Friday, December 20, 2013

100K miles on the West Coast Electric Highway

By Noel Brady

Gov. Jay Inslee presents Steve Marsh with the Governor’s
Recognition Award, naming him Washingtonian of the Day.
Our charge to short-circuit the range barrier for electric vehicles passed milestone 100,000 on Dec. 16, when a Kent man stopped in Tumwater on the West Coast Electric Highway.

The fast-charge station at a Shell station in Tumwater is a regular stop for Steve Marsh on his way to work at Taylor Shellfish in Shelton – a 130-mile roundtrip commute. When he pulled up Monday in his Nissan LEAF, his odometer flipped to 100,000 miles.

Suddenly Steve was an EV-VIP, shaking hands with the likes of Gov. Jay Inslee and Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. They and others congratulated Steve for reaching the six-digit milestone and saving nearly 30 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

By the Numbers
Steve Marsh purchased a Nissan LEAF in May 2011 for his 130-mile roundtrip commute. After 100,000 miles, here are the numbers.
Marsh’s daily commute in freeway miles each way, depending on route
Freeway miles he can drive on a single charge; 75+ when LEAF was new
His cost in electricity per one-way commute
His savings in gas he didn’t purchase over the last 2 1/2 years (based on his previous 2006 Honda Accord EX)
Total net saving, counting out changes

Metric tons of CO2 equivalent Marsh would have released if he kept his 30-mpg Accord (EPA greenhouse gas calculator).

The Governor handed Steve a plaque declaring him the Washingtonian of the Day and vowed his administration’s commitment to reducing use of fossil fuels in Washington. One strategy will be extending our network of electric charging stations west-to-east across the state, he said. 

Already the West Coast Electric Highway enables EV travel between British Columbia and Oregon with a network of 12 fast-charge stations along I-5 and parts of U.S. 2. They can fully charge an electric car in about 30 minutes. We are working with Oregon and California on the West Coast Green Highway to extend the charging network to Baja, Mexico.

Steve said cash was his biggest motivator for being among the first in the state to buy a LEAF – some $9,000 he saved by passing the pump and plugging in on his long commutes.

Shortly after he bought his electric car, he suggested his company install a public-use charging station at his office. 

Here’s the shocker: They did!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Snow in the Forecast and #throwbackthursday

Be safe in snow… you don’t have nine lives.
By Alice Fiman

For #ThrowbackThursday, I’ll share a photo I took on a recent trip back to my high school. I hadn’t been there in many years. Yes, we are the mighty Tigers. And like tigers, many of us here aren’t very comfortable in the snow. We make that face when we hear it’s coming.

So, let’s talk snow and driving and safety. Please take a few moments to get ready for Friday’s commute. Plan ahead and leave yourself extra time. And if you do have to travel, drive for conditions and don’t take chances.

Forecasts call for a short duration snowfall in the Puget Sound region, starting tonight (Thursday). They say it should be gone by Friday afternoon.  For those of you who have the day off, well, lucky.

WSDOT crews, our partners at the Washington State Patrol and many, many others are out treating roads and keeping traffic moving. We do need your help. We have a list below. Please add any additions to the comments section. Thanks!

For those of us who will be on the road Thursday night and Friday:
  • In ice and snow, take it slow.
  • Protect yourself and your passengers.
  • Allow extra time to reach your destination during inclement weather.
  • Drive for conditions – slower speeds, slower acceleration.
  • Use your headlights.
  • Four-wheel and all-wheel vehicles do not stop or steer better on ice.
  • Leave extra room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Remember, the larger the vehicle, the longer the stopping distance.
  • Slow down when approaching intersections, offramps, bridges, or shady spots.
  • If you find yourself behind a WSDOT truck, stay behind it until it is safe to pass. Remember that truck provides the driver a limited field of vision.
Know before you go:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Anatomy of a response - I-5 at Mounts Rd

 by Claudia Bingham Baker

The tragic collision that took place on Monday, Dec. 16 on southbound Interstate 5 at Mounts Road reminds us all how fragile life is and how the status quo can change in an instant. Loss of life, injuries and property damage were the immediate results of yesterday’s collision. But the effects only started there. Most importantly, of course, were the victims, whose lives were irrevocably altered. First responders then came upon a complicated and dangerous scene. With a road strewn with debris and multiple fires burning, it was clear southbound I-5 had to close.

Thousands of motorists got caught in miles-long backups, and even people in surrounding communities were affected as they experienced floods of traffic trying to bypass the clogged highway.

It’s not often that a collision is severe enough to close an interstate for hours. Yesterday’s was. We are taking this opportunity to help explain our role in highway collisions.

Just after 10 a.m. the collision was reported. Several agencies, WSDOT included, began the simultaneous process of responding. The Washington State Patrol dispatched troopers, local fire stations dispatched fire engines and medic units, and we dispatched Incident Response crews. We also began alerting motorists via social media channels and variable-message-signs, which are the large electronic signs that span the highways and give information. Our closed-circuit TV cameras gave media and the public a first-hand look at the carnage on a freeway that had essentially closed itself from the widespread debris field and active vehicle fires. We sent highway advisories and posted the closure on our website.

Within 15 minutes of the reported collision, we had set up a detour for one lane of southbound I-5 traffic via the Mounts Road exit. Variable-message-signs as far north as the King County line and as far south as Tumwater warned motorists to avoid the area.

