Monday, June 20, 2016

Let us help you navigate your way around construction east of I-90 this summer

By Meagan Lott

Summer in the Pacific Northwest is always pretty spectacular with fantastic places to explore and an abundance of special events. But it also creates a challenging dilemma for us.

We know people love to take to our highways this time of year, with plenty traveling across I-90 on road trips. At the same time, so much of our road work has to be done during those few months when we can be pretty sure we're going to get dry weather. Accommodating both of those is a very difficult task.

Travel across I-90 from the summit of Snoqualmie Pass to Vantage is going to be particularly tricky this summer, due to a number of projects that will ultimately improve travel for everyone. In the meantime, we want to help you prepare with tips on planning and timing to help avoid significant congestion.

Heavy construction activity across I-90 this summer will lead to delays, so be sure to plan ahead to avoid as much congestion as possible.

Why is there so much construction this summer?
I-90 is the main east-west transportation corridor in our state with more than 27,000 vehicles traveling over it every day, and that number doubles on holidays and summer weekends. With that much traffic, the road is in rough shape and there are a number of areas that need to be repaired. Much of that work requires dry pavement and work conditions to get done.

What's with the backups and congestion?
In order to repave, build and replace lanes we have to build detours to divert traffic around the work zones. These detours are built before the actual project starts and stay in place until the project is finished. Unfortunately, there are going to be areas where traffic backs up because we are taking traffic from two lanes to a single lane or making lanes and shoulders smaller. We try to keep two lanes of traffic open in the busiest direction over the weekend. For example, eastbound is busiest on Fridays so we try to keep two lanes open, but may only have one open westbound, and then reverse it on Sundays.

Slow spots and tips
The heaviest congestion we're seeing is westbound near Cle Elum from mileposts 84 to 93, where we're repaving the lanes and have to divert traffic around the area via a single-lane detour. You can avoid these backups by using an alternate route via US 97 to SR 10.

Another tough spot is the Vantage Bridge, which is down to a single eastbound lane until the end of summer due to a bridge painting job (painting a bridge extends its life by preventing rust). Plan on lots of extra time to get through this area.

Other spots of construction and delays include:
  • The Summit of Snoqualmie Pass east near Keechelus Lake (mileposts 54-62)
  • Easton area (mileposts 67-70)
  • Ellensburg area (mileposts 106-122)

Oh, and don't forget that there is also rock blasting that will close Snoqualmie Pass during some weeknights, usually for about an hour, throughout the summer. This is part of our major project to improve travel and safety across I-90.

Many work zones have reduced highways to one lane or lead to detours. Be sure to avoid all signs and be safe in work zones.

Is anyone working around here?
It can be frustrating to crawl through a work zone and not see anyone working. We get it. In most cases, while work schedules may vary, it is often unrealistic to remove work zones for short periods of time and then reestablish them. For example, with the Vantage Bridge, painting doesn't happen on weekends but the work zone must stay in place. The barrier separating the eastbound lanes and associated re-striping work takes several days to remove/install, which could add more time and cost to the project. Additionally, the contractor needs to be able to access the work area 24/7 because if there was a high-wind situation, the containment system needs to be removed immediately so the bridge doesn't get overloaded and damaged. That can only be done safely if the work zone barriers are always in place.

Major events
There are a few major events coming up that will draw heavier-than-normal traffic across I-90. Be sure to plan ahead for them:
  • Paradiso Festival at the Gorge (June 24-25)
  • Spokane Hoopfest (June 25-26)
  • Fourth of July weekend (July 1-4)
  • Watershed Festival at the Gorge (July 28-31 and Aug. 4-7)
  • Labor Day weekend/Dave Mathews Band at the Gorge (Sept. 1-5)

What can you do to help?

Planning ahead is one of the best things a traveler can do to help avoid congestion. If you know what is out there, you can better time your trips – when possible – to avoid backups or heavy congestion. Going early or later helps, and if alternate routes are available, they can be good ideas. Also, congestion is exacerbated by collisions. We've seen regular I-90 backups become huge just because of a crash. So please, pay attention on the road, focus, work together and be patient. And when you're near work zones, please be sure to slow down (most have reduced speed limits), give them room to work and be extra alert around them.


Tom Barr said...

Wow! So ignore the customer to save some expense. If work on the bridge isn't 7x24 then the closure should not be 7x24.

Figure out a better barrier solution!! Figure out a way to install and move them efficiently. Get creative instead of putting drivers in traffic messes.

WSDOT said...

Unfortunately, our crews are working in a very confined area. Not only do crews need room to work, but we also have to allow room for drivers. We understand the inconvenience and we look into every conceivable option before we start work. The biggest reason to keep the traffic control in place is in the event the contractor needs to access the work area during a high-wind event to remove the containment system to prevent damaging the bridge. High-wind events through the Gorge area can happen quickly and unexpectedly. By getting the word out to drivers about the single lane closures, we are hoping drivers can allow for extra travel time or find an alternate route around the single lane closure.

Ann said...

Truck traffic on Hwy 10 is becoming dangerous--I see far too many drifting out of their lanes, esp. on curves.

Jared Vallejo said...

What is your solution Tom? It's easy to complain but much harder to fix a problem of this size. Besides an extra hour or so in the car gives us all time to listen to our favorite show tunes.

Always running mama said...

I have an important trip later this summer. Is there a place to find out how long the projects will be going on? Or the projected congestion at certain times? So I can check the night before. Thanks

Judy said...

I like the way you think Jared Vallejo!

CC said...

Yes Jared, good point! Since it's my tax dollars at work and we have so many roads that need repair, I appreciate DOT not spending a bunch of extra money repeatedly removing and setting up barricades. Thank-you DOT for giving the public plenty of advance notice.

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