Thursday, September 25, 2014

A sincere Thank You!

By Cara Mitchell

Many drivers took our warning and stayed away from I-5
in Olympia during the expansion joint replacement work.
We would like to sincerely thank drivers for heeding warnings about potential backups and responding accordingly by staying off Interstate 5 and US 101 in Olympia while contractor crews completed work over two high-impact weekends replacing a 28-year-old bridge expansion joint.

Your response to our request is the reason our flow maps on the Olympia Traffic Camera page stayed green, meaning free-flowing traffic, the majority of time over both weekends. Just how light was traffic? On Saturday, Sept. 14, between noon and 6 p.m., traffic on southbound I-5 in Olympia was 51 percent less than it was the previous Saturday. This trend continued into the following weekend, where we saw over a 60 percent reduction in traffic.  The light traffic allowed us to accelerate construction plans by closing lanes early, with the end result that northbound I-5 lanes and ramps opened a full day early on both weekends, and southbound I-5 lanes and ramps opened several hours early on both weekends. That’s what you call a win/win!

We asked the public to alter their plans, take the not-so-convenient scenic routes, and try Amtrak Cascades. You responded overwhelmingly, and for that we are full of gratitude.

As a reminder, whenever you see the orange cones for construction, bridge work or maintenance activities, please “give our crews a brake.” Together we can preserve and maintain your highway infrastructure in a safe manner.

I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge project making good progress

By Tom Pearce

Replacing an 81-year-old bridge deck full of ruts, cracks and holes is hard enough. Add to that the bridge being on a heavily-used highway, and you've got some serious challenges. But in the case of the I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge, our contractor crews are rising to the occasion.

Caption below photo
I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge
size 18 pothole.
While the steel superstructure of the bridge is holding up well, the old deck was worn out. We've repaired it a number of times, but with exposed rebar and potholes that dwarf a size 13 boot, it was time for a full replacement.

The $8.7 million project is scheduled for completion in mid-November. Since we reduced traffic to two lanes in each direction and shifted southbound I-5 to half of the northbound I-5 bridge, the contractor, Mowat Construction, has made good progress.

Working from north to south, the old southbound deck was removed. That took careful planning and a lot of skill. The 607-foot long, 48-foot wide, 8-inch thick concrete deck was cut into roughly 6-foot by 8-foot pieces that weigh up to 4½ tons, then each piece was removed by a track hoe fitted with a special lifting attachment.

Caption below photo
I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge removed 6-foot by 8-foot deck section.
As the deck was being removed, another crew followed along to inspect the underlying steel framework. We were pleasantly surprised by what they found – most of the steel was in very good condition. We had to replace just four pieces, like this stringer, one of 216 that run lengthwise to support the deck. It’s a lot stronger than it looks, but we wouldn't want to leave it there for another 50-plus years, which is how long the new deck is built to last. The rest of the original steel was checked, then sandblasted and repainted to protect it for decades to come.

Caption below photo
I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge rusted stringer.
Crews were still working on the steel framework when the concrete forms were placed. Once that was complete, the green coated rebar was put down. That will keep the concrete strong for another 50 years or more. The coating will help keep the rebar from rusting.

Caption below photo
I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge green coated rebar.
There still is a lot of time-consuming work to be done, but we’re on schedule to open as planned in mid-November. Once the new deck is poured, probably starting in early October, it will take about three weeks to cure. When that’s done, the deck must be grooved to improve traction in the rain, the guard rails will be reinstalled and the road will be restriped for three lanes of traffic, along with other minor work. 

As the deck cures, the contractor crews won’t just be sitting around watching concrete harden. They’ll be busy repaving the bridge approaches. After all, the approaches have been handling traffic for 81 years too.

When everything is ready, the contractor will remove the barriers on southbound I-5 to restore traffic flow onto the new bridge deck. For northbound traffic, it’ll take a few days to remove the concrete barriers from the middle of the northbound I-5 bridge, then a couple more days to restripe the northbound bridge for three lanes, but we expect to have I-5 back to its original configuration, just in time for holiday travelers.

