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.