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.