Friday, June 30, 2017

Love, chicks and science under the Ship Canal Bridge

By Mike Allende 

Earlier this spring, Ariel spotted Maverick. She took his breath away, and she decided he should be part of her world. Maverick flew through the danger zone to kiss the girl. One thing led to another. And that’s how our workers found themselves under the Ship Canal Bridge, 95 feet above Portage Bay and Lake Union, on a sunny Friday at the end of June.

Crews must climb down two ladders to get under the Ship Canal Bridge,
95 feet above the lake.
Say what?

Allow me to explain.

Banding under the Ship Canal Bridge 
It’s a long way down for both our workers and the new chicks they’re visiting under the Ship Canal Bridge. Peregrine falcon chicks, that is.

The siblings hatched around June 11 to thrilled parents Ariel and Maverick. Now about 3 weeks old, it’s the perfect time for chicks to be banded with identification tags. Their legs have reached adult size, but they don’t yet have their flight feathers.

That’s where we come in.

 Workers, including a maintenance technician, our wildlife biologist and one of our communicators, escort a licensed falcon bander from the Falcon Research Group under the bridge to attach bands to the chicks. But it’s not quite that simple.

The group climbs down two ladders on the outside of the Ship Canal Bridge, one 40 feet and the other 20 feet. They’re secured to the bridge with a heavy-duty climbing harness with lanyards and hooks, preventing them from falling into the water. While secured to a cable, the group walks across a beam to a nesting box where the falcon family lives.

Ariel loudly protests our interference in her otherwise calm day.
New parents Ariel and Maverick aren’t always interested in having visitors, though, and can attack and dive-bomb to protect their chicks. Keep in mind that peregrines are the fastest animal on Earth, with the ability to dive at more than 200 mph. So, our group carries open umbrellas for protection. This time, Ariel mostly hung around some of the beams and screeched loudly at the group.

Our group approaches the nesting box from both sides to secure the chicks and place them in a soft sided bag. One person gently holds each chick, while the bander measures its leg and places the band on, then returns the chick to the bag. The whole process takes about 20 minutes. Finally, the chicks are carefully returned to their nest.

Why bother?
Banding is an essential part of bird conservation, and studying bird habits helps focus conservation efforts to keep them safe and healthy. The small, metal bands have codes that help identify the bird. Millions of birds are banded worldwide each year, which helps researchers better understand migration, bird ranges, life span and behavior.

The falcon chicks aren’t typically thrilled to have bands placed on their legs, but we’re quick and gentle.

The story of Ariel and Maverick
The story of Ariel and Maverick is one of love, loss and learning to love again.

It goes back to 2002, when a male falcon ruled the Ship Canal airspace along with his mate, Bridget. Bridget died in 2013 and the male – who we never did name – attracted Ariel in 2014. They lived at both the Ship Canal and University bridges, until the male was involved in a collision this past March and died at the age of 16 while in the care of PAWS. He was among the last of the many offspring of Belle and Stewart, the first peregrines to reoccupy the Seattle area in 1994 after a many-decades absence.

In April or May, Ariel bonded with Maverick, who we believe was nesting at the old Washington Mutual Building until his mate died recently. That takes us to the chicks.

Falcons, bridge maintenance and transportation planning
Peregrine falcons are the unsung heroes of our bridge maintenance program. They dominate the airspace around a bridge, creating a “no fly zone” for other birds, which reduces bird droppings that contain uric acid and can corrode paint and steel on bridges. This reduces the need for maintenance work on bridges.

The peregrine falcon chick appears to say, “How could you?” after we’ve completed placing a band on its leg and placed it safely back in a soft bag before moving it back to its nest.

The banding efforts assists us in transportation planning as well. Because peregrines are still recovering from near extinction, we don’t know all the places they would normally nest. Banding has shown us they are flocking to natural sites that have been vacant for decades and tells us which natural habitats need to be preserved as we plan for transportation needs. The Falcon Research Group also lets us know about the species using our structures, so we know in advance what to expect during construction and maintenance work and can keep the wildlife and workers safe.

