Friday, February 28, 2014

Ferry cancellations due to staffing – an apology and an explanation

Washington State Ferries recognizes that we place our customers in a difficult situation when we cancel ferry runs like we did today. We are very sorry for the inconvenience. Any service disruption or cancellation is a hardship for our customers. We want to tell you – our customers – what we are doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen often. We also want to share with you some of the challenges we face as one of the largest ferry systems in the world.

To avoid ferry cancellations due to staffing, we are:
  • working with our crews and unions to establish better standby staffing agreements
  • accelerating our hiring process, interviewing 160 candidates in February alone
  • working with the U.S. Coast Guard on a proposal to allow entry-level positions (ordinary seaman) to sail at a step up as able-bodied seaman when needed due to crew shortages
One of our biggest hurdles is that the Coast Guard’s 2012 and 2013 requirements meant hiring 81 new staff members. Hiring them had to be done within an already reduced labor budget set by the Legislature prior to our knowledge of the Coast Guard’s new staffing requirements. Frankly, we have struggled to meet those requirements while maintaining enough cushion to absorb absences and accommodate training and other scenarios that impact already slim staffing levels. As we look for long-term solutions to this issue, we will continue to uphold our reputation as the safest and most reliable ferry system in the world.

In 2013, we had 162,897 scheduled sailings. During that time, we had 1,400 cancellations due to a variety of factors (mechanical, tidal conditions, weather, emergency transport, staffing, etc.). Staffing issues caused only 95 of these cancellations. Our goal is ZERO canceled sailings due to lack of qualified crew. That is our commitment to our customers, and we appreciate everyone’s support and understanding as we work toward that goal.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ground settlement near the viaduct is safe, expected

Keeping the Alaskan Way Viaduct safely open to traffic during SR 99 tunnel construction is a top priority. It’s one of the main reasons we’re boring a tunnel – to minimize disruption at the surface as we replace the viaduct.

Recent media reports have stated that ground settlement due to tunnel construction could cause us to close the viaduct. These reports are inaccurate.

The viaduct is still vulnerable to earthquakes, but it remains safe for everyday use. The viaduct settled as a result of the Nisqually earthquake and we strengthened the viaduct in those areas so it remains safe for drivers.

We have no plans to close the viaduct until after the tunnel opens to traffic. Crews inspect the structure four times per year – the next inspection is scheduled for this weekend – and have taken a number of steps to protect it during construction.

We anticipated some ground settlement would occur during construction of the tunnel, which is taking place near the viaduct. That is why the viaduct has been strengthened in this area and more than 100 monitors have been installed on the viaduct to measure how much the ground beneath the structure moves.

Those monitors told us that the viaduct settled up to four-tenths of an inch at one location along the viaduct near where tunnel construction is underway. This settlement is well within the limits established by WSDOT’s structural engineers.

We will continue to carefully monitor the viaduct during construction and will take additional steps to reinforce the viaduct if needed.

We’ll be posting additional details soon about the work we’ve done to protect the viaduct. In the meantime, please feel free to contact us if you have questions or concerns.

Learn more about the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign…

 By Guest Blogger Summer Derrey

WSDOT Sign Shop staff pictured left to right: Jacob Macias,
Brent Kinney, Rita Swart, John Crawford and Billy Gardner.
Not pictured – Mike Criswell and Chris Warren.
Did you know we have a highway sign recycling program? In over a decade, the state has saved $1,222,304 by reusing 529,300 square feet of aluminum signs. In Washington state, there are approximately 152,000 highway signs that include 52,000 guide and directional signs (big green highway signs), 50,000 regulatory signs (stop, one way, no U-turn), 38,000 warning signs (caution, school crossing, deer crossing) and 12,000 informational signs (services ahead). Signs help guide drivers for directional and safety advice. Highway signs can last up to 20 years, but weather and time can wear them out. While many signs are replaced as part of our highway contracts, about 11 thousand signs are updated every year by a staff of 7 in our 1 shop located in Union Gap.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It’s a traffic tweener: The southbound I-5 collector distributor and you

By Bart Treece

So this weekend, we’re closing lanes on a section of southbound I-5 that’s not quite part of the highway, and not quite a ramp.

The formal name of this thing is the southbound Interstate 5 collector-distributor, and it’s tough to come up with a name that resonates well with folks who aren’t traffic geeks. So what is a collector distributor and how will this affect you this weekend? Good question.  Let’s define collector distributor first. It’s kind of a traffic tweener, meaning it serves many purposes.  This stretch of roadway runs parallel to I-5, and most drivers will recognize it as the southbound I-5 exit to I-90 and the International District. It also connects Spring and James Street on-ramps to southbound I-5, and gives drivers an option to head east to I-90.

Here’s how it works. This animation shows three cars heading south, with the green car peeling off to Airport Way the red car to I-90. The blue car continues south and winds up back on I-5.

Our resident traffic geeks love the collector-distributor as a way to bypass mainline congestion and maximize available roadway. Some folks might be timid to try this (and due to construction this weekend it wouldn’t be a good idea to try it until Monday), because they see the sign and think they’ll end up on Mercer Island instead of points south of downtown. Taking the collector-distributor is totally legal, except for places where it isn’t, like I-405 at NE 85th Street in Kirkland, or anywhere else that is signed exit only. Even the sign on I-405 says it’s verboten, and you could get a ticket.

Back to this weekend, here’s how traffic will move through the construction zone. If this red car is you, don’t let the orange construction stuff scare you, you will still be able to get to I-90 from I-5.

