Thursday, December 27, 2018

Emergency expansion joint repair doesn’t top 2018 wish lists, but northbound I-5 is getting one anyway during dual weekend lane reductions

Two lanes through Tukwila remain open during closures Jan. 5-6 and in February

By Frances Fedoriska

"New expansion joint hardware" didn't make any holiday wish lists this year, but I-5 is still going to get one due to the fact an old one broke in October.

This emergency replacement requires two weekends of lane reductions on northbound I-5 at the Duwamish River Bridge. Contractor crews working for WSDOT will spend the first weekend – Jan. 5-6 - replacing metal on half the joint, then transfer to the other half during the second weekend closure, likely in February. This allows us to keep two lanes of northbound I-5 open while critical work is still being done.

Why reduce lanes now?
With State Route 99 closing for three weeks starting the night of Friday, Jan. 11, we need to be sure I-5 is in the best condition possible so it can handle all the extra traffic.

What was old, was actually really, really old
Contractor crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation replaced this joint in May 2017. They used steel pieces from the old joint, which at the time, were thought to still have some useful life left. Flash forward to October 2018, when part of the metal broke and had to be removed. This permanent fix will keep the joint in good working order for many years.

What we need from drivers
Be prepared for the drive on I-5 north through Tukwila to take longer than usual during the two weekends of lane reductions. The first weekend begins at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4 and will end by 5 a.m. Monday, Jan. 7.
  • Our website will have closure updates.
  • Sign up for weekly email updates on King County projects.
  • Our Twitter account will have info about traffic.
  • Download our mobile app for traffic maps and other news and updates.

Expansion joint repair

Thanks in advance
We know there's no good time to limit lanes on I-5. As soon as we have the dates for the second closure in February, we will update the links mentioned above. We thank you in advance for any adjustments you make to help us complete this important repair.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

I saw the sign, and it said "FREE"

By Chris Foster

When drivers enter the I-405 express toll lanes or the SR 167 HOT lanes in early January, they'll notice a slight change: the toll rate signs will say "FREE" instead of "OPEN" when we are not charging tolls.

We recently took a fresh look at the signs and realized there was an opportunity for improvement. So we asked I-405 and SR 167 drivers and heard that almost 90 percent of people agreed that "FREE" made more sense.

While the new message on the signs should be clearer, everything else remains the same. You don't need a Good To Go! pass or a carpool when the signs say "FREE". It's still illegal to cross the double white lines, and the toll lanes will operate at their normal hours:
  • Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the I-405 express toll lanes
  • Every day from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the SR 167 HOT lanes
When the express toll lanes are operating during their normal hours, drivers still may see "OPEN" displayed on the signs. If a collision or roadwork blocks all lanes except the express toll lanes, we stop collecting tolls and allow all vehicles to use the lanes for free. Signs say "OPEN TO ALL" at these times.

If you've never used the lanes before, or if you need a refresher, check out our guides. We have resources for drivers who use the express toll lanes and the HOT lanes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Changes to the new SR 520 Trail? You decide!

By Steve Peer

Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 at 11:40 am 

Earlier this month crews replaced all 27 of the narrow expansion joint covers on the SR 520 trail.  We’ve already heard from several riders who have said they like the covers better; now we’d like to hear from you. Shoot us an e-mail, send us a DM on Twitter or add to the comments below and let us know your before and after experience. And thanks for your patience as we (re)designed the new plates, tested one, got your feedback and then fabricated and installed them.

Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 8:40 a.m.
We've tied green ribbon on the railing adjacent to the new plate to make it stand out. A sign has been added, and “test” has been spray-painted on the new plate as well.

Thank you for your continued feedback! So far we've heard from more than 220 of you who want us to replace the existing plates, and less than 10 who say you see no difference/the old plates are fine.

State Route 520's new trail across Lake Washington has garnered high praise from more than 300,000 users since its December 2017 opening. Bike riders, runners, dog walkers and folks out for a relaxing stroll tell us they're delighted to have a new, foot-powered trail with scenic lake and mountain views. And many pedal-pushing commuters say the new trail, as an alternative to I-90's cross-lake connection, is cutting significant time off their daily treks between the Eastside and Seattle.

There's one aspect of the path that's not getting rave reviews: the narrow steel plates covering the trail's expansion joints on the bridge. Some bike riders tell us the plates are jolting, especially for road bikes with skinny, highly inflated tires. I've ridden the trail myself, several times, and experienced the thump of each joint cover.

I'm glad to report that we're working on a remedy. Our engineers developed and installed a prototype plate designed to ease the bumps cyclists experience while crossing the floating bridge. The new cover plate design won't completely eliminate the bumps – but it should produce a marked improvement.

That's where you come in. Now that the prototype cover plate is installed, we're asking riders to #RateThePlate. After biking over the replacement plate (located near the east end of the bridge) we're asking riders to text us at (206) 200-9484 to rate their experience with two options:
  • This is an improvement, upgrade all similar plates: text "A"
  • I didn't notice a difference/the old plates are fine: text "B"
We'll solicit feedback through the end of the year. If we hear that the plate provides a better ride, we'll manufacture and install replacements for all 27 existing narrow cover plates.
A side by side comparison of the prototype (left) and the existing expansion joint cover plate (right)

Why the path has cover plates
The roadway on the new, 1.5-mile-long floating bridge has expansion joints on each end of the 23 massive, concrete pontoons supporting the structure. The joints allow the bridge to expand (or contract) horizontally as air and water temperatures change. They also allow the bridge to flex vertically as the lake's water level rises or falls. On the shared-use trail, there's an open gap at each joint that varies in width from about 2 to 4 inches. Left exposed, a gap of that size could be hazardous to someone with a cane, a skateboarder, or other trail users. So we added cover plates over each joint to address the safety risk that open gaps would pose.

The trail's existing steel cover plates are a half-inch thick, with a flat top, beveled edges and a rough, nonskid surface. When designing the bridge, we used federal guidelines to ensure the plates' compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The plates also play a role in the integrity of the bridge itself. The roadway and shared-use path are elevated 20 feet or more above the lake's surface. This design feature keeps vehicles, bike riders and pedestrians wave-free during windstorms. It also gives our crews ample room for inspection and maintenance of the pontoons below.

