Thursday, February 16, 2017

Shining a light on visibility challenges on Snoqualmie Pass and how you can help

By Meagan Lott

We want to shine some light on the visibility challenges we face on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass, what we are doing differently and how you can help.
New barrier reflectors along I-90 Snoqualmie Pass should improve visibility at night and during poor weather.

Crews work to repaint the lines along I-90 Snoqualmie Pass.

The challenges
The first challenge is keeping lane stripes from fading. We have tried several different striping products but we can’t find anything durable enough to withstand the wear and tear from traffic and snow removal operations. Even the most durable products lose reflectivity quickly, leading to limited guidance at night.

The second challenge is freezing temperatures. The liquid deicer we use to treat the road stops working when the temperature dips below 20 degrees. The next best thing to use is sand. Although sand helps with traction in icy conditions, it also acts like sand paper and grinds away the lane stripes. It also sticks to everything, including the barrier and reflectors reducing visibility.

The third challenge is the narrow roadway due to the widening project between Hyak and Keechelus Dam. Building a new six-lane highway between a hillside and a lake while keeping four lanes open limits the amount of room we have to work. So we have to shift traffic through the construction zone onto finished sections and temporary sections of roadway, which causes the roadway to be narrow.

New LED lane markers on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass
will help visibility for drivers on the highway.

An unusual winter
What makes this winter different is all three of these challenges are occurring at the same time. The winter of 2015 was the first time we implemented the construction detour and it ended up being one of the driest winters on record. Last winter, we received an average amount of snowfall; however, the temperatures remained around 32 degrees most of the season. This year we have seen weeks when the temperature has dipped into the low teens and single digits. We have even had a number of ice storms requiring the use of more sand.

What has worked in the past to improve visibility isn’t working now and we are adapting. In previous winters, we were able to reapply lane striping when there was a break in the weather. But this winter we’ve had back-to-back storms, making it difficult to restripe. So we are trying some different things to improve visibility.

The plan
Over the next several weeks and as weather allows you may encounter nighttime closures between mileposts 57 to 62 as we install additional reflectors along the barriers and place solar-powered LED lane markers in the roadway. Don’t worry, the LEDs will be secured into place with a metal peg and epoxy so they won’t pop out of place when run over by vehicles or snowplows. We are also removing built-up ice from the shoulders and cleaning the sand off the barrier reflectors. We’ll be adding portable lights to improve visibility and will restripe as weather allows. If the stripes start to fade and we cannot restripe immediately, we will reduce the speed limit to 45 mph at night to help drivers navigate safely through the narrow lanes. Some of this work has already happened as we’ve added new striping and cleaned off the sand and grime from reflectors.
Help us help you
Now that you have read about the challenges we face and the improvements we are making, we need your help. Please drive for conditions by paying attention and slowing down. If you are driving through an active work zone or around snow plows, be sure to give crews space and lower your speed. You are driving across a mountain pass where weather can change rapidly in the winter so stay plugged in to conditions. Every collision is avoidable as long as you slow down and keep your eyes on the road to see the improvements we have made to help you get to your destination safely.


NBDriver said...

I drive the Pass about once a week on average. I try to maintain the speed limit or drive for conditions, as necessary. Many drivers exceed the posted speed limits, but some of the worst offenders are the trucks. These are, of course, large vehicles. When they are passing you at high speed or are changing lanes at those same high speeds, they can be very intimidating. Why can't truck speed limits be enforced by the State Patrol? It would make things a lot safer up there, especially at night.

Careful driver said...

I agree with slowing down trucks. I very seldom see St Patrol vehicles when travelling the pass. Maybe having some drivers stopped for speeding would slow things down. It seems that vehicles/drivers from the west side think the posted speed limit is just a suggestion, not the law.

layna said...

I agree. I've come across many huuuge trucks ignoring the speed limit as well, zooming past splattering ice, stones and rain. My windshield got a crack due to it!
WA state patrol, please please enforce speed limit on trucks and huge vehicles! They are VERY scary.

Fenix Phoenix said...

I'm with NBdriver.

WSDOT said...

We are working with the Washington State Patrol to enforce the lower speed limits. If you see aggressive driving or inattentive drivers WSP wants you to call 911.

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