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.