Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Out with the old and in with the new: traffic to shift to new westbound SR 520 off-ramp on Jan. 6

By Haylee Morse-Miller

Long-time Washington residents will remember their first time on the scenic drive to Seattle from the Eastside on SR 520: crossing over the sparkling waters of Lake Washington, exiting the highway just as Seattle's Montlake neighborhood comes into view, and arriving at the tree-lined Lake Washington Boulevard East, where you wind through the natural wonders of the Washington Park Arboretum. It's a drive residents have been making for over 50 years, ever since the existing off-ramp from westbound SR 520 opened in 1963. But 2016 will bring a big change to this classic drive: on Jan. 6 the westbound off-ramp through the Washington Park Arboretum will close, creating a more natural and unobstructed view in the Arboretum - and making way for construction of the new, safer, west approach bridge. The new fixed bridge will connect Seattle's Montlake area with the SR 520 floating bridge on Lake Washington.

The Washington Park Arboretum and Montlake neighborhood in Seattle just before
construction of the original SR 520 bridge began in 1962.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives

In place of the soon-to-be closed Arboretum off-ramp, a new westbound off-ramp will open on Jan. 6. The new ramp will deliver drivers further west on Lake Washington Boulevard and utilize the 24th Avenue East bridge. From the time the new off-ramp opens until construction of the West Approach Bridge North wraps up in 2017, the new off-ramp will be in a temporary configuration to allow for ongoing construction. For now, an extra stop sign will be added at the top of the ramp to allow West Approach Bridge North construction vehicles to access a nearby work zone. Drivers will also use a new four-way stop once they've crossed the 24th Avenue East bridge, which allows them to turn left or right onto East Lake Washington Boulevard to reach their destination. The video below shows the flow of traffic in the new temporary configuration.

To shift traffic to the new off-ramp, crews will use an overnight closure of westbound SR 520 between 92nd Avenue Northeast to Montlake Boulevard from 11 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, to 5 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6.

To stay up-to-date on planned closure timing, check the SR 520 Orange Page or sign-up for the SR 520 West Approach Bridge North Project email updates. These communications will also inform you of weekend closures of SR 520 that are planned for coming months, as crews begin to remove the existing SR 520 off-ramp that accesses the Arboretum. Decommissioning the ramp will be a challenge as the ramp is built over water and travels over SR 520. But as the ramp is torn down, contractor crews will be able to continue installing in-water casings and building support columns - one of many steps to open a new, improved West Approach Bridge North in summer 2017.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Status of I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass

What is the current status of I-90 over Snoqualmie pass?

Update 1:15 a.m. Dec. 25

The West Bound lanes of Interstate 90 on Snoqualmie Pass have reopened. The pass is now open in both directions.

Drivers are reminded that there are still winter storm conditions in the mountains and they need to be prepared and drive for conditions. Drivers should slow down, give themselves extra time for travel and leave extra space between vehicles. Drivers also should carry chains and other winter weather supplies and be prepared for slow traffic and congestion at times. See below for more details about winter driving and supplies.

With more than 112 inches of snow over the last seven days and 25 inches in the last 24 hours, trees leaning over the roadway and high avalanche risk I-90 over Snoqualmie pass is currently closed indefinitely. Closure points are from milepost 34 in North Bend to milepost 106 near Ellensburg.

The amount of snow on the pass has been massive. Last night we were getting two inches of snow an hour in spots. The pass usually gets between 300 to 400 inches of snow each winter, so the past week has seen more than a quarter of an entire season's snowfall on the pass. That increases avalanche danger both because of the amount of snow and the fact that snow on lower levels hasn't had a chance to settle and compact.

Trees in the area also are very heavy with snow and many have already fallen or are leaning over the roadway.

Our crews have been working around the clock on the pass and are busy clearing roads as well as clearing those trees that have come down on the roadway due to heavy snow.