Because the bridge deck is elevated – up to 70 feet on the east high-rise near Medina – we use a special truck, equipped with an extendable, hinged arm and crew basket, for inspecting the underside of the bridge. This 3-ton vehicle travels along the trail for these inspections, so the cover plates must be strong enough to support its weight. Moreover, emergency vehicles, including fire trucks, might have to use the trail if a major incident blocked the roadway.
An under-bridge inspection truck

A tale of two trails
A few bicyclists have asked us why the older, narrower shared-use trail on the I-90 floating bridge is smoother than the new SR 520 Trail – without the expansion-joint bumps. The answer, once again, relates to SR 520's elevated roadway.

In the same way traffic moved on the old SR 520 floating bridge, all I-90 traffic crossing Lake Washington – including bicycles – travels directly on the pontoons' concrete surface. That means there are no heavy trucks making under-bridge inspections from I-90's shared-use path – and no need for sturdy cover plates on that path's expansion joints.

The new SR 520 Trail is a wonderful addition to the region's expanding network of trails, and we want your experience of riding the trail to be fabulous as well. Be sure to #RateThePlate after your next ride!

Less than a month to go until Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct closes

History shows highway closure will be a major challenge

By Laura Newborn

On Friday night, Jan. 11 2019, State Route 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct in downtown Seattle will close for good. That will mark the beginning of roughly three weeks of intensive construction work to move the roadway into the new SR 99 tunnel.

We know, this is going to be rough. This will be the longest highway closure the Puget Sound region has ever experienced. More than 90,000 vehicles travel the viaduct each day and history shows that congestion worsens considerably during a viaduct closure – no matter what roads you travel on near Seattle.

That’s why planning ahead is so important. Reducing trips during the closure will help everyone. Any adjustments you can make – whether it’s trying a mode of transportation other than driving, trying to form a carpool, teleworking or canceling non-necessary trips – will make a difference. We understand this isn’t a possibility for everyone all the time, but every little bit helps.

While we can’t predict exactly what traffic will look like during the closure, history does give us some insight into what we might expect.

Looking back for info

Let’s use 2016 as a guide. From April 29 to May 8 of that year, SR 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct closed as the tunneling machine Bertha crossed underneath into downtown Seattle. We know many commuters heeded the call to change their commutes. For instance, the King County Water Taxi to and from West Seattle saw a 130 percent jump in riders. But we also know that commutes were rougher on all highways near Seattle. They started earlier, and they lasted longer. The same was true for Seattle city streets.

The graphs below show some of the data and you can see more from that closure on our webpage (pdf 2 mb).

The bottom line? If you plan on traveling anywhere near Seattle during the three week closure, consider changing how you get around (pdf 649 kb). If you can, work from home, try bus, light rail or Sounder trains, take the Water Taxi, share a ride, walk or bike if it’s available to you.

If you can change your routine even for as little as one day a week, it will lessen the strain on your neighbors and on yourself.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Chain-up or pay up this winter on Snoqualmie Pass

By Meagan Lott

‘Tis the time of year when holiday lights go up, Mariah Carey lets us know what she wants for Christmas, and snow falls on our mountain passes. And while snow can make for a beautiful sight, it can also make for challenging driving conditions.

That’s right, it’s time to break out your tire chains!

Unfortunately, many drivers crossing snowy mountain passes either don’t carry chains despite it being required by law, or don’t put them on. For the past several years, more than half of the closures on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass have been due to vehicles ignoring a chain-up requirement and then getting into collisions and blocking lanes.
Chaining up when required on Snoqualmie Pass is vital for everyone’s safety, and failing to do so can result in a hefty fine.

This winter we are working with the Washington State Patrol, which will be enforcing chain requirements during winter storms and inclement weather on Snoqualmie Pass. If you don’t chain-up, you will have to pay up. Ignoring the chain requirements could cost you $500. It’s a stiff penalty, but this is really important. When collisions block lanes on the pass, we have to close the roadway in order to get emergency personnel and tow trucks to the scene. This is much more challenging to do on a mountain pass highway than on a regular highway, and it can take hours. Not only does it take a long time, but it’s a huge inconvenience to the more than 30,000 vehicles that travel across Snoqualmie Pass every day.

So, this is a great time to remind you what the requirements are:

  • Vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or greater – including some large SUVs and RVs – must install chains when traction tires are required.
  • All vehicles, except 4WD and AWD, must put on chains when tire chains are required. However, 4WD and AWD vehicles still need to carry chains in order to proceed across the pass. 
  • All vehicles including 4WD and AWD need to put on chains when chains are required on ALL vehicles.

What if your car has smaller wheel wells and can’t take chains? Or the manufacturer doesn’t recommend chains? Well, you are in luck. The State Patrol has compiled a list of approved alternatives you will need to use in place of chains. Not every “tire sock” chain alternative is approved as meeting our state standards, so check the WSP list before you make a purchase.

As always we have a great online toolkit to help prepare you for travel this winter as well as our communications tools to use before you head out the door or while you’re on the road:

So remember if you’re heading over Snoqualmie Pass this winter, make sure you and your vehicle are prepared to travel in the ice and snow and you understand and follow the chain requirements.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Two men honored for saving life of ferries employee

Naval officer, shipyard manager recognized for response to cardiac arrest

By Mike Allende

Most of the time, our Life Ring Awards are reserved for our ferries employees whose actions saved a life. But in the case of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas Besheer and Vigor Safety Manager Billy Ray Brittain, it was clear they needed to be honored.

On Wednesday, Besheer and Brittain were presented with the Life Ring Award for their actions in saving the life of Dave Bennett, an Assistant Engineer aboard our ferry Puyallup, which was in dry dock at the Vigor shipyard in West Seattle. It was just the second time someone from outside of our ferries group have earned the award.
Washington State Ferries Chief of Staff Elizabeth Kosa presents U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas Besheer (left) and Vigor Safety Manager Billy Ray Brittain (right) with Life Ring Awards Wednesday.

