Friday, August 17, 2018

My Summer at WSDOT

By Kendall Rees

This summer I worked as a transportation engineer intern in WSDOT’s Bellingham office. It was a new and exciting experience for me as I had never been to the Pacific Northwest. I am from Kansas and will be returning to Arizona State University (Go Devils!) at the end of the summer to start my junior year in the civil engineering program. The Cascades were definitely a welcomed change from the plains of Kansas and the deserts of Arizona! During my time here I’ve had the chance to work in the field as an inspector, learn how to test materials, help design part of a roadway improvement project, tag along with the survey crew, and of course, do a little night work. I’ve been provided with countless opportunities to learn and grow as a student and as an engineer.
Kendall rescuing fish from the old Gribble Creek culvert.

One of the first, and largest, projects I got to be a part of was the Sharpes Corner roundabout in Anacortes. I got to tag along with the inspection crew and see what actually happens on a construction site. Because the project moved so fast, I saw the intersection transition from a signaled stop to a free-flowing roundabout in the span of a month. I watched the crews cut electric lines, mill the old intersection, pour new asphalt, and install new drainage structures. The project moved so fast that after a couple of days all work that had been done made it seem like a completely different project. This was also my first time on a job site and all of the crews were extremely nice and willing to answer any questions. During my time in the field with the inspectors, I learned how to test concrete and was eventually qualified to do so. Luckily the red concrete they were using for the center island matched my pink boots!

Helping  capture fish at the Gribble Creek culvert job was one of several opportunities Kendall had this summer.

I spent my free time exploring all around the Mount Baker area, from weekend hikes to fresh ice cream from the local dairies. Seeing snow in July was not something I was used to! I watched the annual Ski to Sea race in Bellingham and the surrounding areas, drove up to Artist Point, hiked up to Washington Pass, and did my best to follow the speed limits in British Columbia. Coming from Kansas, I loved being able to buy fresh produce and dairy products from the local farmers up here. Also, hiking here was a nice change from hiking in Arizona!
Kendall headed under a bridge with a bridge
 inspection crew.

One day, our office got wind that a bridge inspection crew was up the road inspecting a bridge and were willing to let me tag along with them. While under a bridge, I learned just how much that crew gets done, from inspecting not only all the bridges, but also the signs, retaining walls, and other structures scattered across the state. I also learned that I could never be a bridge inspector because I would much rather have both of my feet firmly on the ground! I really admire all the work the bridge inspectors do!
By far one the most surprising jobs I worked on was the fish passage project at Gribble Creek. I worked with our biologists to help move the fish downstream from the job site. I was not expecting how hard the work was going to be! We spent a couple of days catching, counting, and releasing fish from the stream and existing fish barriers. I was nominated to climb in the culvert to rescue any fish that were caught inside due to my. …  exceptional skills in the height department.  This project, though tiring, was one of the most rewarding projects I got to be a part of. All in all, we caught more than 2,000 types of fish, including lamprey, mussels, and crayfish!
Kendall got some pointers from public information officer Andrea Petrich, a fellow Arizona State Sun Devil.

Moving out to the Pacific Northwest was a big move for me. Fortunately, I had a great office that supported me and were more than willing to share their knowledge of the area. I’d like to give a special thank you to the entire Bellingham project office for answering every question I had, helping me navigate Mircostation, letting me tag along to job sites, meetings, and bridge inspections, and making me feel at home. I learned so much in my internship this summer and I am excited to be able to relate it to the things I’ll learn in the coming year as I finish my degree. I had an amazing summer!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Join us for the Suquamish Community Celebration on September 22

By Katherine Mesa

Help us welcome our newest Olympic Class vessel, Suquamish, to our ferries fleet by joining us on Saturday, September 22 on Bainbridge Island for a community celebration! This event is free and open to the public.

Stop by any time during the event for vessel tours, live music, kids’ activities, and free refreshments.

The details
September 22, 2018
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility
497 Harborview Drive SE
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

About Suquamish
Suquamish is the latest of four Olympic Class ferries that are replacing some of our oldest vessels. Tokitae debuted in 2014, Samish joined us in 2016, and Chimacum in 2017. These vessels carry 144 vehicles and have a variety of improvements over our older vessels, including wider car deck lanes, improved access and safety, increased passenger comfort and a reduction in environmental impact and operating costs.

