Friday, January 31, 2014

Pontoon repairs successfully moving forward

Crews continue making progress on design modifications to four Cycle 1 pontoons built in Aberdeen. Design modifications on two pontoons were completed in dry docks last summer. The other two pontoons are being repaired on Lake Washington using a coffer cell to create a dry work environment.

The design modification work involves epoxy injections into pontoon cracks greater than .006 inches, crystalline waterproofing smaller cracks, transverse post-tensioning, and application of carbon-fiber wrap.

Last week crews completed repairs on the first of four ends of the remaining two massive, concrete pontoons that will help support the new SR 520 floating bridge. From inside a nearly 660-ton coffer cell attached to Pontoon V, construction workers completed crack repairs on one end of the 360-foot-long structure. After placing the coffer cell on the pontoon’s other end, crews began the next round of repairs on Thursday, Jan. 30.

While crews repair these cracks, they also take the opportunity to repair other construction anomalies previously identified during dive inspections of the pontoons. Some of these involve sections where steel rebar is exposed to water. To conduct these repairs, crews remove the concrete to expose the rebar and clean the steel with brushes and sandblasting. Workers then prepare the area for sealing by applying a special bonding agent to the cleaned rebar and surrounding concrete, followed by layers of a high-strength grout, and finally two to four layers of carbon-fiber wrap to help ensure a waterproof repair.

The procedures were developed by an outside expert and reviewed by WSDOT to ensure that the new, six-lane floating bridge lasts at least 75 years with standard maintenance along the way. We anticipate that the design modifications on these two remaining pontoons on Lake Washington will be complete this spring.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

New Seahawks/Sounders specialty plates and tolling

By Guest Blogger Emily Pace

Using a blue filtered light allows the
toll system to capture the Washington
license plate
The new Seahawks and Sounders special design plates are popular with drivers – with 5,800 Seahawks plates purchased since they became available earlier this month. What you may not know is a lot of coordination goes into developing a new license plate design.

Non-profit organizations use special design plates to raise funds for their programs. The Department of Licensing works with these organizations to ensure the proposed plates meet DOL standards. Our job is to make sure the specialty plates work for toll collection.
When preparing to launch tolling on SR 520, we were presented with a unique situation. We couldn’t use bright lights to take photos of the vehicle license plates crossing the bridge because the light would impact drivers, residents and even the aquatic life in Lake Washington.

We worked with DOL to develop
test plates using a variety of
color combinations.
Instead of using bright lights, our toll system uses black and white cameras with an added blue filtered strobe light to capture good images of the license plates. The blue filtered light allows blue portions of the plate to display as white and nearly every other color on the license plate appears as a shade of gray. This helps decrease the appearance of graphics in the background. For example, the light blue image of Mount Rainier on the Washington plate is basically eliminated, making it easier to read the letters and numbers on the plate.

While the blue filter has many benefits, it also creates challenges with the contrast of colors and background for some specialty plates. In an effort to learn more about the challenges, we worked with DOL to develop test plates using a variety of color combinations. We put the test plates on a car and drove it across the SR 520 bridge. And yes, we paid the toll!

These photos show how changing the
color combinations makes the license
plates easier to read.
After the test, we found we needed to make adjustments to the background of the new specialty plates to increase contrast. For example, one of the test plates had a blue background with white numbers. The blue filtered light made the blue background appear white, making it difficult to read the white numbers. 

We used what we learned with the test plates when developing the new Seahawks and Sounders plates. With a few minor color changes, we have a final product that works for our agency, DOL, law enforcement and the fans.

The specialty plate guidelines we are developing with DOL will make it simple for organizations to design their specialty plates. The work will ultimately improve customer service by making it easier for the tolling equipment to accurately identify the license plates and ensure tolls are collected.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Help a highway out, plan ahead: a message from I-5 Seattle

 By guest blogger Broch Bender

Greetings drivers!

It’s your friend I-5 here with some important medical news to share with you.

You see, I recently had a checkup and it looks like 50 years of constant wear and tear on my highway expansion joints has caught up with me again. Yes, the prognosis is in; time for another regimen of expansion joint replacement surgeries through downtown Seattle.

Staring Friday night, WSDOT will call in the specialists to perform triage surgery on 26 of my aching, worn out joints. The first round of treatment starts this weekend, which requires more than half of my northbound lanes to be laid up through downtown Seattle until 10 a.m. Sunday morning.

The doc’s instructions call for nine weekends of lane closures between I-90 and the Washington State Convention Center to replace all 26 joints.

