Monday, March 31, 2014

Scuba diving part of job description for WSDOT Dive Team

WSDOT Dive Team members. Back row from left to right:
Michael Smith, Richard Pawelka and Darren Nebergall.
Front row from left to right: Loren Wilson, Dave Bruce
and Jim Harding.
By Cara Mitchell

Scuba diving, to many, is considered a leisurely after-hours activity or hobby that takes place away from work. But for one skilled and fortunate group of civil engineers here at WSDOT, scuba diving is part of their job description.

Our Bridge Preservation Office Dive Team is heading into its 10th year as an in-house dive team. The crew, consisting of Darren Nebergall, Jim Harding, Richard Pawelka, Michael Smith, Dave Bruce and Loren Wilson, takes care of 60 to 80 underwater inspections annually across the state.

During a recent routine underwater inspection of the Hood Canal Bridge, the dive team found a large derelict net wrapped around one of the bridge’s 56-foot by 27-foot anchors.

An underwater photograph shows just
a portion of the derelict net wrapped
around one of the Hood Canal
Bridges anchors.
A derelict net is a fishing net that was either lost or cut loose from a fishing vessel.

To complete the inspection, our dive team needed help removing the massive net. They contacted Kyle Antonelis with Natural Resources Consultants Inc., who works for the Northwest Straits Foundation. The Foundation is funded by the State of Washington through the Northwest Straits Initiative and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Antonelis had crews in the field removing derelict nets in the San Juan Islands and North Puget Sound at the time, and was able to quickly position a dive team and vessel at the Hood Canal Bridge.

On Thursday, March 13, the vessel F/V Bet-Sea and its dive team took to the waters off Port Townsend and headed toward the Hood Canal Bridge.

A buoy was placed near the Hood
Canal Bridge to help divers locate the
derelict net.
In anticipation of the arrival of the F/V Bet-Sea, Nebergall placed a buoy to mark the location of the anchor and derelict net, making it easier for the dive team on the F/V Bet-Sea to find.

What they found was bigger than anyone anticipated. A large portion of a purse seine net, which is a large net used to draw in a large school of fish, was entangled around the 56-foot anchor.

Remember the scene in Disney’s Finding Nemo movie where Dory and Nemo get caught inside a large fishing net? Yes, that’s a purse seine net.

What’s left of a rockfish was pulled
up with the derelict net.
The F/V Bet-Sea dive crew reported finding several species of seabirds, fish and crabs entangled in the net. Photos they took revealed the underwater carnage being caused by the net.

Antonelis praised the WSDOT dive team for reporting the net. Our dive team had provided underwater video, photos and vital information to Antonelis’ team so that they could successfully locate and remove the underwater hazard.

Derelict nets are a big problem in the waters of Puget Sound. One 2013 estimate showed that 3.2 million marine animals are entangled by these nets every year.

Nebergall said the immediate response from Natural Resources Consultants Inc. allowed our Bridge Preservation team to finish its work with minimal delay. The net removal was funded through a $3.5 million grant through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seismic retrofit program prepares bridges, overpasses for quakes

By guest blogger Tom Pearce

Steel column jackets, like these used in the seismic retrofit
of the SR 509 Puyallup River Bridge, will be installed
at 12 locations along I-5.
We’re going to have another major earthquake here. OK, I can’t tell you when or where it will be centered, but if you’ve lived around here for a few years, you know we live in a seismically active area.

When the big one hits, transportation infrastructure is going to be critical to the region’s recovery. We’re going to need the freeways and bridges, particularly from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to Seattle, to move supplies and materials to recover and rebuild. To prepare for this, in 1991 we started a seismic retrofit program to minimize and avoid catastrophic bridge failures.

