge seem out of date and inefficient for modern users. The bridge was still important, but instead of smoothing out the commute, it was beginning to clog it up. So, in the summer of 2010, we began construction on a new Ebey Slough Bridge. The new bridge is taller – meaning no more pesky bridge openings – wider – meaning less congestion and more room for today’s bigger cars – and is more user-friendly for bicyclists and pedestrians.  

With the new bridge now half open to drivers, crews are ready to deconstruct the old bridge. To honor and officially retire the old bridge, we gathered Thursday, June 14, with city officials from Marysville and Everett, the Marysville Historical Society, bridge tenders, and families of some of the first people to work on the old bridge. Everyone shared stories of heroics, love and service, and bid a fond farewell to the bridge that served the community so well for so long.

Robert Rasmussen Jr (left) and four generations of
Rasmussens were there to walk across the bridge one last time.
While all the stories were special and meaningful in their own way, Robert Rasmussen Jr. shared some of the most touching and emotional memories. His father, Robert Rasmussen, helped build the bridge and was the first bridge tender when it opened in 1927. When Robert Jr. came home after fighting in World War II, he went straight to the bridge to see his dad at work.  After being apart for several years, the two were reconnected on the bridge that held so many memories for both.
Now that we’ve celebrated the life of the old bridge and given it a proper farewell, we’re looking forward to the future and welcoming the new Ebey Slough bridge into an equally memorable long life of service.

View more photos of the farewell event.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Testing foundation for bridge of the future

Welders remove metal buildup from welded seam
of 10 foot wide shaft that will be installed in the soil.
Courtesy ODOT Photo.
The deepest shafts ever constructed for a bridge foundation in Oregon and Washington are currently being installed – and they will never support traffic.

This spring, the Columbia River Crossing project (jointly led by WSDOT and ODOT) is conducting a pre-construction test in Washington and Oregon to gain more information about soil conditions and techniques to construct foundations for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. Test foundations are a common pre-construction practice for engineered structures, but this test is unique.  Because of the sandy soil conditions in the Columbia River, the tests include shafts that, at up to 260 feet deep, are the deepest ever constructed by both WSDOT and ODOT.

This important step in the pre-construction phase for the CRC project could result in reducing the number or depth of foundation shafts planned because of the information gained from testing.  And fewer or smaller shafts mean reduced construction costs.

Crews are constructing three test shafts up to 10 feet wide and 260 feet deep. The shaft depths will reach a layer of partially cemented cobbles and gravel, known as “Troutdale Formation,” which lies more than 200 feet below the surface and where the new bridge foundations will be anchored.
The work site is currently visible just west of the I-5 bridge. 

The drilled shaft method involves installing steel casing into the soil, excavating the soil, installing rebar for support and filling it with concrete.

The drilled shaft test is one of two being conducted. Pile driving at this location also was tested and is complete. Both methods are expected to be used for future construction of the CRC project.
CRC is a long-term, comprehensive project to reduce congestion, enhance mobility and improve safety on Interstate 5 between SR 500 in Vancouver, Wash., and Columbia Boulevard in Portland. The project will replace the I-5 bridge, extend light rail to Vancouver, improve closely-spaced interchanges and enhance the pedestrian and bicycle path between the two cities.

Additional information about the drilled shaft and driven pile test project, including a fact sheet (pdf) and photos of the work may be found on the CRC website.

The test project is scheduled to be complete by summer 2012 and is being conducted by Max J. Kuney Construction, of Spokane, Washington, who was awarded the $4.22 million contract in December 2011.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Kicking off the last funded I-5 widening project in Lewis County

By guest blogger Abbi Russell

The future I-5 looking south from
Harrison Avenue (Exit 82), after improvements
 between Mellen Street and
Blakeslee Junction are complete in 2014
In 2006, we started the first project in a series of improvements to I-5 in Lewis and Thurston counties. Six years, 14 miles, and $235 million in investments later, we and our partners broke ground on the last funded project on this stretch of the interstate – I-5, Mellen Street to Blakeslee Junction.
This $155 million project revamps four miles of the I-5 corridor between Chehalis and Centralia. It brings a dizzying array of improvements, including:
  • Adding collector-distributor (CD) lanes on both directions of I-5 between Mellen Street and Harrison Avenue
  • Reconstructing the Mellen Street interchange
  • Widening Harrison Avenue
  • Straightening the I-5 Blakeslee Curve
  • Rehabilitating the Skookumchuck River bridges
  • Connecting Louisiana Avenue and Airport Road on the west side of I-5

Check out our YouTube video to see how all of this comes together, and how your trips through the area will improve.
Some key items to note are the CD lanes and the Mellen Street reconstruction. These have significant impacts on reducing collisions and congestion, as well as improving local connectivity.
CD lanes between Mellen Street and Harrison Avenue will separate local and interstate traffic, eliminating the weaving that happens when drivers merge multiple times between closely spaced interchanges.
The Mellen Street interchange will be rebuilt as a couplet, which includes building a new bridge over I-5 just south of where Mellen Street is today. This bridge will ensure access to Centralia Providence Hospital and the Chehalis-Centralia Airport in the event of a flood.
Construction on the first stage of this project starts in mid-June. Crews will keep two lanes open on I-5 during the day, but drivers can expect night time lane closures until Stage 1 is complete in spring/summer 2013.
Stage 2 is set for construction in summer 2013, and the entire project is scheduled for completion in late 2014.
Stay in the know by signing up for project email updates. You can also visit our travel alerts and construction update Web pages.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bear with us Kirkland, we’re almost done!

by guest blogger Steve Peer

We are rebuilding the NE 116th Street railroad bridge
(just west of I-405) in phases to avoid completely closing it.
To keep traffic moving (although slow), crews have reduced
the bridge to two lanes as part of the first phase of construction.
Doing this has caused periods of severe congestion in the area. 
Totem Lake residents – have you been wondering what we are doing on NE 116th Street near 120th Avenue NE? Tired of the backups? Bear with us – things will get better by the end of the month.

For the past year, we’ve been building the I-405 – NE 116th Street Interchange and Street Improvement Project. Once complete, the project will improve how drivers get to and from I-405 at NE 116th Street and reduce NE 116th Street backups during the morning and afternoon commutes.

As you may have noticed, the project is bringing short-term term pain to area drivers. Since April, a couple of highly-used turn lanes on NE 116th Street near 120th Avenue NE have been closed as crews work to completely rebuild the bridge over the railroad. The result has been periods of severe congestion in the area. We’ve heard from drivers who tell us they’re simply avoiding the area. The good news is that both turn lanes will re-open to traffic in the next few weeks. While there will still be construction in the area, travel times should return to near normal.  We appreciate your patience as we finish this important phase of work.

When the project wraps up at the end of the year, we will have added:
  • three lanes to sections of NE 116th Street,
  • two bicycle lanes, 
  • newly planted native trees and plants, 
  • new sidewalks, 
  • a new water detention pond for better, greener water runoff, and
  • improved area lighting for pedestrians.  
We’ll also add by subtraction. When the project opens up in December, drivers will notice one less traffic signal in the area. Drivers will use a consolidated single point traffic flow system (pdf)  (instead of two) allowing for a smoother ride going to and coming from I-405.

Visit the project website for more information about key project elements and benefits.