In responding to roadway collisions, our immediate role is to support the first responders while they care for the injured and take control of the scene. We do that by notifying the public of traffic impacts, creating detours and diverting traffic from the scene. During this incident, we performed that role while fire units extinguished the fires, Ecology responded to a fuel spill, the Washington State Patrol investigated the incident, and the deceased’s body was removed from the scene by the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office.

We were able to open one southbound lane to traffic two hours after the incident occurred. As the day progressed, we performed as much concurrent roadway clean-up as we could, but we were unable to remove the burned semi until cleared by the responding authorities to do so.

The removal of the burned-out semi proved to be extremely difficult. The trailer was full of heavy steel. The shell, and thus the structural integrity, of the trailer was decimated by the fire. The steel cargo had to be unloaded before the trailer could be moved. Once emptied, crews used heavy equipment to start pushing the trailer onto the shoulder, but the friction reignited a fire. With the fire risk that high, crews chose to instead to remove the trailer by loading it onto a lowboy. Even then, the shell was very unstable and removal was approached deliberately and carefully to keep the trailer intact. Once the trailer was finally removed, crews cleaned and re-opened the road.

Because the road is built out of concrete pavement, rather than asphalt, the intense vehicle fires did not damage the roadway, therefore no pavement repairs were necessary.

The Dec. 16 collision at Mounts Road in Pierce County was about as difficult as highway collisions can get. It combined the challenges of multiple re-igniting fires, injuries, a fatality, tremendous amounts of debris, fuel spills, commercial and passenger vehicles, limited alternate routes, and difficult extractions from the freeway. We are sympathetic to those of you who were caught in the traffic backup. We know that while sitting in traffic, you missed important meetings and family gatherings, ran out of gas, had medical concerns and other misadventures during that very long day.

Some of you have asked us if this collision scene could have been cleared more quickly. In evaluating an event this size, the agencies involved will meet to debrief and evaluate the anatomy of the response with exactly that question in mind. Our goal is to always improve our service to the public. We will look for lessons we can apply toward that next response.

Taking a whole new approach to traffic congestion

By guest blogger Joe Irwin

We’ve probably all done it. Taken an on-ramp onto I-5 during rush hour thinking maybe this time it won’t be so bad only to run into a sea of red brake lights, and then subsequently cursing Henry Ford for inventing the automobile.

As most Washington drivers can attest, traffic congestion is becoming routine on certain sections of highway statewide. In addition to numerous projects to improve traffic flow, we analyze and report on highway trends.

We’ve been doing this for the past 12 years, but this year we took our in-depth review a step further and in a new direction. The idea is to provide a much finer level of detail in telling the story behind traveling on our state’s highways.

We recently released the 2013 Corridor Capacity Report, providing an unprecedented look at how transit and park and rides fit into the overall transportation scheme on our state highways, while making note of empty seats and parking spots along specific corridors.

This unused capacity on buses is a big deal because it shows us and transit agencies exactly where we can add more riders, park and rides and/or transit services to make things more efficient on the highways at reasonable costs.

According to the report, mass transit took more than 43,800 vehicles off the road each day in 2012, reducing daily carbon dioxide emissions by 674,700 pounds. Even so, our findings show we can improve transit use and reduce emissions by using the existing capacity we have and filling unused seats during the tail ends of the peak periods.

The report focuses closely on routinely congested sections of highway, which also allows us to figure out exactly where the problem areas are located. Traffic patterns differ during the morning and evening commutes, and determining where congestion is worst, when and for how long, helps us as we work to alleviate it.

As more and more people hit the roads each day, the corridor capacity report is providing us a new tool with which to decide the best ways of helping everyone get from Point A to Point B as efficiently and reliably as possible.

Monday, December 9, 2013

In ice and snow, take it slow.

by Alice Fiman

Can’t get any more simple, right? Tonight, depending on where you are, you may see both ice and snow. And the combo – which  freezing rain can be the toughest for road crews to treat. Why? has a great explanation… just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, conditions must be just right.

And the way freezing rain impacts traffic, I would change that to just wrong.

The forecast calls for a blast of moisture mixing with the temperatures hovering near freezing overnight and into Tuesday. Our road crews will be out treating roadways, and working to keep traffic moving, now the rest is up to you. We need you to be prepared for black ice, especially those traveling on shaded roadways, bridges and overpasses.

What do we need you to do?  Take the time to protect yourself and your passengers.
  • Drive for conditions – slower speeds, slower acceleration. 
  • Allow extra time to reach your destination.
  • Fill up your gas tank before heading out.
  • Prepare for cold temperatures.
  • Use your headlights. 
  • Four-wheel and all-wheel vehicles do not stop or steer better on ice. 
  • Leave extra room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.  
  • Remember, the larger the vehicle, the longer the stopping distance. 
  • Slow down when approaching intersections, offramps, bridges, or shady spots.  
  • If you find yourself behind a WSDOT truck, stay behind it until it is safe to pass. Remember that truck driver has a limited field of vision. See here for someone who didn’t heed this advice.

