Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A peek at the work happening inside the I-90 tunnels

By Mike Allende

Some of our work can be pretty high profile. You can readily see our crews paving lanes, filling in potholes, helping out stranded drivers or even building a new bridge.

Other times, it’s not as clear what’s going on when we have lanes closed. That’s kind of the case with the full weekend detours we’ve been doing on I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue. As you’re driving in the express lanes, you may not see much work happening on mainline I-90. That’s because most of the work is happening inside the Mount Baker and Mercer Island tunnels, and out of view of most drivers.

In order to add all-day carpool lanes on I-90 by squeezing in a fourth lane, contractor crews working for WSDOT and Sound Transit have to upgrade the tunnel’s fire detection systems, fire sprinklers and hydrants, cameras and other items that help to keep drivers safe in the event of fire or other incident inside the tunnels. While our maintenance crews do a great job keeping these systems in working order, it’s time to give things a bit of a facelift. The last time we made any big changes to the tunnel systems was about 25 years ago when I-90 was rebuilt. As the years go on it’s getting harder to get parts for these aging systems, not to mention the advances in technology that have happened since then. This project must be finished by mid-2017 to allow Sound Transit to begin constructing light rail across I-90.

In order to replace and install new cameras, lighting and fire suppression systems, we need bucket trucks and man lifts to reach the ceiling of the tunnels to drill and bore holes and install brackets for the equipment. We’re also doing pavement and drainage repair inside the tunnels. Over the next two years crews will:
  • Upgrade approximately 1,880 lights to help drivers and first responders see better inside the tunnels.
  • Install new, modern fire detection and carbon monoxide systems to provide faster and more accurate fire detection.
  • Replace 38 tunnel cameras to provide better information on incidents for our traffic management center and the public.
  • Improve the tunnel ventilation system with larger jet fans and vents to circulate clean air inside the tunnels.
  • Replace about 60 emergency telephones with new ones that include noise canceling and greater volume for use in reporting situations in a noisy tunnel.
Workers replace lights and other infrastructure inside the I-90
Mount Baker Tunnel.
Getting all of that new equipment manufactured, delivered, installed and tested is no easy task, and it takes time. By redirecting all traffic to the express lanes, crews can get more done in a shorter amount of time than they would with nighttime lane closures, and we can keep traffic moving without the visual distraction of crews working in the adjacent lanes. Doing this just with nighttime closures would significantly lengthen the amount of time needed to complete the project and impact the beginning of the light rail construction.

Detouring I-90 traffic away from the mainline allows major work to be
done without the visual distraction that could lead to traffic incidents.
After this weekend, there is one more full weekend directional detour of westbound I-90 on May 15-18. Contractor crews won’t need another weekend detour on I-90 until October. We appreciate everyone’s patience, feedback and flexibility while we get this work done.

Friday, April 24, 2015

See a giant transition span installed on the new SR 520 floating bridge

By Ian Sterling

Each girder is 190 feet long and weighs more than 15,000 pounds. It takes eight of them to make up one giant piece of hardware for the new State Route 520 floating bridge. It’s called a hinged transition span and it’s critical to the floating bridge. The span will allow the new floating bridge to move with Lake Washington and serves as a connection between the floating bridge and the fixed-column approach of the highway in Medina. It took about three days this week to complete the work shown here. 

A large crane lowers into place the first of eight 190-foot-long steel girders
that will make up the transition span between the floating bridge and
the highway’s elevated, stationary high-rise along Lake Washington’s
eastern shore. The new transition span essentially serves as a giant hinge
between the floating bridge, at left, and the fixed, immovable east high-rise,
at right. The span will support SR 520’s westbound lanes and a new, cross-lake
bicycle and pedestrian path.
April 21, 2015 - Workers secure a massive girder for the new
floating bridge’s east transition span
April 21, 2015 – The first of eight girders for the transition span is
in place, as seen from our construction cam.
More transition-span segments coming right up.
April 23, 2015 — Almost done!
The new SR 520 floating bridge is scheduled to open in spring 2016. You can watch it being built before your eyes with our live construction cameras.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Are you ready for Artist Point – in early spring?