The new vessel will go into operation this fall on the Mukileto/Clinton route but will be used as a maintenance relief vessel, filling in when other vessels are out of service, during the winter.

Getting to the event
The event location is about a 10-minute walk from both the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal and downtown Bainbridge Island. There is ample parking at and near the ferry terminal and in the downtown area. ADA parking will be available at the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility.

We encourage attendees to take public transportation to the event.
From Kitsap County: Bus Routes to Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal include: 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 106
From Seattle: The Seattle/Bainbridge sailing schedule is available online.

Additional information about shuttle service will be available soon.

For more information on the Suquamish Community Celebration, please contact us at

We are committed to providing equal access to facilities, programs and services for persons with disabilities. To request disability accommodations for this event, email the ADA Office at least 10 days in advance at or call toll free 855-362-4ADA(232). Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing may make a request by calling the Washington State Relay at 711.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Balancing maintenance with traffic flow: Four-week closure of SR 162 Spiketon Creek Bridge for repairs begins Aug. 16

UPDATE 10:27 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 16:  A month-long closure of the SR 162 Spiketon Creek Bridge will begin sooner than originally planned, with bridge engineers closing the structure near Buckley at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16. A detour route using Mundy Loss Road, SR 410 and SR 165 will be provided and the closure will remain in place around the clock through Sept. 20. In preparation for the planned closure, crews performed a survey of the bridge that revealed settlement of one of the bridge's piers, prompting the decision to close the bridge to traffic until engineers can fully analyze the effect of the settlement on the bridge's structural integrity. The cause of the settlement is unknown. Inspections of the bridge deck and spot repairs to the driving surface took place in May and June of this year.

By Tina Werner

Just as brushing and flossing is an important part of our personal daily maintenance, regular inspections are a vital part of our bridge maintenance program, and necessary for keeping our structures in good working condition. Taking care of your teeth can save you from bigger problems later on, and maintaining our bridges does the same for our highways.

And just as with aging teeth, older bridges require a special level of care and maintenance. That is why our bridge maintenance crews will be working on the State Route 162 Spiketon Creek Bridge (also called the Pioneer Way Bridge) in Buckley later this month.

Starting at 6 a.m. Monday, August 20, crews will close the bridge around the clock through 6 p.m. Thursday, September 20.

The Spiketon Creek Bridge was built in the early part of last century, and it is showing its age. It needs a thorough inspection and repair.
The 226-foot-long structure is located on Pioneer Way East just south of Mundy Loss Road across Spiketon Creek. After years of use and repairs, the driving surface needs an overhaul and an up-close look.
Small segments of the bridge deck will be tested at a time with a special hammer to hear if they are hollow, a process called "sounding the deck." Crews will be able to hear a distinct difference between normal and hollow segments, helping to guide their repair efforts. Then crews will patch strategic portions of the deck and apply a waterproof seal to prevent moisture from reaching steel rebar and other structural components.

During the closure, bridge maintenance crews will:
  • determine the extent of deterioration on the bridge deck;
  • patch and inspect strategic portions of the bridge deck during daytime hours, followed by overnight, 12-hour concrete cures; 
  • apply a waterproof seal to the driving surface.
This process will continue around the clock seven days a week until the work is complete.

Alternate Route
During the bridge closure, a signed detour will be in place along Pioneer Way East to Mundy Loss Road, to SR 410 and back to SR 165. Bicyclists and pedestrians will follow the signed detour. The Foothills Trail under the bridge will remain open. Drivers should expect minor delays.

Why can’t this work be done at night or while providing one-way alternating traffic? 

The repairs and inspections require up-close, detailed work. The best approach to the job is to “get in, stay in, get out, stay out.” By condensing the work into an around-the-clock schedule, we will finish the work more quickly, save money, and provide a safer work zone for our crews.

How did the bridge deck get into such a condition?