Know before you go:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Those strange new trees on SR 520? They’re for the birds

By guest blogger Kate Elliott, Eastside Corridor Constructors

This raptor perch, or “snag”, located just east of the
Bellevue Way bridge over SR 520 in Bellevue is an
ideal hunting perch for birds of prey.
If you’re used to seeing evergreens along Western Washington roadways, you may have noticed an odd sight as you travel on SR 520 near Bellevue Way: a group of 20 seemingly lifeless trees.

This fall Eastside Corridor Constructors, the contractor building the SR 520 Eastside Transit and HOV Project, added the salvaged spindly evergreen trees just east of the Bellevue Way overpass to provide perches for birds of prey, including owls, eagles and hawks. Adding these perches is part of the 520 project’s efforts to restore animal habitat along nearby Yarrow Creek.

I chatted with Ken Otis, the environmental superintendent for ECC, and he said that while the trees may look unconventional, this is just what critters need to thrive in this urban environment. He’s proud that we’re taking these extra steps to sustain the environment in the middle of a construction zone. Birds and bats alike will hunt and roost for years to come.

While not the handsomest tree you’ll ever see, the perches are attractive to Western Washington’s abundant population of raptors, like Red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks. And this habitat not only serves birds but also mosses, lichens and insects that will consume the wood and hide in the bark.

Adding these perches is part of the project’s
efforts to restore animal habitat along nearby
Yarrow Creek.
Michael MacDonald, WSDOT’s National Marine Fisheries Service liaison, told me that the added features make for a more holistic environment than merely building a pond that could quickly be overrun with bullfrogs and blackberries, along with other animals and invasive plants.

To keep these perches – or “snags,” as biologists call them – upright, crews buried them at least 4 feet in the ground. In 15 to 30 years, after the landscaping has matured a bit, the perches will eventually fall to the ground to become woody groundcover. Crews placed each perch so that it will fall into the habitat area – and away from the nearby roadways.

Later this year, crews will mount bat houses on the side of the perches to house some of the 11 species of bats in Western Washington that roost in fabricated structures. Although these perches look odd now, next spring crews will plant native trees and shrubs to provide cover for the perches and excellent hunting grounds for the birds.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Added visibility comes to I-5 express lanes

By guest blogger Mike Allende
New flashing lights bring added visibility
to I-5 express lane gates.
The I-5 express lanes have been getting some much-needed attention during the past couple years. From automating the way we switch the directions of the lanes to new signs and important communications equipment, we continue to look for ways to help the always-busy stretch through Seattle run more efficiently and safely.

We're in the middle of a $4.9 million upgrade to the express lanes between Northgate and downtown Seattle. The signs along the express lanes hadn't received any significant improvements in about 20 years. We've already replaced five of them near the entrance at Northgate, and more are going up in December at the northbound James Street entrance. LED lights on the new signs will clearly let drivers know whether the lanes are open or not. While the express lanes normally operate on the same daily schedule, these improvements will still help guide drivers who might be unfamiliar with their hours of operations.

New LED signs let drivers know if the
I-5 express lanes are open or closed.
Besides the signs at Northgate, we've installed flashing lights on the directional gates. When they swing out during the midday switch to northbound, the lights will flash. When the gates are completely closed, they'll stay red. We did this to improve safety around the gates: The lights should reduce the number of gate strikes while giving drivers another notice of whether the lanes are open or closed. The added visibility will also help alert drivers to merge if the lanes are closed, which should help ease some of the congestion southbound drivers approaching the Northgate exit know all too well.

We also replaced a variety of communications equipment near the Northgate entrance and will do the same near James Street. The equipment remotely relays information that lets our staff in the Traffic Management Center know that everything is ready for the switch. Once our road crews drive through the lanes to ensure they are clear, our TMC staff can efficiently switch the lanes with the press of a button.

New LED signs let drivers know if the
I-5 express lanes are open or closed.
These improvements come a little more than a year after we completed another major part of the project. We automated the express lanes last year, which reduces the amount of time it takes to switch directions. We also added 45 new cameras, signs, signals and communications equipment.

More than 50,000 vehicles use the I-5 express lanes on weekdays, with 60 percent of them heading north. Since automating the lanes, northbound drivers have seen about four minutes cut from their commute. Look for even more improvements with these new signs and equipment.

Friday, November 22, 2013

We need your help preventing sign theft

by guest blogger Alice Fiman

Not all of us can be crime fighters, but we can all report crime. Today, we are asking for those driving on State Route 7 near Eatonville to keep an eye out for criminals stealing or damaging a vital safety sign.

As you travel south on SR 7, just north of Ohop Valley, there is a sharp curve in the vicinity of milepost 31.5. You may notice the arrow signs light up, letting you know you are traveling too fast approaching the curve. These signs, part of a research project, are funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Washington is one of five states where FHWA is testing “blinker signs.”

The project team believes these signs can reduce single-vehicle run-off-the road crashes at curves, where nationally, 25 percent of all highway fatalities occur. Someone is damaging and stealing the solar panels that power the signs. Without power, the sign can’t perform its vital safety function.

If you see someone out there and it just doesn’t look right, call 9-1-1 and report the suspicious activity. Make this call when it’s safe for you.

Be the hero.  Don’t let them get away and hurt someone you care about. Make the call to 9-1-1 or take note and fill out an online form later. 

Thank you. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Keeping Drivers Safe: Innovative state partnership wins national safety award

By guest blogger Alice Fiman

AIRS system displays the results of each vehicle's scan.
As one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation, Washington has many big trucks traveling its highways.

