Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#I90to1 by the numbers

By Afternoon Traffic Gal, aka Harmony Haveman Weinberg

Three weekdays down and just one more to go as we each continue to do our part by adjusting our driving/biking/riding/busing habits during the westbound I-90 lane closures to replace two worn out expansion joints.

WSDOT engineers released the latest traffic volumes on I-90 that show just how the commute looked each day this week so far and compared it to averages taken earlier this month.

Check out the graph below and follow the RED line for Monday, the GREEN line for Tuesday and the PURPLE line for Wednesday up until noon. The BLUE line shows the typical average times and volumes when all lanes are open on westbound I-90. As you read the graph you can see drivers who took westbound I-90 through the construction zone have consistently left earlier each day this week than they usually do. Many drivers found alternate routes or changed up their travel plans all together to avoid getting caught in a major backup.

This graph shows travel time comparisons for the first three commutes of #I90to1 against last week's westbound I-90 commute, which is in grey. With this we can tell that drivers are adjusting their trips with the peaks periods beginning earlier in the day. This helps keep traffic moving through the work zone.

We credit all commuters for helping with #I90to1! Let’s keep it up! We are almost finished!

~ Afternoon Traffic Gal

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Here it comes – better access for SR 167 HOT lanes

By Laura Johnson

We’ll be returning the SR 167 HOT lanes to the
original single line striping
Current SR 167 HOT lanes with the double line striping
The HOT lanes have been around for six years – can you believe it? If you haven’t used them, you’ve likely driven by them. One thing that makes people hesitate to use them is that you can only get in and out of the lanes at the sections with dashed lines. This raises questions like: What if I can’t get out when I need to? What if I miss my exit? With my sense of direction, who knows where I’d end up? Well, with some new changes, you might just think about trying them soon.

The most frequent feedback we’ve heard about the HOT lanes is that people don’t like the limited access. We’re listening to this feedback, and starting the night of July 28, crews will be out grinding off the inside stripe of the double white line – the line that keeps you from getting in and out of the HOT lane at any old spot you want. They’ll be painting over the dashed lines, and the end result will be a single white stripe between the regular lanes and the HOT lane. So like an HOV lane, you can enter and exit wherever you want. When you’ve got a safe gap in traffic, of course.

They’ll still be HOT lanes – people who drive alone will still have to pay the toll, and carpools, vanpools, buses and motorcycles will still be able to use the lanes for free. This will just make it easier to get in and out of the lane.

I’ve heard some people are concerned about the safety of this change. But as I mentioned, the access will be just like an HOV lane, and we have those all over the place with no major problems. We’ll be testing how the new access works in a study that goes along with this project. It’s actually pretty cool because the Federal Highway Administration gave us money to implement and study this, and our study could affect HOT lanes around the country.

When the striping work begins, you’ll be able to read about it on our construction updates website.  So watch out for nighttime lane closures and work on SR 167 between Renton and Auburn for the next month or so. And watch for those single white stripes to appear – freedom!

#I90to1 keeps on truckin'

by Bart Treece

Something has been missing from the morning commutes this week, where westbound I-90 has been reduced to a single lane near Bellevue Way for expansion joint replacement. Traffic has moved relatively smoothly so it’s only natural to ask, “Where are the foreboding traffic tie-ups the clairvoyants of the commute have dubbed, ‘Carpocalypse?’”

Click to view a Storify from today's tweets

The smooth sailing on the expressway and throughout the Eastside and Seattle area can be attributed to you, the commuter. You are doing your part in keeping regional traffic moving during construction. The proof is in the numbers. If you’re ready to get your inner traffic geek on, here you go.

Follow the red line on this graph which shows the commute beginning earlier on Monday, and then holding steady throughout the day, effectively spreading the traffic. Drivers left for work earlier, with the single westbound I-90 lane carrying nearly double the number of typical vehicles in the 4 a.m. hour. By 7 a.m., the peak hour of diversion, westbound I-90 was carrying nearly 60 percent fewer cars and trucks. 