"Without action and raw human compassion to save a life, we would not be here today," Washington State Ferries Chief of Staff Elizabeth Kosa said in presenting the award. "I'm grateful for every person and medical team that provided the best care available to ensure one of our own crew had a chance to recover from a significant medial incident."

On Nov. 13, Bennett collapsed while working at Vigor. Besheer, who is assigned to the USS Sampson – which was also docked at Vigor – and Brittain performed CPR and used an automated external defibrillator (AED) on Bennett, who was suffering from a cardiac arrest. Their actions helped save Bennett until emergency medical help arrived.
Dave Bennett (center), an Assistant Engineer in our ferries division, thanks U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class
Nicholas Besheer (left) and Vigor Safety Manager Billy Ray Brittain (right) for their actions
in saving Bennett’s life when he went into cardiac arrest in November.

"Thank you for saving the life of one of our family members," Kosa said. "Thank you for making safety a priority, thank you for taking your training seriously, thank you for not hesitating and thank you for being an example to others."

All of our ferries crew members, including Brittain, are trained in basic first aid. Licensed deck officers are required to take an advanced first aid refresher course every two years. All of our vessels are equipped with multiple AEDs and checked daily. This year, our crewmembers have responded to 88 emergency, life-saving or rescue events so far.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Why does project cost estimating seem so hard?

By Ann Briggs

If you've ever taken on a major home remodeling project, you know that one of the first steps is to get estimates for what your project will cost. "Remodeling" a highway is similar in some ways, but for our projects, we develop our own cost estimate before we ask contractors to give us their bid for the work.

Estimating isn't an exact science
What is an estimate, really? It's an educated guess using the best information we have available to us at the time. Like a home remodel, what we think the project will cost doesn't always align with what contractors bid for doing the work. We develop our estimates by looking at historical bids for similar work, as well as trends in material and labor costs and market conditions. It gives us a good basis to start from, but by looking back at the past, we aren't always able to keep up in volatile markets with rapidly rising costs or with unanticipated events, such as tariffs or work stoppages.

With these kinds of variables, we consider contractor bids that are within 10 percent above or below our engineer's estimate acceptable and we typically award the project to the lowest bidder within that range. So for example, the Interstate 5 Northbound - S. 260th Street to Duwamish River Bridge project, which replaced concrete and expansion joints on I-5 in King County, was estimated to cost $29.5 million and the contractor's bid was $30.8 million. That's just 4 percent over estimate - yet it equates to $1.28 million. We recognize that this is still a lot of money.

Things that can influence the cost of a project
Any number of elements can influence the amount a contractor bids for a project; some are within our control, others are not. These are a few of the major ones:
  • Contract Restrictions: Think about the differences in approach you'd take remodeling an empty building versus one that is occupied. We do the same for transportation projects. For us "occupied" might mean working around traffic on a busy roadway, or fish in a stream, or birds nesting on bridges and nearby trees - any of these might result in placing restrictions on when a contractor can do their work. The more restrictions there are, the less flexibility a contractor has to do the work, and often that is reflected in bid prices.
  • Time of year: Projects advertised for contractor bids early in the season (December/January) typically result in lower bid prices. During this time, contractors are just starting to schedule work for the upcoming construction season, and supplies and available work force are more plentiful. Later in the season, there is more demand for labor and materials (such as asphalt) and those prices go up. For many of our engineers, the winter season is when they are developing projects - after the summer construction season is over - so it's a matter of balancing workloads, making it difficult to meet that early season time frame.
  • Competition among owners: There's a construction boom happening in our state and when many project owners - for example, King County, City of Seattle, Sound Transit - all have projects within the same region, competition for construction contractors can drive prices up due to demand for available labor. A similar boom is occurring in the private sector as well. With so much work going on, we're getting fewer bidders on our projects because contractors are already busy. Contractors with more work than workers, might need to bring in extra crews from other regions, which drives up their costs (travel, lodging, etc.) and those costs get passed on to us.
  • Project complexity: We have several unique and complex projects that require specialized engineering skills or construction expertise - including the largest bored tunnel in North American, ferry terminal projects that require both building and marine construction expertise, and floating concrete bridges - that create estimating challenges for engineers with limited exposure and experience in these types of projects.
  • Project duration: Very large projects that span multiple years to build, might be subject to changing market conditions throughout the construction period. As a result, contractors may adjust their bids to reflect the risk and anticipated inflation.
  • Materials costs: We track materials price changes for items that are commonly used in our projects, such as hot mix asphalt (influenced by oil prices) and steel (rebar and structural steel). We also monitor the effects of tariffs on commodity prices. In volatile markets, it's not unusual for us to underestimate these commodities because the historical bid information we use lags the market.
How we measure up
Our engineers are trained professionals and they expertly design some effective and creative project solutions under challenging conditions. The chart below shows the percentage of projects that were below, within 10 percent, or above the engineer's estimate for the past three fiscal years (July 1 - June 30).

Nationally, the Federal Highway Administration sets the target for project engineer estimates within the plus or minus 10 percent range at 50 percent. We met that target in FY 2016, struggled with our accuracy in FY 2017 (for some of the reasons outlined above) and then bounced back in FY 2018.

As with any project, we understand the importance of starting out with a realistic budget. That's why we're working to continuously improve our processes by:
  • Inviting review of our processes by peers and external experts
  • Consulting with the heavy construction and engineering industry to better understand how contract restrictions affect bid prices
  • Exploring ways to attract a larger number of project bidders
  • Implementing specialized training on project-cost estimating to enhance our engineers' skills
Like a home remodel project, in transportation construction you never really know what lies hidden until you start digging below the surface. It's similar to tearing the shingles off your roof and finding the plywood is rotten below. Although some things are beyond our control, we'll continue delivering the best results we can, using all the tools that are available to us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Change means more room to roam for SR 20 winter adventurers

Tuesday, March 26
Due to warmer weather and clearing work from our maintenance crews, we moved the western SR 20 North Cascades Highway seasonal closure gate from milepost 130 to milepost 134. Crews are currently working to determine a date to begin the annual process of reopening the highway. Check the North Cascades Highway webpage for updates.

