Friday, December 30, 2016

Crews search for missing plane in north Hood Canal

Missing plane update

11:30 a.m., Dec. 30, 2016

Searchers have located a small fixed wing aircraft that disappeared from air traffic controller contact last night on the Debub Peninsula of Jefferson County.

Using radar forensics data and the plane's emergency locator transmitter, search crews were able to find the aircraft in a heavily wooded ravine this morning.

Four occupants have been located in the wreckage but there were no survivors. The names will not be released until they have been positively identified and their families have been notified. Release of names will come from law enforcement and coroner's office officials. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office is now the lead agency and can be reached at 360-344-9747. As of midmorning, search crews are still working through the difficult scene to recover the victims.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board investigators will arrive on scene Saturday morning to examine the aircraft.

Participants in the mission are from Jefferson County Search & Rescue, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, WSDOT, Civil Air Patrol, US Navy, Washington Emergency Management Division, Quilcene Fire District 2, Port Ludlow Fire District 3.

The plane, a single-engine Cessna, departed Seattle's Boeing Field just after 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 29, bound for Port Angeles. Air traffic control lost contact with the plane at 6:44 p.m. in the general area of Dabob Bay. Emergency locator signals were used to define the search area.

Previous release:

WSDOT is coordinating a search for a private plane reported missing near the Dabob Bay area of northern Hood Canal Thursday night.

The plane left Seattle's Boeing Field headed for Port Angeles just after 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29, and lost contact with air traffic control about 6:44 p.m. near the Dabob Bay area, east of Quilcene. The Federal Aviation Administration then contacted WSDOT, which is charged with all aerial search and rescue within the state.

A ground search is underway by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and a U.S. Navy helicopter also joined the search Thursday night before poor visibility called off the air search. A fixed-wing Civil Air Patrol plane will join the search at daybreak. The WSDOT Air Support Team also is working to track the airplane's emergency locator signal.

Further details about the plane, the pilot or any occupants are not being released at this time. Updates on the search will be posted here as they become available.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What we got done in 2016

By Barbara LaBoe

As 2016 comes to an end, it's a perfect time to look back at what we accomplished during the busy summer and fall construction seasons. We know it's never easy when we close lanes to get work done, and we couldn't do it without your patience and understanding so a sincere thanks for your cooperation. Those few months with predictable dry weather is often the only times we can do some of this work but the payoff is improvements to our highway system for everyone.

Along the way we resurfaced pavement, replaced expansion joints, installed roundabouts and even improved travel for fish by replacing culverts. So what specifically did we get done? Here's a highlight list of the work taxpayers invested in:

