Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The imperfect storm: How we worked to clear the I-405 semi-truck crash in Bellevue

By Harmony Weinberg

Morning commuters, we understand your frustration. Whether you were late for work, school or appointments on this dreary Wednesday, sitting in traffic could not have been any fun.

So what happened, exactly? Why did it take more than four hours to clear the semi-truck that crashed and rolled over on northbound I-405 in Bellevue? On top of that, why did traffic clog up on I-5 and I-90? Let's get right to your questions.

What happened?
Just after 5 a.m. Wednesday, March 15, a semi crashed into the barrier between the northbound I-405 lanes and the off-ramp to Northeast 4th and Northeast 8th streets in Bellevue, splitting the trailer in half. Tons of boxes packed with clothes and paper products went pouring onto the roadway. The impact of the crash also ruptured the truck's gas tank, spilling nearly 100 gallons of diesel.

We worked with the Washington State Patrol to close all lanes of northbound I-405 for approximately an hour before opening two lanes. Then, the real work began: It was time to clear the truck and clean up the mess.

What does it take to clear a crashed semi-truck?
Clearing a split semi-truck trailer and its cargo and leaking diesel is no easy task. Not only did we need to safely secure the area and set up traffic control, we also needed to get all the right people and equipment there so we could clear the scene and get traffic moving again.

Setting up a safe work zone
  • Our overnight maintenance crews rushed to the scene to help WSP with traffic control.
  • Our first priority was to keep drivers away from the debris in order to keep them safe and avoid any secondary collisions.
  • It was also crucial to create a safe work zone for our crews so they could do the cleanup work.
Getting equipment and workers to the scene
  • It took careful coordination to get the right equipment and the right people to the scene.
  • Get a load of this: Crews on scene needed to get a giant tow-truck, designed to haul semis; giant flatbed trucks that could carry the two halves of the trailer; and a loader to remove all the debris.
  • The Department of Ecology (DOE) sent a crew to inspect and clean the spilled diesel, which can present both safety and environmental hazards.
Clearing the truck and the debris
  • Crews used the loader to push the debris off the freeway and onto the exit ramp so we could get all lanes of I-405 moving again.
  • We were able to reopen all lanes of traffic just before 9:30 a.m. However, we kept the exit lanes closed while we loaded the spilled cargo into empty trucks by hand and then haul it away.
  • At the same time, the DOE crew cleaned up the spilled diesel.
  • Maintenance crews also had to fill orange barrels with sand in order to create a temporary barrier between the exit and the freeway.
Why was traffic so bad everywhere?
You probably noticed while stuck in traffic that it was pouring down rain. Combine that with the crash, and you get a ripple effect on traffic throughout the area. Then, throw in the inconvenience of this happening during rush-hour conditions. Top it off with only two lanes open on a very busy northbound I-405 and traffic diverting to I-5 and city streets and, well, you have a big influx of congestion just about everywhere in the area. Call it the imperfect storm.

Our Traffic Management Center worked quickly to alert travelers of the closure on our overhead messaging signs. Our communications team turned to social media right away to let people know before they hit the road so they could avoid the area and take alternate routes.

Thank you!
We want to thank all of you affected by today's snarled roads, and for staying engaged about the changing traffic conditions while our hard-working crews and all of the first responders worked to clear the scene and get you moving again. Many of you turned to our social media accounts to learn more about the situation.

This is a good reminder to prepare yourself, your passengers and your vehicles for the possibility that you could get stuck in a traffic jam at any given time. It's always a good idea to have water, snacks, entertainment for the kids and blankets in your vehicle.

Final words of wisdom: If your gas tank is half-full, it's also half-empty – you should fill it up.


Greg said...

Nice job as usual 😊

Jeff Lykken said...

Incidents such as what happened yesterday shows that we have not kept up with our infrastructure. Having a major freeway with only 2 general purpose lanes in each direction is ridiculous. Also the failed extortion toll lanes need to be suspended ASAP!! We need the general purpose lanes were originally promised in the 2001 master plan. Toll lanes are designed to create congestion and we already have to much congestion already.

David McDowell said...

Don't worry, ST3 will solve all of our traffic problems.

Jeff Gray said...

I think most people barely noticed the difference. Since W$DOT opened the extortion lanes, EVERY day is spent in complete gridlock. My commute time has almost doubled since this debacle was put in place. Despite 1)Having to authorize buses to drive on the shoulder 2)Planning to put CARS on the shoulder 3)Doubling the accident rate of the 405 corridor 4) Having the WSP state that the entire system is UNENFORCEABLE 5) Having those "will only rarely happen" $10 tolls be the norm each and every day (both directions!), W$DOT still thinks this a complete success! As far as the crash clean up goes, it was just another shining example of W$DOT incompetence.

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