We manage approximately 3,600 structures in our state that require regular care and attention and we make repairs as funds and resources allow. The last round of asphalt patching on this bridge was completed in early spring 2018. Our bridge maintenance crews continue to monitor the condition of the deck and have made numerous repairs to the driving surface. Those repairs added 10 years to the life of the deck and now it is time to complete more repairs.

What about long-term bridge plans?

After the inspection, bridge preservation engineers will be able to determine the extent of wear on the bridge, and if any traffic restrictions may be needed in the future. In the long run, we plan to build a new Spiketon Creek Bridge when funding becomes available. But for now, we’ll do all we can to keep the bridge safe and operational. We appreciate your patience and cooperation as we get this work done!

Westbound US 2 closure may equal major traffic headaches in Snohomish County this weekend

Significant adjustments needed by drivers to avoid massive travel delays

All lanes of westbound US 2 between SR 9 and I-5 will be closed from 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17 to 4 a.m. Monday, Aug. 20.

By Ally Barrera

If I were to use an emoji to describe what could be in store for Snohomish County drivers during the next three weekend closures of our westbound US 2 paving project, it would be the exploding head.
This may seem like an exaggeration cooked up in the mind of a millennial, but it's really not.

That's because these upcoming closures could potentially gridlock traffic in Snohomish County from Marysville to Mill Creek. No, that's not an exaggeration. Seriously.

If we all don't make adjustments during these weekends – carpool, public transit, biking, hibernating – the traffic will make you feel like your head might explode. Yes, even more than usual.

Now that I've scared you...
It's time to dig into why these closures will have a much bigger effect on traffic compared to our previous US 2 closures.

On the weekends of Aug. 18-19, Sept. 8-9 and Sept. 15-16, contractor crews will close all lanes of westbound US 2 between State Route 9 and the I-5 interchange – as long as the weather cooperates.

During these weekends, crews will repave the west end of the Hewitt Avenue trestle between Homeacres Road and the I-5 interchange. This means the 20th Street Southeast bypass detour we've come to know and love during previous closures will not be available, because it would drop vehicles right in the middle of the work zone.
This map shows approximately where crews will be working during the next three US 2 weekend closures.

Instead, travelers must detour onto SR 9 with options to go northbound on a 10-mile route to SR 528 in Marysville or southbound on a 12-mile route to Cathcart Way and SR 96 in Mill Creek.  

Plan LOTS of extra time to your travels
Whether you travel north or south on SR 9, expect it to take you AT LEAST 45 minutes longer to get around on these roads compared to when westbound US 2 is open.

And that's without factoring in all the extra vehicles that would normally be on US 2.
Even on a typical weekend, traffic on these roads are slow-going. Add the additional detoured vehicles
that normally use westbound US 2, and traffic will be downright glacial.

We've crunched the numbers, and found the amount of vehicles on northbound SR 9 and SR 528 will double during these US 2 closures. It will be even more crowded on southbound SR 9 and SR 96, where we expect the number of vehicles to triple during the closures. TRIPLE, I say!

Sure, there are backroads and local shortcuts you can take to get around – and your GPS might guide you through those areas as well – but expect a ton of other people to be doing the exact same thing.

Basically, if you must be on the road during the next few weekends, budget A LOT of extra time into your travels. And just when you think you've added enough extra time to get around, add some more time just to be safe.

What we need drivers to do
Here's the thing: If people try to drive like it's business as usual during these next three closures – or even like it's similar to the past few trestle closures – the highways will be completely jammed up. We need everyone who plans to travel through this area to do something different, like:
  • Carpooling
  • Taking transit
  • Moving discretionary travel to a non-construction weekend
  • Traveling before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. to avoid peak congestion
  • Checking traffic conditions before you get behind the wheel
    • Our website will have closure and lane reduction updates.
    • Get weekly email updates on King and Snohomish County projects.
    • Our Twitter account will have info about traffic.
    • Download our mobile app for traffic maps and other news and updates.
We saw this work out quite well during last month's Revive I-5 shutdown of northbound I-5. We asked drivers to try different ways of getting around the closure, and they did! Sure, there were still some backups around the region, but they were a fraction of what they could have been had everyone went along business as usual.

This needs to be done
This highway preservation work is important, and our crews can get a lot more work done during a full weekend closure than during a quick, overnight closure. We also need to get the work done before our good summer weather runs out.

