Friday, June 10, 2016

A groan heard around the Sound

By Andrea E. Flatley

If there's one thing I hate Tweeting during the morning commute, it's, "We have to do emergency expansion joint repair." It's usually followed by a collective groan from Puget Sound commuters.
Unfortunately, I had to type it Friday morning for a situation on northbound I-5 just past the Seneca Street exit in Seattle.

Crews work to repair an expansion joint on I-5 in Seattle.
Crews work to repair an expansion joint on I-5 in Seattle.
Here's what happened
At 6:30 a.m., the Washington State Patrol received a call from a traveler who saw part of an expansion joint rising above the bridge deck when other vehicles drove over it. WSP and our Incident Response Team immediately drove to the scene and used their vehicles and cones to keep drivers safe and off the damaged joint.

This traffic control meant that the right lane of northbound I-5 where the interstate is two lanes — just past the Seneca Street exit where the Cherry Street onramp merges — was down to one lane during the heart of the Friday commute.
We are just about finished replacing 41 expansion joints in the Everett/Marysville area in Snohomish County.
We are just about finished replacing 41 expansion joints
in the Everett/Marysville area in Snohomish County.

What steps WSDOT took and what's next?
WSP and IRT determined that the joint needed immediate repairs and reached out to our bridge technicians. The bridge crew fought through rush hour traffic to the scene and when they arrived they assessed the situation and determined that there was a safe temporary repair available. Crews cut out the damaged metal from the joint and then used a cold filler (one that doesn't need time to cure like concrete does) to make sure the joint area was level with the rest of the driving surface.

We'll replace 12 expansion joints near the Duwamish River Bridge
and Interurban Avenue as part of a major road rehab project.
Every expansion joint repair job is different. Sometimes they're an easy fix, other times they're a bit more complicated and take more time — like this one.

Bridge crews will go back in and complete a permanent repair of this joint during the overnight hours when traffic volumes are much lower.

Why don't you just replace these aging expansion joints?

We plan to. As anyone who's driven through Snohomish County in the past few months knows, we are wrapping up a project there which replaced 41 aging joints over the Union, Steamboat and Ebey Slough bridges between Everett and Marysville.

Future plans call for replacing 33 expansion joints on
one of the busiest stretches of northbound I-5 in Seattle.
In a month, contractor crews will begin weekend closures to replace aging expansion joints on southbound I-5 between the Duwamish River Bridge and South 320th Street in Federal Way. There will be one weekend closure in August to replace four expansion joints preceded by three others for crack and overlay work.

We also have a plan in place to replace expansion joints, including the one that we repaired today, on
northbound I-5 from Martin Luther King Jr. Way to Ravenna Boulevard. It's a project that will require more than a dozen weekend closures through the heart of one of the biggest cities in the country. Expect construction on this project to start within the next three years. Why so long?

Weekend-long lane closures in Seattle are highly disruptive. Before construction can start, we must first carefully coordinate this work with other regional projects and special events.

It's a team effort

Our bridge teams inspect expansion joints regularly in hopes of avoiding emergency repairs, like the one that happened Friday, but sometimes with the regular wear and tear and pounding of traffic on this busy stretch of aging interstate — the joint decides it has had enough.

We appreciate the observant traveler who noticed something out of the ordinary with this joint and took the time to call it in. If you see something on our highways that doesn't look right, please say something to us or call 911. We know that Friday was a pretty awful commute for many people and we appreciate your patience as we worked to safely fix this area as quickly as possible.