Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Seattle is a happening town...

by guest blogger Mike Allende
…..and this weekend, well, there’s going to be plenty happening!

Big events at CenturyLink Field, the Washington State Convention Center and a foot race from the Seattle Center to Fremont could draw up to 63,000 people into the city. Knowing that, our contractor crews will work around the big events to push forward on important safety and pavement repair projects on Interstate 5, the West Seattle Bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

So with three events happening, why do we have three significant closures on the same weekend? Great question!

Unfortunately, as our years are currently constructed, there are only 52 weekends available and a ton of maintenance and preservation work to get done. Closures aren’t fun for anyone, but neither is poor pavement. We have several more large projects this summer and it’s all vital. We’ve been working since the first weekend of January to try to get it all done this year.

To try to make this a little easier, we have a few tricks up our sleeve. First, we’ve got a detour route mapped out for the West Seattle Bridge/I-5 ramp closure. We’ll also be driving it during the closure to see it needs tweaking. We’ve also worked with the City of Seattle to adjust the signals on the detour route.  For I-5 drivers, we’re keeping the express lanes open southbound all weekend.

Make sure you plan ahead this weekend. The best thing you can do is plan ahead. If you’re if need to head south on I-5, wait until after 10 a.m. Wherever your travels take you, know before you go.  Stay plugged in, check the Seattle Traffic page, our WSDOT mobile app.

So, what exactly is happening? Here you go:
·         Thursday night to Sunday morning: Three out of four lanes of southbound I-5 from 65th Street to the Ship Canal bridge will be closed as crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation replace concrete panels and do some pavement grinding. The southbound 45th/50th Street off-ramp will also be closed. Closure times will be from 10 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday, from 10 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, and from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday.
·         Friday night to Monday morning: The West Seattle Bridge ramp to southbound I-5 will be closed from 10 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday as crews replace three expansion joints. Drivers will still be able to reach southbound I-5 by using lower Spokane Street or can get off at 4th Avenue South and follow a short detour.
·         Saturday and Sunday: The Alaskan Way Viaduct will be closed for its semi-annual maintenance from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 6 a.m. to noon Sunday.


But there’s more:
·         Sounders: The Seattle Sounders play their season-opener at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against the Montreal Impact at CenturyLink Field and could draw nearly 40,000 fans.
·         Hot Chocolate: The Hot Chocolate Run – a new foot race – will take place Sunday starting at 6:45 a.m. The race starts at the Seattle Center, goes through parts of the north end of downtown, across the Aurora Bridge and into Fremont. The race could draw more than 3,000 runners.
·         Comicon: Emerald City Comicon runs Friday to Sunday at the Washington State Convention Center and expects to draw 20,000 people.

We will have more big closures coming up. With the Sounders and Mariners starting and the usual amount of Seattle fun, this weekend is a great chance to prepare. All of the work is going to lead to better commutes for everyone. We’ll do our part, and with your help, we’ll get through these projects with as minimal of headaches as possible.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The unusual (but successful) path to replacing the viaduct’s southern mile

by guest blogger Chad Schuster

At first glance, the curvy temporary stretch of State Route 99 that opened last fall to the west of Seattle’s stadiums seems like an unusual path for a highway to take. Certainly it’s not the straightest point between two lines. But viewed in a broader context – keeping the highway open during SR 99 tunnel construction – it’s most certainly the right path. It saves everyone in the long run by maintaining a vital route to and through downtown Seattle as we continue replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Fittingly, the path to completion of that circuitous section of highway, and the permanent section immediately to its south, was unconventional. Yes, we always weigh risks and look for opportunities to save time and money. But this time our vigilance resulted in big changes – most notably swapping an underpass for an overpass at the eleventh hour – made with an eye toward big savings. The history behind that decision is a complicated one. The result is not: We replaced the southern mile of the Alaskan Way Viaduct one year early and under budget. And our last-minute design changes saved more than $50 million.

Of course, making big changes complicated an already challenging project. We knew that we would have to make minor adjustments along the way, and even re-do work in some cases. But the cost of those minor re-dos was well worth it given the overall cost savings and the safety benefit of removing half of the seismically vulnerable viaduct. Here’s the brief history of how it all went down.
  • The contract to build the viaduct’s south-end replacement went to bid in early 2010.
  • Our original construction budget for this project was $152.6 million, plus an additional $38 million to manage construction, and minimize risk and impacts to the public. Altogether, the total budget for the project was $190 million. 
  • An important component of the contract was an underpass that would allow drivers to bypass a busy train track that crosses South Atlantic Street, near the entrance to the Port of Seattle’s busiest freight terminal.
  • As contractors prepared bids, a value engineering study of the program yielded the potential for major savings if we changed from the underpass to an overpass.
  • Recognizing the value, and being confident in our ability to deliver the project while minimizing impacts to the public, we chose to make the switch. We removed the underpass from the contract and told bidders the overpass would be put out to bid later in a separate contract. We remained in close contact with interested bidders to ensure they understood the changes as they prepared their bids.
  • Skanska USA Civil was announced as the low-bidder on the main south-end project in May 2010. Thanks to a highly competitive bidding climate, their bid of $114.6 million was 25 percent under our construction estimate. As a result of the low bid, the overall project budget was adjusted from $190 million to $152 million.
  • Skanska completed their work in September 2012, one year early, at a final construction cost of $121 million. A portion of the additional cost was due to changes that were made necessary by the switch to an overcrossing. Add in the risk and construction management costs and you end up with $150 million – $2 million less than our adjusted budget. 
  • In May 2012, the overcrossing contract was awarded to Atkinson Construction for $29.4 million, $6.2 million under our estimate. The estimated cost for building the underpass was $90 million.
  • All contracts associated with the viaduct’s south-end replacement are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013, as originally planned.
What all of this really adds up to is this: our job is to deliver transportation projects safely, on time and on budget, while minimizing impacts to the public. With the viaduct’s south-end replacement, we did that and more. It just so happened the best way there was the road less traveled. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hello, and might I introduce myself: My name is I- 5, and I live in Seattle.