They're also out doing avalanche control. The snow is so heavy, though, that by the time they clear avalanche chutes on one side of the pass, the ones on the other side fill back up. Our nationally recognized avalanche forecasters also closely watch conditions and do on-the-ground evaluations to analyze avalanche threats.

I-90 over the pass closed several times yesterday as crews worked to clear spinouts and collisions on the roadway.

The scene near the old snowshed. More than 15 feet of snow is across the roadway.

Why are the pass cameras down?
There's a power outage up at the pass affecting the cameras and the ski resort. Puget Sound Energy crews are hard at work to restore the power but are facing big challenges with the weather.

Weather forecast?
Forecasters are calling for another foot of snow today and another foot of snow this evening over the passes.

What about US 2?
US 2 over Stevens Pass reopened at 1 p.m. Thursday December 24th.

Alternate routes?
With I-90 closed we expect heavy traffic on US 2, US 12 and I-84.

What can you do?
Follow along on this blog, Twitter, Facebook, use our Android or iPhone mobile app and the Snoqualmie pass website.

One of the biggest challenges crews faced yesterday were folks traveling up over the passes unprepared. If you decide to go over a pass during the next few days, make sure you have plenty of food, water and emergency supplies for you and your family and be prepared for delays and winter storm conditions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays from Good To Go!

By Jennifer Rash

In the spirit of the holiday season, we wanted to remind drivers that the free Flex Pass incentive for carpoolers and free motorcycle pass for I-405 users continues through the end of March 2016.

Free Flex Pass incentive
Since we kicked off our partnership with and local partnering networks in March of this year, we've distributed over 33,000 free Flex Passes to carpoolers. A Good To Go! Flex Pass set to HOV mode is the only way qualifying carpools can ride for free in the I-405 express toll lanes. On days when you may not meet the carpool requirements, the Flex Pass also gives you the flexibility to use the express toll lanes and other toll facilities as a toll paying customer.

Here are some facts we've learned from carpoolers who have requested a free Flex Pass:

Three quick tips if you're a carpooler who needs a Flex Pass:

Q: What do you need to qualify for a free Flex Pass?
A: Live, work or play in King and Snohomish counties, and carpool at least once a week on I-405, with at least two people in your vehicle. Yes weekends count too! You only need two people in your vehicle to travel toll free all weekend.

Q: How do I get my free Flex Pass?
A: Follow these instructions to order your free Flex Pass (pdf 52 kb) today. Please note: A account is different from a Good To Go! account. Once you've received your free Flex Pass, remember to remove any other Good To Go! pass you might have. You only need one pass!

Q: Are you looking for another carpool partner?
A: assists commuters by providing free carpool, vanpool and bicycle ridematching services, bus/rail options, SchoolPool carpooling programs for parents, and information about the benefits of teleworking from home. Once registered at, you can use the Ridematch to find an extra person to carpool with on I-405.

Free motorcycle passes
We're also extending the Free Motorcycle Pass incentive program! Motorcycles are required to have a motorcycle pass in the express toll lanes to claim their free trip just like carpoolers.

Since April 2015, we've distributed over 11,600 free motorcycle passes. Through the program, we provide one free motorcycle pass per person. You can request a free motorcycle pass by taking this brief online survey – be sure to have your license plate ready.

Holiday reminders
If you have questions regarding the Flex Pass incentive program, how to get a free motorcycle pass or how to navigate the new system, give our incentive hotline a ring at 206-464-1230. (We won't be in the office on Christmas Day or New Year's Day.)

Just a reminder, if you're traveling I-405 on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, the two person carpool requirement will be in effect all day. Safe travels and happy holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2015

It's unique and you need to know about it for holiday ferry travel from Kingston

By Guest Blogger WSP Sgt. Kyle Smith

If you have plans to sail from Kingston to Edmonds on a Washington State Ferry this holiday season, you may cross paths with something that isn't used on any other ferry route in the state. Boarding passes. They may sound benign, but without one, you could find yourself sent to the back of the line and I'll bet no one has that on their gift list. Keep reading and I'll help you avoid an extended wait and make sure it's nothing but smooth sailing.

