Thursday, March 28, 2013

Take the surprise out of your trip east of Snoqualmie Pass; know before you go

 By guest blogger Meagan McFadden

Drivers traveling on I-90 this summer need to know
before they go to avoid construction-related delays.
Several major road improvement projects will delay you if you drive over I-90 this year as we improve sections of roadway across a 50-mile stretch.

Crews are scheduled to start work again in mid-April on a dozen projects that add lanes, build bridges, repave bridge decks and repair cracked sections of pavement.

Construction at several locations east of Snoqualmie Pass will require single-lane closures and rolling slowdowns this summer, which will add to travel time. During construction, drivers need to add at least an hour to their east-west trips, especially if trying to catch a flight or make a time-sensitive appointment.

It’s going to be a very busy construction season on I-90 and when we say, ‘plan ahead’, we mean it. We’re letting you know now, so you can take the surprise out of your trip and plan accordingly.

We have a wide variety of resources to help drivers take the surprise out of their trips across I-90 this year. Drivers can find information on multiple websites, including the What’s Happening on I-90, Snoqualmie Mountain Pass and Traffic Alerts pages. Drivers can also follow us on Twitter @snoqualmiepass and @wsdot_passes or sign up for email updates. While on the road, drivers can use our travel time signs to find out how long it will take them to get to their destination.
In mid-April, crews resume work on a $551 million project that builds a wider, safer and more reliable stretch of I-90 from Hyak to Keechelus Dam. Later this spring, crews on this 5-mile-long project will resume blasting along the rock slopes east of Snoqualmie Pass. Drivers need to plan for hour-long closures, Mondays through Thursdays, starting an hour before sunset. Due to the nature of blasting operations this year, some closures may last longer than an hour.

In late April, crews will begin deck repair on five bridges along I-90 between Easton and Ellensburg. Crews will remove a thin layer of the existing bridge deck, repair damaged concrete, reinforce the deck with steel and repave with asphalt. Crews will also begin repaving deteriorating pavement in both directions west of Easton Hill. Drivers could experience delays of up to 15 minutes Monday through Friday through the work zone.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

WSDOT gives Tacoma Teen second best day of his life

By guest blogger Kelly Stowe

Back in April 2008, WSDOT staff found a friend in Drake Thomas. Drake, who is autistic, was 10 years old, and fascinated by the WSDOT traffic cameras and soothing background music that played during TV Tacoma 12’s “Traffic Watch program.” The program flashed live images of WSDOT traffic cameras focused on I-5, SR 16 and SR 512.

Drake would watch the show daily, memorizing the order in which the camera images were shown. If something was off or a camera image was out, he would ask his parents to call TV Tacoma or WSDOT. He even built his own highway system at home by making traffic cameras with toothpicks, straws, and clay. When WSDOT heard about Drake’s passion for traffic cameras, he was invited to check out the Olympic Region Traffic Management Center in Parkland where he could meet the people who controlled the cameras he watched each morning on Channel 12.

On the day of his visit, Drake got a lesson about all the inter-workings of the TMC by Rich Langlois, Traffic Safety Systems Operator, and was even allowed to operate the cameras where he adjusted the angles and zoomed in and out.  KOMO TV also came along for his visit. (See the KOMO segment of Drake’s visit here.)

Drake was in camera-loving heaven and proclaimed the day, “The most special day of my life.”

So almost five years later when WSDOT staff asked if Drake was interested in a return visit, he jumped at the chance. It was almost as time had stood still when Drake entered the TMC, except of course the seemingly 10 feet the now 15-year-old had grown.

Drake walked in and his old friend, Rich Langlois, was right there waiting to put him to work. Drake sat down at a computer that is used to move the cameras – and that’s when a call came in over the Washington State Patrol scanner which is monitored by TMC staff, that there was a disabled car blocking a lane on eastbound SR 512 at I-5. Rich said to Drake, “Well, you better find it.”

As if he had been working at the TMC for the past five years, Drake expertly found the right camera and moved it around until the disabled vehicle was in sight.

Drake spent the next two hours moving the cameras and talking to Rich about how he likes high school, enjoys being a part of the NAVY ROTC, and what he needs to do so he can work at the TMC when he graduates.