Thursday, Feb. 7
Due to the weekend forecast for heavy snow, strong winds and cold temperatures throughout western Washington, our crews will move the western SR 20 North Cascades Highway seasonal closure gate west from milepost 134 to milepost 130 at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7. To access to the closed section of highway, skiers, snowmobilers and other users can park at this location near Colonial Creek Campground/Thunder Knob Trailhead.

Thursday, Jan. 31
The extended forecast for the week of Feb. 4, 2019 does call for some low-level snow and cold temperatures in the Diablo area. Crews will continue to clear SR 20 between mileposts 130 and 134 until significant snow or ice builds on the roads. At that time, for the safety of travelers and crew, they will move the seasonal closure gate to milepost 130. We will update this post if that happens.

Thursday, Jan. 24
Based on the extended forecast for the week of Jan. 28, 2019 we’ve determined snowfall along SR 20 near milepost 130 is not expected to be significant enough for winter recreation. Therefore, barring a change in the forecast and significant snowfall at lower elevations, the seasonal closure point on the west side of SR 20 will remain at milepost 134 until at least Monday, Feb. 4.

Thursday, Jan. 17
Based on the extended forecast for the week of Jan. 21, 2019 we’ve determined snowfall along SR 20 near milepost 130 is not expected to be significant enough for winter recreation. Therefore, barring a change in the forecast and significant snowfall at lower elevations, the seasonal closure point on the west side of SR 20 will remain at milepost 134 until at least Monday, Jan. 28.

Thursday, Jan. 10
Based on the extended forecast for the week of Jan. 14, 2019 we’ve determined snowfall along SR 20 near milepost 130 is not expected to be significant enough for winter recreation. Therefore, barring a change in the forecast and significant snowfall at lower elevations, the seasonal closure point on the west side of SR 20 will remain at milepost 134 until at least Tuesday, Jan. 22, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Friday, Jan. 4
Based on the extended forecast for the week of Jan. 7, 2019 we’ve determined snowfall along SR 20 near milepost 130 is not expected to be significant enough for winter recreation. Therefore, barring a change in the forecast and significant snowfall at lower elevations, the seasonal closure point on the west side of SR 20 will remain at milepost 134 until at least Monday, Jan. 14.

Thank you to everyone for your feedback. We heard you. Here are the changes we’re making in response:
  • We will close the gates on SR 20 at milepost 134 just as we have every year when the avalanche risk increases.
  • We are committed to keeping the western closure point at that location through at least Jan. 2, 2019.
  • After Jan. 2 we will continue to keep the road open to the gate at milepost 134 until there is significant snowfall to the west, to alleviate concerns about large patches of bare pavement beyond the new closure point at milepost 130.
  • We have heard from many snowmobilers concerned with the change in our operation. We are working with local snowmobile groups to attend/plan a meeting next month to discuss your concerns and talk more in depth about the issues we face on SR 20 while accommodating winter users.

By Andrea E. Petrich

Picture this.

Nothing but blue sky overhead as the bright Pacific Northwest sunshine reflects off jagged mountain peaks and snowfields that are hugging the steep edges of mountains in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades National Park. You move forward and listen to the crunch of hard winter snow under your snowshoes as you breathe in the near-freezing temperatures your properly bundled fingers and toes don’t even notice.

SR 20 North Cascades Highway includes a 35-plus mile stretch of state highway that closes to vehicles each winter due to avalanche risk. During that closure the area remains open to skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, fat-bikers and other winter adventurers to enjoy at their own risk. This winter season, there will be almost four more miles available for those winter activities!
During the SR 20 seasonal highway closure snowshoers, skiers, snowmobilers
 and other winter adventurers use the closed section of highway.
A new closure point
When we first close the highway this season, the closure point will still be at milepost 134 near the Ross Dam Trail. But in January, our maintenance crew will move the western closure point back to the western side of Diablo Lake’s Thunder Arm near The Thunder Knob Trailhead and Colonial Creek Campground, near milepost 130.
The new closure point on SR 20 is at an elevation of 1,410 feet,
 four miles west of the old gate at elevation 2,120.
This new location still provides adequate parking for those who are unloading snowmobiles or otherwise starting their chilly adventure, but it does mean that the start of the closure area is an uphill climb – so you’ll be able to shed those warming layers quicker than you could in the past. The eastern end will close at milepost 171 in Mazama but will also move back to milepost 178 once snow depth increases and becomes too deep for snow blowers. That usually happens in January, meaning there will be 48 miles of traffic-free highway for you to enjoy a winter workout.

The new closure point is at milepost 130, just past Colonial Creek Campground where there is parking available for vehicles, including rigs with trailers pulling snowmobiles.

Why the change?
This move is going to help the budget, allowing our maintenance team to spend funds in other areas – where potholes need to be filled and guardrail needs to be repaired, for example – instead of on clearing this four-mile stretch of highway throughout the winter. While we won’t know the exact savings until after we get through a season, we expect it to be significant when you tally up crew time in the plow, the material use and the time spent cleaning up the sand that we spread for traction.

But what about our yearly highway opening celebration in the spring? By then, our crews will have cleared those final four miles so the opening day crowd will still line up where they have for decades.

Not closed yet!
As of Nov. 20, the highway is still open for the season, and an average of 1,200 vehicles a day cross Rainy Pass to enjoy one of our state’s most beautiful stretches of road. The highway will remain open until snow really starts to fall and avalanche danger increases, usually around Thanksgiving. Then, winter activities can commence until sometime in the spring when the snowfall slows and crews start work to clear the highway for the season.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

An early gift for Tacoma Mall holiday shoppers from Skanska

By Cara Mitchell

Just in time for the holidays, a temporary lane configuration that sends eastbound State Route 16 drivers on a 2-mile detour to reach the west side of I-5 in Tacoma will be removed as early as Friday morning, Nov. 16, weather permitting.

Design-build contractor Skanska recently finished building a temporary ramp that will allow I-705, SR 7 and Pacific Avenue drivers to merge on to southbound I-5 without having to use exit 132A/South 38th Street ramp.