by guest blogger Jamie Holter

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday. Happy birthday to me, right? Thing is, I’m starting to feel my age and, frankly, I’m starting to look it, too. My genes are good. I come from a long line of rock-solid Cascade gravel. I’ve been told that I have held up longer than most highways my age across the country. Those who have cared for me, WSDOT maintenance crews, have done an excellent job of keeping me humming along. They are so attentive and watch over me constantly.

But like I said, I’m feeling old. I look old. Cracks, potholes, even entire sections of my body are simply falling apart, especially in one of the spots that matters most: the University District, where you have to look and feel your best. More than 250,000 vehicles a day –cars, trucks, vehicles with Boeing airplane parts, cars with studded tires – run roughshod over me. Yes, I know it’s my job. But still. I need a little lift. How can I be the backbone of my economy when I look and feel so…old.

But here’s the good news: In time for my 50th birthday (give or take a couple years)  in late spring, WSDOT is giving me the concrete version of Dermabrasion and a Botox treatment. Every Friday night for the next two months on southbound I-5 between NE 50th Street and Lakeview Boulevard, they’ll bring out an industrial strength diamond grinder to smooth my surface. They plan to take anywhere from a ½ inch to ¾ inch off the top.  This will get rid of the small cracks that can lead to big cracks, which means more costly face work later. In fact, if it gets too bad, not even major surgery will help. I could be looking at an entire emergency face transplant.  I don’t have the budget (or the coverage) for that.

They will also give the worst-of-the-worst sections a little Botox-like treatment. Between you and me, I have more than 32 concrete panels that must be completely replaced, but that’s all I can afford right now.

I’ve heard it’s a little painful on the ears. I mean, it’s noisy, but it’s only Friday nights. (Thanks, guys, for letting me sleep through the work week and doing all the work on Friday night when I get to sleep in on Saturday.) 

Yes, I realize that my siblings Alaskan Way and SR 520 Floating Bridge are in worse shape and more vulnerable than I am. That’s why they get to be replaced first. But I am hoping that this lift which will last about 10 years and can get me to my 60th birthday, when WSDOT plans to give me the billion dollar, full replacement that I really deserve after everything I’ve done for everybody.

I do plan to live to be 100, you know.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

One person’s trash is another’s…park and ride

by guest blogger Jef Lucero

New Hawks Prairie Park and Ride Lot
If you build it, carpoolers will come. With blue skies and sunshine serving as a warm and welcome backdrop, leadership from Intercity Transit, Thurston County, the city of Lacey and WSDOT convened on Jan. 25 to cut the ribbon on the new Hawks Prairie park and ride near Lacey. The facility—located just north of I-5 at Marvin Road—provides commuters with 332 parking stalls, and the view looks great from all of them.

“This project addresses a significant need and benefits the public we serve,” said former three-term legislator and current Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero. “This park and ride represents innovation, smart land use, public stewardship and strong partnerships.”

Created with the aid of a grant from WSDOT as part of its Regional Mobility Grant program, this project represents a bold and unique vision made possible thanks to the help of a strong, dynamic set of partners. Peppered with modest landscaping flourishes and modern amenities, it bears no resemblance to the landfill once housed at the site. Built above 25 to 60 feet of garbage and 148,000 tons of fill, the park and ride also features four electric-vehicle charging stations and 24-hour security cameras.

This park and ride isn’t just built atop a landfill: Considering the immediate surroundings slope down and away from the facility, it’s rather perched atop it, seemingly vaulting up from where it sits. From almost any perspective, the view sweeps toward the horizon. If ever there was a picturesque park and ride, this surely is the one - proving once and for all that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Or, park and ride.

Addressing the crowd, Commissioner Romero expressed her appreciation for the project’s partners. She cited the efforts of IT, WSDOT, the city of Lacey and the contractors on the project for collaborating to make the park and ride a reality. “This is a great example of a public-private partnership come to life,” said Commissioner Romero.

About 100 people and two dogs attended the celebration. Joining Commissioner Romero were Lacey Mayor Virgil Clarkson; Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet; IT Acting General Manager Ann Freeman-Manzaneres; executives from the Washington State Transit Association, Sound Transit, and the Thurston Regional Planning Council; officials from the IT Board of Directors; and members of the Lacey and Olympia city councils.

WSDOT’s Regional Mobility Grants program delivers transit-mobility projects that are cost-effective, reduce travel delay for people and goods, improve connectivity between counties and regional transportation centers and are consistent with local and regional transportation and land-use plans. Funded through the multimodal transportation fund, the program has provided $161.2 million to support local projects since 2006.