In early November, the Roadway Safety Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration honored our agency along with the Washington State Patrol for our joint project developing a new way to get big trucks with unsafe brakes off the road.

It was close to three years ago when our Commercial Vehicle Services and Statewide Transportation and Collision Data Office joined forces with WSP to develop the automated infrared roadside screening (AIRS).

AIRS was first deployed at the northbound Interstate 5 DuPont weigh station.  Based on this success, we are scheduled to install the system at all 11 of Washington’s interstate weigh stations and ports of entry. 

WSDOT project team: Left to right: Ken Lakey STCDO,
Vic Bagnell CVS, Rich Rackleff STCDO,
and Nghia  Chau, STCDO
AIRS starts when an infrared camera, buried in the center of the off-ramp lane, scans and analyzes the undercarriage of a vehicle entering a weigh station. A WSP Commercial Vehicle Officer can then see a display of each vehicle’s scan. Hot or warm brakes show up a reddish color, with colder brakes in blue. Good working brakes show signs of heat so, in this case, red is good. WSP’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement staff use the information to determine if the vehicle needs closer inspection.

During software testing, WSP took a total of 12 trucks out of service over a two-day period. One of those trucks was leaking brake fluid, another had brake drums that were full of rust, one had a flat tire and still another had a brake air can coming off. 

Why an emphasis on the big trucks? Well, first, because these trucks can be pretty big, there can be more damage and longer traffic delays during a collision. Plus, we have a joint operating agreement with WSP and we often work together in many ways. It’s all about keeping drivers safe and traffic moving.

Specifically in the area of weigh stations, WSP operates all Washington’s weigh stations and ports of entry, while we provide the technical support, such as the computer systems AIRS.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

SR 6 Willapa River Bridge: Past and Present

Crews are building a brand-new, wider SR 6 Willapa
River Bridge next to the existing, 84-year-old bridge.
By guest blogger Abbi Russell

1929 was a heavy year. It was the year Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as President, the year that saw a catastrophic stock market crash and the first inklings of the Great Depression. It was the first year of the Academy Awards. 7-Up was invented that year, as well as the first car radio.

We can thank 1929 for bringing us Anne Frank, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Grace Kelly, Bob Newhart, Audrey Hepburn and Arnold Palmer (the golfer, not the confused beverage).

One other less glamorous but interesting fact about 1929: It was the year we opened a brand-new bridge carrying State Route 6 over the Willapa River.

The steel truss bridge, located near Menlo in Pacific County, was built using the most advanced engineering and materials of the day. But now, 84 years later, it’s time to say goodbye to early twentieth century construction and hello to the future.

We are replacing the Willapa River Bridge with a wider, more modern structure designed for today’s traffic and structural standards.  Next week, our contractor hits a major milestone as crews set 12 girders to span 275 feet across the Willapa River. Once the girders are set, crews will start deck construction with the aim of finishing and opening the new bridge to traffic in fall 2014.

The new bridge won’t have a graceful superstructure arching overhead; it will be a relatively plain structure with two 12-foot lanes of smooth, grey concrete. But it will carry two log trucks side-by-side, something the narrow 1929 structure struggles with. It will be built to survive earthquakes and floods, something we can’t guarantee with the 84-year-old bridge. And, with good care, it will last at least 50 years.

That’s where the old bridge is an overachiever – it has served drivers for 84 years, even though it wasn’t intended to. The new structure could last that long, and who knows? In another 84 years, maybe another young writer will marvel at the passage of time and the strength of those old and faithful structures.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What’s taking so long on the SR 9 widening project?

By guest blogger Kris Olsen
Looking north on SR 9

Widening more than two miles of State Route 9 near Clearview in Snohomish County is a large, complex project.  We began the project to widen the highway from two lanes to four in the summer of 2011. Naturally everyone who uses the highway or lives nearby is anxious to have the project complete and the orange construction barrels gone.  Regularly, we receive emails asking “what’s taking so long?” and “are you going to be done soon?”

To widen the highway we:
  • Cleared dozens of trees
  • Built retaining walls
  • Filled in huge sections for new lanes
  • Installed new 84” and 96” diameter culverts
  • Rebuilt the 180th Street Southeast intersection
  • Installed new highway drainage systems
  • Built new ditches
  • Repaired a stream
  • Wired electrical systems for new highway lighting
  • Strung fiber optics
  • Built new storm water retention ponds
  • Paved, paved and then paved some more to build up the two sides of the highway
What’s the current status of the highway?
We’ll hit a milestone the weekend of Nov. 2-3. That’s when crews will install a massive structure known as a signal bridge at 180th Street Southeast. The signal bridge will eventually hold all the new traffic signals and signs. The work requires a full closure of the intersection. You can get all the information about the closure on the project website.

The final layer of pavement has been placed, except a four-block section between 180th Street Southeast and 176th Street Southeast. Although we’ll try to get it done this year, weather may prevent it from occurring until spring 2014.
Striping crew on SR 9

Crews are currently restriping the highway section by section. Two lanes in both directions are now open between 212th Street Southeast/SR 524 and 201st Street Southeast. Next up is the section from 201st Street Southeast to 188th Street Southeast, followed by 188th Street Southeast to 180th Street Southeast and then 180th Street Southeast to 176th Street Southeast. Specific striping dates depend on weather and the availability of a striping crew. Our construction update report will keep you informed about work plans that will affect traffic.