The banding operation is a bit stressful for the falcon family – and sometimes for our workers high above the lake – but the end result is a win for everyone.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SR 900 to close July 28-31 between Issaquah and Renton for culvert work

By Tom Pearce

It's not on most maps, but it's as important as a highway – at least for fish.

We're a month out from another big fish passage project this summer. Starting at 7 p.m. Friday, July 28, we'll close SR 900/Renton Issaquah Road Southeast for the weekend so we can dig up the highway and replace the culvert for Green Creek, west of 164th Avenue Southeast. The highway will reopen by 5 a.m. Monday, July 31.

Yeah, I couldn't find it on the map either, but after a field trip, I can assure you it's there. Our graphic artists even created our own map that shows the creek's location.

Restoring fish passage
Crews that built the original road about 100 years ago put in the culvert. It's only four feet wide and three feet tall; the upstream side of the creek is more than 11 feet wide. That means when the water level is up, the creek runs through the culvert with so much force that fish can't continue upstream – their highway is pretty much shutdown.
This culvert below SR 900 in Renton is about 100 years old and needs to be replaced with a larger culvert.

Through the years the creek has worn away at the downstream side of the creek bed, to the point where it's now created a tough jump for fish in a shallow creek, especially if there's a heavy flow coming out of the culvert. All that makes the creek a barrier to fish passage.

A 2013 U.S. District Court injunction requires us to replace those sorts of culverts under state highways. The Green Creek culvert is one of 475 that need to be fixed by 2030.

Dig it
SR 900 is two lanes wide with almost no shoulder at Green Creek, and carries about 9,500 vehicles a day. However, the culvert is more than 25 feet beneath the road, so it will take our contractor crews an entire weekend to dig out the old culvert and replace it with a 16-foot wide, 10-foot tall culvert that is 55 feet long. Once that's in place, they'll fill in the gap, repave SR 900, replace the guardrail and reopen the highway.

With the new culvert in place, the crews will be able to create a natural creek bed in it, making it much easier for salmon, trout and other species to travel upstream.

The scenic route
Drivers will need to use a detour around SR 900 in late July when the
highway closes to allow crews to replace a fish culvert.

Even though the highway will be closed all weekend, you'll still be able to use it between Issaquah and Renton. We'll have a signed detour set up via 164th Avenue Southeast, Southeast 128th Street/Northeast 4th Street and Duvall Avenue Northeast. Folks who live between 164th Avenue Southeast and Duvall Avenue Northeast will have access on SR 900 up the work zone, but they won't be able to cross it during construction.

It's a lot of work for a little creek, but by closing our highway for a weekend, we're reopening a highway for fish that's been closed to salmon and other native species for a very long time.

Give yourself some extra travel time this Fourth of July – and all summer long

by Barbara LaBoe

Hitting the road this Fourth of July?  Or maybe the weekend before the holiday?  We don’t create travel charts for midweek holidays, but whether you’re driving on our highways or taking one of our ferries, you should still plan for extra travel time during the weekend and the holiday itself.

Where are my travel charts?
We don’t produce travel charts on midweek holidays because it’s harder to predict which day people will travel – if they do at all. If holiday travel is spread over several days, we also don’t see as many bottlenecks or congestion on any one day or time. In addition, the historical data isn’t as helpful. The last Tuesday July 4 we had was 2006 and the last one before that was 2000. The population and even some roads have changed a lot since then, so our forecasts wouldn’t be as useful as they are for annual weekend holidays such as Labor Day.

Like any holiday weekend, Independence Day weekend is a busy one on the roads and drivers should expect some delays on major travel routes.
That said, with summer travel and a number of construction projects across the state, we expect EVERY weekend to have potential for congestion – especially for those traveling east or west, with work scheduled on I-90, US 12 and US 2. We want you to be prepared. Plan out your route ahead of time, give yourself extra travel time and make sure you have plenty of gas, water and snacks in case you get stuck in a traffic backup.