Not to sound too cliché, but it's going to take the entire village working together to keep weekend traffic moving. Thank you in advance for your patience. We got this!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The face of the North Cascades Highway

By Andrea E. Petrich

For many, Don Becker is the face of SR 20's North Cascades Highway and that's not surprising. When Don was first hired back in 1979 he was strictly a seasonal guy – working with our winter crews until 1986 when he was hired full time out of our Brewster maintenance shop. After 10 years in Brewster and a six-month stop in Okanogan, it was October 1997 when he was promoted to the lead tech position in Twisp and started overseeing our annual opening of the North Cascades Highway opening.

The rest is 21 years of history and hard work – lots and lots of hard work.

For the past 14 years, Don has been a maintenance supervisor and spends each day making sure his crews are staying safe while they do all the work we need done – including clearing SR 20 as quickly as possible each season.
Don chats with a group of bicyclists making the trip through the closed seasonal section before opening in 2009.

"I love my job because of the people I have had the pleasure of working with and for," Don said. "They have made my job very successful and rewarding."

Of course, there are members of the public too, including the late Tootsie Clark, who he met for the first time in 1997. While Tootsie, a Marblemount business owner, and her gang would wait for the team to open the western gate each season, Don was often swinging open the eastern gate. The two would then connect for one of Tootsie's famous cinnamon rolls and photos each year somewhere in between.
Don, Tootsie and Granny Winthrop at the top of Washington Pass following gate opening in 2012.

At this year's opening of the North Cascades Highway – the first since Tootsie passed away - Jurene Brooks, Tootsie's granddaughter, expressed how much her grandmother appreciated Don and all the crews who worked so hard to open the highway and get summer traffic flowing again for businesses on both sides of the mountain.
Don, Tootsie, Granny Wintrop and members of the SR 20 clearing team –
Deed Fink and Jason Newman – at Washington Pass in 2015.

The winter snows melt away into the summer months, presenting Don and his crew with new challenges including getting potholes filled, guardrail replaced, grass mowed, signs cleaned up and winter equipment all ready for the upcoming snowy season. There's always plenty to do, and plenty of work zones, so please be aware, alert and cautious!
Don and Connie Becker have
 been married for 43 years.

When he isn't working to clear and maintain our roads, Don does plenty to give back to our community. He's been on the Brewster school board for 29 years, spent 25 years as a volunteer firefighter – 10 of those as Brewster Fire Chief – and officiates football, basketball and umpires softball.

Don and his wife, Connie have been married for 43 years and have four kids and eight grandkids. And they all want him to arrive home safely each day.

So please remember, when you see an orange vest on the side of the road clearing snow this winter or rebuilding guardrail this summer, it might be Don out there. Or a member of his crew. Or any other road worker. Under those vests and hard hats they are real people with hobbies, interests, plans and, most importantly, friends and families. And they all want to stay safe. Please do your part by staying alert, slowing down, giving them space and being patient.
Don works hard to keep our highways safe and the North Cascades Highway team needs him to help clear and swing gates open next season. And more importantly, those eight grandkids need their grandpa too.
Don Becker, got help from Darrell and Marlene Ford of Mazama to swing open The Silver Star gate on Highway 20, signaling the opening of the North Cascades Highway in 2016. The Fords, who have lived in the Methow Valley since 1962 (10 years before the highway across the Cascades opened), were first in the westbound line of trucks and cars at the gate. Photo courtesy Methow Valley News

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Seafair, baseball, basketball: We’ve got a busy couple of days ahead in Seattle, here’s what you need to know about closures and busy travel times

By Kris Browne

The Blue Angels are in Seattle this week, Aug. 2-5, and you know what that means: In addition to Seafair celebrations, the I-90 floating bridge and several ramps will close periodically during practice and performance flights.

Bridge closures require some travel adjustments but they're needed to keep everyone safe – both the pilots and folks on the ground. How do planes up in the sky affect safety on a bridge? We turned to the Blue Angels themselves to explain.

Blue Angels pilots need clear roadways below to limit distractions when they fly,
and they also don't want travelers distracted by planes overhead.