Construction doesn’t come without challenges
Heavy duty roller compacts newly installed
asphalt during a break in the weather
Road construction work always has challenges. In coordination with our contractors, we plan schedules weeks, even months in advance to ensure the crews, equipment and resources are available. On SR 9 the contractor was all set to begin the final paving in early September which is traditionally one of the prime months to perform this work. What happened? The skies opened and September ended up as the wettest on record. We can’t pave highways in the rain. Projects throughout the region were rained out. Suddenly everyone’s carefully planned and coordinated schedules are being compressed into mere weeks, putting enormous pressure on private sector pavers and the striping companies. They’re now scrambling to reschedule everything into a much shorter time period. SR 9 is one of many WSDOT projects jockeying with local agencies and private companies for their time and attention. We’ll continue working on striping the project and the contractor is working hard to bring in additional resources.  Over the next couple months, drivers should be prepared for lane closures as crews begin building the raised center median and U-turn locations.

We hoped to have the entire project completed this fall, but some work will have to wait until next spring. We appreciate the patience and understanding of people who use SR 9 through the area. WSDOT remains committed to delivering a well-constructed highway that will serve the area for many years to come.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Be alert for wildlife as temperatures drop

By guest blogger Mike Allende

It’s the time of year we typically find a rise in deer sightings near our state highways and, unfortunately, more collisions with vehicles and wildlife.
Deer crossing

But why? Well, a couple reasons. Colder temperatures in the mountains send more deer and elk wandering down to the lowlands looking for food. It’s harvest season and the animals naturally go where the food is. It also happens to be both mating and hunting season for big game, which means even more movement.

Every year we receive reports of more than 1,100 vehicle collisions involving wildlife, and many others go unreported. A few of these collisions result in human fatalities. Many more leave animals dead; our crews remove an average of 3,500 deer and elk carcasses from our highways every year.
Wildlife fence

When driving, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for wildlife near the highway. When you see an animal, especially something as large as a deer or elk, slow down and prepare to react. Wildlife behavior or sudden movement is tough to predict and impossible to control. While some parts of Washington see more wildlife movement than others, the reality is animals can appear virtually anywhere in the state, which is why drivers are wise to be alert always.

Taking wildlife into account is a regular step in highway planning at WSDOT. Our Habitat Connectivity policy directs our approach to balancing the state’s transportation needs with its renowned natural habitats. While we can’t completely prevent wildlife from entering the highway, we take steps that reduce collisions and keep highways safe for people and animals alike.

  • We’ve installed 8-foot-tall wildlife fencing in key areas, such as along I-90 in Cle Elum. Fences are effective at separating large animals from the highway, but it’s an expensive option that doesn’t work everywhere.
  • We’ve built several wildlife crossings over and under highways, such as SR 240 near the McNary National Wildlife Refuge, and U.S. 12 at Casey Pond southeast of Pasco. Other crossing structures are under construction on I-90. Here’s a pretty cool short video of some animals using our crossings.
  • This year we’ve built a new bridge on US 97 over Butler Creek about nine miles north of Goldendale. We installed 8-foot-tall wildlife fences to help guide animals to cross underneath the highway rather than across it.
  • We use deer-crossing signs in areas prone to deer and elk collisions. It’s a heads-up for drivers to be on the lookout ready to react accordingly. Some signs have beacons or messages attached for added visibility.
Wildlife Sign
Obviously, we can’t make animals use the structures we build for them, but combining fences with crossings reduces the tendency for animals to go around fences as they learn to use the crossings.

Just as we all need to move around to get to work, school and the store, wildlife need to move to find food, security and adapt to seasonal changes. Sometimes it creates hazards on our roads, but driver awareness of wildlife and cross locations reduces the hazards and makes the road safer for travel on four wheels or four legs.

Friday, October 11, 2013

I-90 tolling proposal: Your feedback helps shape alternatives and tolling options

By guest blogger Emily Pace

I-90 Floating Bridge
As you may recall, earlier this year we conducted outreach on the proposal to toll I-90 between I-5 in Seattle and I-405 in Bellevue, including public meetings in Bellevue, Mercer Island and in Seattle, and a public comment period. We had a great turnout at the meetings, and in the end, received thousands of comments from the public and state and local agencies.

It’s important to remember why the Legislature asked us to study tolling I-90. The Cross-Lake Washington corridor – made up of the I-90 and SR 520 bridges – provides as a vital connection between our region’s major employment and population centers. We’re facing two key challenges with this corridor: funding the SR 520 - I-5 to Medina Bridge Replacement Project to complete the SR 520 Program and relieving congestion on I-90.  To address these challenges, the Legislature asked us to evaluate tolling I-90 and complete an environmental impact statement to examine other possible project alternatives.

Craig Stone, Assistant Secretary for the WSDOT Toll Division,
and Tolled Corridors Director John White discuss the I-90
EIS with members of the public attending the Bellevue
scoping meeting held October 10th.
How did we use the feedback we received from outreach earlier this year?
Many people suggested potential alternatives to tolling I-90 that may help meet the purpose of the project, which is to alleviate congestion on I-90 and fund SR 520 between I-5 and Medina. We used the suggestions to develop a list of potential solutions that fit into categories such as state or regional taxes, mileage fees, federal funding and adding new highway capacity. 

