Friday, November 16, 2012

Fixing US 2 near Monroe in August so we’re ready for November

by guest blogger Bronlea Mishler

Rainy weekend forecast puts fix to the test

“When we inspected the culverts last summer, they really looked like Swiss cheese – holes everywhere,” said John Tellesbo, WSDOT’s Area 3 assistant maintenance superintendent. “We’d patched a few minor sinkholes on the shoulder, but it was just a matter of time before we got a big one that could have caused a serious problem.”

Snow. Ice. Mud. Rivers of rain. When winter weather flings its worst at the northwest, it’s not just drivers that have to bear the brunt of the unpleasantness. The roads themselves take a constant beating from the elements – and that means our maintenance crews have to be on their toes to keep the highways drivable.

Crews use the dry summer months to inspect and repair the highways – everything from filling cracks and patching potholes to replacing signs and maintaining culverts. Getting all that work done in the good weather means that the highways are prepared and ready to meet the bad weather – and that’s good news if you plan to hit the road during the winter months.

While all maintenance is important, our crews give special attention to highway drainage culverts. If you’re like most drivers, you’ve probably never noticed our culverts – that is, unless something has gone wrong. Flooding, potholes, sinkholes and big dips in the road are all highway maladies that can result from clogged or damaged culverts.

Despite our best intentions – and attention – sometimes old culverts don’t make it through a winter unscathed. There’s not much maintenance crews can do in the winter when the corroded old pipes begin to fail, except patch the resulting potholes and road divots. Until recently, the stretch of US 2 near Bickford Avenue was a particular headache for maintenance crews. Five culverts cross beneath the highway, carrying stormwater to nearby detention and treatment areas. And all five of those culverts were one storm away from falling apart.
New piping in place under US 2
Fortunately for drivers – and our maintenance crews – those culverts got ripped out this summer as part of a larger project to improve the nearby Bickford Avenue intersection. Installed in their place were five new culverts made of thick, heavy, rubberized plastic to better withstand the elements.

“We’re very fortunate we fixed them when we did,” Tellesbo said. “This is one less area we have to worry about this winter – and that means our crews can be out cleaning drains and catchbasins and keeping the highways safe.”

Holding true to our word: US 101 Simpson Avenue Bridge reopens to traffic one week ahead of schedule

By guest blogger Kelly Stowe

Holiday shopping season. Those three words were the driving force for our crews and contractor, Bergerson Construction, Inc., when we had to shut the US 101 Simpson Avenue Bridge down to pedestrian and vehicular traffic for up to four weeks.

More than 13,000 vehicles cross the US 101 Simpson Avenue Bridge each day in the Grays Harbor city of Hoquiam – for many local businesses, it serves as a direct route between them and their customers. When cars are bypassed around the route, it is a big impact to local businesses and the already struggling economy.

Bergerson Construction crews preparing to install a fender
pile during the Simpson Ave. Bridge closure on Nov. 8
“We know how much this bridge means to the community and that was on the forefront of everyone’s mind as we set out to make final stabilization repairs on the bridge,” said Scott Ireland, WSDOT Project Engineer.

The final stabilization of the bridge is a continuation of work that started back in August 2010 after our maintenance crews discovered unusual movement of the bridge.  A follow-up inspection revealed there was severe degradation of the most easterly pier and the US 101 Simpson Avenue Bridge closed until crews could stabilize it enough to reopen to traffic.

The bridge was stable enough to reopen to traffic in January 2011, but another closure would be necessary to finish all the repairs and give the citizens of Hoquiam a reliable bridge.

In July 2012, crews began preparing the bridge and the community for another closure. On Oct. 22, the bridge was closed to traffic while crews completed work that would install additional pier supports at the northeast and southeast corners of the pier; strengthen walls of the existing pier; transfer the remaining weight of the pier onto two new supports; remove the temporary tie-back anchors and cables; and remove and replace the bridge’s pier fender system.

With dedication and diligence, our crews and contractor worked with the common goal of reopening the bridge to traffic before the busy holiday shopping season.

Great weather and hard work paid off. During the early-morning hours of Sunday, November 11, the bridge reopened to traffic—an entire week ahead of the original four-week schedule.

Crews still have work to do under the bridge, but nothing that will require closing the bridge to pedestrians and motor vehicles.

“It was a great feeling to know that the community would be getting their bridge back sooner than expected,” explained Ireland. “And just in time for the busy holiday shopping season.”

Let your visitors skip the lines at the toll booths

 By guest blogger Emily Pace

Good To Go! customers can add out of town visitors
to their account so they don’t have to stop at the
Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll booths.
It’s the time of year when family and friends start coming into town for the holidays and we wanted to remind drivers how easy it is to temporarily add out-of-towners to your existing Good To Go! account. If you’re a Good To Go! customer there are two ways to pay tolls: install a pass in your car or register a vehicle’s license plate on your account. By simply adding a vehicle’s license plate to your account, called Pay By Plate, you can pay the tolls for that vehicle when it crosses the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges. You don’t need to install a pass.

With Pay By Plate, visitors can skip the lines at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll booths. We typically see heavy traffic eastbound on SR 16 near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll plaza on Thanksgiving Day between 5 and 11 p.m.; usually after dinner wraps-up. You can also use the 24th Street on-ramp to bypass the toll booths. Drivers without a Good To Go! account can choose to Pay By Mail on the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges and we’ll mail a bill to the registered vehicle owner within 14 days.