Due to limited parking at the Kingston terminal and to minimize congestion on local streets, boarding passes debuted in 1996. But even though they've been around since the Macarena was a hit song, they often catch drivers off guard. When the Kingston terminal is completely full, Washington State Patrol troopers hold ferry traffic outside of town at eastbound State Route 104 and Lindvog Rd NE. At this point, troopers will begin to issue boarding passes. This is expected to happen from time to time during this busy holiday season. No money is exchanged and this is not a ticket for travel on the ferry. It simply holds your place in line.

If you're driving eastbound on SR 104 approaching Kingston and you see a queue of vehicles on the shoulder; they are in line for a boarding pass. If you don't stop and get in the queue and instead proceed down to the terminal, you'll be instructed to turn around to go back and acquire a boarding pass. This is the dreaded 'sent to the back of the line' fate I mentioned earlier. Also, if you are coming from Indianola and intend to access the Kingston ferry terminal from West Kingston Way by turning right onto SR 104, you might bypass the line for boarding passes if you don't notice the signage in the area stating, "Boarding passes required."

Ultimately Washington State Ferries and the Washington State Patrol want to ensure you have a safe and convenient trip whether you're a regular commuter, local resident, or first-time visitor.

My advice...sign up for Ferry email Alerts, follow WSF on Twitter and keep your eyes peeled for those signs that Troopers set during heavy traffic. You can also check terminal cameras and more online.

It's important to note that boarding passes only apply to vehicle customers. Walk-on passengers can head straight to the terminal. If you're visiting grandma or Uncle Steve, you may want to consider having them pick you up and drop you off. If walking onboard is an option, you'll save some dough on ferry fares too. However you decide to travel, I wish you a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A quick filling turns into a root canal on I-5 in Seattle

By Mike Allende

What we thought would be a simple filling turned into a root canal Thursday morning, Dec. 17. An overnight emergency pothole repair job on northbound I-5 at Olive Way that we expected to be routine and complete by the morning commute turned out to be a bigger job than anticipated.

The story began the previous afternoon when our maintenance staff became aware of a pothole in the center lane of northbound I-5 at Olive Way. Our crew made a quick patch repair to the hole in about an hour to get drivers through the afternoon commute, and then made plans to come back Wednesday night for a more permanent repair.

WSDOT first filled this pothole temporarily to get off the road before Wednesday’s peak afternoon commute started.

Our night maintenance crew began putting up traffic control just after 9 p.m. This complicated, time-consuming process included closing three lanes of northbound I-5 and the University Street on-ramp to northbound I-5. Between setting up a safe work area, clearing traffic off the University Street ramp, making sure signage was in place and deploying  large trucks to help close the three left lanes between Seneca Street and Olive Way, all while avoiding live traffic, the process can take several hours and involves significant coordination.

Once traffic control was in place, workers moved their equipment in and got to work on a job they expected to be complete by 5 a.m., early enough to be off the road before the peak morning commute started.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

As the crew began jackhammering into the pavement at about 12:30 a.m., they found significantly more damage than expected. The hole was deep enough that workers could see through it to the I-5 express lanes running underneath.
Workers found substantially more damage than
expected during an overnight closure, leading to
a longer-than-expected job.

The plan to use crushed rock and a very thin, quick-drying liquid to fill the pothole quickly had to be changed. The depth of the pothole meant the liquid material could have leaked onto the express lanes below, so a new plan was developed. First some plywood was drilled into place under the pavement by lifting a worker up in a truck from the express lanes to the underside of mainline I-5. Then the crew used a thicker but slower-drying material to fill the hole.