Here’s the details

All but a single lane on the southbound I-5 collector-distributor will close at 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21 until 5 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24. At the same time, the on-ramps from Spring and James streets to southbound I-5 will also close. Need to take a downtown ramp to I-90? Try 4th Avenue South and hop on near the Stadiums. There will be marked detours on surface streets in Seattle.

More weekend closure information can be found on our What’s Happening Now page.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Advice from the afternoon @wsdot_traffic gal could save you heartache over the long weekend

By guest blogger Harmony Haveman Weinberg, aka @wsdot_traffic afternoon gal

As the official eyes of the afternoon Seattle commute, I see gnarly, nasty, unexpected and unpredictable traffic backups. Just how bad is the frustration among those stuck in a backup? Well, imagine being around your sweetie who did not receive flowers on Valentine’s Day. Yes. Drivers can feel that frustrated.

(Pssst: The holiday is Friday, Feb. 14! You’ve been warned.)

While some traffic events are unavoidable, dealing with major backups on southbound Interstate 5 in Seattle this weekend can be prevented. How? Well, it’s really all up to you, the individual driver.

You have the power, but I want to help.

I have some tips to guide you. Consider this my Valentine’s gift to you. But unlike the mystery of an unmarked box of chocolates, these tips will help you know what you are going to get.What’s that? You want to give me a gift, too? Here’s what I’d really like (besides roses and chocolate, of course): Help us spread the love this Valentine’s Day weekend by making sure all your loved ones get the message and plan ahead too.

When can I expect major backups this weekend?
  • Any time from 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14 through 5 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18

Where’s the construction?
  • Two of three lanes on southbound I-5 between Pine Street (just north of the Washington State Convention Center)  and I-90 in downtown Seattle. During the closure we will replace four highway-wide expansion joints.
Crews chipped away concrete and debris last month in preparation
to replace a 50-year-old expansion joint.

But I have to drive into Seattle this weekend!
  • Avoid southbound I-5 into the city if possible. SR 99 is the best alternative.
  • All on- and off-ramps in downtown Seattle will remain open.
  • We’re keeping the I-5 express lanes open southbound until 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. This helps provide more access to the downtown Seattle on- and off-ramps, especially useful for carpoolers (hint, hint). However, and I stress however, they will not help you avoid the big closure because where they end, the construction begins. The I-5 express lanes will operate southbound on Monday from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Can you carpool? Take public transit? Take rail? Maybe work from home if you don’t get Presidents Day off?
  • Local streets are also good alternates.
  • If you plan to travel south of downtown, consider using southbound I-405.
Will I be able to access I-90?
  • You betcha! The collector distributor, which runs parallel to southbound I-5, will be open allowing you to access I-90.  See map below.

History speaks for itself:
  • We’ve had closures like this before. A few weeks ago it took folks traveling northbound about 50 minutes to get through the work zone. The alternate routes were underutilized. This weekend can be different, but the keys to change this are in the hands of drivers. Have your plan ready to go and avoid backups.
Why is the closure happening on the long President’s Day holiday weekend?
  • There’s really no good time to reduce southbound I-5 to one lane in Seattle. With that said, this is crucial work that needs to be completed as soon as possible. While we make sure road work isn’t taking up lanes on busy travel holidays like Memorial or Labor Day weekends, President’s Day is different. It’s not a holiday for everyone but historically there are fewer vehicles on the road. Also, by working until the wee hours of Tuesday morning we can pack two weekends worth of expansion joint repair work into a single one.
@wsdot_twitter will not leave you!
  • Follow us on Twitter! We will be working throughout the weekend! Our team will stay on top of the traffic conditions.
  • Get the app! Let’s just say, it could be your best friend this weekend (besides, of course, your Valentine)
Remember, you have the power to keep traffic backups to a minimum! Together… We can do this!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Shedding light on Snoqualmie Pass

By Meagan McFadden

This is how the LEDs will look
once they’re installed in the highway.
It’s cold, dark and raining. You prepared for this trip over Snoqualmie Pass all week, but there is one thing you cannot prepare for. Where are the lane stripes? The only thing separating your car from the car next to you is your attention.

On an average winter - this year being an exception! - more than 400 inches of snow falls on Snoqualmie Pass. Lane stripes fade from deicer, snow removal, studded tires and chains. Keeping lane stripes visible is a big challenge! This year we will have a striping truck at the Hyak maintenance shed so we can try and get out whenever the weather is dry to restripe areas that are fading.

Safety is our number one priority. With the help of a federal grant aimed at improving highway safety, we are testing a new kind of lane marker to help define where the lanes are. Basically, we are going to insert a solar-powered light into the highway, the fancy name is a solar-powered light-emitting diode. We are hoping these LEDs will help drivers see where the lanes are during the long dark Cascade winters. We will be installing the LEDs this summer over the summit of Snoqualmie Pass.

Before we start the project, we want to hear about your experience driving over Snoqualmie, particularly during dark, rainy conditions. Whether you travel over the pass once a month, once a year or once in your life, please take a few minutes to shed some light on the visibility of lane markings over the pass by taking our online survey. This survey will be online until later this summer. Responses from the survey will establish the baseline of public opinion before the new lane markers are in place.

This project is the first of its kind in the state and we are hopeful the new kind of lane markings will improve visibility despite dark, seasonal conditions. If successful, solar-powered LED lane markings may be considered for other locations along the I-90 corridor.

We will conduct a follow up online survey in the fall of 2014 to determine if drivers think the new LED markers improve visibility of the lanes.

We hope next winter, you won’t be squinting and asking yourself, “What lane am I in?”