Many suggestions came from folks who live or work on Mercer Island.  When we discuss tolling I-90, we realize Mercer Island is in a very unique situation—fully reliant on I-90 to leave the Island in either direction.  As we continue with the environmental process and evaluate the variable tolling alternative, we’re only considering potential tolling options (pdf 404 kb) that would offer Mercer Island a free or discounted way off the island.

More input needed Oct. 6 through Nov. 7 on proposal and alternatives
We’re having another 30-day comment period and we need your feedback again – this time on the potential alternatives and proposal to toll I-90. You can provide your comments online, by mail or in person at a public meeting in Bellevue, Mercer Island and Seattle. Last time, many folks wanted a chance to give verbal comment at the public meetings, so this time around we’re offering the chance to speak at each meeting.

What are the next steps?
Ultimately, the Legislature decides whether or not to toll I-90. After the comment period ends on Nov. 6, we will compile all the comments and summarize key themes into a summary report. Your feedback will help determine which alternatives are studied in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) analysis. In mid-2014, we will publish the DEIS findings and allow the public another opportunity to comment. We plan to deliver the final report to the Legislature in early 2015.

Have more questions?
Check out our common questions on I-90 tolling to find an answer.

Check it off the list, 3 miles of I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass done

By guest blogger Meagan McFadden
It’s done - the first 3 miles on Interstate 90 east of Snoqualmie Pass. In 520 days the contractor removed 1 million cubic yards of material, blasted 400,000 pounds of explosives during 177 hours of lane closures and poured 68,000 cubic yards of concrete to finish a brand new stretch of six lanes.

We celebrated the major milestone with project partners, elected officials and local business leaders on October 10. The completion of this 3-mile stretch is part of a $551 million project, funded by the 2005 gas tax, to improve reliability and safety between Hyak and Keechelus Dam.

However, with a major milestone complete on the project, we still have a couple more miles to go, scheduled to be finished in 2018. This stretch will reduce road closures caused by avalanches with the construction of two new bridges, add a lot more room for vehicles with a new lane in each direction and improve safety by getting the rock slopes stabilized. We will also improve movement of people, fish and wildlife with new bridges and culverts.

The improvements to the I-90 corridor don’t stop at Keechelus Dam. The Legislature allocated funding in the 2013 Transportation Budget to continue expanding I-90 to the Cabin Creek interchange. This stretch includes the first wildlife overcrossing to be constructed in the state. Construction is scheduled to begin 2015 and finish in 2019.

Although 3 miles of the project is complete, we still have a little more construction to do before we can call it quits for the season. The contractor is cleaning up the construction site in preparation for winter. Closures for rock blasting are scheduled to be complete by mid-October, but you will experience minor delays due to single-lane closures and rolling slowdowns through November.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

US 12 over White Pass to reopen this weekend

by guest blogger Meagan McFadden

It’s been a long couple of days on US 12 near White Pass after a 500-foot section of the roadway that washed out and closed a 45 mile stretch from Naches to Packwood. We're now happy to report that a single lane will open at 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4.

Drivers will notice a signal light that will direct alternating single-lane traffic through a quarter-mile area just east of White Pass. If you plan a trip, expect some minor delays through the single-lane detour. Unfortunately, the roadway will remain closed to those driving oversized loads - just can’t have you driving through there, yet. 

Aerial view of the slide

Governor Inslee signed an emergency proclamation on Thursday, Oct. 3 which give us and local agencies the green light to pursue federal emergency relief funds for the fix. 

We already have an emergency contractor on board, DBM Inc., of Federal Way, who is working with us to develop a temporary fix so we can get this section back open to two before winter.

Last week’s rain storms are to blame for the severe erosion that closed the roadway Tuesday, Oct. 1.

Currently, US 12 remains closed to from just west of Naches at milepost 183, to just east of Packwood at milepost 138. Truckers and other commercial vehicles are not allowed past these closure points. Locals going west can get to recreational areas  and businesses along US 12 up to the west end near of Rimrock Lake and those going east can get up  to the summit of White Pass.

Until we get a single-lane open, you will need to use SR 410 andSR 123 as an alternate route. Remember these routes don’t allow oversized loads, and it's already had a dusting of snow earlier this week, so please be prepared for winter driving.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crunchers SMASH in Salmon Creek

by guest blogger Heidi Sause

I met a man today who operates a concrete cruncher.

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree – that sounds like the coolest job ever!  Concrete crunchers (technically, concrete processors) are built for maximum-strength, precision demolition work. Look at the jaws on this baby!

Cruncher jaws!
There are currently three crunchers parked in the I-205 median in Salmon Creek. During the day, they look like sleeping dinosaurs. At night, they’re burning the midnight oil to bite, tear, bend, twist and yes, – crunch – an old northbound I-5 on-ramp to smithereens. After two nights of work, the demolition crew has already removed half the bridge deck.

Half a bridge
I guess I should pause to explain why we’re tearing a ramp to bits.

The demolition work is part of a congestion-relief project in Salmon Creek. We’ve enlisted the crunchers because we need to remove an old on-ramp to make room for the new NE 139th Street interchange that’s being built over the I-5/I-205 junction. Also, The Hulk was busy.

