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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

WSDOT buys 11 days a year on I-5

By guest blogger Jamie Holter

The I-5 express lanes run 9.5 miles and
provides extra capacity in the direction of travel.
Wait, what? How is that possible? Ok, ok, we’re not actually “buying” 11 days. We’re more like saving a bunch of time that adds up to 11 days a year. Let me explain.

You know those express lanes we have on I-5 that run through Seattle? It used to take several people up to an hour to switch all the signs and gates by hand just to reverse the direction of traffic. That meant there was nearly an entire hour when traffic couldn’t use the express lanes. But not anymore.

The express lanes are now automated. Engineers can now reverse the direction of traffic from a desk in Shoreline in just 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes! That’s a savings of 45 minutes every day, and that adds up to an extra 11 more days of access to the express lanes.

The express lanes run southbound from 5 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. At 11 a.m., a traffic engineer uses the 45 new cameras to visually review all 23 access ramps to confirm no vehicles are present. They then use desktop computers to communicate with new gate controllers and sign connections to close the express lanes. After a team pulls the express lane dragnet and completes a safety sweep, the engineer then opens the lanes northbound at 11:15 a.m.

The same system will be in place on weekends with the closing time scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and the reopening at 1:45 p.m.

Engineers estimate that an extra 900 to 1000 vehicles will have access to the lanes and it will save the average midday driver nearly six minutes from Albro to Northgate. That will be a big help to businesses like plumbers, delivery truck drivers and others who make a living driving Puget Sound during the day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

75 year-old bridge near Cle Elum gets a new deck

By guest blogger Mike Westbay

(The Bristol Fill bridge is also known locally as the Taylor Bridge.)

What happens when we can see daylight through the holes in a bridge deck built in 1937? We close the bridge and hire a contractor to rip up the deck and put down a new one.

Concrete and steel gets ripped up in preparation for a
new bridge deck on SR 10 near Cle Elum.
On May 24, we closed scenic State Route 10 near Cle Elum to rip up the old Bristol Fill Bridge deck that has served drivers between Cle Elum and Ellensburg for some 75 years. From the 1930’s to the 1960’s, SR 10 was the main highway between Ellensburg and Cle Elum, then known as US 10 Sunset Highway.

Since a nearby section of I-90 was completed in 1967, SR 10 has become a quiet, scenic route enjoyed mostly by locals and outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Our bridge inspectors have monitored the deteriorating bridge deck conditions for years.  In the last five to 10 years, the bridge deck deteriorated significantly, requiring constant structural safety monitoring and frequent repairs.  The deteriorated condition required the entire length of the bridge deck to be replaced.

Crews have been patching holes in the SR 10 bridge deck
for a decade.
Only local traffic will be allowed on SR 10 until sometime in October, when the project is scheduled to be completed. Local traffic (residents, farmers, rafters, anglers, bicyclists, and hikers) can use SR 10 east and west of the bridge, but through traffic will need to detour on SR 970 and US 97 or take Interstate 90. The length of the detour on SR 970 and US 97 is about 20 miles and the length of the detour on I-90 is about 21 miles.

For more history on SR 10 and I-90 visit: I-90 – Snoqualmie Pass East – History or get the book, “Snoqualmie Pass from Indian Trail to Interstate,” by Yvonne Prater.

Friday, July 13, 2012

New ramps let drivers take flight at Federal Way interchange

Crews installed steel girders over southbound I-5
 the nights of Feb. 10-11, 2012. The girders
 support new flyover ramps at the I-5/SR 18 interchange.

by guest blogger Erica Taylor

What do Olympic trials, a multinational sporting event and the world’s largest private softwood timberland owner have in common? Believe it or not, they’re all based in Federal Way. This not-so-sleepy town of Federal Way hosted the 2012 Olympic Dive Trials, the 1990 Goodwill Games and is home to Weyerhaeuser, the world’s largest private owner of softwood timberland.