Get updated travel information from our app or any of our online tools, including social media. You can also call 511 for travel alerts or visit our travel alert website. Please do NOT check the road status on your phone while behind the wheel – have a passenger check or pull over at a safe spot.

Why is all this construction happening now?
Summer is our busy construction season because it’s the season with the dry weather required for a lot of our work. We know people also travel during the summer, so we try to keep disruptions to a minimum wherever possible.

We halt construction on major holidays – and will do so this coming weekend. Often, though, the detours and lane changes must remain in place. In some cases, the roadway or bridge is torn up and we couldn’t divert traffic back on it even if barriers were moved. In other cases, leaving the barriers in place allows work to resume more quickly and helps shorten the overall construction and disruption. So, weekend drivers will still see some work zones even without active work. Other work is specifically done on weekends or in the evenings to try to avoid major traffic.

As for tolling, the SR 520 bridge will be on its new weekend toll rates on Tuesday, July 4, and the I-405 express toll lanes will be free for everyone on that day (no pass or carpool needed). The Good To Go! visitors’ guide is a great resource for out-of-towners.

Fourth of July is one of the busiest travel times for our ferry system, with about 430,000 passengers riding during last year’s holiday weekend. We expect similar numbers this year so plan for longer than usual wait times, make vehicle reservations to the San Juans, Sidney, B.C. or Port Townsend/Coupeville, and if possible, consider walking on.
Fourth of July weekend is one of the busiest of the year for our ferry system and passengers should expect longer than normal waits and may consider walking on.

Passengers sailing between Mukilteo and Clinton should take note that a smaller vessel will be serving the run as the Tokitae is undergoing federally required inspections. We’ll add extra service as needed late night on July 3 and 4 but please plan ahead as the smaller boat could lead to longer wait times.

We’ll also have extra sailings between Vashon Island and Fauntleroy, along with the Anacortes and San Juan Island routes. There will also be some adjusted schedules so be sure to check our summer schedule (pdf 911 kb).

Fireworks shows
Many of us like a good firework show. Unfortunately, every year we see people try to avoid the crowds at venues putting on the shows and sometimes stopping on highway shoulders or even off- and on-ramps to watch the show. This is a bad idea, creates a significant road hazard and can lead to collisions. Please don’t stop on highways or ramps to watch the shows, and if you’re driving during a firework show, please keep your eyes on the road.
Please remember not to stop on highways or on- and off-ramps to watch fireworks as this is a major safety hazard.
(Photo by Bruce Ikenberry)

Give ‘em a Brake
Speaking of work zones, please stay extra alert through all work zones you may encounter this summer. Please SLOW DOWN and STAY ALERT any time you enter an area with crews working. We average more than 900 work zone crashes on state roads each year and almost all are preventable by simply paying attention and following signs and directions. And remember, 96 percent of injuries in work zone crashes are not to workers, but to the driver or passenger of the other vehicles involved. So it’s in your and your family’s best interest to be as safe as possible.

The crews out there are working hard to keep your roadway safe and they need your help ensuring everyone makes it home safe to their families each night.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Traffic switch on I-5 in Tacoma requires advanced planning and patience

Crews finishing up the ramps off of
the new I-5 bridge that spans I-705 in
Tacoma earlier this month.
by Cara Mitchell

Tacoma commuters, get ready.

Two big traffic shifts are scheduled to occur shortly after the July 4 holiday and will last for six months. The first will affect northbound Interstate 5 traffic when all northbound lanes will move onto a newly-built northbound I-5 bridge over I-705. Once that traffic shift is complete, an even bigger shift, this time to southbound I-5 traffic, will occur.

Starting July 10, southbound drivers will notice changes being made to southbound I-5 approaching Tacoma as crews place barrier and restripe the southbound lanes into two distinct roadways.

In this temporary southbound alignment, the two lanes to the right of the barrier will provide access to exits that serve State Route 7, I-705, SR 16, and South 38th Street. The three lanes to the left of the barrier will serve travelers heading toward Olympia and beyond. This temporary alignment will be put into place over a week of night closures starting July 10.

Piece of cake, right? It will be as long as you plan ahead and know what to expect.