Once the new temporary ramp opens to traffic, Skanska can remove temporary traffic control and allow SR 16 drivers to go west on South 38th Street.

Why have SR 16 drivers not been able to use the South 38th Street west ramp?
In May when southbound I-5 moved into a temporary configuration, I-705, SR 7 and Pacific Avenue drivers had to take the 132A/South 38th Street exit to rejoin southbound I-5 near South 48th Street. This temporary configuration increased traffic volumes on the ramp.

Drivers coming from downtown Tacoma were also merging with those coming from eastbound SR 16 to southbound I-5. While it is true that this merge has always been in place, the distance to make this merge shortened. To reduce the potential for collisions, traffic control was installed preventing eastbound SR 16 drivers from merging across two lanes of traffic to exit South 38th Street west. For their safety, drivers were detoured to the South 56th Street exit, back on to northbound I-5, and to exit 132. While this wasn’t popular with drivers, it was necessary due to the amount of traffic on both ramps.

Once the temporary ramp is open, traffic volumes on exit 132A/South 38th Street exit will be reduced.

Safety first while driving through work zones
We’ve all experienced first-hand the increased traffic congestion near a mall or shopping center during the holidays. This change in ramp configurations will help traffic get to shopping areas more easily during the holidays. Still, be sure to pay attention to your driving, especially through work zones, and give yourself plenty of travel time to enjoy your shopping adventures.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Like some oil changes, I-90 ramp project in Spokane gets a bit more complicated

By Beth Bousley

Have you ever dropped off your car for an oil change and had it turn into a lengthier and more expensive car repair? Once in a while, our construction projects go the way of that oil change.

Take the westbound I-90 Hamilton on-ramp repair project in Spokane. When our contracted crews removed the overlay of the on-ramp, which was built in the early 1970s, they found that the bridge deck needed more repairs than originally anticipated. That meant the on-ramp could have been closed through the winter. Instead, we’re expediting the work to open one lane hopefully before the snow flies.

Why now?
Most bridges will last 75 years until they need to be replaced but since bridge decks get worn down from traffic and weather, they usually need rehabilitation after about 30-40 years to keep them strong and safe. That, along with the fact that it’s about ten times less expensive than replacing the entire structure, is why we are resurfacing the Hamilton on-ramp now.

No easy task
There’s lots involved in repairing an onramp and the Hamilton Avenue/I-90 project is no exception, with its own added complexities and time constraints:
Workers clean up a segment of roadway after hyro-demolition.
A close look at the damaged rebar
that needs to be chipped out
by hand to have appropriate
overlap with new rebar.

  • Like many structures, the Hamilton on-ramp needs to be repaired and resurfaced section by section to maintain its strength – and that involves time.
  • Deteriorated concrete in the overlay of an on-ramp can be removed using hydro-demolition or high-pressure water. This is a cost-effective way to remove old concrete, but it doesn’t work well when the temperatures drop below freezing. What we can’t get done now has to wait until the spring, because there’s no skating allowed on on-ramps!
  • After the overlay of an on-ramp is removed, new reinforcing steel – or rebar – is added to the old rebar to strengthen the structure. In the case of the Hamilton on-ramp, we found that the old rebar was more worn than anticipated, which meant more time was needed to strengthen the structure with additional new rebar.
  • Remaining concrete is chipped out by hand before the concrete is poured; a time intensive process. 
  • To get one lane open to traffic, we will be applying hot mix asphalt (HMA) as temporary pavement. HMA is hard to work with when temperatures drop since the colder the ground, the faster the asphalt loses its heat, making it almost impossible for it to stabilize. So we’re racing the clock (and the snow) to get the one lane paved and open.

The pink paint shows where workers hand-tie wire to secure old and new rebar.

Workers use hand tools to chip out the damaged rebar, marked by orange paint. Lots of orange paint equals lots of time.

Just like cars, it’s important to maintain our highways, bridges, and on-ramps to keep them in good repair for years to come.
Preparing to pour concrete on the new road deck.

Know before you go
We work hard to deliver high quality projects on time and budget and when projects change and delays happen, we still try to get travelers back on the road as quickly and safely as possible. The best advice is to know your alternate routes and check the construction scheduled to make sure you know the best way to go - and arrive safe.

Move Over or Slow Down for flashing lights on the side of the road

Please help keep traffic responders safe this week and every week

By Barbara LaBoe

We all know to pull over when we see a fire truck or ambulance with lights and sirens in traffic – it's almost automatic. But did you also know about the Move Over, Slow Down law for response vehicles on the side of a roadway?

If you're approaching emergency and other response vehicles with flashing lights on the shoulder, state law requires you to move over into the next lane – if possible to do so safely – or slow down as you pass. This helps keep the response workers safe. It also allows them to finish their work more quickly, which benefits everyone on the road. This summer the law was expanded to include highway construction/maintenance vehicles, utility vehicles and other vehicles providing roadside assistance – when they have lights flashing.

Remembering the Move Over, Slow Down law is important every day. This week, however, we're making a special point of highlighting it as we recognize National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week. The week honors traffic responders' vital work and raises awareness about the dangers they face every day while clearing crashes and other incidents.
Please remember to Move Over or Slow Down when passing emergency responders
on roadways or shoulders – we need everyone's help to keep them safe.

According to national Traffic Incident Management statistics:
  • Traffic incidents are the leading cause of death for EMS/EMT responders.
  • 39,000 incident responders are potentially placed in harm's way every day.
  • 20,000 first responders are injured each year while responding to traffic incidents.
We want to keep all responders – and travelers – safe, but Traffic Incident Management is also about getting traffic moving again. It includes police and fire officers as well as transportation workers, tow truck drivers, utility workers and anyone else helping to clear an incident on or on the side of a roadway. By working and training together, responders can clear crashes more efficiently, saving everyone time and money.
Clearing major crashes takes a team of responders, including law enforcement, fire, transportation workers and others. Traffic Incident Management training allows the different groups to work together efficiently.

And it doesn't just affect the vehicles involved in a crash. Effective Traffic Incident Management benefits anyone on the roadway.