As part of that program, we’re upgrading overpasses along I-5, from SR 18 to South 288th Street in Federal Way, and from Kent’s Military Road to South Rose Street in Seattle. We’re also just wrapping up a project at the M Street and I-705 overpasses in Tacoma. We’re going to strengthen freeway overpasses to help them better withstand earthquakes. How are we going to do this? Well, we’ll add:
  • Steel column jackets: These are steel plates wrapped around the columns that hold up overpasses and bridges to keep them from crumbling and collapsing in an earthquake.

  • Bolster supports: These widen the pier caps that hold up the girders supporting the roadway, making it harder for the girders to slip off in an earthquake.

  • Girder stops: These keep the girders from sliding side-to-side in an earthquake.

We’ll be working at 12 sites between Federal Way and Seattle, strengthening a total of 22 overpasses.  This work is important, but you’re going to see some impacts around worksites. Sidewalk, shoulder and single lane closures are necessary along the roads under I-5 where our contractors will be working.

Most of the work will be done at night, which could be noisy for nearby homes at a few of the locations. We have noise rules and work with each local jurisdiction to do everything we can to limit and mitigate the noise, but in some cases it will still be there. Our contractors will send flyers to homes that could be most affected before starting the work.

Major highways aren’t the only place we’re doing seismic retrofits. We’re also working on the Scatter Creek Bridge, east of Enumclaw. Every winter SR 410 closes at Crystal Mountain Boulevard. The Scatter Creek Bridge is important because it’s the only year-round westerly link for local residents, visitors and emergency vehicles.

Since the program began, we’ve completely retrofitted more than 280 bridges and done partial retrofits on more than 130 others. Even with this year’s work, we’ll still have more than 450 to go.

It takes time, and we’re doing the work as quickly as possible. But as sure as we’re going to have another earthquake, we’ll keep working to strengthen our bridges and overpasses.

Monday, March 24, 2014

SR 530 closed indefinitely after Snohomish County landslide

After the tragic landslide along SR 530 in the town of Oso on Saturday morning, search and rescue operations are underway for many unaccounted people in Snohomish County. SR 530 between Whitman Road (milepost 36) and 310th Street Northeast (milepost 39) is closed indefinitely. It’s likely a long-term closure.

A hillside gave way about five miles east of Oso, and north of SR 530 across the north fork of the Stillaguamish River. The affected area is about a mile wide and estimated to be up to 35 feet deep in places. The headscarp, the location on the hill where the slide began, is about 1,500 feet wide and 600 feet tall.

We are working closely with Snohomish County, Washington State Patrol and a number of other state and local partners in the emergency response.

Right now, it’s not safe for crews to go into the slide area. Silt is still moving from hillside, which is potentially hazardous to crews below. We’re helping clear some mud from the road to blaze a trail for rescue workers, but it’s too soon to tell how much damage has been done to the highway.

At the moment, geologists from several agencies including WSDOT are on-scene and monitoring the hillside for the safety personnel watching for further safety issues.

There are no good detour options around the portion of SR 530 affected by the mudslide. Those heading to and from Darrington need to use SR 530 to SR 20, and then take I-5. The detour is about an hour.

We also teaming up with Snohomish County to clear snow from Mountain Loop Highway. It’s a seasonal auxiliary road owned by the county and Forest Service that usually is closed in the winter. Once opened, the 25 mph gravel road will serve as an emergency route to and from Darrington. Crews working on the clearing effort reached the summit of Mountain Loop Highway around 11:30 a.m. today. Previous reopening estimates indicated the highway would open Thursday. There is potential that the work will be completed earlier than planned.

Currently, we are reaching out to potential contractors so we can start cleanup efforts as soon as possible. Governor Inslee declared a state of emergency late Saturday night so that we can apply for federal relief funds to cover the cleanup costs for reopening SR 530.The current slide is unrelated to previous work on the south side of the highway at Skaglund Hill. Between 2006 and 2012, our contractor crews installed a rock buttress along the south bank of the Stillaguamish River just below SR 530. This reinforced and stabilized the hillside. We also installed a series of drainage pipes into the hillside and a rock wall that cost $13.3 million.

