Thursday, June 9, 2016

The challenge of planning weekend construction work

By Tom Pearce

There's one question we can always count on when we reduce lanes on a highway for construction:

"Why do you have to close lanes on the weekend? Don't you know there's a game/concert/major event?"

Whether it's #SnoCoSqueeze, I-90 or any other major project, it's inevitable that people traveling to events will let us know they are unhappy with our timing. I expect to hear it this summer when we reduce sections of southbound I-5 to two lanes in Tukwila, SeaTac and Des Moines for a major concrete rehabilitation project.

Between July and August we have five weekends of work on this project scheduled – July 8-11, 15-18, 22-25 and Aug. 12-15 and 19-22, weather permitting.

Some work can't be done in five- or six-hour overnight lane reductions; we need multiple-lane closures that last a couple of days. Take expansion joints. We literally have to create a hole in the bridge. Removing the old joint, setting a new one, pouring concrete and letting it cure can't be done in a few hours.

Another example is our concrete rehabilitation project on southbound I-5 south of Seattle. I-5 is more than 50 years old. The original designers figured it would last about 25 years. It's time for a major rehab, and we're already doing that in the SeaTac/Des Moines area with nighttime lane closures. For other parts, we need weekends.

Expansion joint replacement work like this one on I-5 near Marysville often requires full weekend lane reductions.

As we plan a project we determine if weekend lane reductions are necessary, and if so, how many. We start evaluating that one to three years in advance of the actual work. If we allow weekends, it will have restrictions. In this case no work is allowed on Independence Day and on the Seafair Torchlight Parade and Seafair boat race weekends.

We also work with the Mariners, Sounders and Seahawks, and we look for major events throughout the region. With so many teams, festivals and concerts, there's usually at least one event every weekend during the summer. This year the one summer weekend with no game, CenturyLink Field is hosting a big concert, so that's a major traffic impact. 

We ask questions - which direction is the lane reduction? How will it affect traffic getting to an event? What are the alternatives? What can we do to limit the impact on drivers?

We also factor in other projects – we don't want two projects near each other both working on the same weekend and making traffic worse. Weather is also a consideration.  As we plan the project, we know that we usually need good weather for the weekend work. That means it needs to happen during the summer months when the odds of good weather are in our favor.

We put a lot of thought into weekend lane reductions. From a production standpoint, they're great. We can get a lot of work done in a relatively short amount of time. But we limit them because when we weigh the benefit against the impact to the public, often it's not worth the inconvenience for drivers. So when you encounter weekend lane reductions, you can be sure they've been very carefully evaluated, the pros and cons considered and they're  important to successfully completing a project.