By Tom Pearce

You know it’s been a weird winter when people call in early February asking if we’re going to open the road to Artist Point early. Not just one call, but three in one week, and they’ve become more frequent as spring continues to blossom. The earliest we’ve recorded opening State Route 542 all the way to Artist Point is June 29, 2005. It looks like that record will fall, and soon.

A bulldozer and snow blower are clearing SR 542 to Artist Point.

Our crews began bulldozing about 15 feet of snow in the upper lot about a week ago, and Monday, April 20, they went to work on the road with a plow and our snow blower. We expect to complete clearing and preparing the highway in a week or so, then we’ll open the gate and let you enjoy an early spring at Artist Point.

On April 20, the snow started a few hundred feet beyond the winter gate.
Most years our crews will encounter 30 to 50 feet of snow along the 2.7-mile road from our winter gate to the parking lot at the top. Last year when we opened the road on July 1, drivers went through a canyon of snow walls up to 40 feet tall and the parking lot was surrounded by about 30 feet of snow. For much of the past month there was been no snow at the gate, two to four feet going up the road and about 10 feet in the parking lot.

The bulldozer (upper right) starts clearing the path, followed by the snow
blower (lower left). To give you an idea of the lack of snow,
most years at this time all that bare rock would be covered
with 10 to 20 feet of snow.
We began to seriously consider an early opening several weeks ago. Even with the low snow totals in February, we’ve seen cases like last year where hundreds of inches of snow fell in March. We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves this year. As it became obvious the big snow dump wasn’t coming, we stepped up our planning. Once the Mount Baker Ski Area – which has a ski run that crosses the highway – called it a winter, we were ready to move.

The road to Artist Point is bordered by steep slopes in several places,
including this area that is a section of one of Mount Baker Ski Area’s
runs that cross the highway.
The early opening you’ve been clamoring for will bring more tourists to the area, which could help businesses along the highway that were hit hard by the shortened ski and snowboard season. The early opening also comes with a qualification: Once the road’s open, if we get more snow beyond the winter gate, we’ll close that section of highway again and re-evaluate the highway conditions. We’ll reopen the road as soon as conditions allow. There are steep grades and sharp corners without guardrails. Why no guardrails? The usual winter’s 30 to 50 feet of compacted snow would crush them. That’s not a problem this year.

Once we open the road have fun, but plan ahead and be careful. Weather conditions in the mountains can change quickly, so pay attention. If you go, take tire chains, food, water, warm clothes, blankets, etc., just like you would crossing a pass in mid-winter. Like I tell my kids, it’s better to take it and not need it than to leave it at home then wish you had it.

It looks like we’ll have a long season for Artist Point this year. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Electric vehicles help pave the way to cleaner air

By Ann Briggs

Ever think about owning an electric vehicle? Now is a good time to consider it for your next vehicle, especially with work that is underway to increase EV ownership in Washington.

We recently released the EV Action Plan (pdf 2.7 mb), which aims to meet the state’s goal of increasing the number of EVs in Washington to 50,000 vehicles by 2020. It intends to do that through a variety of proposed incentives, EV infrastructure improvements and partnerships to support and promote EV ownership.

“Why is the state promoting EVs?” you ask. We’re trying to reduce carbon emissions that produce greenhouse gases. Transportation generates nearly half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. All-electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions and produce no greenhouse gases. That means they don’t put fine particles or smog-causing pollution into our air. It’s great news for the environment and for people who suffer from respiratory issues.

With access to hydropower – one of the cleanest and least expensive energy supplies in the nation – plugging into the grid makes EV ownership in Washington an attractive choice. That fact hasn’t escaped the notice of EV manufacturers – Washington was one of the five states to launch the first Leafs, and we’re third in the nation for overall EV market share, down from number 1 in 2013. California and Georgia now lead the pack. In Washington, nearly 12,500 registered EVs were on the road at the end of 2014.