Snohomish County has asked that all survivors of the slide or people missing someone call (425) 388-5088.
For up to the minute information from the Emergency Operations Center, check Snohomish County’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What? WSDOT is removing trees?

 By guest blogger Claudia Bingham Baker

Many of you have contacted us recently to express concerns about WSDOT’s plan to clear 500 trees along a 14-mile stretch of Interstate 5 between State Route 510 in Lacey and State Route 512 in Lakewood to provide a clear line of sight for seven new traffic cameras we’re installing. You have asked us why the trees need to come down, why we don’t just relocate the cameras, why we are spending money on installing cameras instead of fixing bridges and roadways, and other questions. 

We at WSDOT recognize and appreciate the importance of trees. We value them for their ability to increase water quality, to increase air quality, and to help prevent erosion. We agree that they beautify the I-5 corridor and we don’t take lightly the task of removing them. 

One of several locations over 14 miles where we
will be removing trees for line of sight.
 We’d like to answer your questions with clear and straightforward answers. Yes, it’s true that we are removing 500 trees starting on Monday, March 24. They will be removed from seven areas that are all within WSDOT right of way. Most of the trees are Douglas firs and Cottonwoods, and all of them obscure clear line of sight to the highway and adjoining ramps. How do we know they obscure the view?  Because our environmental staff in the field used a thoughtful and deliberate approach to tag only the trees that would block the cameras, ensuring that a minimal number of trees would be removed.

You’ve asked why we don’t just relocate the cameras in the highway median or in other areas where trees would not obscure the view. The locations for the new cameras were also carefully chosen to provide for the most efficient camera operations. Those locations take into account the availability of supporting hardware, adequate access for camera maintenance, and the length of the corridor covered at each location. It’s important that the cameras have a full 360 degree clear line of sight to operate properly. 

You’ve asked why we are installing cameras instead of fixing bridges or roads. It’s important that you know that one is not sacrificing the other, and here’s why. The funding for the camera installation came from a 2011 Federal TIGER III Grant, which was actively sought in partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord and neighboring jurisdictions to address highway congestion by improving traffic operations. This grant was not available for maintenance and preservation needs, so the cameras are not being installed at the sacrifice of other funded work within WSDOT. The total grant funding came to $15,000,000. More information about the awarded grant can be found on the following linked pdf:

You’ve said that we just have too many people and too few roads, and you don’t see how cameras will help reduce congestion. WSDOT agrees with you that we are at a critical service level on many of our state’s highways. We also know that we can’t build our way out of congestion. So what can we do? We can maximize the effectiveness of our existing highway system. We do that by installing intelligent transportation devices, and cameras are only one piece of that puzzle. 

Cameras are especially good at helping first responders like the State Patrol and local fire jurisdictions to respond more quickly to, and to clear, roadway incidents. Much of our traffic congestion (some say up to 50%) is caused from lane closures caused by collisions. Anything we can do to increase response times goes a long way in reducing overall congestion. Just as important, the new cameras will support efficient operations of 17 new ramp meters being installed within the corridor. The cameras will allow WSDOT staff to control ramp meter rates during heavy traffic, which will help traffic move better along the mainline highway and reduce collisions at merge points (that collision effect again). Cameras also provide real time traffic information to the public and media through our web pages.

Along with the cameras and ramp meters, WSDOT will also install variable message signs, travel time signs and data stations. All of these devices help WSDOT communicate with you, the driver, so you can make informed decisions about your travel plans. 

WSDOT has several web pages that discuss the improvements that are being made for the I-5 JBLM corridor. The active construction project that involves installing the seven new closed circuit TV cameras can be found here:

More information about the benefits of ITS devices can be found here:

We understand that you do not want trees to be cut down. We recognize that trees improve our standard of living and help define the Pacific Northwest. We are removing only necessary trees, and we are replanting 500 trees after the construction project is complete. The trees will be planted at two locations, the I-5/Marvin Road area in Lacey and the I-5/DuPont Steilacoom Road in DuPont. 