Rich’s explanation on what Drake needed to one day become a TMC employee was pretty cut and dry, “Stay in school and don’t do drugs.”

Drake’s mom, Janice, and dad, Bob, both accompanied him on his visit. His mom explained that when Drake arrived that day at the TMC he announced, “Today is the second best day of my life!”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't let I-5 closures detour your weekend plans

by guest blogger Mike Allende
Do you remember when we said some big weekend closures were coming up? Well, “coming up” is here, and the best thing drivers can do is be informed and plan ahead. Hopefully this will help.

What’s Closed?
On consecutive weekends – March 29-April 1 and April 5-8 – drivers will see significant lane closures on northbound Interstate 5 near South Albro Place to the West Seattle Bridge/I-5 interchange. From 8 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday, three out of five lanes will be closed around the clock, leaving two lanes open. From midnight to 4 a.m. Friday and Sunday nights, an additional fourth lane will close, leaving one lane open. That’s a big closure, and we need some big help! We’ll get into specifics below, but overall, we need at least 60 percent of drivers who normally use northbound I-5 to take alternate routes or be prepared to face long delays. Can you be in that 60 percent?

The closure covers about a quarter of a mile just south of downtown Seattle. The stretch was constructed in 1965 but 50 years of traffic has weakened the steel expansion joints that connect the concrete spans that make up I-5 as it curves through the industrial area.

Critical Safety Work 
Crews working for WSDOT repairing an expansion joint as part of the I-5 Spokane Street Interchange Project

Yes, we know the first closure comes during Easter. But this is critical safety work that is part of the Spokane Street Interchange Special Bridge Repair project and it simply has to get done. Without this work, the risk for serious collisions will continue to grow. With so much going on in Seattle, there are no “good” weekends for this kind of closure, so we do everything we can to make it as painless as possible.

Keeping Traffic Moving?
Additional WSDOT Incident Response Team members will help clear blocking vehicles during the weekend closures.
We’ve worked closely with existing projects to coordinate work. We’ll have crews in the field monitoring traffic and the construction work and making adjustments as needed. Extra Incident Response Team trucks will be available to quickly clear any disabled vehicles to keep traffic moving. Travel times, alternate route options and any other updates will appear on overhead message boards and on our website and Twitter feed. Additionally, we’re keeping the I-90 express lanes westbound all weekend to help improve traffic flow.

What Can Drivers Do?
There are plenty of alternate routes to get around the northbound I-5 closure, add extra time to your trip.
If you must drive through the area, add plenty of extra time into your trip. We expect the heaviest traffic to come midday Saturday and Sunday on northbound I-5 and I-90 into Seattle and on I-405 approaching I-90. Consider using alternate routes like northbound I-405 to I-90 and northbound SR 599 to SR 99. Maybe now is a good time to try public transportation or carpool. Download our mobile app to stay plugged in.

Why The Closure?
A look at a bridge expansion joint without the metal plate covering the gap.

During the closures, crews will replace four expansion joints that run the width of the highway. If they fail, they can pop up and create obstacles for vehicles, which could lead to collisions and damage to the cars or trucks. We are committed to keeping our highways as safe as possible and we’re working to prevent any problems before they arise.

What’s An Expansion Joint?

The current joints are coming apart. No surprise, since this section of highway carries more than a million vehicles every week. The new joints will bend and flex as the concrete expands and contracts with changing traffic and weather patterns, leading to a safer commute.
A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
Backups on northbound I-5 are inevitable during the closures. How long they stretch depends on how many people use alternate routes.
We know there are going to be backups on northbound I-5 during these closures. Those are impossible to avoid. But with some planning ahead of time, adjustments to schedules or routes and simply knowing what is going on and what to expect, we hope that at least some headaches will be avoided, and we thank everyone for their patience and cooperation!


Friday, March 22, 2013

The Washington State Transportation Commission wants to hear from you about toll rates

Under the proposed rates, drivers with a Good To Go!
pass will still pay the lowest toll rate.
By guest blogger Korbett Mosesly

Did you know WSDOT doesn’t set toll rates? The Washington State Transportation Commission is responsible for setting toll rates for state highways and bridges. The commission reviews traffic and revenue on toll facilities, including the SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges, throughout the year to determine whether toll rate changes are necessary.