In this photo, you can see the construction of the new interchange peeking out beneath the partially demolished ramp.

Old and New
Clark County drivers are patiently navigating a series of nighttime closures while the crunchers work to safely and efficiently remove the ramp. Crews have already removed half the bridge deck, and will spend the next four nights removing the spans over the roadway and the columns next to the interstate. Be sure to check the project website for the closure schedule and detour maps if you’re heading this way.

Fun fact: 100% of the concrete, steel and wood bits removed from the bridge are being shipped to plants to be recycled in future projects. See, Dr. Banner? You’re not the only one who gets to smash and be green! *Rimshot*

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What does WSDOT see when it looks in the mirror?

By guest blogger Joe Irwin

Our performance publication. Think of it as our quarterly look in a full-body mirror.
Sometimes everything goes great and we look like we just completed a 90-day routine with a Hollywood trainer. Other times, well, it’s not always that pretty, because in the end everything’s out there. Everything shows. And if our abs are fab but our arms have flab, well that shows too. We work hard so it doesn’t, but unfortunately, it happens. When it does, we know we have to work even harder to get our programs and the delivery of our projects back in shape.

We can also determine what’s working and use these lessons learned to help move the agency toward what the taxpayers really expect of us: absolute perfection.

Lofty? Yes. Unattainable? Maybe. But something we shoot for nonetheless.

Our quarterly performance publication goes beyond that of a typical report. It’s meant to be used as a tool of sorts – a map to help show where we’ve been, how we got there and the best path to get to our destinations.

In order to do this well, the tool has to be refashioned from time to time.
In the 50th edition, we slimmed down considerably to 54 pages (from about 90 or so), making it more approachable than say a report the size of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

We provided performance information on subjects at the beginning of articles through “Notable Results” and results-focused introductions. We also used analogies to better inform readers why the information might be important to them. We expanded the use of infographics and added performance highlights to give vital information in the briefest format possible to folks who want to know, but are on the go.

Our publication sets extremely high standards for transportation performance reports, but we’re raising the bar even higher as we continue our efforts to improve. Find out more about WSDOT’s accountability efforts and performance reporting at

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Innovation loops drivers around I-405 construction zone

By guest blogger Anne Broache

If you’ve ever struggled to navigate the congested area where northbound Interstate 405 meets State Route 522 in the Bothell area, rest assured that improvements are on the way. As part of the I-405 NE 6th Street to I-5 Widening and Express Toll Lanes Project, our project crew will add a new set of ramps—called “braided ramps”—that separate traffic going from Northeast 160th Street to northbound I-405 from I-405 traffic heading to SR 522.

But before we can make this upgrade, we had to innovate to keep ramp traffic—some 13,000 vehicles daily—moving through the braided ramp construction area. To avoid repeated shutdowns of this critical on-ramp, our contractor worked this summer to build a temporary loop ramp to northbound I-405 at NE 160th Street. We’ll be able to route traffic around the construction rather than through it.

We’ll soon be ready to open that new ramp and shut down the current one.

New I-405 on-ramp at NE 160th Street opens September 8
Starting as soon as Sunday, September 8, drivers will access the on-ramp to northbound I-405 from the south side of NE 160th Street, just east of I-405 and adjacent to the northbound off-ramp from I-405.

The new entrance will be located directly across NE 160th Street from the existing on-ramp entrance, as shown in the map below.

New temporary on-ramp to I-405
The on-ramp you’re accustomed to using will remain closed until the new braided ramps open in 2015.

This temporary on-ramp has clear advantages:
  • It creates a dedicated work zone for our crews. By shifting traffic off the existing on-ramp, we can give crews full access to work on the new ramps in a space without public access.
  • It prevents major traffic interruptions. The temporary on-ramp will allow us to provide consistent northbound I-405 access instead of making multiple changes to the existing on-ramp as construction reaches different phases.
  • It’s the neighborly thing to do. Maintaining access to I-405 around the work zone allows more construction activities to happen during daytime hours, reducing nighttime noise for neighbors.
Allow extra travel time when the new ramp opens
As with any new roadway configuration, drivers should allow extra time to navigate and approach the new on-ramp—especially in the first few weeks while drivers get used to the new arrangement. Opening the new temporary ramp depends on good weather, and we’ll be sure to update drivers if the schedule changes.  

Want more information?
Visit the project Web page:
Sign up online to receive e-mail alerts about closures and construction activities:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Going off-grid with Emma Lance

By Guest Blogger Broch Bender

Combine the patience of ice fishing, a passion for puzzles, and a love for I-405 drivers that would make the @WSDOT_Traffic Twitter Fairy giggle, and you’ve got WSDOT Transportation Engineer Emma Lance.

OK, so there is no Twitter Fairy, however, magic wands and Twitter dust aside, Emma Lance is the mastermind behind the #Take5 detours you use when northbound Interstate 405 through Bellevue is closed for repairs.

“It’s easy to put pen to paper and design something,” said Emma. “It’s another thing to be accountable for keeping drivers out of lengthy backups.”

Emma and her team are traffic-busting heroes. During weekend-long pavement repair shutdowns of northbound I-405, they go where the traffic cameras can’t; patiently combing through backups so that you won’t get stuck in one.