Pretty soon, an expected 5 a.m. reopening had extended into the morning commute, with lanes finally reopening just after 7 a.m., but not before an eight mile backup had formed. We used overhead messaging signs, social media and worked with the media to get information out to commuters to consider alternate routes and expect delays. As you know, any time lanes are closed on a major highway – especially during peak travel times – it creates tough traffic conditions.

WSDOT maintenance was able to complete the complicated repair just after 7 a.m. Thursday.

We have an aging infrastructure that our maintenance staff works tirelessly to maintain. But like anything that ages, it can break down. We see it sometimes with expansion joints, pavement and signs. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to determine the extent of damage until we dig in. We do the best we can to set expectations on how long work can take, but sometimes those expectations have to be adjusted as more information is gathered.

It’s always an inconvenience for drivers to have lanes closed and we do our best to avoid having these situations continue into peak travel times. But emergencies do happen and during those times, we do our best to get them taken care of as quickly and safely as possible. And we always appreciate the public’s patience when these situations arise.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why does it take "so long" to reopen some roads?

By Barbara LaBoe

We know people's time is important and whenever rain, wind and flooding – or all three – close our roads we work hard to reopen them as soon as possible.

But, clearing a closure on state routes and interstates isn't as simple as just brushing aside debris and waving vehicles through. Safety is always our top priority and sometimes the steps needed to keep the public and our workers out of harm's way means roads are closed longer than any of us like.

We were lucky during last week's storms that there were no serious injuries to drivers, even during massive landslides and washouts on Interstate 5 and US 12. We can't take that luck for granted, though.

This photo of crews (far left) climbing up the slope near the I-5 landslide demonstrates the size of the boulders that fell on the roadway – and why we need to follow safety precautions to keep workers and motorists safe after a slide or closure.
(Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office)

Boulders the size of SUVs and even small houses rained down onto I-5 after the first initial slide on Dec. 9. Our precautions of keeping workers and drivers out of the area until the slope stabilizes meant no one was on the roadway when those boulders came down. The ongoing risk, though, meant we needed to be absolutely sure the slope was stable before we put crews or motorists back on the road. As for US 12, the roadway was literally washed away in three locations, making it unsafe for anyone to travel on the highway.

So, what goes into reopening any road after a closure?

We have maintenance crews that work around the clock to respond to problems as they occur. For smaller events, regional crews can sometimes do initial safety inspections, but large landslides or washouts require our geotechnical experts from headquarters to review the slope and analyze the danger. This work requires daylight, both to gather the best information as well as to safeguard the workers.

While we're waiting on geotechnical surveys, other employees work through the night planning for detours and also assembling the materials and crews that will be needed to begin clearing the materials that have blocked the road. Both are major undertakings. A detour from the northbound lanes onto one lane of southbound I-5 was planned near Woodland, for example, and would have been nearly five miles long and required hundreds of safety cones and barrels. Such work also requires some serious traffic control to keep workers and motorists safe.

We provide detours whenever we can and when U.S. 2 closed near Leavenworth last week we directed vehicles to use the Chumstick Highway during the 18 hour closure.

But, sometimes there just isn't a good, safe alternate route. That was the case in both the recent I-5 and US 12 closures, either because there weren't nearby routes or they were also closed due to weather or other problems. Before we set up a detour we also must map the route and ensure the road can handle all the additional traffic – sometimes smaller roads can't take the extra load. If we want to use county or city roads, we also must coordinate with local jurisdictions, who often are already swamped with their own emergency weather response.

On I-5 last week, we were able to open first one and then a second lane of roadway the evening of Dec. 10, about 27 hours after the landslide. A third lane remains closed due to continued work to stabilize the area to ensure additional slides are mitigated. This was a way to balance the need to get at least part of the road back open while still keeping everyone safe. Unfortunately, at US 12 the damage is so extensive that we couldn't reopen any portion of the highway. Repairs have started, but the road remains closed indefinitely.

This picture of a washout on the west side of White Pass on US 12 shows the extensive
damage that has closed the highway indefinitely while repairs begin.