According to the Federal Highway Administration:
  • Traffic incidents account for up to one fourth of all congestion on roadways, due to rubbernecking and blocked lanes, and are the largest cause of unexpected traffic jams.
  • The average motorist loses almost a full workweek (36 hours) sitting in traffic due to traffic incidents.
  • Americans burn more than 2.8 billion gallons of gas every year stuck in incident-related traffic — that's almost 24 gallons of gas per driver.
  • Clearing crashes quickly reduces idling and emissions, which leads to cleaner air.
In Washington, our Incident Response Teams provided an estimated annual $87.8 million in economic benefits to travelers and businesses statewide, according to the 2017 Corridor Capacity Report. The benefits come from clearing scenes quickly to reduce the amount of time and fuel spent sitting in crash-related congestion and also by prevent secondary crashes and delays by quickly clearing initial incidents.
Our Incident Response Team crews respond to a number of calls to help keep traffic moving,
from flat tires to directing traffic around crash scenes.

So the next time you're passing responders working on the shoulder, please remember to Move Over or Slow Down. It's not only the law, it helps everyone get back on their way as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

New Mukilteo ferry terminal building comes into view

By Diane Rhodes

Almost 7 million pounds of concrete — roughly the equivalent of seven Boeing 747s loaded for takeoff – went into the foundation of the future passenger building of the Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal Project. Crews wrapped up the foundation’s construction in September, one year after it began. The foundation will support the building, trestle, and support system that holds the moveable bridge connecting the ferry to land.
The foundation is laid for the new Mukilteo ferry terminal building.

On the heels of this, crews finished boring the final 487-foot-long underground tunnel that holds the stormwater utility pipes. This bore was the riskiest and longest of the project, 75 percent of the total 650 feet of pipe. We used an underground boring method rather than digging an open trench to uphold our commitments to local tribes and to minimize ground disturbance, lowering the risk of soil settlement for nearby Sound Transit and BNSF structures. Next, crews installed manhole access to the stormwater system in October, completing this phase of the project.

The utility work and the building foundation set the stage for the second phase of construction – the terminal building, vehicle holding lanes, toll booths, and other components – expected to begin in early 2019.
Stormwater utility pipes that were installed underground.

The Mukilteo/Clinton ferry route is part of State Route 525, the major transportation corridor connecting Whidbey Island to the Seattle-Everett metropolitan area. It is one of the busiest routes in the state, with more than 4 million total riders every year. The terminal has not had significant improvements since the 1980s and components of it do not meet current seismic standards. The new Mukilteo ferry terminal, one-third of a mile east of the current one, will provide passengers with improved transit connections, safer and more efficient loading facilities, and improve access to the Mukilteo waterfront.

This project has come a long way from the first public scoping meeting in October 2011. Feedback gathered at 11 public meetings and 24 briefings with local elected officials, businesses, and community groups helped shape the design of the new Mukilteo ferry terminal to make it a unique part of our ferry system and a centerpiece of the Mukilteo waterfront.

You can find more photos of the project on our Flickr account.

Friday, November 9, 2018

New roots to honor veterans

By Andrea E. Petrich

As fall rain saturates our state, five new elm trees are soaking it all in, working to establish roots that will honor area veterans for years to come. But this story isn’t just about new trees, it’s about the long history of a symbolic tree-lined highway in Skagit County.

The beginning
In the 1930s, more than 150 elm trees were brought into Skagit County by train and planted along SR 536 – also known as Memorial Highway – in Mount Vernon to honor veterans who died in World War I.

As the population grew and land development expanded in the 1950s, many trees didn’t have proper room to grow. They became sick and hazardous, forcing crews to cut them down before they fell on their own and hurt someone.

The remaining elms
In early 2018, two of the original elms were still standing along SR 536 in front of the Net Drive-In, but like the others, they were dying due to development around them.
 In 2018, two original elms remained along SR 536 near The Net Drive-In

They had to come down. So one Sunday morning in March, our crews met up with arborists from Washington State Parks to safely cut these rotting trees and keep drivers and people in the area safe.
A Washington State Parks arborist
 finishes cutting down a dying
 elm tree along SR 536

But that’s not the end of the trees or our story.

Two large chunks of wood from each of these trees are now in the hands of a local veterans group who plan to use them in new ways – possibly as benches – to continue to honor area veterans.

Replanting to renew honor
When trees on our property need to be cut down, we look for new areas to plant replacements. An opportunity to regenerate the symbolism came to us thanks to a local veterans group and area Master Gardeners. They were finishing a campaign to replant 50 memorial trees – one for each of the Skagit County veterans who died in WWI – by the 100th anniversary of the end of the war, which happens to be this year.
Skagit County veteran Richard Sundance, who helped spearhead replanting efforts, watches as crews remove a dying elm along SR 536.

In late October some of my colleagues picked up five young elm trees from a local nursery and drove them over to what would become their new home in Edgewater Park off of SR 536. There, my teammates worked with Mount Vernon Parks and Recreation to plant these new trees, part of the group of 50 new trees honoring Skagit veterans who died during WWI.
Our crews help plant new elm trees near SR 536 in Skagit County.

As these five new elms – and their 45 fellow trees near Memorial Highway – spread their roots, we want to spread our thanks to the local groups who partnered with us on this project, and most importantly a giant thanks to the veterans and their families for their sacrifice and service.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Green Machine: New plug-in hybrid work truck helps reduce our carbon footprint

Truck is the first purchased by a Washington state agency

By Barbara LaBoe

Look out charging stations, we have a new truck that may be coming your way. In September we became the first state agency in Washington to purchase a plug-in hybrid work truck, a major step in our continuing efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.

Until now, most electric vehicles have been smaller, passenger cars. Electric trucks have been slower to be developed and come to market, meaning agencies with significant construction or maintenance work – and equipment – weren't able to easily switch out to the greener technology. Hybrid trucks like this are an important step for our managers and crews.
This F-150 was recently added out to our fleet, making us the first agency
in the state to purchase a hybrid plug-in work truck.