July 7-10: High Impact Weekend

To get the temporary southbound alignment into place, an around-the-clock weekend lane closure will take place.

From 11 p.m. Friday, July 7 until 5 a.m. Monday, July 10, crews will close one lane of southbound I-5 near the Tacoma Dome to rebuild the center median of the highway. This will likely create big backups coming out of King County. Drivers are advised to travel early when traffic volumes are lower, and build extra time into their trips.
Week of July 10

Once the center median work is complete, crews will move the three left lanes of southbound I-5 onto the former northbound lanes and begin installing barrier to create collector/distributor lanes. The I-705 and SR 7 on- and off-ramps, and the exits to SR 16 and East 38th street will be re-striped. This work will occur during overnight hours throughout the week, and will involve lane and ramp closures to implement. While some of this work is weather sensitive and could be delayed, the goal is to have the temporary southbound configuration in place by Friday, July 14.

The new I-5 lane configuration through Tacoma. Soon northbound lanes (yellow) will be placed on a new, permanent aligment and three southbound lanes (green) will be moved onto previous northbound lanes. Blue lanes will be temporary southbound collector/distributor lanes and orange represents the work zone.

Why separate southbound I-5 lanes?

This temporary lane configuration creates a work zone allowing crews to advance work on the McKinley Street overpass and rebuild the outside lanes of southbound I-5. It will be in place at least through the end of 2017, and longer if weather delays construction progress.

Eastbound SR 16 to northbound I-5 goes back to two lanes

Amongst these closures and traffic shifts, we do have some good news to share. Along with the southbound traffic shift, this next phase of construction will bring some relief to eastbound SR 16 drivers heading to northbound I-5. Once traffic is moved onto the new northbound alignment, the ramp from SR 16 to northbound I-5 will once again be two lanes instead of one.  Enjoy this temporary respite, as the dreaded single-lane ramp will have to be implemented one more time before construction is complete.

Thank you to drivers and a safety message

We know the commute through Tacoma is not easy these days because of on-going construction for HOV lanes. We appreciate your patience and ask for your help in keeping work crews safe. Drive safely. Pay attention. Limit distractions. Work zones are an inconvenient yet necessary part of the process to improve our state highways. We ask that you slow down and give our crews a brake, for safety’s sake.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

I-405 peak-use shoulder lane is off to a positive start

By Victoria Miller

If you commute on northbound Interstate 405 between State Route 527 and I-5 in the afternoon, then you have most likely noticed or used the new peak-use shoulder lane. In late April, we used money collected from the I-405 express toll lanes to convert the existing shoulder to an additional travel lane during the afternoon commute, adding extra capacity to this congested stretch of roadway when it is most needed.

So far, we have succeeded in moving more vehicles through this area and decreasing travel times. It has been almost two months since the lane opened, so let’s explore the specific accomplishments of the project based on our first full month of performance data.

How many more vehicles are getting through?
Every weekday since opening, the peak-use shoulder lane has typically been open to traffic between 2 and 7 p.m. In the two months before the project was complete, an average of about 4,700 vehicles per hour were traveling on I-405 across all lanes just north of SR 527 between 4 and 5 p.m., the busiest time of the afternoon commute for that area.

With the addition of the shoulder lane, on average, more than 5,200 vehicles per hour are now traveling through this same section of the freeway at that time. More than 750 of those vehicles chose to use the peak-use shoulder lane. As a result, we are seeing less congestion in both the general purpose lanes and the express toll lanes, also resulting in lower average toll rates for an even more reliable trip in the express toll lanes during this time.

How much time are people saving on their commutes?
Between Bellevue and I-5:
In the two months before the peak-use shoulder lane opened, drivers commuting at the busiest times on the corridor were spending an average of about 38 minutes in traffic in the general purpose lanes. Thanks to the peak-use shoulder lane, drivers commuting at the same time in the general purpose lanes are saving on average between 10 and 15 minutes for this 17-mile trip.