I realize these procedures could be painful for drivers, but ultimately the prescription delivers some relief too. You see, broken joints are not only hazardous to my health; they also put your car at risk for possible damage and can quickly choke your commute.
see caption
On Dec. 16, 2013, emergency expansion joint repairs caused
traffic to back up for two miles on southbound I-5 near
Spring Street. Ripping out and replacing expansion joints
puts the kibosh on emergency procedures like this one.

Here’s how you can help an old highway get some relief this weekend:
  • Plan ahead by taking an alternate route. If you can bypass Seattle altogether, I-405 is a great way to get around the slowdowns heading into downtown.  If not then good old Highway 99 will get you there.
  • Before you leave, check the WSDOT Seattle Area traffic map. If you see red or black near I-90  that means it could take a while to squeeze through the construction closures.
see caption
Highway medics in action, replacing an expansion
joint on northbound I-5 near Corson, April 2013.
With your help, we’ll get through these nine weekends of joint replacement treatments together.

No need to send cards or honk your horn in support while driving through my operating room. The best way to support me on my road to recovery is to carpool, plan ahead for traffic delays and, if you can swing it, take those alternate routes.

I’ll do my best to be a good patient and recover just as fast as I can.


I-5 shield

Interstate 5, downtown Seattle 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Epic Legonians shake things up in Vancouver

By Abbi Russell

A model of the EQ-EAST –
Earth Quake Early Alert System for Transportation
The shaking started with little warning, prompting a flurry of flashing lights just before the suspension bridge started to sway. Thankfully, no one was on the bridge during the earthquake, because, well, it’s made of LEGOs. But had it been a real bridge with traffic, lives could have been saved by EQ-EAST – the Earth Quake Early Alert System for Transportation.

EQ-EAST is the brainchild of a group of aspiring engineers who call themselves the Epic Legonians. The team of fifth graders created the system to warn drivers in advance of an earthquake and prevent them from driving onto bridges as the seismic waves hit.

The system measures seismic movement using sensors installed in buildings and other structures. The sensors trigger a warning system of flashing lights on bridges within the quake zone. The system also has potential for use in homes and businesses to warn people to take cover before the shaking in their area begins.

On Jan. 2, the Legonians presented their research and concept to a panel of nine WSDOT engineering and maintenance staff from Southwest Region and Headquarters. The team, which is part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) LEGO League, was looking for feedback and suggestions as they continue developing their design in advance of a statewide competition in late January. They had also presented to and received feedback from the Arizona, Florida and Oregon departments of transportation.

The Epic Legonians (from left to right: Ramya,
Shruthi, Aishwarya and Zoe) pose with WSDOT staff
The panel was impressed with the team’s research and thoroughness. They asked questions and provided real-world, technical feedback on the system’s potential, how to make it more effective, and other issues to consider in the realm of traffic and transportation.

Southwest Region Bridge Supervisor Mike London feels the concept has a lot of potential. He peppered the team with questions and feedback from the maintenance perspective, and said he’d keep an eye out for further developments.

Keeping people safe and moving is the cornerstone of our work. We are pleased to have had the chance to help the Epic Legonians stretch their minds and develop creative solutions to improve our society.

Friday, January 10, 2014

We’ve encountered setbacks, but strive to move forward

A message from Secretary Lynn Peterson

WSDOT has been in the news a lot lately regarding Bertha and the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program and more recently, the 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program.

Some of that coverage has been light hearted and other coverage has been more serious and raised concerns about WSDOT’s management of our mega projects.

Our projects are complex. No other city or state in the nation has projects like these going on. We are building the widest bored tunnel in the world and one of the largest floating bridges in the world. We need these projects to improve how our residents commute to work, home and play.

As each of us knows, projects encounter obstacles. How many of us have been involved in a project – big or small; at home or at work – and have encountered setbacks? Our projects are no different; they are just bigger and in the public eye. What defines our agency and how our public views us is how we manage through these challenges. That’s what counts. That’s what matters.

We’ve made mistakes. Our 520 bridge pontoon design error resulted in depleting the majority of contingency funds for that project. I spoke about that on Wednesday. We are doing what we can to manage that error. We’ve identified existing funding sources to cover these costs and keep the project on track. At this time, we don’t foresee the need for any changes in tax rates, fees or toll rates to cover the increased costs from contract change orders.

Bertha is stopped. We knew she would encounter challenges as she makes her way north. We planned for obstacles in our budget. WSDOT has been transparent about how hard this tunneling work is and it will continue to be. I’m impressed by the public’s knowledge and interest in not only the project, but in Bertha herself. People asked me “How’s she doing?” not long after tunneling stopped. The answer is: Bertha will be fine.