Going forward, we remain committed to keeping people and goods moving. But, in all things, we also must ensure everyone's safety. We know it's frustrating to find a roadblock or have to delay travel plans, but we ask for your patience as we work to ensure you not only get where you're going, but that you do so safely.

Friday, December 11, 2015

We hit $10 in the #405ETL. Your Questions Answered

By Ethan Bergerson

Thursday is typically the worst traffic day of the week, and yesterday was no exception. As you probably saw or heard, toll rates hit $10 in the southbound I-405 express toll lane yesterday morning.

Just before 7 a.m. yesterday morning, we saw I-405 express toll lane rates for trips from Lynnwood to Bellevue reach $10 and remain that high for just over an hour.  You’ve heard us say it before, and we’ll say it again—based on experience across the country, we anticipated a six month to a year ramp up and learning curve in the express toll lanes. The truth is, we’ve seen a ramp up of more people using the lanes faster than we anticipated this early in operations. And with that popularity, some new questions and challenges have arisen.

We’ve received a lot of questions today and wanted to try and address the most common.

Why did toll rates reach $10?
Starting around 6 a.m. traffic volumes started to increase in both the regular lanes and express toll lanes. Traffic was stop and go in the general purpose lanes which caused more drivers to enter the express toll lane to take advantage of a faster trip. As more drivers chose to use the express toll lanes, the toll rate continued to increase until the maximum $10 toll rates was reached.

When the maximum toll rate was reached, drivers continued to enter the express toll lane which led to speeds in the express toll lanes dropping below 45 mph for a short period of time in a small section, however, drivers still experienced a faster trip than those in the regular lanes.

Drivers saved an estimated 16-24 minutes for a trip from Lynnwood to Bellevue by choosing to pay the $10 toll to use the express toll lane. Toll rates are based on traffic congestion and as more drivers choose to enter the express toll lane, the toll rate increased to help provide reliable travel times.

Will drivers see higher toll rates more often?
During the morning and evening peak commute times when traffic congestion is heaviest, more and more drivers are taking advantage of a faster trip in the express toll lane. During the peak commutes, people are willing to pay a higher rate, causing toll rates to rise faster and remain higher for longer. Given the trend we’ve seen of more and more drivers choosing to pay a toll for a more reliable trip, we anticipate that higher toll rates will occur more often during peak periods in the future.

Express toll lanes sign displaying maximum $10.00 roll rate.

Didn’t you say the average toll rate would be between $1 - $4?
The average toll last week was still in this range, the peak toll has been reaching $8 for short periods during peak period commutes. Since opening, we've seen traffic volumes increase in the express toll lanes and as a result the average toll rate has increased during peak periods as more drivers are choosing to use the express toll lanes and pay a toll to have that more reliable trip than in in the regular lanes.

Express toll lanes provide a choice when driver’s time matters most for a more reliable trip – and we’ve seen that commuter’s value of time is higher than we originally anticipated.

  • The average toll rate paid during the AM peak period (5-9 a.m.) southbound I-405 has increased from $1.50 the first week to $3.75 last week.
  • The average toll rate paid during the PM peak period (3-7 p.m.) northbound I-405 has increased from $1.25 the first week to $3 last week.

Why are drivers in the single express toll lane seeing slow speeds at times during peak periods?
We’re seeing that drivers clearly put a high value on their time and are continuing to choose to buy a faster trip even as the rates increase.

In most cases, the higher toll rates are a result of heavy use of the I-405 express toll lane north of SR 522. Since there is only a single express toll lane at this location, there is less capacity to offer and therefore a higher toll rate is needed to manage demand.

While we are tuning the algorithm to help keep traffic moving, it’s important to realize that with the limited capacity in the single lane section there will be times when the demand is too high and speeds will drop below 45 mph for short periods. Our goal with any adjustment is to improve reliability and driver’s trip in the express toll lane.