The new Ford XL F-150 light-duty truck will be used in all areas around the state including maintenance, construction and project engineering. We expect to get 21 miles per gallon with the new truck – a 50 percent increase in mpg compared to a traditional work truck – with no additional maintenance requirements. And because it's a hybrid, the truck can be dispatched anywhere in the state with no range concerns, and then be plugged in to charge at its work location. The battery pack assists acceleration for the first 90 miles of travel and then switches to battery regeneration for the rest of the route.

A company called XL Fleet builds the plug-in hybrid system that is added to a standard Ford F-150 light duty truck. It includes a 15-kwh liquid-cooled lithium ion battery pack housed in the truck bed as well as two cooling radiators and electric traction motor added to the rear driveshaft. The truck has a 3.3-liter V-6 and six-speed transmission with auto stop-start and regenerative braking. It can be charged using a standard J1772 charging port for Level 1 or Level 2 charging.
The charge port was place on the rear of the truck near the license plate because
many work trucks are typically backed in to parking spaces.

The battery pack does take up some of the truck bed, but a slide out drawer for tools has been added in front of the battery to make the best use of space. A canopy also will be added, providing storage for items that can sit on top of the battery cover. The battery pack weighs 700 pounds, allowing the truck to still carry 1,200 pounds of payload.

A standard light-duty truck costs $29,912; the additional cost for the hybrid features is $23,000. Based on the 50 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, we estimate the payback period for the hybrid option is eight years. The typical agency lifespan for this type of truck is 12 years.

This is another step in our continuing efforts to replace the agency's conventional vehicles with electric, plug-in hybrids or hybrid vehicles to meet both agency and state goals of a green, environmentally friendly fleet. Switching to these types of vehicle helps reduce our carbon footprint and emissions while still allowing our crews to carry out vital work.

The battery is housed under a steel plate which also includes a pull out tool drawer to maximize storage.
A canopy also will be included to allow for more storage.

In addition to the hybrid truck our agency has:
  • 45 Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (Chevrolet Volts) (PHEVs)
  • 20 all electric vehicles (Chevrolet Bolts) (EVs)
  • 100 hybrids
Light-duty trucks like this make up a significant percentage of our gas-burning fleet, so we're excited to test this new technology and add more of these to our fleet if they function as expected.

Issaquah family shares story to raise awareness about the dangers of driving while fatigued

By Barbara LaBoe

Bill Shaw's family knows the dangers of drowsy driving all too well.

Getting behind the wheel when tired or struggling to stay awake is deadly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates it kills 1,550 people each year. In Washington, we average 13 fatalities a year from drowsy driving crashes, including 7 in 2017 and 15 in 2016. In the past decade, drowsy driving was a factor in 754 crashes in the state, according to the Washington State Patrol. And, because there is no test for fatigue, such as Breathalyzers for drunk driving, the National Sleep Foundation warns the actual numbers are likely much higher.
In 2006, Bill's daughter Mora almost became one of those fatality statistics. Mora, then 17, was riding with a friend who fell asleep at the wheel while crossing Blewett Pass. The driver had been up for almost 24 hours before the trip, though Mora didn't know that when accepting the ride.
The damage to the passenger side of the vehicle Mora Haggerty Shaw was traveling in when the driver fell asleep is shown in this photo. It took emergency crews more than half an hour to extricate her from the vehicle.

The damage on Mora's side of the vehicle was severe – pictures of the mangled car are hard to look at -- and only the quick thinking of a passing nurse got Mora to the hospital alive. (The others involved had minor injuries). At the hospital, with Mora in a coma, the Shaws were told to start planning for their daughter's funeral. Bill recently recalled mentally preparing himself to lay flowers on his daughter's grave.

Thankfully, Mora repeatedly beat the odds through years of surgeries, physical therapy and pain. And this summer, instead of a gravesite, the flowers were in her wedding bouquet as she walked down the aisle.
After years of recovery the Shaw family celebrated Mora's wedding this summer. Pictured (from left to right): Liam Shaw, Robert Winstanley (groom), Mora Haggerty Shaw Winstanley, William Shaw, Mary Beth Haggerty-Shaw.

It was an especially happy day after all the Issaquah-based family had been through, but the Shaws also point out that Mora still struggles with daily pain and early-onset arthritis. She will need several additional surgeries throughout her life. All of that pain could have been prevented, the family points out, if people better understood just how dangerous it is to drive while tired. They share their story throughout the year but especially during the governor-proclaimed state Drowsy Driving Awareness and Prevention Week taking place this week.

The American Automobile Association estimates that one out of every six (16.5 percent) deadly traffic collisions and one out of eight (12.5 percent) crashes requiring hospitalization of car drivers or passengers is due to drowsy driving.

According to studies in Australia, staying up 18 or 24 hours can leave you as impaired as driving drunk. And even a few hours of missed sleep can dull reactions behind the wheel. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more. People sleeping less than five hours increased their crash risk four to five times.

That's what the Shaws want others to know: That getting behind the wheel without enough sleep puts everyone at risk. If they save even one person's life by sharing their story, Bill said, their efforts will have been worth it.

Here are some tips to avoid and recognize drowsy driving.

When planning a trip:

  • Get adequate sleep — most adults need 7-9 hours to maintain proper alertness during the day.
  • Schedule proper breaks — about every 100 miles or 2 hours during long trips.
  • Travel with a buddy — someone to talk with and share the driving.
  • Avoid alcohol and sedating medications — check your labels or ask your doctor.

If driving, here are some warning signs to pull over and rest:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Slowing down and paying attention vital to work zone safety

By Cara Mitchell

We’ve seen a trend over the past few weeks, and it’s not one anyone likes. On three separate occasions during overnight hours in Tacoma, all lanes of Interstate 5 near the State Route 16 interchange were blocked by collisions. According to the Washington State Patrol, high speeds, inattentive driving, and not driving for conditions were contributing factors.
Drivers should pay attention to and follow
all signage near work zones.

The collisions occurred within the boundaries of our I-5/SR 16 Realignment – HOV Structure and Connections project, where both directions of I-5 temporarily have narrowed lanes and shoulders. The highway has been in this temporary configuration since May while design-build contractor Skanska rebuilds southbound I-5 in a new alignment near SR 16 to accommodate future HOV lanes.