EV ownership isn’t just for people like you and me. Public agencies are also getting on board, adding alternative fuel and electric vehicles to their fleet. Examples include electric transit buses and trolleys, vanpools and carpool vehicles. We’re expanding our own EV fleet of six Leafs and 10 Volts, with four more Volts on order.

One obvious advantage of owning an EV is the ability to cruise on by the gas station. Fueling a car with electricity costs about one-third of what you’d spend to fuel a vehicle with gasoline (about 88 cents per eGallon vs $2.81 per gallon of gas). Beside the savings to the pocketbook, driving an EV helps us break our dependence on foreign oil.

EV charging station at northbound Gee Creek rest area.

EVs can travel about 60 to 100 miles on a single charge. That makes them ideal for short to medium commutes, but it produces “range anxiety” for those who need to drive longer distances. Fortunately, a whole lot of folks in Washington are working together to fix that.

Through our EV action plan, we’re proposing a number of steps to make it easier for drivers to afford EVs and “go the distance.” Highlights of those activities include:

  • Extending the sales tax exemption on the purchase or lease of an EV
  • Building out the fast-charging network to fill in the gaps on key corridors across the state – Washington currently has 449 public charging stations
  • Increasing EV-charging signs to make it easier to locate charging stations
  • Pooling resources within communities to electrify tourism routes
  • Working with employers to encourage workplace charging

So, next time you’re shopping for a new vehicle, why not make it electric?

  • EVs are fun to drive – they have loads of torque for fast acceleration. Ask a friend or neighbor to take you for a spin and you’ll experience the “EVgrin.” 
  • EVs are affordable – several makes and models start at $20,000 to $30,000 and lease prices start as low as $250 per month.
  • With the current sales tax exemption (until July 1, 2015, unless extended), you could save thousands on the purchase price, plus you can take advantage of a $7,500 federal tax credit.

That’s good for you and good for the environment!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Summer construction season: A primer

We’ll be replacing four culverts throughout the
region this summer, including this one at
Coe Clemons Creek in Duvall.
 by Michael Allende

The Byrds sang (I’m paraphrasing) “To everything there is a season.”  Indeed. You’ve got baseball season. Ski season. Tourist season.

In WSDOT’s case, we have summer construction season. And that season is coming up quickly. With 30 new projects under construction in 2015 (not counting the ongoing major projects on SR 99, SR 520, I-90  and I-405) between King County and Whatcom County, there’s going to be plenty going on to make our roads safer and smoother for drivers.

What areas are we specifically addressing this summer season?
  • Aging infrastructure: Preservation of our aging highways is vital to keeping the region moving. By repaving targeted areas, preserving bridges through cleaning, replacing expansion joints and concrete panels, we can extend the useful life of our roadways. Nine of the new projects this year involve pavement preservation and repair. Many of these highways haven’t been paved in at least 20 years.
  • Congestion relief: With the population continuing to grow in the region, safety and congestion relief continues to be a priority. We have more than a half dozen projects that will address some of those needs. We’ll extend the southbound SR 167 HOT lanes, improve some exits to separate traffic on SR 520 and install a new ramp meter in Bellevue, all of which should help with traffic flow.
  • Bridge preservation: Keeping our bridges structurally sound and safe for drivers is always a major priority and with four bridge preservation projects planned, we’ll take big steps in that goal. With two bridge painting jobs, replacing nearly two dozen I-90 anchor cables and a major expansion joint replacement in Snohomish County, construction crews will be very busy working to keep our infrastructure in good shape. 
  • Culvert replacement: Four culverts will be replaced throughout the region this summer, including two in Skagit/Whatcom counties and two others in King County.

Many of our projects this summer involve paving work and road
repair in order to preserve our aging highways and give drivers
a safer, smoother trip. Many of these roads haven’t been
re-paved in at least 20 years.