Interstate 5 corridor
  • In the "#SnoCoSqueeze," we replaced 41 aging expansion joints on the Interstate 5 bridges between Everett and Marysville. With an expected lifespan of up to 25 years, the new expansion joints improve the safety of these bridges for motorists.
  • The first phase of the "#SouthKingSlowdown" work to rehabilitate more than 13 miles of southbound I-5 between Tukwila and Federal Way was completed during five weekends of lane reductions. Crews repaved nearly three miles of the roadway, replaced hundreds of concrete panels and replaced expansion joints. The work continues into 2017.
  • In Tacoma, we made good progress on the two HOV projects, including opening the new Pacific Avenue overpass spanning I-5 and beginning demolition of the McKinley Way overpass.
  • Crews also continued our environmental cleanup work by removing a concrete-lined vault of petroleum-contaminated soil as part of our HOV project work. The vault was from the original Interstate 705 construction and its removal continued work that began in 2013 when two other vaults were removed.
  • Less than two weeks after the Chamber Way overpass in Chehalis was severely damaged by an oversized load and closed to traffic, we reopened the road using a temporary bridge. Work on the permanent replacement begins next year.
  • Along the southwest Washington part of the corridor, improvements included:
    • A new I-205 interchange at NE 18th Street in Vancouver
    • A wider, safer SR 502 between I-5 and Battle Ground
    • I-5 safety and congestion-relief work in Centralia
    • High friction surface treatment added along the I-205/SR 14 interchange in Vancouver to improve traction in the rain
In less than two weeks we reopened the I-5 Chamber Way overpass in Chehalis using a
temporary bridge as the overpass was severely damaged by an oversized load.
Interstate 90 corridor
  • As part of the project to improve a 15-mile section of Interstate 90 from Hyak to Easton over Snoqualmie Pass, crews finished one of two new avalanche bridges in early August. This elevated bridge should reduce the number of times the road is closed for avalanche prevention work.
  • Crews also completed the first arch of the wildlife overcrossing across I-90.  
  • Painting of the Vantage Bridge – which protects and preserves the 52-year-old structure – also was completed this summer and fall. The bridge carries an average of 14,000 vehicles a day and is a vital part of the I-90 corridor.
  • We replaced deteriorating concrete and asphalt along three miles of westbound I-90 lanes near Cle Elum.
  • The new I-90 westbound Freya Street off-ramp in Spokane also opened to traffic, helping to solve congestion and air quality problems from idling vehicles. The new off-ramp creates a more efficient intersection.
The first of two new avalanche bridges on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass opened in August,
reducing the need to close the highway for avalanche prevention work.
  • We're continuing work to replace some of the oldest vessels in the fleet. The third Olympic Class vessel, Chimacum, was christened in September and is nearing completion. The keel laying for the fourth vessel, the Suquamish, took place in May and is now about 30 percent complete.
  • Decades old terminals got some much needed updates and improvements. At Coupeville, seismic upgrades were made on the structures that raise and lower the moveable bridge between the ferry and the dock. The terminal dock at Vashon also received upgrades to better withstand earthquakes, and safety improvements were made for passengers who arrive by bus, as well as for those with disabilities.
  • Progress is being made on multimodal projects that will result in more seamless connections between transit, ferry and other modes of transportation. At Mukilteo, the first stage of prep work for the terminal replacement at a former tank farm site was completed. And final design and pre-construction work for the Seattle Multimodal Terminal at Colman Dock means we'll be ready to start construction in spring 2017.
We celebrated the christening of the Chimacum, our third Olympic Class ferry, in September.
Pavement preservation work
  • Crews also repaved more than 50 total miles of several highways from South King County all the way north to Blaine. Drivers will benefit from a smoother driving surface, fewer potholes and cracks and fresh reflective striping.
  • Crews completed paving projects on I-5 through Tacoma as well as on both the SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridges.
  • Crews paved a total of 39 miles of road on several highways in Lewis, Clark and Klickitat counties and chip sealed 63.5 total miles of roadway in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties.
  • More than 20 miles of roadway on four highways near the Tri-Cities were repaved.
  • We rehabilitated bridge decks on seven of the 11 bridges on State Route 153 between Pateros and Twisp in Okanogan County, removing and replacing the asphalt overlay, waterproof membrane and expansion joints.
  • Crews used chip seal to resurface 43 miles of highway in Chelan, Douglas and Grant counties.
  • Crews installed centerline and shoulder rumble strips, sealed pavement and replaced plastic pavement markings on six highways in the north central part of the state, including US 2 and State Route 20.
Crews worked hard to get the new Pacific Avenue overpass in Tacoma opened this summer.
Fish passage improvements
  • Crews replaced one culvert on SR 532 near Stanwood that blocked fish passage and work is underway on two more projects to eliminate fish barriers.
  • We removed 11 culverts or other fish barriers across state highways in Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap and Clallam counties, providing miles of new fish habitat and easier access for underwater creatures. Some projects required total highway closures to allow crews access to the work site.
  • In Whatcom County, we also finished up work on a fish passage improvement project on High Creek at State Route 542.
A new, and much-larger, fish culvert opened on SR 532 near Stanwood, greatly improving the habitat in the area.
Other notable projects
  • Several sections of US 12 on White Pass damaged in December were repaired between mileposts 141 and 165. Repairs included a retaining wall, drainage restoration, traffic barriers and repaving.
  • The Pilchuck River is no longer threatening to take out SR 92 west of Granite Falls. The riverbank has been crumbling away for many years. It's taken out a house and several outbuildings. Crews stabilized the riverbank by rebuilding it and reinforcing it with 30 foot logs chained to huge boulders embedded in the river bed and new plantings.
  • A roundabout was installed at the SR 224/225 intersections in Benton City, with crews also adding a park and ride lot and improved lighting and sidewalks. This is the first of two phases of the Red Mountain Interchange Improvements.
  • In the Spokane area, we constructed a new roundabout at the intersection of Wellesley Avenue and Freya Street in northeast Spokane. The roundabout replaces stop signs at this busy intersection and widens both streets, providing more efficient travel through the area, especially for large trucks traveling to and from nearby industrial and distribution businesses.
We rebuilt and stabilized the riverbank of the Pilchuck River, which was threatening to take out SR 92 near Granite Falls.
Our major work is done for this year but crews are already planning for another round of construction and preservation projects in the summer and fall of 2017. We'll spend the next few months prepping for that work to be ready during the dry construction-friendly weather window.