Thank you for your comments and understanding.

Advice from the afternoon @wsdot_traffic gal could save you from spring fever this weekend

By Harmony Haveman Weinberg, aka @wsdot_traffic afternoon gal

Hooray! Spring has officially arrived! However, that excitement could turn into a headache if you do not plan ahead for some major traffic impacts this weekend. There are so many closures to tell you about, it’s tough to do in more than 140 characters.  But, I’ve got you covered. We’ll get through this together.

Closure hot spots include I-5, I-405 and SR 99:

Let’s take a look at the big picture. There are closures happening throughout the weekend on three major roadways in the area. Click on the map to the right to get a good idea of where you can expect to see backups and added congestion.

Now let’s divulge into the nitty-gritty details.

Here’s what’s closed:

I-5 in Seattle

Mercer Street ramps to I-5

  • 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday - The City of Seattle will close the Mercer Street on-ramps to both north and southbound I-5 to install traffic detection equipment.

SR 99 closures in Seattle

  • 11 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday - All southbound lanes of SR 99 will be closed between Valley and Thomas Streets for girder settings as part of the City of Seattle’s Mercer Corridor project.
  • 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday - All lanes of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be closed between South Spokane Street and the Battery Street Tunnel for bridge inspection.

I-405 closure in Bellevue

  • 11 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Monday - Eastside drivers will need to use alternate exits on I-405 to reach downtown Bellevue as the southbound off-ramp to Northeast Eighth Street will be closed all weekend for drainage and barrier work.

Heaviest traffic backups

Since I watch traffic every weekday afternoon to bring you the most up to date information, I have a good idea of what you can expect this weekend. Westbound I-90 coming into Seattle will get backed up. That said, the westbound I-90 express lanes will be open to help alleviate some of the congestion.

Going shopping? If you plan to join me in finding some good sales this weekend in Bellevue, expect heavy backups on southbound I-405. The ramp to Northeast 8th Street will be closed. You will want to take the Northeast 4th Street exit instead. Northbound I-405 drivers will want to take the Northeast 8th Street off-ramp, because that part will still be open.

Heading northbound I-5 into Seattle? You will see backups too. Our brilliant traffic engineers point out this can be a heavy travel spot even without lane closures. Drivers could start to see slowdowns at Boeing Field. The I-5 express lanes will help ease up some of the backups.

What *YOU* can do

  • Delay or combine your trips if possible.
  • Carpool or take public transit.
  • Follow us on Twitter! We will be working throughout the weekend! Our team will stay on top of the traffic conditions.
  • Get the app!
  • Most importantly – be informed about the closures and plan your weekend around them.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The I-90 snowshed retires after 64 years!

By guest blogger Summer Derrey

Have you ever played the hold-your-breath game on road trips? I remember traveling from Yakima to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle as a kid with my fellow Campfire gal-pals.  We held our breath when we went through the I-90 snowshed, sure it was only for 500 feet long but it kept us entertained.

Crews building the snowshed
in the spring of 1950.
As much as the shed was a part of my childhood, I’m sure many other people shared similar experiences, from singing car songs to playing the I-spy game. If you were around in 1950, you may have watched construction of the shed while riding the train on the other side of Keechelus Lake.

After 64 years of dutiful service, the old snowshed is coming down, and I’d like to take this opportunity to pay a little tribute by inviting you to learn a bit more about the background of this historic snowshed.

Formally called the Keechelus Snowshed Bridge, “the shed” was built in the spring, summer, fall and winter of 1950 to protect drivers from avalanches. The 500-foot-long shed is 34 feet wide and has a concrete roof supported by a 30-foot-tall, 15-inch-thick retaining wall that hugs the hillside. The roof span consists of 200 precast concrete T-beams. The sides are detailed with false portal fronts bearing art deco detailing. You may recall the 1950 stamp on each side.