A note on traffic
Traffic flow was a big concern when this project was being developed. We had to take an interstate with three lanes in each direction, put in crossover lanes and reduce it to two lanes that are more narrow than normal, all while sharing a bridge that is wide enough for four lanes, but with small shoulders. 

At the Stillaguamish River, the two bridges handle a total of 80,000 to 100,000 vehicles per day. We anticipated backups at peak hours, but they've been less than we expected. The longest delays typically have been about 15 minutes, as some drivers have adjusted their travel times or selected alternate routes when their destination was Stanwood or Arlington. 

We appreciate the patience of motorists through this project. You've helped keep the backups manageable. Keep it up; in less than two months you’ll have a brand new bridge deck!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Washington’s newest mega project: Fish barrier corrections

By Ann Briggs

You've probably heard about our four “mega projects:” Alaskan Way Viaduct, State Route 520 Bridge, Interstate 405 Corridor and the North Spokane Corridor, but did you hear about the newest one? It's called “Fish Passage” and it's currently unfunded.

Statewide, there are about 6,500 culverts on the state highway system. Of those, about 3,200 are in fish-bearing streams. We're required by law to maintain culverts, fish ways and bridges so that fish have unrestricted passage to upstream and downstream habitat.
SR 530 Moose Creek culvert before correction.

A recent federal court injunction requires the state to step up its fish barrier corrections in the northwest part of the state. About 989 culverts are affected by this court action, with 825 of them having significant habitat. To comply with the injunction, we'll need to fix about 30 to 40 barriers each year for the next 15 years.

The amount available for this work in the current biennium is $36 million. Right now we estimate approximately $300 million is needed each two-year budget cycle through 2029-31. The initial estimated cost to comply with the injunction is $2.4 billion at the low end, and likely to go up. As we do more detailed design work on a first round of 34 projects, we are finding that costs are higher than initial estimates for those projects. That's mostly due to limited site-specific information when the initial cost estimates were developed. We anticipate cost estimates for the entire program will stabilize as we learn more about individual site characteristics.

We've been working to improve access to habitat for fish since the 1990s. About 280 fish-barrier correction projects have opened access to more than 975 miles of potential fish habitat.
SR 530 Moose Creek culvert after correction.

Why do we do this? It's part of our agency's goals to protect natural habitat and water quality. It also supports the Governor's goals for the environment and salmon recovery.

So how did we get here? You have to remember that much of our state's infrastructure was built decades ago. Many of these culverts were installed simply for the purpose of conveying water, before we had the science and understanding of the needs of fish.

In some areas, like Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, projects that improve fish passage have improved conditions for other species, allowing deer, bear and other wildlife to cross safely under or over the busy freeway lanes – that's safer for drivers too!

Visit our Fish Passage project website for an interactive map of all barrier locations and project details.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One weekend down, one to go

By Doug Adamson

Our crews have knocked out one of two high-traffic-impact weekends on I-5 at the US 101 interchange in Olympia. They return during the weekend of Sept. 19 to complete the effort to replace a troubled bridge joint that’s been hammered by heavy traffic since Ronald Reagan was President of the United States.

Because of the location of the work zone – a key interchange with limited alternate routes – we asked drivers to stay away. Drivers did just that.

We offer immense gratitude for drivers who avoided I-5 in Olympia during the weekend of Sept 12.

We thank drivers for:
  • Avoiding the area.
  • Traveling earlier or later in the day.
  • Using inconvenient alternative routes.
  • Staying focused while driving through the work zone.
We warned of possible 14-mile backups
We saw virtually no backups in either direction of I-5, and minimal backups on US 101 approaching I-5. Why didn’t those lengthy backups develop? It’s because drivers took our advice to heart. Drivers who avoided the area did their part. The substantial reduction in traffic even allowed crews to finish and reopen the northbound lanes 25 hours earlier than scheduled. It also helped keep the roadway open for first responders, police, and medics. 