We design, build, and operate the toll facilities and work with the commission to set toll rates in an amount sufficient to meet the financial obligations of each facility.

What does all this mean if you drive over either the Tacoma Narrows or SR 520 bridges?

On March 19, after months of reviewing traffic and revenue results as well as forecasts for the next fiscal year, the commission proposed toll rate increases for both bridges.

For the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the commission is proposing a 25-cent increase for two-axle vehicles in both 2013 and 2014. On July 1, 2013, the commission proposes that the Good To Go! pass rate will increase to $4.25, the cash rate will go to $5.25 while the Pay By Mail rate will be $6.25. The commission will continue to keep an eye on traffic, revenue and debt payments over the next year however, under their proposal tolls will go up another quarter on July 1, 2014.

On the SR 520 bridge, drivers will see a 2.5 percent increase for all toll rates. The peak weekday Good To Go! pass rate will be $3.70, while the Pay By Mail rate will rise to $5.25.

Why do toll rates need to increase?
Toll rate increases ensure revenues meet our legal requirements to cover debt payments to pay for these new bridges. State law requires revenue collected from tolls on the SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges can only be used on those corridors.

For Tacoma Narrows Bridge, tolls help pay back construction bonds for the new eastbound bridge which opened in 2007. Why are tolls increasing? The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was financed with an escalating debt repayment plan which means our payments were low when the bridge first opened and rise over time. This also means tolls must increase over time. For example, between 2007 and 2009 the state made $41 million in debt payments and in the current 2011-2013 budget debt payments are nearly $90 million.

Tolls on the SR 520 bridge help pay for a new, safer bridge set to open in 2015. Toll rate increases support the finance plan for SR 520, which has incremental increases in the first five years then levels out after the new bridge is open. If you remember, SR 520 toll rates went up 2.5 percent last July, and this upcoming rate increase would be second of four planned, annual 2.5 percent rate increases. There will also be a one-time 15 percent increase in 2016 after the new bridge opens to traffic.

How can you learn more and participate?

The people who drive on and pay for the roads and bridges are an important part of the decision making process. The commission is currently seeking comments on proposed toll rate increases on the Tacoma Narrows and SR 520 bridges.

You have the opportunity to speak directly to the commissioners as they consider new rates. If you can’t make it in person, you can submit your comments to the commission via email at or by mail at:

Washington State Transportation Commission
PO Box 47308
Olympia, WA 98504-7308

Friday, March 15, 2013

Anchors ahoy! Final anchor set for the new 520 floating bridge

By Guest Bloggers Nathan Karres and David Gitlin

If you crossed the SR 520 floating bridge this morning, you may have caught a glimpse of our contractor crews completing a major project milestone: we placed the 58th of 58 total anchors for the new SR 520 floating bridge.
It’s March madness on Lake Washington as one of the final four
fluke anchors is lowered to the lakebed. Photo taken March 12, 2013

Construction crews pose for a group photo moments before submerging
the last of 58 anchors for the new SR 520 floating bridge.
 When you’re crossing Lake Washington on 520 or I-90, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually floating on the lake’s surface above 200 feet of water. The new SR 520 floating bridge will be no different. In order to hold the bridge in place and help withstand winds and waves, we built and installed three kinds of anchors:

  1. Forty-five fluke anchors will secure the bridge in the deepest parts of the lake by creating drag that resists pulling from bridge pontoons floating on the lake’s surface. Weighing 100 tons and with a surface area of 910 square feet (think 20 elephants packed into the floor space of a typical apartment), the immense weight, size and shape of fluke anchors ensure they stay firmly in place. Fluke anchors are covered with mounds of heavy rock to strengthen their hold. 
  2. Eight gravity anchors will secure the bridge where the lake bottom is sloped with hard soils. These massive concrete boxes are filled with rocks to hold the bridge in place by shear enormity. 
  3. Five shaft anchors have been drilled directly into the lake bottom where the lake is too shallow for gravity anchors. 

