Friday, January 23, 2015

Mild winter gives crews more time to make progress on widening project east of Snoqualmie Pass

 By Meagan Lott

It’s already late January and Snoqualmie Pass has only received about six feet of snow. There should be at least 17 feet of snow by now, so you could say it’s been a mild winter so far.

Although this isn’t good news for skiers, snowboarders and winter recreationalists, it’s pretty good news for us. Our contractor, Atkinson Construction, has been able to keep working on the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project, which is widening I-90 from four to six lanes and building two new bridges to keep avalanches from hitting the roadway.

Due to snow and the rising water level of Keechelus Lake, crews usually have to wrap-up construction by mid-October. However, the mild weather allowed crews to extend their construction schedule by more than two months and work right up to the first part of January.

Crews were able to finish installing all nine of the bridge piers needed for the new eastbound avalanche bridges just as the water levels of Keechelus Lake started rising. The extra time spent working this winter will allow crews a little bit of a head start when construction to install the girders of the bridge deck resumes this spring.

But the bridge piers aren’t the only major progress crews made on the I-90 project. A number of structural walls were constructed to make room for new lanes including a major wall for the new westbound lanes, more rock slopes above the roadway were stabilized and the westbound bridge at Resort Creek started to take shape.

Although the I-90 project is progressing, crews still have quite a bit of work ahead of them. Starting this spring crews will continue building new lanes and bridges and stabilizing rock slopes. This portion of I-90 is schedule to be complete and open to traffic in 2018.

This spring will also mark a major milestone when crews break ground on the next two miles of the I-90 project, which continues widening the roadway east and includes one of the first wildlife crossings in the state to be built over the roadway.


Jon said...

I drive SR 90 over Snoqualmie Pass fairly regularity, in all conditions. I am encouraged by the progress that has resulted from the work continuance and mild weather. I hope that the project might be completed ahead of schedule.

However, the on-going construction and the restricted and narrow-width lanes roughly between Hyak and Price Creek, pose significant challenges to drivers. Daylight hours are fewer in the winter, of course. Driving in those lanes is difficult in daylight. It is far more so in darkness, particularly with lights from on-coming traffic and following traffic illuminating the various control devices ("barrels," beacons and other reflective temporary measures). I sometimes feel as if I inside a ball in a pinball game.

The truck traffic on the Pass significantly increases the risks everywhere on the Pass, but particularly in those narrowed lanes. Because of the W-beam rail on the edges of the lanes, and that are very close to the traveled portion of there roadway there is no margin of error. Trucks that go through thee area too fast or that drift over the lane divider lines are common. Many who drive the Pass regularly comment on the failure of WSP to enforce most regulations and traffic laws against commercial trucks.

It appears to me that the lack of enforcement is a deliberate policy by WSP. I am a former Assistant Attorney General for Washington. I defended many claims against WSDOT and against WSP in my career. WSDOT and the Patrol were cooperating during those years, successfully and significantly reducing the incidence and severity of collisions involving or caused by commercial vehicles.

Of course, enforcement of traffic laws and rules against commercial vehicles, as well as privately owned vehicles was critical to the success of the efforts. Since Chief Batiste was appointed, the absence of enforcement is painfully and in some instances, fatally obvious. When commercial trucks occupy all lanes climbing to the summit, when they exceed the posted speed limit, when they follow too closely, they endanger all who use the road. it seems commercial trucks get a free pass.

If the Patrol continues not to do its job, then WSDOT should continue its rolling slowdowns until the construction is concluded and all lanes are restored to normal width. I do not like the rolling slowdowns, but if WSP continues its policy of non-enforcement against trucks (drivers of privately owned vehicles continue to be cited regularly), then I think WSDOT must step forward and limit the speed to prevent further serious collisions on the Pass and in the construction zones.


WSDOT said...

Thank you for the comments. Unfortunately, due to the construction work, the lane widths will continue to stay the same through the winter because we don’t’ have a lot of room to work with. We work with WSP in the summer to enforce the speed limit during construction. I will forward your comment regarding speed and commercial vehicle enforcement to the lead PIO for WSP.

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