Green = good! This traffic map image shows that on Saturday, Sept. 13,
at 3:03 p.m., traffic in both directions of I-5 was free-flowing.
WSDOT thanks drivers for responding to our request to avoid the area!
Crews used last weekend to create two separate work zones on northbound and southbound I-5.
The concentration of vehicles in the photo are where crews were excavating
old concrete, removing the old expansion joint and pouring new concrete
in the northbound lanes of I-5. They created a twin work zone
in southbound I-5 and repeated the process.

Crews complete finishing touches after replacing a failing
I-5 expansion joint in Olympia. After the concrete cured
and traffic control was removed, the roadway was
reopened to traffic.
The bridge joint spans 171 feet of northbound and southbound I-5 lanes and US 101 ramps. Crews completed half of the project during the weekend of Sept. 12. They will return to complete the job during the weekend of Sept. 19.

So you have one more weekend?

Half of the expansion joint concrete work was completed over the weekend of Sept. 12. Crews will return again over the weekend of Sept. 19 to finish the job. Because of the pinch point, we’re again asking drivers to avoid I-5 in Olympia.  Unless drivers change their travel plans, those mega-backups could quickly develop. This second time around, an additional restriction will be in place - from late Thursday, Sept. 18, to Monday morning, Sept. 22, the speed limit on northbound I-5 will be reduced to 35 mph through the work zone. Drivers on Friday can expect backups on northbound I-5 as well as on the southbound US 101 on-ramp to northbound I-5. During the weekend, there could be backups in both directions since I-5 will have reduced lanes in each direction both day and night.

During the upcoming weekend, you can see with this over-simplified
graphic that drivers will encounter closed lanes.
Northbound I-5 traffic will be shifted to the right. Vehicles will travel in an area – called a gore point – that’s generally closed to traffic. Southbound I-5 won’t have a traffic shift, but the lanes will also be reduced. The southbound I-5 exit to northbound US 101 will remain open. Note: both nearby on-ramps to I-5 (Henderson/14th Ave SE on-ramp to southbound I-5 and Deschutes Way to northbound I-5) will be closed through the weekend.

Traffic wasn’t bad at all last weekend
We ask drivers to not become complacent about the upcoming weekend given the light traffic volumes last weekend.  Our advice for the weekend of Sept. 19 remains the same: Avoid I-5 in Olympia. If you must go, travel early in the morning or late at night.

Know before you go
Check Olympia area travel cameras before you leave. Give yourself information about whether you need to avoid the area or take an alternate route.

See the project page for more information: I-5 - Vicinity Tumwater Blvd to Gravelly Lake Dr - Paving

New and improved text messaging….

by Jeremy Bertrand

You asked, and we listened. Using your feedback, we’ve made some upgrades to our text messaging service. Instead of getting a text message from a different number every time you receive one of our alerts, each text will come from one number: 468311. No more getting texts from a different number every time, which will allow you to add that number to your address book and keep those texts more organized on your device. But wait, there’s more.

We’ve also added the ability for you to subscribe and unsubscribe to our two most popular text topics, Hood Canal and 520 bridge openings, by sending a simple text to start and stop the service.

Remember, because the east navigation channel of the 520 bridge is temporarily blocked by construction equipment, we have to open the bridge for marine traffic more often. To make sure you know about those openings, we send two text messages to 520 bridge alert subscribers, the first two hours before the opening and the second thirty minutes before the opening, so that you know when it’s ok to travel across the bridge.

We’ve also made it much easier to manage your 520 bridge alert subscription. To subscribe to texts about 520 bridge openings, send a text with the words “WSDOT 520” to 468311 and you’ll start receiving those updates. To stop, send a text with the words “WSDOT stop” and you will no longer receive them.

The Hood Canal bridge also opens for marine traffic. To be notified about those openings, just send a text with the words “WSDOT hood” to 468311 and you’ll start receiving text updates. To stop getting those updates, send a text to 468311 with the words “WSDOT stop” and you’ll immediately be unsubscribed.