How Pay By Plate works: log into your online account or call customer service to add a vehicle’s license plate, make and model to a Good To Go! account. When the vehicle travels across the SR 520 or Tacoma Narrows bridges, tolling equipment will take a photo of the vehicle’s license plate. The license plate is then matched to the correct Good To Go! account and the toll is deducted.

When using Pay By Plate, drivers will be charged the posted Good To Go! toll rate plus an extra 25 cent fee for each toll transaction. Why the extra 25 cents? The extra fee helps cover the costs associated with processing these transactions. While our license plate recognition software is good, it is not perfect and some of the photos require a person to review.

While there is an extra fee, Pay By Plate is a great option for out-of-towners who are visiting someone with a Good To Go! account. You can have up to six vehicles on an account at any time, with a mix of vehicles paying with a pass or using Pay By Plate. Both options provide the lowest toll rates and allow visitors to skip receiving a bill in the mail or stopping at the toll booths on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Pay By Plate only works on the SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges. Solo drivers wanting to use the SR 167 HOT lanes still need a Good To Go! pass.

And remember, this is not just a special holiday offer. Pay By Plate is available year round. So whether you have family coming for Easter, friends in town for SeaFair, or you’re caravaning on a road trip, consider adding your visitor’s license plates to your Good To Go! account. You can call customer service or log into your online account to add and remove vehicles and passes as needed.

Friday, November 9, 2012

New SR 522 Snohomish River Bridge takes shape in Monroe

Crews secure a girder section that will support the
new westbound SR 522 Snohomish River Bridge.
By guest blogger
Meghan Pembroke

Widening SR 522 between the Snohomish River Bridge and US 2 in Monroe is a massive undertaking with a lot of moving parts. All along a four-mile stretch of SR 522, crews are blasting rock, building bridges, digging ponds, constructing walls and hauling out dirt to make way for two new lanes. And that’s not all. In the next year, before construction wraps up in 2014, they’ll also build a new roundabout, a noise wall and a wildlife undercrossing.

The most herculean undertaking of all is the creation of a new 1,700-foot-long Snohomish River Bridge that will carry westbound SR 522 across the river. Crews reached a major milestone last week – though daily drivers might have missed it entirely. Well below the sight of drivers on the existing highway, behemoth girders arrive daily, one by one. Crews are working steadily to piece together the new bridge, one girder at a time.

The first of 49 steel girders arrived Nov. 1, after an overland journey that began in Libby, MT, at Stinger Welding. The last leg of its journey took it up I-5 and east on US 2 to the SR 522 interchange, where it picked up a WSP escort. Each of the next 48 girders will make a similar journey to their final destination above the Snohomish River.
But getting the girders to the project site isn’t as simple as it seems. Once the trucks arrive at the existing bridge, crews have to get the girders down the steep embankment to the work area below the bridge. The solution: A temporary off-ramp. Crews took out a section of guardrail and on a rainy Tuesday night, built a temporary ramp from westbound SR 522 to the ground-level work area. They covered it with steel plates to keep the truck tires from sinking in and give the big semis some extra traction. Using brief overnight rolling slowdowns, the girders roll down the ramp and are unloaded before the trucks head back out on Tester Road.

Crews are using an army of cranes to set the first batch of girders this fall. Each assembled girder ranges in length from 150 to 305 feet and weighs between 30,000 and 55,000 pounds – and those are the small ones. The smaller girders will form the backbone of the eastern end of the bridge – primarily over land – on the north side of the river.

But the real action will come next spring, when the massive, river-spanning girders arrive on scene. These girders will be even longer and heavier than the girders we’re setting now. Crews will use huge steel rollers to launch the girders up, out and over the river, where crews will secure them between piers in the river.

Even though drivers might not see a difference as they pass by the project area each day, these girders are good news. It means that we’re one step closer to opening two new lanes of SR 522 by fall 2014. Crews pushed hard this summer to complete the piers during a limited in-water work window. Their efforts meant the girder setting – what’s known as “critical path work” in WSDOT lingo – could start right on schedule. 

If you’re a westbound passenger, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the new bridge coming together as you approach the Snohomish River. For the rest of you, we’ve updated our Flickr set with photos of the work.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Not snakes on a plane. Socks…on a car.

Each year, when the first snowfall hits, we seem to get the same questions. One that always comes up is what does it mean when the sign says “Chains Required.”

Basically, it means most cars have to chain up – and yes, even those with studded tires. Studded tires don’t take the place of chains.

Most of the time, those with four-wheel or all-wheel drive don’t have to chain up. You may be surprised to know that even four- and all-wheel drivers do need to have chains available in the vehicle. Yes, that is the law (check under WAC 204…section 1a).

Other “FAQs” don’t usually change much. But there’s a new answer to this:

• My vehicle cannot accommodate tire chains. Can I drive when chains are required?

Now, the answer is YES – if you have socks.

Huh? What, socks, on a car? (or truck or van or other passenger vehicle – no for semi-trucks)

This year, the company that makes AutoSock was certified “as meeting or exceeding chain requirements for use when Chains Required signs are posted.”

Please remember, only AutoSock. It’s brand name. There may be some other tire sock-type products out there, but they aren’t legal for use (yet) in Washington. That’s from the Washington State Patrol.

The Yakima Herald has a story today that gives more of the background: Tired of messing with tire chains? Put a sock on it.

Want to know the law in full? You can read the complete Washington Administrative Code or WAC (204-24-035) on traction devices.

Any other questions, you can always call or email either us or the Washington State Patrol.

Washington State Patrol Equipment and Standards Section: (360) 596-4017 or

WSDOT Headquarters Customer Service: (360) 705-7438 or

These aren’t staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but we’ll try and answer as soon as we can.

Safe driving!