We look forward to making even more improvements for the traveling public and, as always, thank drivers for their patience and understanding during the process.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Ferry service between Tacoma and Vashon Island suspended until Dec. 31

Update Dec. 29, 3:00 p.m. : The repairs are taking longer than expected and we hope to have it reopened by the 31st. 

Just a few minutes before the ferry was set to leave Point Defiance dock Christmas Eve the captain of the M/V Chetzemoka suffered a major medical emergency and collapsed onto the control panel.

The accident caused the ferry to pull away from the terminal while it was still attached to the articulated ramp at the end of the dock. As a result, the ramp, also known as the dock apron, was damaged and service was immediately suspended on the route connecting Point Defiance (near Tacoma, WA) with Tahlequah on Vashon Island.

Point Defiance dock prior to the damage that occurred on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016.

The vessel crew quickly regained control of the ferry and rendered critical first aid to the captain until an ambulance arrived. The captain is OK and expected to recover.

Our crews worked until late Christmas Eve to assess the damage and ensure the safety of the dock.

They found significant damage to the dock apron (hanging vertically in the water).

We were hoping repairs would be complete by now, but workers were unable to get some of the required parts and equipment delivered over the holiday.

We estimate the dock will remain out of service until December 30 December 31, while crews complete repairs.

A floating crane arrived on scene today allowing crews to remove the apron and complete repairs to damaged dock components. This work requires close coordination between WSF’s terminal engineering staff, Eagle Harbor welding specialists, and outside contractors to provide the crane lift and inspect our weld work for safety.

We continue to provide updates to customers to ensure they are aware of this continuing service outage, and are working as quickly as possible to restore the dock to safe operating condition.

Thank you for your patience during this service disruption.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It’s the time of year we like to call “Will it or won’t it?”

By Mike Allende

Will we see snow, or won't we? Forecasting weather is tough, but preparing for a storm or hazardous traveling conditions isn't. Whether flakes fall or not, it's often cold enough during winter months for ice to form and create slick roads.

While our crews treat roads 24/7 during colder months, that doesn't mean there won't be areas where ice has formed and travel is tough. Deicer salt also doesn't work when temperatures are under 20 degrees. So we count on drivers to do their part.

Ice can be expected on all roads this time of year, so drivers should slow down in hazardous conditions.
What does that mean?
  • Slow down and drive for conditions.
  • Increase your stopping and following distances. If you're pulling into traffic, be sure there's enough room to get up to speed and to allow others to slow down while you merge.
  • Pay attention to and abide by traction requirements.
  • Be sure your vehicle is prepared (pdf 1 mb) for winter travel.
  • Be extra cautious on ramps, bridges and overpasses, which tend to freeze first.
  • Give snowplows and other large vehicles extra room.
  • Drive to your abilities. If you don't feel safe driving during hazardous weather, make the right decision for you.
  • Know before you go. Check forecasts and road conditions before heading out.
When snow/ice is on the ground, give snowplows and other large vehicles plenty of room.
In the event of a major storm affecting state highways, we have a number of resources available to keep people informed of conditions and road closures.