A major expansion joint replacement project on
I-5 in Snohomish County will help keep the Ebey,
Union and Steamboat Slough bridges
structurally sound.
You can find more information about all of these projects on our 2015 Northwest Region construction season website. Between the new traffic and maintenance projects, we’ll spend about $193 million to maintain our infrastructure and keep drivers moving safely and smoothly.

All of this work will, however, require lane closures and could result in some added congestion. But you can stay ahead of the game by being plugged in and always knowing what’s going on before leaving your home. Our Northwest Construction Update and What’s Happening Now pages list scheduled closures and are updated regularly. Our Seattle Traffic page has a real-time traffic map, travel times and information about things that may be blocking lanes. On Twitter, follow @wsdot and @wsdot_traffic for real-time information on projects, closures and traffic. Consider subscribing to our email/text alerts for information about areas you travel and projects you’re interested in. Downloading our free mobile app will keep you in the loop on what’s going on out on the roads so you can spend more time having fun and less time sitting in traffic.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The reality of bridge strikes

 By Barbara LaBoe

We know how vital our bridges are to motorists in our state.

Even a short bridge closure can snarl daily commutes, disrupt critical freight deliveries and overwhelm alternate routes. That’s why we keep a close eye on our bridges and overpasses, including regular inspections and preventative maintenance projects.

But we’re also concerned about bridge strikes, particularly on some of our older, lower-clearance structures.

Minor bridge strikes are not uncommon, but we’re particularly concerned about a recent spate of serious damage to our bridges.  Those major strikes, and related closures, spell trouble for both drivers and taxpayers.

Since 2008, we’ve documented 127 strikes on 78 bridges. Fifteen of those incidents were serious enough to close or restrict the bridge, including the 2013 strike that knocked the Skagit River Bridge into the river and cost $17 million to repair.

Two recent serious bridge strikes – one on the Interstate 90 overpass in Issaquah in March and another on the State Route 410 White River Bridge earlier this month -- led Gov. Inslee to proclaim a state of emergency Thursday, April 16. Combined, the repairs are estimated at $3 million.

Crews make temporary repairs on the State Route 410 White River Bridge
earlier this month after an over height vehicle struck and damaged the bridge.
Another 84 bridge strikes were significant enough to require emergency bridge inspections and priority repairs. The remaining 28 were minor strikes, but even those can build into larger problems over time.

Part of the problem is the changing times.

Bridges and overpasses – including some early parts of our freeways – were built to lower standards. In the 1950s, the standard clearance level was 14-foot, 6-inches. Today it’s two feet higher. In the meantime, trucks and their cargos have grown bigger and heavier, posing a challenge to older bridges and structures.

By state law, it remains the driver’s responsibility to check his or her route before setting out. To help, we’ve developed an online Bridge Vertical Clearance Trip Planner that lets drivers map out their routes to spot potential trouble spots. It debuted earlier this year and was developed with the help of the Washington Trucking Association.

The Bridge Vertical Clearance Trip Planner, which debuted in January,
helps truck drivers make better, safer decisions about routes
and which bridges they should avoid.

The tool maps out a route and highlights state highway bridges with clearances that are too low or that might require a specific lane for safe clearance.

We’ve also reviewed signs on all bridges 15 feet 3 inches tall and lower, rewritten our permit regulations for clarity and launched a comprehensive review and re-measurement of all bridges with clearances of 16 feet 6 inches and lower.

We hope these steps – and reminding drivers about the dangers and responsibilities that come with over height loads – help truck drivers make better, safer decisions. That not only protects taxpayers’ investment in our roadways, it also safeguards all motorists and helps to keep traffic moving throughout the state.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Relief in the works for eastbound SR 16 drivers in Tacoma

By Doug Adamson

We promise. It will get better.

Soon after the eastbound State Route 16 project wrapped up in Tacoma last summer, drivers were treated to a much easier commute over the Nalley Valley and onto Interstate 5. It was welcome relief after years of congestion followed by years of construction. However, regular free-flowing traffic to northbound I-5 was short-lived. That's because shortly after finishing construction in Nalley Valley, crews kicked off work on an adjoining project called I-5 - M Street to Portland Avenue - HOV.

