Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What's happening during the full SR 520 bridge closure this weekend?

By Roger Thompson

We’re gearing up for the fourth weekend full closure of the SR 520 bridge this month. Wait. What? Another closure?

The main reason streets or highways are closed to traffic for construction is so crews can get the work done more quickly, more efficiently, and more safely with fewer disruptions to motorists. Sometimes crews can perform their work by closing just part of a road. Other times, it’s necessary to shut down a highway entirely – again, to get the work done more quickly, efficiently, and safely.

In other words, get in and get out!

Another reason is to take advantage of the longer daylight and good weather we often have in Western Washington during the summer. It’s great for backyard barbecues – but it’s also great for getting a lot of outdoor construction done. Especially when it involves pouring concrete or placing asphalt. And there’s a whole lot of that going on with the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program.

During June’s four weekend closures of SR 520, crews are pouring some 2,000 cubic yards of concrete to build the roadway deck for the new West Connection Bridge on Lake Washington (it will connect the new floating bridge with the highway’s existing lanes in Seattle). Other crews, working around the clock during the four closures, are placing asphalt for the new, six-lane highway being built on SR 520 between Evergreen Point Road and I-405.
Crews use a closed SR 520 highway and a barge as
work platforms to pump concrete for the roadway
deck of SR 520’s new West Connection Bridge.

Another reason for having four weekend highway closures in a five-week span is the pressing nature of the SR 520 construction schedule. Urgency is driving our weekend closures for the highway’s  Eastside Transit and HOV Project. Our contractor crews are in the home stretch of completing the Eastside’s improvements, including new transit stops in the highway’s median, lidded overpasses, roundabout interchanges, direct-access ramps for buses and carpools, and a dedicated transit/carpool lane in both directions. All this work is critical to opening the improved Eastside segment of SR 520 later this summer.
A paving crew places asphalt on the
highway’s new six-lane Eastside corridor. 

Crews also are working to complete the West Connection Bridge in a couple of months so that other crews can move forward with the next phase of building the new floating bridge: anchoring into position and joining together the bridge’s massive concrete pontoons, building the roadway deck, then, in early 2016, connecting it to the fixed-bridge structures on either side of Lake Washington and opening the new road to traffic.

Did we need to schedule four full-weekend closures in such a short time frame? Unfortunately, yes. The fact is there is never a good time to shut down a highway. But summer, as noted earlier, is when certain highway work can best be done. With so many community festivals, sporting events and other popular weekend happenings in the greater Seattle area, the number of “available” weekends for highway closures gets whittled down pretty fast.

More SR 520 closures will be needed this summer as we proceed with all this construction. Check our SR 520 Highway Closures page for the latest in closure information.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why did the house cross the road? (To get to the other side)

By Anne Broache

As you may have seen on this blog before, we are all about finding ways to reduce how much waste our projects send to landfills—both to leave our environment better than we found it and to save taxpayers money.
Fully intact, the house makes its move
across the street toward its new location.

But usually we’re talking about practices like reusing soil and recycling concrete during highway construction. That’s why the scene atop Renton’s Talbot Hill neighborhood on a recent Tuesday morning was a bit unusual.

At a bend in Davis Avenue South overlooking downtown Renton and Lake Washington, an entire 3,300-square-foot house rested on steel beams and sets of wheels in its original lot. Over the course of a day, a small contractor crew used a winch and pulley system to roll the two-story structure to a vacant lot across the street.

Our agency bought the home and lot last year to prepare for an important road project for the area (more on that below). Often, when we purchase property, the most cost-effective next step is to demolish and remove whatever buildings remain.
A few hours after beginning its slow move, the
structure has almost reached its final resting spot.

In this case, however, we emphasized the need for recycling when seeking demolition contractors. As a result, the winning contractor found a way to reuse and relocate most of the house—at a price nearly 90 percent less than what we had budgeted.  Bottom line: The house is no longer in the way of our project, and the contractor can now finish readying the house for new residents.

We’re excited that we secured not only an affordable bid but also a green one—recycling at its best. We eliminated potential waste from tearing down the house, erased the emissions and fuel usage that would have occurred as haul trucks made numerous trips through Renton neighborhoods, and prevented the need for construction materials to build a new home on the vacant lot.

Making way for traffic improvements 

The property is one of several ongoing acquisitions related to the I-405/SR 167 Direct Connector project.

This visualization shows a planned
new flyover ramp to connect the SR 167
HOT lanes with the I-405 carpool lanes.
We plan to improve traffic flow and safety by building a new flyover ramp that connects the High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on SR 167 with the carpool lanes on Interstate 405. We don’t have funding for construction yet, but we’re moving forward with property purchases and design so that we’re ready to start building once funding is in place.

If you’d like to learn more and follow our progress, be sure to bookmark the I-405/SR 167 Interchange Direct Connector Project webpage.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Where do my toll dollars go?

By Laura Johnson

Toll rates on the SR 520 and Tacoma Narrows bridges are going up July 1. When rates increase, often people ask, so where does all my toll money go?

Well, the majority of each dollar goes goes toward paying for construction of the new bridges in the corridor you’re traveling. For example, on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 71 cents out of every toll dollar goes to repaying construction debt. On the SR 520 bridge, it’s 82 cents out of every dollar that goes toward the $1.2 billion in toll money we need to build the new bridge set to open in spring 2016.