We use Twitter as our primary tool to communicate in real time with travelers and have a number of relevant accounts worth paying attention to:
  • @wsdot: Will provide statewide updates and information.
  • @wsdot_traffic: Updates for King and Snohomish counties.
  • @wsdot_north: Updates for Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.
  • @wsdot_tacoma: Updates for Pierce, Thurston, Mason and Kitsap counties.
  • @wsdot_sw: Updates for Vancouver and southwest Washington
  • @snoqualmiepass: Updates for the I-90 corridor from Snoqualmie Pass to eastern Washington.
  • @wsdot_east: Updates for roads east of the Cascade Mountains.
  • @wsferries: Updates on ferry service.
  • @wsdot_passes: Updates on pass conditions and traction requirements.
The Washington State Patrol also has several Twitter accounts that are useful to learn about road conditions and get safe driving tips. The National Weather Service has accounts devoted to both Western and Eastern Washington and are good sources for staying up to date on forecasts.
Plan ahead by equipping your vehicle
with emergency supplies.

When using Twitter, be sure to check #wawx, #wasnow and #wintersafety to easily keep updated on conditions and updates on weather.

We don't typically use Facebook for specific road condition updates unless it's a very serious incident/closure. Instead, it will be a convenient place to find stories and videos that include information about forecasts, winter travel safety tips and what we are doing to prepare for extreme weather.

Our winter web page is an excellent resource to find a variety of tools to help you prepare. Among the highlights:
  • Videos to show you how to put on chains and drive for conditions.
  • An explanation of what traction advisories mean
  • Our mountain pass reports so you know what the roads look like and what traction requirements are in place.
  • Active travel alerts to plan for any road closures or other incidents that may be affecting your route.
We encourage everyone to download our free app for their mobile device. You can find traffic maps, mountain pass reports, ferries information and travel alerts, among other resources.

Information about traffic and weather on state highways is available by dialing 511. Messages are updated frequently, including mountain pass conditions and blocking incidents on highways.
Our various Twitter accounts are a primary way we relay real-time road information to the public.

While it may seem that more often than not, predictions of major snowfall don't pan out, it's always a good idea to be prepared and know where to turn for information before an emergency actually occurs. Because as soon as we let our guard down, that's when we'll find ourselves slipping and sliding all over the road. Protect yourself from those situations by getting ready now and knowing where to check if a big weather event does arrive.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Snowplows revving up as winter kicks into high gear

By Brett Cihon

If you're not a skier or don't head over the mountain passes often, it's probably been awhile since you've seen a snowplow.

But if predictions for this winter hold, you could soon spot the hulky vehicles on state roads.
Snowplows do everything from clearing the roads of snow
to putting down product such as sand and de-icer.

Plows have already been hard at work over our passes and they're ready to go should the snow that we started to see fall on Monday, Dec. 5 warrant it.

This time of year we inevitably get dozens of questions about snowplows. How do drivers train? Why do they plow when there's no snow on the roadway? What's the best way to pass them?

I checked in with our veteran Enumclaw-based plow drivers to get some answers.

How do they operate that thing?
Learning how to drive a snowplow is a bit like learning how to drive a car. A really big car. New maintenance technicians sit in the passenger seat of a plow while an experienced driver is behind the wheel. The veteran drives a route and explains the operations from the cab, including how much salt, sand or other material to use. Then, the new technician trains in parking lots or on simple routes along mountain passes when snow starts falling in early winter. These are low-risk situations and take place in infrequently traveled areas.

When the first big snowfall hits and groups of plows go out, it's usually the newest driver in the front so more experienced drivers can watch from behind and radio advice.
How do they get ready for a big storm?
In advance of a big forecasted storm, shop superintendents put crews on 12-hours shifts. Forecasts and temperatures are monitored closely and anti-icer is applied to roadways as indicated by the forecast, location and conditions. As the snow starts falling, plows work 24-7 to distribute the state's 169,000-plus tons of salt, sand or a salt/sand mix and more than 1.5 million gallons of liquid de-icer to the roads.