With folks diverting to other routes or staying off the road, it allowed drivers to squeeze into a single lane approaching the construction zone. Travel times from Issaquah to Seattle peaked at 35 minutes. So, even though it looked like a small backup approaching, it was still a slog.

The toughest part of the construction work is welding the two halves of the expansion joints that equal 82 feet. This began at 6 a.m. today, and could take up to 30 hours. After the work passes a series of tests, concrete will be poured in to seal the joint and will need time to harden. To get an idea of why this work needed to happen, here's a look at one of the expansion joints the contractor pulled out.

These circles show the cracks in the steel, and there's not much keeping it together.

With previous closures, we've seen drivers return to their old habits after a few days, which results in longer travel times and bigger backups. Hopefully, everyone will keep doing what they've been doing so come Friday, life can return back to normal.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I-90 closure: Work progresses, weekday traffic to be tested

by Mike Allende

Our big westbound I-90 expansion joint replacement project started Friday night and work throughout the weekend has gone well with the project remaining right on schedule.

As of Sunday morning, contractor crews had replaced half of two of the huge expansion joints at the East Channel Bridge and were putting down concrete over the new joints. Still to come are the removal of the other half of the old joints, installation of new joints, a 30-hour welding job, and more concrete pouring.

Concrete sealing part of the new expansion joint

The concrete needs about 12 hours to cure but workers will be monitoring it this afternoon. The concrete needs to reach a strength of 2,500 psi (pounds per square inch) for traffic to go over it. Whenever that happens, we’ll be switching the work zone to the other side of the highway to work on the other half of the joints. That is scheduled to happen around 9 p.m. Monday morning drivers will see traffic moving through the work zone in the Phase 2 configuration.

Phase 2 - Monday - Friday morning

From a traffic standpoint, things have been great! We saw no significant slowdowns on westbound I-90 Saturday despite the Sounders match and traffic continued to flow freely on Sunday for people headed into Seattle for the Bite of Seattle or other events. Travel times from Issaquah to Bellevue were about 11 minutes, and about 16 minutes to Seattle.

Monday, of course, is going to be a different story. Even with some people adjusting their plans, telecommuting, taking vacation, we’re going to see significant backups. There’s no way around it. Definitely consider alternate routes but even with that, leave as early as possible. I can’t stand stressing out being late, so leave early. People have been asking for advice and leaving early is really the best I can give you. This will also affect other travel routes, such as I-405, SR 520 and even I-5 in Seattle. Your weekday commute will begin earlier and last longer.

#I90to1 Tweets
We’re adjusting our scheduled here in the Traffic Management Center as well. Morning Guy will be in at 5 a.m. and is on point until 2 p.m. monitoring traffic and updating people on our @wsdot_traffic Twitter handle about what’s going on westbound I-90 (and throughout the region). Afternoon Gal takes over at 2 p.m. and will be here until 8 p.m. all week. If you’re a Twitter user please check in with us as we want to get you the best, most timely information to help with your commute. Use the hashtag #I90to1.

And don’t forget, you can also find travel times and check out our traffic cameras and real-time traffic map so you have an idea of what you’re headed into. This work week is going to be a challenge but stick with us and we’ll keep getting information out so you know exactly what’s going on. Want to know more? Check out the I-90 Survival Guide, and our recent blog post on the I-90 express lanes

Friday, July 18, 2014

Wildfire Road Closure Roundup

Last updated: 4:00 p.m.

Signing off for the weekend: Please check the travel alerts web page  for the latest information.

Active wildfires in north central Washington have led to the closure of multiple highways. Conditions are likely to change throughout the day. Be sure to check our travel alerts web page before you head out.

Eastbound I-90 near Kittitas

Update: I-90 eastbound has reopened.