Is WSDOT planning to raise the maximum toll rate above $10?
This is not WSDOT’s decision to make, and we have not asked for the maximum toll rate to be raised. The Washington State Transportation Commission is responsible for setting toll rates has set the range from 75 cents to $10 on I-405. WSDOT will regularly report to the Commission on the overall performance of the express toll lanes and when the maximum $10 toll rate is reached.

Did I just get charged $10 for every toll sign that I passed?
The answer to this one is no. This question just keeps on coming back – you always pay the price you see when you enter and you will only be charged one rate per trip. The signs may show different rates for different destinations, but you never need to add these rates together. If the rates go up while you are driving, you’ll still pay the original rate you saw when you got in. The rates are for any point up to and including the listed destination – in other words once you pass one of the listed destinations you pay the rate for next destination on the sign you saw when you entered.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Heavy rain, high winds and snow on their way

By Barbara LaBoe
Final update: Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 8:30 a.m.

Note: This blog is no longer being updated. Please check WSDOT's travel alerts website, Facebook page or Twitter accounts for current road conditions.

A series of significant wind and rain storms are predicted to strike western Washington this week, lasting through Friday and prompting flooding and high wind warnings in numerous locations. Major snowfall also is expected in the mountains and passes toward the end for the week and weekend.

If you must travel, be sure you and your vehicle are prepared and stay updated on conditions by tuning in to media broadcasts and checking our travel alerts page. If you encounter flooding, please remember these safety tips.

Here are the active closures that remain as of 11:30 a.m. Dec. 11. Updates to active closures will continue throughout the weekend and will be labeled "UPDATE" with a time and date. When a road reopens or situation is cleared, that will be indicated with "REOPENED," or "CLEARED."

Clark and Cowlitz Counties
  • I-5 Woodland - UPDATE 12:15 p.m. Dec. 12: Two lanes of northbound Interstate 5 north of Woodland will remain open with a single lane closed indefinitely. As debris clearing progressed from a recent landslide, geotechnical engineers from the Washington State Department of Transportation continued to monitor the stability of the slope and determined further analysis is needed before all lanes reopen to traffic. There is no risk of additional debris falling into the open lanes of travel because concrete barriers separate two lanes of I-5 from the work zone adjacent to the nearby hillside. WSDOT will install monitoring devices this weekend to track potential for further movement of the slope.
Cowlitz County
  • I-5 Kalama: CLEARED 12:30 p.m. Dec. 11: The northbound I-5 off-ramp to Kalama (exit 30) is closed due to flooding. Drivers should plan an alternate route.
King County
  • SR 18 Auburn - UPDATE 12:45 p.m. Dec. 11: The right lane of eastbound SR 18 near the Green River Bridge is closed due to a recent slide in the area. Engineers will monitor the slide this weekend to determine a plan for repair.
  • I-90 North Bend – REOPENED 9:12 a.m. Dec. 14: Eastbound I-90 has reopened at milepost 34 in North Bend following a closure due to heavy snow and a debris slide involving trees and large boulders across Snoqualmie Pass.
Lewis County
  • SR 131 SB - CLEARED 6:00 p.m. Dec. 13: Water over Roadway on SR 131 southbound at milepost 0.5 near Siler Creek to Hampton Rd has the road closed. There is also standing water at milepost 1.7 near the Cowlitz River. Use caution and alternate routes if known.
Lewis and Yakima Counties
  • US 12 in Lewis and Yakima Counties: REOPENED 8:30 a.m. Dec. 23: White Pass reopened at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 22, with one-lane traffic in two spots where temporary repairs were made to allow the road to reopen. Permanent repairs will be made this summer. Check the US 12 repairs page for updates.