Even if you’re not an elite athlete, and don’t need timber, you may take I-5 or SR 18 through Federal Way and wonder how long you’ll have to sit in traffic trying to get to Wild Waves. Wonder no more. Thanks to a partnership with local, state and federal officials, WSDOT is ready turn over a new leaf at this interchange. Actually, WSDOT is taking out the old cloverleaf ramps and replacing them with new flyover ramps. The flyover ramp is a newer design that can efficiently handle the amount of traffic at this interchange and will turn the former white-knuckle weave into an easy merge.

Watch a video of the project's progress

The I-5/SR 18 interchange is more than a stop on the Olympic road to London; it’s also a major transportation corridor for commerce and for local commuters. With 10,000 to 20,000 vehicles using each ramp daily, the previously state-of-the-art cloverleaf ramp design from the 1960s was becoming a traffic headache. Add to that a consistently growing population – Federal Way has grown from 67,304 residents in 1990 to 89,306 residents in 2010 – and WSDOT and local officials agreed that something needed to be done to revamp the ramps. After much consideration, the new flyover ramp emerged as the best option.

Construction on the first phase of improvements to the I-5/SR 18/SR 161 “triangle” interchange began in summer 2010, and crews plan to wrap up work ahead of schedule later this year. New ramps between I-5 and SR 18 will open July 16 and July 23, with other ramp improvements scheduled to open this fall. WSDOT even has plans for a next phase of construction in the area. Though that work doesn’t have a start date yet, local officials have clear ideas of what they would like to see improved.

Whether you’re transporting goods from Washington to Oregon, headed to work, or maybe just considering a trip to Wild Waves (on that one day a year that it’s warm enough to go) the new flyover ramps will make the SR 18/I-5 interchange safer and more efficient for everyone.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Join the Voice of Washington

The Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) recently launched the Voice of Washington State (VOWS) statewide public engagement program, which includes seven regional online discussion forums and an online survey panel. The WSTC is asking state residents to log on to www.voiceofwashingtonstate.org to sign up and share input on how to improve the state’s transportation system.

Individuals can join the VOWS Online Discussion Forums and publicly voice their opinions, post ideas and interact with other citizens in their community. They can also join the VOWS Survey Panel to participate in occasional online surveys. The Commission is using the new online forum technology to empower citizens to become thought-leaders on transportation
“Sparking a robust conversation around transportation issues, and collecting survey data that indicates people’s opinions and thoughts on policy and funding approaches, will help decision makers identify possible solutions and investment priorities,” noted Reema Griffith, executive director of the WSTC. “When people share what matters to them when they drive, ride, bike, walk or fly within their communities, their needs can be more effectively addressed.”

The ultimate goal is to gather public input on Washington state transportation policy and funding, and to inform the statewide discussion and decision-making process. Topics for discussion will focus on all things transportation: highways, mass transit, freight and high-speed rail, ferries, barges and aviation. The governor and Legislature will be briefed on the ideas and data generated through the online discussion forums and surveys.

The combination of the online survey and the regional online discussion forums is a new outreach strategy for the WSTC. While the Commission has conducted successful phone and email surveys through the Ferry Riders Opinion Group for a few years, the primary community input tool has been public meetings. The online tools remove the distance and travel barriers inherent to public meetings; this increases the opportunity for everyone – no matter where they live – to participate and share their views.

Details about the VOWS program components are as follows:
  • The VOWS Online Discussion Forums are for publicly sharing, voting and commenting on regional and statewide transportation ideas. Participants can join any or all of the seven regional discussion forums.
  • The VOWS Survey Panel is a way for citizens to communicate their opinions and preferences by taking occasional surveys on transportation policy, funding and tax issues. The result is statistically valid data representing the priorities and opinions of Washington state residents. The input from individuals is anonymous because the survey company does not attach personal information to the survey results. Each participant will receive the surveys through email.
The seven regional discussion forums are: West (Region 1), North Puget Sound (Region 2), Central Puget Sound (Region 3), Southwest (Region 4), Central (Region 5), Northeast (Region 6) and Southeast (Region 7).  Discussions within each forum will focus on both region-specific issues as well as statewide topics, such as roads and pedestrian safety.

Any Washington state resident is eligible to join the VOWS Online Discussion Forums or the VOWS Survey Panel. Registration is limited to one email address per person; submission of the person’s name, email address and county is all that is required to set up a VOWS account for participation.