I-90 is scheduled to reopen at 3:00 p.m. It was originally scheduled to open at 2:30 but remains closed due to blowing dust and poor visibility.

Eastbound I-90 near Kittitas is closed, and will be for at least most of today. Detour around the closure area begins at exit 115, taking travelers on Old Vantage Highway and adding two hours of additional driving time.
Conditions on I-90 earlier today.

About four to six inches of ash is in the area after a brush fire Tuesday. Around 40 mph are predicted through the area, so whiteout conditions similar to a blizzard are anticipated to impact eastbound traffic. Westbound lanes of I-90 are open as they are separated from the eastbound lanes by a hill that is acting like a barrier against the wind and ash.

With US 2 also closed (see below), we expect to see about 8,000 more vehicles traveling on I-90 on Friday and about 9,000 more vehicles traveling on Sunday. Could be about as bad as a Memorial weekend day travel. If your headed that way we'll need to plan for added travel time and pack your patience.

US 2 from Cole’s Corner to Leavenworth

US 2 Stevens Pass is closed from Cole’s Corner to Leavenworth. Both SR 207 and Chumstick Highway are open as a detour to Leavenworth. If you’re coming from the west, take SR 207 to get to Lake Wenatchee.

US 97 closures

US 97 at milepost 275 today
A wildfire named the Carlton Complex fire has US 97 closed in both directions from Chelan to SR 17.

UPDATE 3:56 p.m.:  SR 153 just reopened again. For the second time today.

SR 20 from Loup Loup summit to Okanogan

SR 20 is closed east of Twisp in both directions, starting at Finley Canyon to the summit of Loup Loup Pass. West side traffic headed east can still access Winthrop using SR 20. 

Again, these closures are likely to change throughout the day so keep an eye out on our travel alerts web page for the latest information. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I-90 express lanes: vital for both directions

by Mike Allende

One of the most common questions we’ve received regarding the upcoming I-90 expansion joint replacement project is will the express lanes operate only westbound during the lane reductions. The answer: No.
The I-90 express lanes entrance is located well
beyond the expansion joint work zone.
There’s a few reasons for making that decision.
  • It wouldn’t really help. The I-90 lane closures end well before the express lanes start. It wouldn’t help any traffic bypass the closure or speed things up through the work zone. At the express lanes entrance, there will be three lanes open on the mainline and two others in the express lanes with traffic traveling near the speed limit. It will serve the morning commute as it normally does.
  • It would cause serious problems for eastbound drivers. Most of those people going westbound will at some point have to return eastbound. Knowing this, we operate the express lanes eastbound from 2 p.m. until 5 a.m. the following morning. If we kept them westbound during the afternoon commute, Seattle-area traffic, from transit, to carpoolers to single-occupancy vehicles, would grind to a halt. We would see serious backups both directions of I-5, spilling onto city streets, jamming Rainier Avenue and making it very difficult to get out of downtown Seattle. With lower volumes of traffic westbound in the afternoon, keeping the express lanes that direction all day would hurt eastbound traffic significantly without improving westbound.
That said, we’re flexible. We will be monitoring traffic very closely throughout the closure. If we see traffic patterns flow in a way that adjusting the express lane schedule might help without causing too much damage to eastbound traffic, we can do that the following day. But it’s unlikely that would happen during the peak commute times.

Close-up look at I-90 traffic
We are adjusting the express lanes schedule for the Sounders’ 1 p.m. game Saturday, July 19 against Tottenham, running them westbound from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and switching to eastbound by 3:30 p.m. On Sunday, July 20, the express lanes will be closed from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m. for the Seafair Triathlon. It will open westbound after that until 2 p.m. Monday, which should help traffic headed to the Seattle Center for the Bite of Seattle.