In that project, we are building future HOV lanes on I-5 through Tacoma. The work also involves replacing the original surface of I-5. To replace the surface, crews have created an I-5 traffic island. Workers have been hard at work in the island – that's closed to traffic – removing beaten down concrete and replacing it with brand new concrete. Once the island work is complete, we'll move traffic onto the new concrete. Crews will then continue replacing concrete elsewhere in the job.

Inside a construction island on northbound I-5 in Tacoma workers have removed the original roadway surface, dating back to the 1960's. The work involves grinding down below the original surface and replacing it with a much more reliable and smooth surface.

We are very aware of how this traffic island has led to recurring backups from eastbound SR 16 to northbound I-5. Delays are magnified if anything out of the ordinary occurs, like a collision or a disabled vehicle. The good news is that this traffic configuration is temporary. Once the lanes are in their final configuration, you'll enjoy a much less congested drive.

Our challenge is to keep traffic moving while at the same time, giving I-5 its largest overhaul in Tacoma in decades. We're taking on that challenge, albeit with the request of patience and tolerance from the traveling public.

Decades of heavy use and weather have taken a toll on the original surface of I-5 in Tacoma. Here’s the extent crews have dug into I-5 to replace the original surface and conduct rehabilitation work.

Over the last few years, drivers have watched us build pieces of a much larger puzzle. A giant piece of the puzzle was the addition of the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which greatly enhanced travel along westbound and eastbound SR 16. We added HOV lanes on SR 16, and now we're adding the capacity for I-5 HOV lanes in Tacoma. The most recent focus is two projects that will add capacity to I-5 from M Street, over the Puyallup River, and into Fife. In the next few years, we'll also launch the last of three projects over the Nalley Valley. That's where workers will build HOV lanes and HOV ramps between I-5 and SR 16.

This is all fine and good, but I'm sick of traffic
I would be hard-pressed to find someone who enjoys sitting in traffic. But there are a lot of things each of us can do to help alleviate traffic backups.

For example, check out our driver tools. Drivers can get information from their phones via the WSDOT mobile app. Additional information is available from WSDOT email alerts and Twitter.

Consider using alternate forms of transportation to get around. Public Transportation agencies can help by connecting you with carpools, vanpools or transit.

Do you have the option of working a flex schedule? That's a great way to avoid the morning and afternoon peak crush hours.

There are other ways you can help. Should you get into fender bender, move your car to the shoulder. Better yet, avoid the fender bender in the first place by giving yourself plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front of you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Addressing the westbound I-90 detour confusion

By Mike Allende

After every major closure for construction or maintenance work, two of the most important questions we ask ourselves is, “How did it go, and how can we make it better?”

Could we have communicated information better? Could we coordinate with other agencies better? Can we make traffic move more efficiently? Answering those questions are vital to our ability to get important work done while creating the least amount of disruption to the public as possible.

Crews work on the fire detection system inside the Mount Baker Tunnel
as part of the I-90 Two-Way Transit Project.
After our March 27-30 westbound I-90 detour for work on the I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations project, we identified a few areas where we could improve to help drivers get where they needed with less confusion. And so we’re implementing some changes this weekend, when from 11 p.m. Friday, April 17 until 5 a.m. Monday, April 20, all westbound I-90 traffic will again detour to the express lanes between Bellevue Way Southeast to Rainier Avenue South.

The changes won’t take away traffic congestion – you should still plan on leaving as early as possible and consider alternate routes – but it should address some of the major concerns.

The main adjustments we’re making involve clarifying how to access Mercer Island.

All traffic for Mercer Island must still exit westbound I-90 at East Mercer Way. During the previous detour, there was confusion for some drivers on Bellevue Way and on I-90 as to how to get to the East Mercer Way exit, leading some to drive through closed areas, which is never a good idea.