How can I safely pass a plow?
Short answer: Don't pass one. Plows are on the roadway to improve driving conditions. Snowplow drivers across the state can recount tales of speedy, impatient drivers blowing past only to spin out seconds later. Being behind a plow is often the safest place to be.

Most plows work at speeds between 25-35 mph. This allows for the sand and salt to fall properly onto the roadway. This is plenty fast for drivers in snowy conditions. No waiting needed!

If passing is a must, wait until the plow driver allows it. Often times, drivers will slow down and pull a bit to the side when there's cars behind them and conditions allow for passing. 
Where are you when we need you?
During an expansive lowland snow event, maintenance shops kick into high gear. Rest assured crews are working 24-7 to get roads clear. Crews rank the roads based on three levels of priority, and plow Level One priority roads first. High traffic routes such as Interstate 5 between Olympia and Seattle are prioritized, with less-traveled roads plowed later. Be patient. If it's a state road, we're likely coming to plow it.

This road is bare, why are you plowing it?
This depends. If snow is forecast and temperatures are below 35 degrees, the plows are likely spreading anti-icer as a preventative measure. Also, sometimes the road appears bare but there is actually a thin layer of slush. Lowland plows equipped with rubber plow rails are able to finely scrape the road for any remaining snow that could cause drivers to lose traction.

How do I become a snowplow driver?
Outside of some seasonal drivers hired to help Snoqualmie and other major mountain passes stay clear, the majority of our drivers are maintenance technicians. They're jack of all trade types who hop into plows when the white stuff starts falling.

We recommend potential plow drivers have some experience with a CDL license and a decent knowledge of machinery. Most importantly, though, drivers need a calm demeanor. Driving snowplows is tense business. The weather, the control of heavy machinery  and other drivers on the snowy roadway all account for a lot of stress. Individuals that remain calm under pressure make the best drivers.

If you're interested in applying for a maintenance technician job, keep an eye on our job listings for openings.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Obey signs over passes for everyone's safety

By Mike Allende

This time of year, we keep a close eye on the weather. But keeping up with forecasts can only do so much. Especially in our mountain passes, the weather is going to do whatever it's going to do.

And that's what happened in the early evening of Wednesday, Nov. 30 when a sudden storm dropped about 4 inches of snow in an hour onto Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass. While our crews worked to keep up with the weather, the traction requirements changed rapidly due to the road conditions, ultimately requiring all vehicles except all-wheel drive to chain-up.
A chain reaction collision led to a 7-hour closure of westbound I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass this week.

Unfortunately, some drivers ignored this requirement, resulting in multiple collisions that closed I-90 in both directions at 7:30 p.m. Eastbound reopened to traffic just after 10:30 p.m., but westbound didn't reopen until 2:30 a.m. That made for a long night for travelers and responding aid crews.

All vehicles traveling over mountain passes need to be prepared. Carrying chains is always a good idea as conditions can change quickly and requirements may call for all vehicles to use them – even all-wheel drive. When faced with snow and ice on roadways, slow down and increase your distance between other vehicles.

It's vital that everyone comply with traction requirements and the variable speed limits. Traction requirements are made collaboratively between the Washington State Patrol and our crews, and are based on current road conditions and the weather. They aren't suggestions, they are requirements and are made for the safety of everyone.
Multiple vehicles ignored messages requiring chains over I-90 Snoqualmie Pass,
leading to several collisions and a full closure of the highway.

We all remember last winter. If it seemed like Snoqualmie Pass was closed a lot, well, it was! It was a record-breaking December up there, but what's interesting is that a majority of the closures weren't due to preventive avalanche control work; the closures were a result of collisions. And crashes on mountain passes can sometimes take hours to clear due to the severity, remote location, access to services, and limited space on the highway, especially at bridges.

So please, have chains available and know how to put them on. Be sure your vehicle is equipped for winter travel because you never know how long you might be stuck in bad weather. Check conditions on the pass. And ultimately, please, drive for winter weather conditions, slow down, be cautious, give each other space and obey the traction requirements posted on the electronic message signs.