In the 1950s and 1960s, US Route 10 over Snoqualmie Pass was widened to four lanes. Also during this time, state highways were renumbered to meet the American Interstate Highway System, creating what we know now as Interstate 90. While I-90 expanded, the snowshed continued to only cover the two westbound lanes. There are a number of factors why the shed wasn’t changed to accommodate increased traffic back then – mostly design challenges.

Snowshed during a nice winter’s day.
In 1995, the Keechelus Snowshed Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places list. It represented the first time precast construction was used for a highway structure in a mountainous area. It is the only interstate snowshed remaining. Another snow shed was built on the eastbound lanes of I-90, west of the summit, but that came down in the 80s.

And now, it’s time for our contractor, Atkinson Construction, to remove the snowshed and replace it with avalanche bridges as part of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project. The elevated structures will allow snow to slide under the bridge between the bridge piers. That’s good news – crews won’t have to close the pass as often in the winter for avalanche control work.

Aerial view of the snowshed in summer.
Although the snowshed is coming down in April, it has plans for retirement. Most likely the shed will be recycled and used as extra material in other parts of the I-90 project.

Perhaps I’ll stay busy by creating a new hold-your-breath game traveling up and over the raised avalanche bridges. I’ve got a few years to develop the idea. Construction of the new bridges is scheduled to begin this spring and be complete in 2018 when construction on the rest of the widening project is complete.

Monday, March 17, 2014

WSDOT to the rescue with Bailey bridge

By Alice Fiman

Starting today, our workers will be installing a unique structure designed for use during wartime to keep traffic moving in rural Thurston County.

Thurston County requested use of part of our Bailey-style bridge to temporarily replace a bridge out of service on Littlerock Road, south of Olympia. Once our crews get out there later this morning, they should have the bridge pieces together, up and open to traffic within two days. The plan now calls for it to be in place by Friday, March 21.

And yes, you did read that correctly – they are just borrowing part of it.

That’s because a Bailey bridge isn’t a whole thing, but actually just pieces, or panels, for those who may be more familiar with that sort of thing. You can see the full Wikipedia description here. The panels are made to be light, portable and not require any special tools or equipment. But they are strong enough to carry tanks. The Bailey bridge design is close to 75 years old, but can be installed to handle 21st century travel.

We own enough Bailey bridge parts to build close to three, 150-foot-long Bailey-style bridges. These are built by assembling various parts, similar to a large tinker toy set. Bailey bridges were designed for soldiers to build the structure using only manpower, no cranes or heavy equipment needed.  We keep these bridge parts stored in the Tacoma Narrows Bridge anchor gallery for safety and protection from the elements.

For what’s known as the L-4 bridge on Littlerock Road, our crews will install what they call a “triple single,” which will be one stack of three panels on each side of the roadway (the same configuration as the first picture). The bridge will be designed to carry most loads including cars, school buses and fire trucks. Check with Thurston County for more information on traffic control.
Bailey Bridge used on SR 142 in Klickitat County in 2012

We own a Bailey bridge for the reasons you may think – we have lots of water in Washington (and other stuff you may need to cross). If something happens, we are ready to assemble these pieces to keep traffic moving. In 2007, crews put up a 180-foot bridge in six days over the Chehalis River near SR 6 in Lewis County. And, more recently, we put up a Bailey bridge in Klickitat County in 2012.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Expansion joint repair, in Seeeeeaattttllle, in Seeeeeaattttllle!

By guest blogger Bart Treece

A sky of blue, a sea of green and a river of red brake lights….OK… that’s not how it goes, but that’s what folks could be seeing this weekend, unless they plan ahead  for congestion.