This time, we’re adding more signage to make it clear which lane I-90 drivers should be in for Mercer Island (the right) and for Seattle (the left). Bellevue Way drivers will be able to use their more familiar I-90 ramp that leads directly to East Mercer Way (last time they could only use the I-90 HOV ramp) and westbound I-90. We’ll also have extra law enforcement available to help clear collisions and remind people to not drive through areas that are closed off. Remember, we close those areas for a reason and going through them puts workers and drivers at risk.

Extra signage and added law enforcement are some of the changes drivers
will see to ease confusion during this weekend’s westbound I-90 detour.

Answering a few other common questions we've heard:
  • Why is anything closed? I don’t see anyone working!: Much of the work is being done inside the I-90 tunnels, so much of the work may not be visible.
  • Why can’t you open I-90 further down?: We’re also working under Luther Burbank Park so we need the closure where we have it for worker safety. We’ve made adjustments to merge areas and are keeping two lanes of I-90 open as far as possible to try to help with traffic flow.
  • Will the I-90 Trail be open?: Yes, the trail will be open.
  • Do you have dates for future weekend work?: After this coming weekend we have two more weekends of work scheduled, May 1-4 (eastbound) and 15-18 (westbound), then our contractor will take a break from the weekend closures until the fall.

This is the third of 30 directional closures of I-90 we’ll have for this project through mid-2017 and each one will be a chance for us to learn and make the next one smoother. We’re confident the changes we made for this upcoming weekend will help. But again, it will not eliminate congestion. Anytime you close lanes on a major highway, traffic shifts to other places and it creates challenging traffic so please, if you’re going to the Mariners game, the Snoop Dogg concert or any other place this weekend, add plenty of extra time to your trip, be patient and plan your route ahead of time.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Free Coffee Ahead: The return of Java-touting rest area signs

By Barbara LaBoe

Weary Washington drivers looking for their next jolt of caffeine now have some extra help  “Free Coffee” signs have returned to several state safety rest areas.

Volunteers have served up free coffee at Washington rest areas for more than 20 years. It’s a popular program that benefits drivers and allows groups to collect donations for their efforts. The coffee never left our 37 participating rest areas, but for a while the signs alerting drivers to the free java did.

Why were the signs removed? We’re not anti-coffee by any stretch of the imagination. And we know our state loves its cup of joe. But, in 2012 we had to remove the previous flip-open “free coffee” signs due to safety concerns.  The volunteers had to walk much too close to moving traffic while opening and closing the signs. Sometimes they had to cross ditches and other barriers as well. Our own workers aren’t allowed alongside roadways without proper safety gear and spotters, and we couldn’t ask or allow volunteers to take similar risks. In all, 35 signs were removed even though the coffee kept flowing at each site.
This “Free Coffee” sign now tells drivers approaching the
northbound Smokey Point rest area about the free,
volunteer-run coffee program.

In 2014, two electronic signs failed at the Smokey Point Rest Area and were taken out of service. The Smokey Point signs had been a pilot program that was deemed too expensive to expand or continue. Each sign would cost about $6,000 to replace today. With tight state budgets, $6,000 signs just weren’t feasible, nor was it equitable to replace just the electronic signs.

After the Smokey Point signs were removed, we heard from volunteers that donations were suffering because some drivers no longer knew about the coffee.  We worked with our staff and a Smokey Point volunteer representative to find a way to meet everyone’s needs.  Sen. Kirk Pearson’s (R-Monroe) office also provided input.

The challenge was finding new signs that didn’t require volunteers to open and close them while still making it clear to drivers that not every site has volunteers – and coffee – 24 hours a day.  With the old signs, if someone accidentally left it open we’d sometimes hear complaints from drivers who stopped only to find the coffee stand closed.

The solution?  Our new, static “Free Coffee, Volunteer Program” signs. These signs were installed at the 13 most popular free coffee rest areas last month and do not need to be open or closed.  Adding “Volunteer Program” also indicates this is not a state-run or fully-staffed venture.  (Never fear, the free coffee remains at all 37 participating rest areas, but some just aren’t staffed with volunteers regularly enough for a sign at this point.)