Between SR 522 and I-5:
Commuters in the general purpose lanes were spending an average of about 20 minutes to drive about 7 miles. Thanks to the peak-use shoulder lane, the travel time for this trip has decreased by about half on average.

Is traffic flowing more smoothly?
For an example of how traffic has changed since the peak-use shoulder lane opened, check out the two flow maps below. These diagrams represent only a snapshot in time for the area between SR 522 and I-5, and we recognize that conditions can change daily, but these images help give a sense for how traffic has improved.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Five consecutive weekends of lane closures to #ReviveI5

by Tom Pearce

Friday, June 16, marks the start of five consecutive weekends of pavement improvement work on northbound I-5 between SR 516 in SeaTac and the Southcenter area.

As we continue to #ReviveI5, our contractor crews will reduce northbound I-5 to two lanes during the following weekends:
  • June 16-19
  • June 23-26
  • June 30-July 3 - This work has been postponed
  • July 7-10
  • July 14-17 
  • Aug. 11-14

Expect major backups
Drivers should prepare for lengthy delays during each weekend. During the first weekend of work in June, we saw backups reach six miles at one point. Your best chance to avoid major delays is to plan ahead:
There are several alternate routes to use instead of northbound I-5.
Viva la differencé
This weekend we’ll do crack, seat and overlay work on the left lanes, with two lanes open on the right. We’ll also remove more than 300 feet of concrete panels at four separate locations and replace them with asphalt. Working on the right lanes means the on- and off-ramps at South 188th Street will be open. The SR 516 on-ramps and the South 200th Street on- and off-ramps to I-5 will be closed.

Crews need to remove sections of concrete panels the length of a football field, then replace them with asphalt, to create smooth transitions between the concrete and asphalt.
Making changes
We appreciate the feedback many of you shared with us after our first weekend of work. We received concerns about the lack of signs on some alternate routes, particularly near the South 200th Street/Military Road on- and off-ramps. We put out more signs during the first weekend, and we’ll have better signage throughout the rest of our work this summer.

Why weekends?
We hear that question every time we do a major project that disrupts the weekend. Our contractor crews are doing most of the work during overnight lane closures throughout the week.

It takes a couple of days to break the old concrete, compact it and repave asphalt over the top of it.

However, some of the work simply takes too long to do during overnight lane closures. Crack, seat and overlay work is a three-step process. An overnight shift doesn’t provide enough time to complete the needed steps.

It will be the same later this year and in the first half of 2018 when we replace expansion joints at Interurban Avenue and the Duwamish River – we need more than 50 straight hours to do that work.

We understand all of these lane closures are inconvenient. However, I-5 is the main artery of our region and we need to preserve it. We are confident that a little short-term pain will provide decades of smoother travel. Hang in there! We appreciate your patience!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Help researchers train computers to recognize road users, prevent collisions

by Ann Briggs

What if we could use technology to predict where vehicle collisions involving people who walk or bike will occur, then take steps to prevent them? Would you want to help? Well, now you can.

Volunteers are needed to help train computers to recognize objects and flag “near misses” at intersections. An example of a near-miss is when a driver nearly hits someone in a crosswalk.

Here’s how it works: your task is to view a short clip of a pre-recorded traffic scene, then label and track the movement of each person or vehicle within the screen. By doing so, the computer can begin to distinguish a person walking, biking, or using a wheelchair; a bus or car; then recognize patterns to identify near misses. Using the data from the video analytics, engineers could then take corrective actions to prevent future crashes.
Technology like heat mapping has the potential to help us improve road safety.

Fair warning to potential volunteers – until you get accustomed to using the labeling tools, it may take you several minutes to complete the task – plan on at least five minutes or longer per task at the start. Once you master the image tracking tools, your speed will likely increase. You can submit just one task, or complete as many as you’d like.

This work is part of a multi-city, multi-organizational partnership called Video Analytics Toward Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries while increasing safety for all users of the roadway.
We need the public’s help to use our crowd-sourcing tool to analyze video and teach computers how to tell the difference between cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians.