Several ramps will also close while the Blue Angels take flight. We'll have closure notices on our highway signs and will also post updates on Twitter. We strongly advise people planning to travel to and from the eastside to plan alternate routes in advance. A list of ramp closures and other details is on our Seafair webpage.

Besides the Seafair Air Show, many other events and construction projects are also taking place during the next few days:

Thursday, Aug. 2
  • Mariners vs. Blue Jays, 7:10 p.m., Safeco Field
Friday, Aug. 3
  • Seafair Weekend Festival, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Genesee Park
  • Storm vs. Lynx, 7 p.m., Key Arena
  • Mariners vs. Blue Jays, 7:10 p.m., Safeco Field
Saturday, Aug. 4
  • Seafair Weekend Festival, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Genesee Park
  • Mariners vs. Blue Jays, 7:10 p.m., Safeco Field
Sunday, Aug. 5
  • Seafair Weekend Festival, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Genesee Park
  • Mariners vs. Blue Jays, 1:10 p.m., Safeco Field
Whatever your summer weekend plans, please plan ahead and stay informed throughout your travels. But, if you are slightly delayed by closures, maybe you'll get a chance to see the Blue Angels in flight!

You can help decide how traffic will be during final Revive I-5 weekends

By Tom Pearce

It's been interesting to watch traffic patterns and how travelers are handling the northbound Revive I-5 weekend lane closures south of downtown Seattle.

We've made it through four weekends of lane reductions or full closures, but we still have at least two more weekend-long lane reductions ahead. The next two are scheduled for Aug. 11-12 and Sept. 15-16. We also may need a third weekend to complete work that can't be done during overnight shifts.
With northbound I-5 reduced to two lanes on the first two weekends
of Revive I-5 closures, we saw heavy traffic and big backups.

What we saw
Overall, you've been doing pretty well at helping to limit traffic backups. Thank you, your help is key to keeping traffic moving during this work.

The first two weekends, when two lanes remained open, our statistics show about 50 to 60 percent of people did something different – carpooling, taking transit, using alternative routes. Still, we saw 5- to 7-mile backups on northbound I-5, and slightly larger than normal backups on northbound I-405 and state routes 99 and 509.

During our two most recent weekends – full closures in early June and mid-July – more than 70 percent of you chose an alternative. The result? We saw minimal backups on I-5. The backups on I-405 were a couple miles longer than usual, and we saw a mile or two of backup on state routes 99 and 509. Overall, people were able to get where they were going, even with a full closure of our region's main arterial.
It takes about two full days to remove and replace an expansion joint.

Making lane closures work
We schedule work on weekends because there are times, like Revive I-5 work, that we need long hours to complete a job. Expansion joints (pdf 937 kb) require about 50 straight hours or more to replace; they simply can't be done during an overnight shift. We also took advantage of these same weekend closures to replace about a mile of concrete across all four lanes. Completing the work in just overnight shifts would take many months, greatly increasing the cost and adding years to the project.

Traffic also is lighter on weekends than during the week. Yes, it's a pain for those who travel on weekends, but it inconveniences far fewer people. We do our best to plan around concerts, sporting events and festivals, but sometimes it just isn't possible. Seattle is a major destination, and there's always something happening.

Some events, like the University of Washington commencement and Seafair, are just too big to accommodate major highway work. We can work around other events – we've already had lane reductions and closures the same weekend as a couple of big Mariners series, Sounders matches and concerts.

Even with the closures, people made it to their events. You planned ahead, allowed extra time and took alternatives. And it worked out relatively well.

'What's traffic going to be like?'
That's probably the question I hear most often. We do our best to minimize delays by warning people in advance and suggesting alternatives. My standard response is, it depends on what people do. If people use alternatives, we'll still see backups, but they won't be as bad. If everyone follows their normal routine, we're going see huge backups and long, long delays.

During four weekends with lane reductions or closures, you've shown the system can work – thank you for that and for your patience with the backups that do occur.

We've got two or three weekends to go on this project. Stay engaged by following our Twitter feed, check traffic conditions with the WSDOT traffic app before you leave and think alternatives. If we all work together, we'll continue to enjoy our weekends.