We hope this compromise gives us the best of both worlds, the return of the signs and safe, happy volunteers. And, of course, the free coffee. Drink up.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Good To Go! Flex Pass (But Were Afraid To Ask)

By Ethan Bergerson

Recently, we reached another milestone on the road to launching the I-405 Express Toll Lanes with the availability of the new Good To Go! Flex Pass. We’ve received hundreds of phone calls and emails asking us about the new Good To Go! pass, and we’ve got answers to some of your most common questions right here.

1. Why did WSDOT create the new Good To Go! Flex Pass?
The new I-405 express toll lanes will be open to anyone on the road whenever they need it. But the Flex Pass is carpoolers’ golden ticket to travel free in the express toll lanes. You’ll need to meet new occupancy requirements, and have an active Good To Go! account and the new Flex Pass in HOV mode to travel free in the express toll lanes. This lets us know you’re carpooling so that we don’t charge a toll.

2. How will the new Flex Pass work?
The new Good To Go! Flex Pass will give carpoolers the option to drive in the new I-405 express toll lanes for free while also offering drivers the flexibility to use the lanes when they don’t qualify as a carpool. Here’s how: 
  • When you have enough people in your car to qualify as a carpool, just swipe to the right to turn on HOV mode before entering the express toll lanes, and you’re free to travel the system. 
  • If you’re traveling alone and running late or just want to bypass the congestion, simply toggle to TOLL mode and cruise into the express lane for a quicker trip. 
  • The Flex Pass will also work to pay tolls on all other Washington toll facilities.
3. What if you don’t have enough passengers to travel free? 
Vehicles that don’t meet the carpool occupancy requirements can pay for access to the lanes even if they don’t have a Good To Go! pass. This is a choice that doesn’t exist today on I-405. Drivers with any Good To Go! pass installed in their vehicle will pay the lowest toll rate. If a vehicle without a Good To Go! pass enters the lanes, the system takes a photo of your license plate and either deducts the amount from a registered Pay By Plate account (an extra 25-cents per toll), or sends the vehicle’s registered owner a Pay By Mail bill. This gives every car a new reliable option reach their destination sooner for those times when you’re running late to a critical appointment and really need to get where you’re going as soon as possible.  

4. Do I have to get a Flex Pass if I already have a Good To Go! pass? 
While we recommend the new Good To Go! Flex Pass for anyone who plans on carpooling in the I-405 express toll lanes, drivers who do not plan on carpooling on I-405 can continue to use their current Good To Go! passes. But remember, the Flex Pass is the only way to drive for free as a carpool on the I-405 express toll lanes, any other Good To Go! pass will be charged on I-405 regardless of the number of vehicle occupants. Everyone has different needs so choose the pass that works best for you.

If you already bought a switchable pass for carpooling on SR 167, then you qualify for a free upgrade. Call 1-866-936-8246 or email goodtogo@goodtogo.wsdot.wa.gov to put in your request. While your switchable pass will continue to work the same when carpooling on SR 167, it will be charged a toll when carpooling on I-405 even when it is turned off.

5. What’s this about a free Flex Pass?
We realize that this is a big change for carpoolers, and we want to make the transition easier. That’s why we’re giving the Flex Pass away for free to frequent carpoolers. And don’t worry, you won’t need to camp out in line in front of the Good To Go! customer service center to be the first to get it. 

Do you qualify? 
  • Do you live, work, and/or play in King and/or Snohomish counties?
  • Do you carpool at least once a week on I-405 (including weekends!)?
If you answered yes to both, congratulations! You qualify for a free Flex Pass through RideshareOnline.com, or a community partner.  Just create a profile or log into your existing account, and answer a few questions, and we’ll send you your Flex Pass in two to three weeks. We’ll give you a free Flex Pass if you routinely have two people in your car, but you can also use RideshareOnline.com to find a third person to share the ride with in order to drive toll-free at peak hours. Visit the I-405 Express Toll Lanes website to learn more.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Final SR 520 pontoons floating through Seattle this Thursday

By Nicholas Mirra

This week marks the last chance to witness a tugboat pushing an enormous concrete pontoon through Seattle's Lake Washington Ship Canal en route to Lake Washington. Pontoon construction for the new SR 520 floating bridge is complete, and the final three pontoons – numbers 75, 76 and 77 – will slip through the city's boat channel on Thursday, April 9.