Let me explain. There are so many things to do this weekend in Seattle, and sitting in traffic shouldn’t be one of them when you’d rather be cheering the Sounders on against Sporting KC, enjoying the Seattle Dog Show or watching the women of the Pac-12 battle it out on the hardwood. With so much happening it might be kind of tough to get to where you want to be on time without some preplanning.

What’s going on?

Our contractor crews will be closing all but one lane on the northbound I-5 collector-distributor, which runs parallel to the wider section of I-5 between I-90 and Madison Street. The collector-distributor or “C-D” as it’s known in traffic-talk, helps merge cars from I-90 to I-5 and downtown off- and on-ramps. Here’s some nifty animation that shows how vehicles will navigate through the work zone.

The closure is the fifth of nine in this part of I-5 to replace 26 worn and aging bridge expansion joints before they go bust, which would lead to flat tires, emergency closures and major headaches. It’s happened before, and it ain’t pretty.
Emergency repairs to a damaged expansion joint in Dec. 2013

Traffic tips

Plan your trips ahead of time and know before you go. Carpooling, taking transit, delaying or combining trips will help reduce congestion in the area for everyone. Use alternate routes. If you can, take the backdoor into downtown Seattle on SR 599 to SR 99. We often see free-flowing traffic on this under-utilized route during weekend closures ...just sayin’.

With heavy traffic expected on westbound I-90 into downtown, SR 520 might be a better cross-lake route. The I-90 express lanes will look good westbound, and will be open to all (both carpoolers and solo drivers) during times of high congestion (keep an eye on the highway signs). Sounders fans should expect some delays heading eastbound after the match, so hanging in Pioneer Square for an hour to let traffic settle down would be a good idea. To head north from SoDo, take SR 99 or use surface streets to access the Cherry Street on-ramp to I-5 or the 5th Avenue & Cherry ramp to I-5 express.

You can always see how traffic is or isn’t moving through the area on the Seattle Traffic page or with the WSDOT mobile app for iPhone and Android devices.

There’s really never a “good” time to tighten traffic, but we really appreciate your patience and understanding when we do have closures for construction. Knowing ahead of time and planning for congestion really helps keep people moving, and we appreciate everyone for chipping in.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Challenging day on Snoqualmie Pass

Conditions on the passes are extremely challenging today. Below you’ll find a quick update on the status of Stevens and Snoqualmie passes along with resources to find up to the minute information. We’ll provide another update later this afternoon.

When will Snoqualmie Pass open?
I-90 reopened at 4:30 p.m. on Monday March 3, 2014.

We know this closure is tough for you, however, safety is our number one priority and we can’t reopen the roadway until it is safe to do so. 

Why did we close Snoqualmie Pass?
To keep drivers safe, we made the decision to close Snoqualmie Pass last night due increasing avalanche danger and falling trees.

What are we doing to reopen Snoqualmie Pass?
With almost two feet of snow since Saturday, our maintenance and avalanche crews have been working around the clock to keep the highways over Snoqualmie Pass open.

Crews cleaning up fallen trees
Our avalanche crews performed avalanche control work last night and early morning. However, the snow just keeps coming. Avalanche crews are closely monitoring the stability of the slopes.

In addition, we’ve hired a contractor to begin removing fallen trees that are blocking the I-90 at several locations.

Is Stevens Pass open?
Yes, Stevens Pass is open, but it is also receiving a substantial amount of snow. Expect several closures for avalanche control today. Please bring your chains because they’re required on most vehicles until further notice. 

What can you as drivers do?
If you need to cross the Cascades today come prepared.  You need to be prepared for driving in the snow. This means:
  • Have traction tires rated for mud and snow on your vehicle.
  • Have chains and know how to put them on.
  • Make sure your car is in proper working order. This would be a bad time for your car to break down on the pass.
  • Have food, water and blankets in your car just in case you get stuck.
  • Before heading out the door, assess your winter driving ability.
Our communications staff is busy gathering information and will be providing updates as they come in. You’ll know as soon as we know when the pass will reopen.

Thanks for your patience.