I understand people’s fear that these large, visible projects will become a statistic and that we will make national headlines for failure. Failure is not an option. We need these projects to be successful to better serve you – our residents. We will continue to manage them well, be accountable, celebrate our successes and be transparent about our challenges.

WSDOT strives for transparency with the media and the public and this makes our agency and valued employees vulnerable to negativity. Transparency is hard and it doesn’t always feel good, but it’s the right thing. We can’t just talk about our successes. We – WSDOT, our employees and the public – need to talk about everything transportation related. The more you are engaged, the more you understand the opportunities and challenges we face as an agency and as a transportation system both now and in the future.

WSDOT has a responsibility to be good stewards of transportation dollars. We’ve made – and continue to make – changes (pdf) to how we do business to ensure efficiencies are made, that we manage well through our challenges and we ensure your tax dollars are accounted for and well spent.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: That’s the WSDOT way!

By guest blogger Chelsey Funis from Flatiron Construction

The I-405 Bellevue to Lynnwood project reuses soil moved
from other parts of the project area to build retaining walls,
shown above, and sections of new roadway.
Most of us follow that old mantra of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle without a second thought everyday, whether we’re recycling our used aluminum cans or bringing our reusable grocery bags to the grocery store. But did you know that crews building the latest batch of I-405 improvements are also following that mantra? 

As part of the I-405 NE 6th Street to I-5 Widening and Express Toll Lanes Project, our crews and contractor, Flatiron Constructors, are using a number of sustainable practices to build a better project for our environment and taxpayers. In this case, going green also helps us save a little green. And who doesn’t like that?

So what are we doing to reduce our carbon footprint?

To reduce impacts on nearby aquatic resources, project crews
have built three mitigation sites. Improvements completed this
October in Kirkland, shown above, include new trees,
plantings, rocks and drainage pipes.
Recycling soil and fill material excavated from the 17-mile project site
Major construction projects typically truck in thousands of cubic yards of soil, crushed rock and other organic materials from off-site locations. Using a little creativity, we were able to design the I-405 project and schedule the construction in a way that recycles tested and approved soil and earthen fill material directly from the project site. We then use the recycled soil and fill material in other places on the job. For example, we’re building two retaining walls and a noise berm in Kirkland by reusing earthen material dug up from the footprint of a new northbound I-405 on-ramp in Bothell and other locations throughout the project area.

By reusing soil on site instead of disposing it off-site and buying new material, our crews:
  • Cut back on heavy trucking at longer distances.
  • Save fuel and decrease carbon emissions.
  • Prevent damage to our roads.
  • Reduce the cost and space used at off-site disposal locations.
Because we’re recycling and reusing soil and fill materials, we’ve also eliminated about 300,000 cubic yards of excavation. To put things into perspective, that’s enough soil to build a pile nearly 136 feet tall onto a football field – or nearly two-thirds of the way up to CenturyLink Field’s roof, which rises about 200 feet above the ground. In addition, our commitment to reusing 100 percent of the remaining excess material on site will result in a 2,100-ton reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the project. That’s the equivalent of a little more than 4,000 cars’ annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycling demolished concrete structures
We’re removing  many concrete structures, such as roadway barriers, so that they can be updated to current standards. For this project, crews haul all of this rubble to local recycling facilities that process and repurpose the steel and concrete for other local projects.

Recycling old asphalt pavement
We’re also removing existing asphalt pavement that is past its service life. Crews are grinding and breaking the removed asphalt to build temporary access roads and embankments, as well as reprocessing it back into new asphalt for this and other local projects.

Installing bioswales: smarter drainage ditches
Urban stormwater – the rain and snow melt that runs off surfaces like rooftops, sidewalks, paved streets, highways and parking lots – is one of the biggest environmental threats to the Puget Sound region. Left untreated, stormwater runoff can carry pollutants like oil, fertilizers and pesticides into our waterways, harming creeks, streams and rivers that provide important habitat for fish and wildlife.

Cleaning pollutants from this water and reducing the rate of runoff is a critical component to the Bellevue to Lynnwood project in order to help protect the many nearby wetlands.

To clean pollutants and control the rate of runoff, this project will construct:
  • Eight new or enlarged standard treatment and detention ponds.
  • 3,550 linear feet  (more than half a mile) of biofiltration swales, also known as bioswales, which help capture and treat stormwater by filtering the water through vegetated channels comprised of organic materials like grass and shrubs. 
  • 11,200 linear feet, or more than two miles, of new media filter drains, which we construct along the highway shoulder area. The media filter drains consist of a no-vegetation zone, a grass strip and a mix of native vegetation. These pollutant filters are great for where there is limited space.
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