So what about the other 29 and 18 cents? Well, it’s split among a lot of different things. We have to pay our vendors that operate the toll collection equipment out on the highway and our customer service centers. There are credit card and bank fees associated with collecting the toll money, and costs to buy the passes we sell you. We also have folks at our Toll Division who make sure the tolling operations keep running smoothly – they get a couple pennies from each dollar.

If you want to see how everything’s broken down, check out these color coded dollar bills, which make it easier to see the percentages in relation to each other.

Where your Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll dollar goes

71 cents of every dollar goes to repaying construction debt.

Where your SR 520 toll dollar goes

The majority of your SR 520 toll dollar goes to paying for a new bridge.

We also looked at how much it costs other toll agencies around the country to collect their tolls. WSDOT’s costs (in green) are about average.

Now that you know where your toll money goes, it’s time for the details about the upcoming rate increases. On July 1, the Tacoma Narrows toll will go up 25 cents across the board for two-axle vehicles, with new rates of $4.50 for Good To Go! customers with a pass, $5.50 for drivers paying at toll booths and $6.50 for Pay By Mail customers. It’ll cost the average weekday commuter about $65 more a year.

Tolls on the SR 520 bridge will go up approximately 2.5 percent on July 1. The peak weekday Good To Go! pass rate will be $3.80 and the peak weekday Pay By Mail rate will be $5.40. The average weekday commuter will pay about $52 more a year.

Again, these rate increases have to happen so that we can pay back the bonds we sold to finance the building of the bridges.

The way it’s set up for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is that there are escalating debt payments, so the toll rates have to increase to keep up.

For the SR 520 Bridge, the Transportation Commission planned to have four 2.5-percent increases over four years (2012-2015), and then a 15-percent increase in 2016. During the initial rate setting process, they chose the 15-percent increase in 2016 after the new bridge is open to drivers. No rate increases are planned after 2016 for financing purposes; however, the commission will monitor traffic and revenue data to ensure we pay back our bondholders.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Piecing together the road construction traffic puzzle

By Bart Treece

The name of the game is to keep traffic moving safely. But when there are several construction and maintenance projects that need to get on the road, the job gets complicated.

There really isn’t a “good” time to close part of entire stretches of highway in a large metropolitan area. However, the work needs to get done. Much of it is important for maintaining and preserving our aging infrastructure, like replacing bridge expansion joints (pdf 937 kb) on I-5 or patching the deck of the Ship Canal Bridge. Ignoring these issues would eventually mean unscheduled emergency closures that could impact your regular route to work. We all saw how badly traffic was snarled when a damaged joint needed repairs ASAP last week. This is why we try to schedule these closures when it affects the least amount of people, at night if possible. Some projects need more time, such as when there’s concrete involved which needs time to cure before its strong enough to hold the weight of hundreds of thousands of vehicles. That leaves the weekend, when fewer folks hit the roads.
White board showing Seattle events/closures
The white board where closures are initially
coordinated with large Seattle events and holidays

Looking at only weekends, we try to avoid four during the summer: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Seafair and Labor Day weekend. This adds up to a whole month without weekend closures because we know those are big travel times. We’re now left trying to juggle projects on competing corridors, such as SR 520 and I-90 or SR 99, I-5 and I-405. It doesn’t take a traffic engineer to know that closing lanes in the same direction on north/south or east/west routes at the same time would be a very bad thing. Also add into the mix that there are several events including Mariners, Sounders, Husky and Seahawks football game traffic we try to take into consideration. We can’t forget weather, which isn’t always predictable in the ‘Pugetopolis’ region. The threat of liquid sunshine can push a weather-sensitive project back to another weekend.

With projects on every major route planned this summer, there’s not that many weekends left. When possible, we try to combine work to avoid spreading project impacts further along than needed.

This weekend, June 6 - 9

Region-wide traffic will be impacted by the work happening in Seattle this weekend. To keep people moving, we need your help by combining or postponing nonessential trips, carpooling or continue taking transit in order to avoid major backups.

Seattle area construction map

  • SR 520 - Both directions of State Route 520 will be closed between Montlake Boulevard and Interstate 405 from 11 p.m. Friday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 9. During the closure, contractor crews will demolish an existing barrier on the west side of the floating bridge that will eventually tie into the West Connection Bridge now under construction.
  • I-5 - The two right lanes of northbound I-5 at South Spokane Street will be closed to replace aging bridge expansion joints from 10 p.m. Friday, June 6 until 5 a.m. Monday, June 9.
  • I-5 - A single lane of northbound I-5 near Interurban will be closed for guardrail repair from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, June 7.
  • I-5 - Saturday and Sunday, two northbound lanes across the I-5 Ship Canal Bridge will be closed daily from 3:30 to 11 a.m. for deck patching. 
  • SR 99 - Southbound State Route 99 from Denny Way to South Spokane Street will be closed from 10 p.m. Friday, June 6 until 5 a.m. Monday, June 9. During the closures, crews will shift southbound traffic onto a new alignment through the SR 99 tunnel project site. 

Traffic tools

Don’t let road construction detour your weekend plans. To help you navigate through the closures and congestion, check out the traffic tools that WSDOT offers.