A tugboat pulls one of the final three pontoons for the new SR 520 floating bridge out of WSDOT's Aberdeen casting basin on March 10. The trio of pontoons are scheduled to complete their ocean voyage to Seattle on Thursday, April 9.

The first of the new bridge's pontoons arrived in Seattle back on Aug. 11, 2012. Since then, small packs of pontoons (Anyone know what a group of pontoons is called? We hope it's something cool, like a Council or a Ziggurat.) have been towed through the locks as our construction sites in Tacoma and Aberdeen turned them out. The final three pontoons are longitudinal pontoons, the largest type of pontoon used in the new floating bridge. At 360 feet long, 28 feet tall and 11,000 tons, they make for a tight squeeze through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard.

It takes about three days for these pontoons to complete the 260-nautical-mile, open-sea voyage from Aberdeen, around Cape Flattery, and through the Puget Sound to Seattle. On Thursday they will be brought one at a time through the locks, the trailing two waiting their turn in Shilshole Bay like kids queuing at the top of a water slide.

A pontoon coming through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks on May 4, 2014.

This means that if you're in Seattle on Thursday, you'll have three chances to see the pontoons float through the locks, past Gas Works Park and the Arboretum, on their way to Lake Washington. Bring a camera because we are holding a photo contest for great pontoon photos. See the full contest rules here (pdf 317 kb). Submit your photos via Twitter with the #520pontoon hashtag. The deadline is noon Monday, April 13. Send us a great shot and you could win a guided tour of the new floating bridge construction site for you and a friend!

The SR 520 website's pontoon-tracking page will provide more information, as available, on the precise time the pontoons are expected to arrive at the locks in Ballard. The webpage also has links that show the exact location of the three pontoon-towing tugboats – the Western Ranger, Arthur Brusco and Nancy M – as they navigate to Seattle. A map of suggested viewing locations (pdf 2.5 mb) in Seattle for taking photos is on the webpage too.

With pontoon construction complete, what comes next for the new floating bridge? These final three longitudinal pontoons will be joined to the 15 already at the construction site. Later this year, all the pontoons will be joined together. Construction is on track to open the new floating bridge in 2016.

Pontoon tidbits
Pontoon construction broke ground in Aberdeen in February 2011 and in Tacoma in January 2012.

Pontoons were towed to Lake Washington one at a time for assembly on the lake, sort of like that third-floor apartment you furnished by carrying Ikea furniture up the stairs in boxes, knowing once the furniture is assembled it won't fit back down the stairs.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Watching Bertha’s big lift

By Laura Newborn

Words don’t quite capture its size.  To me, giant, enormous, colossal – all describe something smaller than what I saw as Bertha’s front end rose above ground on March 30. Even members of the media, who gathered to watch the lift from the flat bed of a nearby WSDOT truck, seemed surprised by the enormity of what they were viewing. Standing alongside that media truck, this incredible engineering feat was better described with words of what I felt when the machine came into view.  This lift of Bertha was nothing short of awe-inspiring, breathtaking and surprising. Why surprising? Because the crane was almost silent from our vantage point, 100 or so yards away. Nothing sounded like what you’d think 2,000 tons of lift might sound like.

SR 99 tunneling machine (Bertha) lifted above ground for repair

The action was barely perceptible in real time. You could stare at those taut steel cables and have no sense of how hard they were working. That’s why the real magic of what happened can best be seen through time-lapse pictures.

One day after Bertha’s front end was on the ground, a handful of friends and even strangers confided to me that they didn’t quite believe Bertha could be fixed until the moment they saw that cutterhead rise from the access pit.

Now they believe.

Hats off to everyone involved in this perfectly executed lift.