    Details: Both directions of US 12 are closed between the junction of SR 123 (mp 138) and the upper intersection of Tieton Reservoir Road. There is a rockslide at milepost 165.5 below the Rimrock tunnel. US 12 is closed at Wildcat Creek Road (mp 165) until the slope can be assessed and clean up can be made. Tieton Reservoir Road can be accessed via US 12. Yakima County has informed WSDOT that the Tieton Reservoir Road is under normal wintertime operating conditions.
Yakima County
  •  SR 410 near Whistlin Jacks : CLEARED: SR 410 has water and rocks over the roadway at milepost 97 near Whistlin Jacks. Maintenance is moving equipment to clear the road. The closure point on SR 410 has been moved back to Bumping River road.

Storm Photos
US 12 washout at MP 143 where the Roadway continues to erode
Slide debris on I-5 Northbound near Woodland
I-5 Northbound near Woodland

Check this blog often, as we'll be updating it regularly with closure information.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

We’re ringing in the new year with a new SR 520 off-ramp

By Steve Peer

Contractor crews remove concrete barrier and sidewalk from the 24th Avenue East bridge over
SR 520 in Seattle during a weekend closure of the highway in late November.

With 2015 soon to be history, our contractor crews are working against the clock to open a new State Route 520 westbound off-ramp in Seattle's Montlake neighborhood not long after Father Time flips the calendar. Their aim is to open the new ramp to East Lake Washington Boulevard as close to New Year's Day as possible.

This time-sensitive construction effort is part of a much larger mission – building a new, safer, fixed west approach bridge connecting Seattle's Montlake area with the new SR 520 floating bridge under construction on Lake Washington.

But wait, isn't westbound I-90 going to be closed this weekend also?
Like all big construction projects, building the west approach bridge involves a series of "mini-projects," all planned out and sequenced to occur in succession. The new off-ramp is one of those smaller but critical SR 520 projects.

To complete the ramp, contractor crews first must remove a sidewalk along the edge of the existing 24th Avenue East bridge that crosses over SR 520 between Montlake and the University District. In addition, they must build new piers and extend the overpass northward. As segments of the old ramp disappear next to SR 520 early next year, crews will begin installing more in-water casings and building more support columns for the new west approach bridge. All this work must occur before a seasonal "fish window" closes in April that prohibits major in-water construction on Lake Washington.

The 24th Avenue overpass will carry traffic from the new westbound off-ramp to Lake Washington Boulevard.

Crews began breaking up concrete and removing necessary portions of the overpass during a weekend closure of SR 520 in late November. They plan to finish the needed demolition work during directional closures of SR 520 on the next two Sundays, Dec. 6 and 13. These highway closures are needed to ensure the safety of traffic that would otherwise pass directly underneath the work above.
  • All lanes and ramps of eastbound SR 520 will be closed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 6, between Montlake Boulevard and 92nd Avenue Northeast.
  • On Sunday, Dec. 13, all lanes and ramps of westbound SR 520 will close, if needed, during those same hours from Montlake Boulevard to 92nd Avenue Northeast.
The two weekend lane closures on SR 520 coincide with lane closures on I-90 – but in opposite directions.
  • During this coming weekend when eastbound SR 520 closes on Sunday, westbound I-90 will be reduced to one lane near Bellevue Way Southeast, with traffic rerouted to the express lanes from 11 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, to 5 a.m. Monday, Dec. 7.
  • The following weekend, with westbound 520 closed on Sunday, eastbound I-90 will be reduced to one lane near Rainier Avenue South, with traffic rerouted to the express lanes from 11 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, to 5 a.m. Monday, Dec. 14.
The I-90 closures will allow our crews to continue construction of new cross-lake transit and HOV lanes.

So what's next?
Once the new off-ramp opens to traffic, crews will immediately move on to other mission-critical tasks. A key step is removal of the existing westbound SR 520 off-ramp to Lake Washington Boulevard, not far east of the 24th Avenue overpass. This 52-year-old off-ramp, which passes through Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum, must be taken down to make room for the new West Approach Bridge North.  The ramp's removal also will create a more natural, unobstructed environment in the Arboretum.