 Gravity and fluke anchors were built at the north end of Lake Washington in Kenmore, at a pair of specifically designed concrete casting areas. After the concrete cures and anchors are ready to go, they’re transported by barge and floated to the bridge site. This is no small feat – each anchor weighs up to 420 tons!

Crews set each anchor at a specifically mapped location in the lake, all the while carefully navigating around the numerous anchor cables for the existing floating bridge. Each anchor will eventually be attached to a new SR 520 bridge pontoon. While remaining pontoons are being constructed in Aberdeen and Tacoma, the anchors will be temporarily connected to mooring buoys bobbing atop the lake.

With one major component of the new SR 520 floating bridge complete, another has only just begun: crews in Medina are preparing to pour the first roadway section for the new bridge. Casting this roadway section is the first of thousands of feet of pavement that will be constructed for the project. 

Check back for more updates as we share our progress building the world’s longest floating bridge.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Swinging into high gear on the Salmon Creek Interchange Project

Crane operators lift the 120-foot girder into place
on the future NE 139th Street Interchange.
 By guest blogger Heidi Sause

It’s been a big week on the Salmon Creek Interchange Project. I’m talking high-flying, heavy-lifting, milestone-reaching BIG.

Now, I’m a hyper-enthusiastic transportation geek who’s prone to hyperbole even before reaching for my morning coffee – so you can imagine my delight when a 120-foot long concrete girder took flight on Tuesday.

Don’t get too excited (that’s my job); the flight was scheduled and carefully controlled by two masterful crane operators. But it was still a sight to see. Why? Because girder setting is one of the coolest things we do; it’s the point of construction when years of planning and engineering finally take shape in the field, and a reminder that we’re several 120-foot steps closer to a future with less traffic congestion in the busy Salmon Creek area.

The girders crews are placing right now form the backbone of the new Northeast 139th Street interchange, which will eventually carry drivers over the I-5/I-205 junction in the Salmon Creek neighborhood of northern Vancouver, Wash.

This week, our contractor installed 18 girders on the interchange bridge. They have another 16 scheduled for installation next week, which will bring the installed-girder tally up to 34. Thirty four down, 99 to go.  (Ninety-nine girders to place on the bridge, ninety-nine girders to place…)

When complete, the interchange will significantly alleviate some of the gridlock on Northeast 134th Street, the parallel road that runs just south of current construction work. The new interchange also gives drivers another option to access the interstates, and provides direct access to Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital and the Washington State University Vancouver campus (go Cougs!). 

We’re in the fourth and final stage of the $133 million congestion relief project, and on track to wrap things up in 2014. In the meantime, crews are in a frenzy of orchestrated activity: drilling bridge shafts, pouring concrete, realigning roads and – as enthusiastically mentioned – setting girders

Sign up for project email updates and check out our Flickr site to follow the interchange during the upcoming construction season – it’s going to be a doozy.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Story of a flag...

by guest blogger Jeff Adamson

It's not unusual to see Old Glory flying in front of public buildings. One isn't surprised to see one even on a bridge, but there's sometimes a fascinating story behind some of those flags.  

Take the case of the flag atop the SR 285 Senator George Sellar  Bridge over the Columbia River in Wenatchee.  A bright new flag was installed this week by two of North Central Region's Electrical crew (Tim Hein and Josh Winn), in advance of the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival coming in April.

The Sellar flag is unique in that when a local Desert Storm support group got FAA authorization to put up the flag back in '92, it had to be permanently illuminated because it actually replaced the FAA's red flashing aircraft warning beacon on the top of the bridge. (It's the only flag we know of that cannot be moved, so it cannot legally be lowered to half-staff). That group replaced the flags until it disbanded in the late 90's.  We then took to replacing them until the state auditor told us we had no statutory authority to expend tax dollars for the flags.  We went looking for a partner and since '99, Wenatchee's RiverView Kiwanis club has been paying for them.

The 10x15' light polyester flags we are now using cost about $250.00 each and need to be replaced about every 8 mo. to a year, depending on weather.
It is a much appreciated community service.