You might be wondering, “Why does WSDOT need people on the ground when you have Twitter?” Good question. Our tweets are generated by information we see on our webcams, traffic sensors embedded in the highway, and occasionally from drivers like you.

Emma Lance
But, what happens when we close our highways completely and all the average person can see are orange barrels and crews working? And what if the detour is on local streets without cameras and sensors (hint: NE 8th St. or 116th Ave. SE in Bellevue)?  Emma says, “It’s kind of a black hole for drivers. It’s like we are telling them, go here because the highway is closed – see you on the other side!”

Last month was her first call to duty, and she’s back again this weekend, August 9 through 12 for the final roundof concrete panel replacement through downtown Bellevue.

Emma and her team are winning the traffic game by shining a light into the detour abyss. When she sees a slow spot in the road, she’s on the phone with the City of Bellevue so they can adjust traffic signal timing before you can say “red light, green light 1-2-3!,” An extra few seconds of “green” time on a traffic light can make a huge difference. And, if the signals suddenly stop working, Ms. Lance is on the horn to the Washington State Patrol so they can direct traffic.

When drivers enter the “detour black hole,” there is no real way to tell what the detour travel time is.
In the past we’ve literally watched cars exit the ramp to the detour and watched the on-ramp hoping to find the same car and timing how long it took them. That’s ok, but not too reliable. Emma’s got wheels on the ground and stopwatch on the dash, rolling through the detours all day long, timing how long it takes from start to finish. Every 30 minutes she contacts the WSDOT traffic tweeters with her findings.  Bottom line: Ms. Lance is a big reason drivers get the latest, most accurate detour travel times possible all weekend long.

Just like any superstar, Emma is motivated to use her congestion-busting powers for good. Since the beginning of her WSDOT career in 2007, she’s specialized in planning out highways that coexist with fish habitat and Bellevue’s growing metropolis. “It’s a challenge trying to balance tight budgets with high environmental standards,” she said. “But it’s totally worth all of the effort to have state of the art highways side by side with nature, instead of having to choose between them.”

During the first round of I-405 pavement repair closures back in July, she noticed drivers were getting stuck at the NE 8th Street area trying to get onto I-405. This time around her advice is to avoid NE 8th Street and instead use other arterials to go north. “You’ll save yourself a nice chunk of time.”
When our best “traffic-un-jammer” is not designing construction projects, detailing detours or out saving drivers from traffic fatigue, you can find her honing her patience and fortitude over jigsaw puzzles, fishing for walleye and being a favorite aunt to her niece.

Monday, August 5, 2013

SR 520 Bridge 50th Birthday

August 2013 marks the 50th birthday of the SR 520 floating bridge on Lake Washington. Throughout the month we’re taking a look back at the history of the bridge, as well as the places it connects and the people who use it.

The Evergreen Point Bridge, its original name when it opened five decades ago (and before it was named for former governor Albert D. Rossellini), was built in a different era. Prior to 520, drivers had just one crossing across Lake Washington – the original Lake Washington Floating Bridge. And prior to that, you either drove around or hitched a ride on one of many ferries traversing the lake. Today’s quick trek across the lake was once a day’s (or more!) journey.

520 construction began in 1960, lasted through the 1962 World’s Fair, and opened on Aug. 28, 1963, the same day as Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

Aerial view of west approach bridge construction in 1962. Bridge piers were built in Lake Washington prior to adding the superstructure and roadway. Photo credit: City of Seattle Municipal Archives
Each winter, significant wind and wave action takes its toll on the existing SR 520 floating bridge, requiring WSDOT to perform regular inspections and maintenance.
Over the next 50 years, the 520 bridge has been through a lot. It’s endured decades of winter storms and wave action and closes for safety when sustained winds reach 50 mph. The 1993 Inaugural Day storm ravaged Puget Sound with winds reaching 94 mph and closed the bridge for several days. It’s been tolled, untolled, and tolled once again. It’s been hit by a barge. It’s had cables strung through its pontoons for additional post-tensioning.

During the 2008 Seafair Marathon, thousands of runners crossed the SR 520 floating bridge, filling its two eastbound lanes to capacity.
But through it all, the bridge’s work ethic remains strong. SR 520 is still the world’s longest floating bridge, and it still carries thousands more cars per day than it was designed to accommodate in the 1960s. Sometimes it even takes a break from car traffic: 520 hosted the Seafair Marathon in 2008!

Retirement is the next step, as crews continue work to assemble the new SR 520 floating bridge on Lake Washington, featuring a bicycle/pedestrian path, new transit/HOV lanes, and wider, safer shoulders.

This visualization of the new SR 520 floating bridge looking east shows the bridge’s new transit/HOV lanes, bicycle/pedestrian path, wider shoulders, and sentinel architectural features.
The new floating bridge’s opening is on the horizon, and the bridge is expected to serve the region for 75 years or more. While it’s never easy seeing one’s replacement come onboard, today’s bridge can rest assured that it will be remembered and celebrated as a vital connection across decades of growth and development in the region.

Happy Birthday, SR 520 Bridge!

Those are our memories. What are yours? We’d love to hear from you. Hitch a ride on 520 Memory Lane to share your fondest 520 memory as a story, poem, photo or video. We’ll be posting them regularly throughout the month of August.