If we felt changing the express lanes and running them westbound throughout the closure would help more than hurt, we’d do it. We want to keep traffic moving as well as possible throughout the I-90 work. We’ve adjusted in the past when it makes sense. But in this case, it simply would do more harm than good.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The I-90 closure survival guide

By Mike Allende

By now, hopefully you’ve heard that westbound Interstate 90 will be reduced to one lane at Bellevue Way Southeast from 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 18 until 5 a.m. Friday, July 25. That’s 24-hours-a-day for a week, and yes, it’s going to be messy.

During that time, contractor crews are going to be replacing two huge, old expansion joints embedded deep in the roadway near Mercer Island. They’re 33-years-old and despite repairs over the years, they are at the end of their useful life.

We don’t make decisions to do these kind of closures lightly, and a lot of thought and discussion went into it. There’s never a good time to close lanes on major highways. In the end, doing a few weekend closures like we did for our I-5 expansion joint replacement just wouldn’t work this time.

Construction details
These expansion joints are massive, much bigger than those on I-5. Each of the 33-year-old joints are 92-feet long and weigh almost 29 tons. They’re embedded into 11-inch-thick concrete. Chipping out the concrete, replacing the joints, pouring new concrete and letting that concrete cure for a minimum of 12 hours would take longer than a typical weekend-long closure allows. Once in place, between 24 – 30 hours of welding is needed to connect both sides of the new joints.

Keeping traffic moving
No two-ways about this, we’re going to need your help. Knowing what to expect and staying informed is something everyone can do. For an idea of what this closure will look like, we put together this animation showing what is closed and how cars will move through the closure.

As the animation shows, besides the three lanes of I-90, we’ll also have some ramp closures. Take a look and get an idea of how to move through the closure if you end up having to go that way.

Stage 1

Stage 2
If you don’t plan ahead, your typical commute could last an hour or more. The best advice is to avoid using westbound I-90 during the closure. With a big Sounders match and the Mariners in town, along with work and other trips, we know that’s not easy. Taking an alternate route will help, but still add extra time to your trip because other routes will be affected with folks doing the same thing. If you can telework, or even take a vacation, this would be the week to do it.

When we had two lanes closed on westbound I-90 floating bridge in July 2009, we saw up to 7-mile backups, but we had the express lanes to help. On this closure we do not. Congestion could be much worse this time around.

To keep delays from really getting horrible, we need at least 60 percent of drivers to adjust their plans. We recognize that’s a lot to ask, but every person who can change their plans helps.

The graph below shows that normal peak travel times on westbound I-90 in the closure area are up to 15 minutes in the morning, up to 30 in the afternoon. If we get a 60 percent diversion during the closure, we still expect morning travel times to be 45 minutes to 1 hour, and a little longer in the afternoon. So if there's any way for to you avoid the area that week, do it.

We wouldn’t do this closure if we didn’t have to but it’s vital to maintaining our infrastructure and avoiding emergency closures that would lead to having to replace the expansion joints anyway.

Tolls on SR 520
Folks have asked us about tolls on SR 520 during construction on I-90. SR 520 is just one route from the Eastside to Seattle. The Transportation Commission sets toll rates and exemptions and there are none for this project or other construction closures. Drivers can set up a short-term account and can save $.50 on the pay-by-mail toll rate.

Aging infrastructure
This is a safety and mobility issue. We’ve had several temporary fixes over the years, and these expansion joints simply need to be replaced before they break.  If we do nothing, this could happen during a busy commute and tie up traffic for a long time. Vehicles could be damaged and lanes of traffic closed for an indefinite amount of time. As you can imagine, you can’t just go to the store to buy a replacement expansion joint. These are custom made for the bridge, and it takes between six to nine months to fabricate.

New expansion joints to be installed
It’s not going to be easy, but hopefully with some planning and adjustments, many of you may be able to avoid the congestion that inevitably happens with a major closure like this. With many of our roads being 30 to 60 years old, this is a step we need to take to ensure they can meet the demands of day to day traffic.

Learn more about the I-90 closure on the project website.