Having a work zone with narrowed shoulders and lanes is common, and it requires drivers to pay extra attention to the road. When there is less room for error, glancing at your phone, changing radio stations or allowing other distractions that take your eyes off the road is not a good idea. Speeding, following too closely or aggressive driving behavior is also not advisable.

We’ve enjoyed five months of gloriously dry weather, and as the fall rains begin we could all use a reminder that driving on wet pavement is different than driving on dry pavement. Please slow down, especially when driving through work zones, and pay attention to your surroundings. The extra couple of minutes spent getting to your destination may end up being the most important minutes of your life.
Speed and inattention have led to three recent collisions in the same area
 of I-5 in Tacoma.

We are taking steps to help drivers better navigate through our work zone. Skanska recently repainted the lane lines and installed new reflective pavement markers on both directions of I-5 through the project. They have also added reflective markers to the median barrier, and motorists will soon see signs that encourage drivers to pay attention and slow down.
Nothing is more important than focusing and being alert while driving, for everyone’s safety (Photo courtesy Oregon DOT).

I-5 will be in this temporary configuration at SR 16 for another few months, and during this holiday season we all want to go home safely to our families and friends. We also want to thank you for your patience as we work to wrap up this major construction project.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Big Reveal: Migratory fish finally get to see their “fixer upper”

First fish spotted in Little Pilchuck Creek following SR 92 culvert replacement project 

By Frances Fedoriska

We want to welcome home the first fish to find their way through the newly redirected and restored Little Pilchuck Creek in Snohomish County! Just weeks after the bulk of this $6 million project to widen the passage under SR 92 wrapped, we caught our first glimpse of migratory fish in their new digs.

What we did
Before the renovation, migrating fish crammed through a tiny and fast-flowing 12-foot box culvert under SR 92 at North Machias Road in Lake Stevens. In June 2018, contractor crews with Graham Contracting, Ltd. removed that existing tiny culvert and replaced it with a 66-foot wide arched bridge.

The new wider creek bed, which was also designed to be less steep, has slowed down the speed of the water, making it easier for migratory species such as trout and salmon, to pass under SR 92. The new bridge was then buried under a few feet of dirt, and the highway was paved back on top.
Crews built the new bridge piece-by-piece over 18 days. We condensed the work into this one-minute video.
Forget shiplap
As any fan of home decorating knows, old wood can be repurposed in numerous ways in a new home .. even for fish. In this case, we took woody debris (think: dead tree trunks and buried logs) that were dug up, exposed or removed during the clearing process and placed them downstream to provide natural “rest stops” during migration.
These chunks of woody debris also provide nice hiding spots from predators soaring overhead.

Bonus: just like any home improvement project, repurposing the old wood allowed us to save some money on this project.

Down to the studs
This strategy of rebuilding the creek from the ground up allowed our design and construction teams to restore Little Pilchuck back to its natural state. This project helped us comply with a U.S. District court ruling regarding historical tribal fishing rights. It also expanded fish access to almost 30 miles of habitat upstream.

Closing credits
Anyone who has done a home improvement project knows they’re not all the same. This fish passage project was much more involved than most. We want to thank everyone who altered their plans, took the detour, took alternative routes, carpooled and made other changes to their daily routines during the closures and delays associated with this project.

Walking in the dark - tips for staying safe

By Ann Briggs

This weekend, we turn our clocks back an hour at 2 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, and for many of us, we'll start living like moles - going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark - sigh! Unfortunately, the numbers tell us that if you're a person who walks during these darker days, you're more likely to be involved in a collision with a person driving a vehicle.

For someone like me, these shorter, rainy days mean a few changes to my daily after-work walk routine. I'll start wearing my light-colored jacket, a reflective vest (fashionista!) and carrying a flashlight in hopes that drivers see me when crossing driveways and intersections. I've been doing this long enough to know that even in the best of conditions people driving don't always see me, or they're simply not paying attention.
Left: Using cross walks is always a smart idea, but remember to be cautious even when the crosswalks are well marked. Right: Wearing brighter clothing is one way to help make yourself more visible when walking at night.

We can't always "gear up" with visible clothing for walking in the dark - sometimes it's just not possible or practical. Think about the times you've made impromptu plans to meet friends for dinner and had to walk to your vehicle or bus stop in the dark. Or what about the person who has limited means - they might be fortunate just to have a warm coat - regardless of the color. Clothing and any reflectivity or lighting you have with you are the last line of defense, not the first.

So, for those of you who find yourself walking in the dark, here are a few of my personal safety tips to help keep you from becoming a hood ornament:
  • Try to cross the roadway at lighted intersections - it might mean walking a bit further, but it's where a person driving a vehicle might better see you and expect you to cross.
  • Don't ever think that a marked crosswalk will protect you - by law drivers are supposed to stop to let a person cross the roadway at ALL intersection crosswalks - marked or not - but apparently not everyone has received that message.
  • Never assume that if one person stops for you to cross the roadway, the person in the next lane will. I hang back in front of the stopped vehicle until I'm sure the person in the other lane plans to do the same. Again, the law tells drivers to stop when they see another stopped vehicle, precisely because they don't know what's beyond their line of sight - but not everyone does that.
  • Walk on the sidewalk if there is one; otherwise walk facing traffic so you can see what's coming at you.
  • If there's a running vehicle in a driveway, make sure the person driving sees you before you cross. It's worth the wait to see their surprised face rather than to have to try to dodge out of the way.
  • Be wary of crossing in front of drivers turning right; they often approach the intersection with their heads cranked to the left, looking for an opportunity to enter traffic. When they start moving and finally realize I'm standing at their passenger window, I like to smile, wave and thank them for not killing me.
Walking on paths or areas with good lighting can help keep pedestrians safe as days grow darker.
Don't get me wrong, I don't hate people who drive. I'm a driver too and I've made my share of mistakes behind the wheel. However, hoofing it on a regular basis has made me a better driver, more aware of all people who share the road. Fortunately, with my mistakes no one got hurt - and, really isn't that the point - making sure everyone gets to go home safely at the end of the day?

Let's all slow down and take a little extra time to compensate for the reduced visibility during the next several months.