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.


The Geezer said...

Thanks Mike, for your lucid comments, and explaination, without whining!

oldredhorse said...

Maybe if DOT hired guys that actually work instead of waiting for hours for free pizza from Lakeside they would be able to repair more of the infrastructure!

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