Vehicle crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists are on the rise in Washington state, as well as in other states. Fatal collisions involving bicyclists and pedestrians in Washington increased 6 percent from 100 in 2015 to 106 in 2016.

Why not give it a try? With your help, researchers can create a database that one day may save a life and make our roadways safer for everyone.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Big changes come Monday, June 5 for I-90 drivers across Lake Washington

By Annie Johnson

If you travel I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue you're hopefully aware of our joint project with Sound Transit to add new HOV lanes to I-90 which will enable Sound Transit to build their East Link light rail extension across I-90 to Redmond. It's been a long process that started back in 2006 when we built a new westbound HOV lane between Bellevue Way and 80th Avenue SE on Mercer Island. In 2012 we opened the new HOV lane in the eastbound direction between Mercer Island and Bellevue.

Over the past 2.5 years we've been working on the final stretch of new HOV lanes between Mercer Island and Seattle. A lot of that work has been taking place off the roadway and mostly out of view of drivers but it will all come into view this weekend when we open the new HOV lanes and permanently close the express lanes.
A before and after look at I-90 across Lake Washington. Cones are in place in the new westbound
HOV lane. HOV lanes will open in both directions on Sunday, June 4.

What's the plan this weekend?
At 9 p.m. Friday, June 2, all eastbound I-90 traffic will be reduced to one lane. For most of the night eastbound traffic will remain in the express lanes while crews do one last night of testing systems in the tunnels, unveiling signs, and lane striping on the eastbound I-90 mainline. Early Saturday morning crews will switch the express lanes to the westbound direction one final time. Eastbound I-90 will remain reduced to one lane near Rainier Avenue while crews restripe the area near the eastbound entrance to the express lanes. This is an area crews can't reach when the express lanes are open eastbound so we'll be out there bright and early to do this striping before fully opening the eastbound roadway and the new HOV lane by 9 a.m. Saturday.

From 9 p.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday, westbound traffic will be reduced to one lane as we repeat Friday night's work but in the opposite direction. If you want to take one last drive in the I-90 express lanes for sentimental reasons I'd suggest doing so by 4 a.m. on Sunday. Around that time crews will begin to shift traffic back to the westbound mainline and permanently close the express lanes to vehicle traffic. However, westbound I-90 will remain reduced to one lane west of the Mount Baker Tunnel as crews restripe the area near the westbound exit from the express lanes. We expect to finish the work and reopen the westbound mainline by 9 a.m. Sunday.
Left: Crews have been working on re-striping I-90 across Lake Washington to put new HOV lanes in both directions in place before the express lanes are handed over to Sound Transit. Right: New signs will be unveiled this weekend as part of our project to introduce new HOV lanes on I-90 across Lake Washington while closing the express lanes for good.

What can I expect Monday morning?
How exactly these changes will impact your commute depends on a number of things including the time of day you travel and where you're going. You can find detailed information about the changes in an earlier blog. No matter what, you should definitely expect a period of adjustment. This is a big change for everyone that uses I-90 across Lake Washington. It could take months for traffic to settle into its new routine.

As we normally do, we'll be keeping an eye on things and doing our best to keep you informed of what's happening out there. Before you hit the road, take a minute to look at your commute with our WSDOT traffic app or check out the WSDOT traffic Twitter feed.
Upgrading systems in the I-90 tunnels has been a major component of our Two-Way Transit and HOV project.

What happens after this weekend?
Over the next few weeks our contractor crews will continue working to hand over the I-90 express lanes to Sound Transit as they gear up for light rail construction on I-90. Our work includes removing the existing overhead signs for the express lanes and placing barrier to permanently close the express lanes to traffic. There's always work to finish up even after a project opens to traffic so expect nighttime lane and ramp closures this summer. You can always find the latest information about I-90 lane and ramp closures in King County on our I-90 and SR 520 construction closures website.

Sound Transit's work on the bridge will begin with surveying, concrete work to prepare for future post-tensioning work at the East approach to the bridge, and relocating existing electrical equipment inside the bridge pontoons. For updates on Sound Transit's progress on this and other projects, visit The Platform blog.