Thanks for letting us know what you wanted from the service, hope you like these improvements!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The I-5 Bridge Joint Repair survival guide

 by Cara Mitchell

Whenever we can, we work at night so motorists can get where they need to go during the day. Once in a while, a project comes along that doesn’t allow night work exclusively. Mid-September in Olympia is one of those times.  Mark your calendars, because over the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19, a planned I-5 expansion joint repair near Olympia’s Capitol Lake will require day and night lane and ramp closures. Traffic models show that even with up to 30 percent of motorists going elsewhere those two weekends, we can still expect to see miles-long backups on I-5 and on US 101 approaching I-5.  This work is weather dependent. In the event of rain, the weekend of Sept. 26 is a backup weekend for the work to take place.

The intersection of I-5 and US 101 is the site for the bridge expansion
joint repair project planned for the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19.
Best advice?  Avoid the area!  If you must drive on I-5 through Olympia during those two weekends, come through before 10 a.m. (the earlier the better), or wait until after 8 p.m. (the later the better).  In addition to the backups, expect narrowed and realigned lanes and closed ramps. Closure details can be found on our project website. Here’s why the work must be done.

Construction details
Our construction crews are repairing a 28-year old expansion joint that spans the width of northbound and southbound I-5, and some ramps, near Capitol Lake in Olympia. The concrete surrounding the joints has deteriorated and has already led to some events in which the steel in the expansion joint caused damage to vehicles.  The synthetic rubber seals that are meant to keep the joint waterproof are also broken, allowing water to leak through the joints and cause other concerns. Over those two weekends, we will remove and re-pour the concrete headers around the expansion joint and, in subsequent nights, replace the old rubber seals with a silicone-based seal.

Expansion joints are a critical part of a bridge’s infrastructure. The joints allow the bridge to move and flex with changing traffic and weather conditions. Around the state (most recently, in the greater Seattle area) we have been working hard this summer to repair or replace failing bridge expansion joints. As with our highways, the expansion joints are aging and need attention.  If ignored, failed expansion joints can result in emergency lane closures at very inopportune times.  We want to repair these joints under scheduled closures before they fail.

Keep traffic moving

We are asking motorists to avoid this area of I-5 and US 101 in Olympia.  Over a typical Saturday and Sunday, this stretch of I-5 is traveled by more than 276,000 vehicles. Mix in multiple lane closures in both directions, with motorists trying to get to sporting events, concerts or even a quick trip to the mall, and suddenly  too many vehicles are traveling on too little pavement. The outcome is - you guessed it -gridlock resulting in miles-long backups.

We need your help during the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19. At the risk of repeating ourselves, avoid using I-5 and US 101 in Olympia.  If you must go, plan ahead. If you know the back roads, take them, but keep in mind local side streets around the work zone will see an increase in congestion too. If you’re traveling from south of Olympia north to Tacoma or Seattle, look at alternate state routes such as SR 12, SR 7, SR 702, US 12, or US 101. If you must take I-5, plan on traveling before 10 a.m. or after 8 p.m. to avoid lengthy backups. If you’re heading south to Portland, or to the coastal beaches, the same advice applies.

Our goal with every project, including this one, is to get the construction work done as quickly and safely as possible with the least effect on the traveling public. This particular type of work requires that concrete be removed, re-poured and cured in the same timeframe. After careful consideration, we determined that condensing the work into two admittedly difficult travel weekends was still the best work method that would have the least impact on traffic.

What if I can’t change my travel plans?
Let’s be frank – things are going to be rough. In addition to exploring alternate routes or taking alternative modes of transportation, expect to sit in long backups for both north and southbound I-5, and eastbound US 101 in Olympia. Make sure your gas tank is full or your battery fully charged before heading out. If traveling with kids, be prepared to hear the classic question, “Are we there yet” multiple times. Pack your patience and avoid road rage.

We will have additional Incident Response Teams pre-positioned in the work zone to clear any collisions that might occur. The Washington State Patrol will also be on scene to keep an eye on things.

Stay engaged with road conditions over both weekends. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to WSDOT’s GovDelivery to receive information via email or text on current traffic conditions.

Visit our I-5 Olympia Expansion Joint Repair website to learn more information.