These and many other individual construction projects, step by calculated step, will lead to the 2017 opening of the new West Approach Bridge North. But in case you haven't heard – cars will be crossing Lake Washington next spring on the new SR 520 floating bridge!

SR 167 and the ancient art of masonry

By Caitlin Morris

Crews work to complete concrete masonry noise wall on SR 167.

When you think about highway noise walls—which I’m sure you do on a daily basis—the word romantic probably isn’t the first adjective that comes to mind. But that’s exactly how our own Paul Kinderman, State Bridge and Structures Architect, describes the technique used to create the 1.3-mile noise wall along the eastside of SR 167 in Algona.

But what is a noise wall?
Just in case noise walls aren’t on the top of your thought list or you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll explain. Noise walls are barriers constructed between neighborhoods and highways or other noisy thoroughfares. Noise walls are considered when ambient noise exceeds 66 dBA—roughly the sound of a train from 50 feet away—all noises no one wants in their backyard or home. Then, we look at whether it’s feasible to construct a noise wall, essentially, will it work. If it does, then we decide whether a noise wall is reasonable to construct and if the cost of building a wall matches the number of homes and residents affected. This is federal criteria that WSDOT applies when determining if a wall should be built.

A vinyl noise wall.
In the Puget Sound region, noise walls are typically the large concrete walls you see lining I-5, I-405 and other major highways. But, as Kinderman explained, noise walls can be built from a number of different materials such as clear acrylic plastic (I-5 in Mountlake Terrace), earth mounds with small fences (I-5 in Bellingham), wooden walls (I-5 near Boeing and Olympia). He’s even looking into vegetated sound structures that combine concrete blocks and plants to block noise, reduce vehicle pollutants and give highways more color.
Cranes setting a pre-cast noise wall at night.

Show me the romance
Unfortunately, the materials above are exceptions. Typically, noise walls are made out of pre-cast concrete built in 12-foot sections. The sections are built off-site, then shipped and placed together to form a noise wall. Essentially it’s the same process a child uses to pour Jell-O into a mold. When the concrete is poured, textured designs can be added to the walls to make them more pleasing to the eye.
However, this technique posed problems for our engineers and contractors. The 1.3-mile section along SR 167 in Algona is narrow and hauling large panels of concrete would require closing lanes to make way for large cranes and equipment. The installation would also cause invasive nighttime noise and light from the work zone.

To find a solution, Kinderman’s team, our project engineers and contractors looked to an ancient building technique of the past: concrete masonry. This one-brick-at-a-time method was described by Kinderman as antique and medieval. He referenced that it’s how the pyramids and great cathedrals were built. Rather than pre-cast walls, contractor crews are stacking single concrete blocks to create the wall. The masterwork of creating the blocks requires expert craftsmanship and is a niche industry within construction. Kinderman explained that the world of the masons is a little more romantic.

While the concrete masonry technique is more romantic, it’s also popular in industrial construction—but an outlier in noise wall manufacturing, especially in the Puget Sound region. What may seem like a simple material swap to an outsider is an example of collaboration and thinking outside of the box—or in this case, outside the concrete panel. Concrete masonry allows crews to work with smaller equipment and stack the blocks like Legos—no large cranes needed—decreasing the project’s cost and carbon footprint. The construction zone is smaller, and the work is more cost-effective with less traffic impacts. Additionally, neighbors can watch contractor crews build the wall, stone by stone.
The new noise wall’s capped top.

Connoisseurs of gray
The stone’s color is limited to Washington Gray, not for its pun-y name, but for its ability to be matched with paint if the wall were vandalized. The team took the gray color as an opportunity to add other aesthetic touches to the wall’s texture. Its varied surface wards off graffiti and vandalism, and the capped tops serve as a nice detail like a button down collar on a shirt.

Building a wall out of concrete masonry is providing opportunities to hone in and refine techniques that will make building a similar wall in the future much more expedient and efficient.

Visit the SR 167- 8th to 227th Southbound HOT Lane page to learn more about the project and the noise wall.