Wednesday, October 17, 2018

How we’re working to improve freight traffic – and all travel – across I-90

By Barbara LaBoe

Freight touches every part of society every single day – from ensuring a farmer's wheat gets to market to helping a company get the parts it needs to build its products to ensuring the latest gadget is on the shelf when you do your shopping. None of these happen without freight traffic.
Repairs like this replacing the deck from North Bend to Summit Bridge in 2016 help keep all traffic flowing more smoothly on I-90 - including freight traffic critical to our state's economy.

With our seaports, agriculture, aviation and high-tech industries, Washington is one of the most freight-dependent states in the nation. In 2017, Washington's gross business income for freight-dependent industries was $595 billion and those industries support more than 1 million jobs. Freight is vital to our economy and the movement of goods is one of our key transportation goals.

We also know that freight haulers can face several special challenges, including federal limits on hours of work and finding adequate – and safe – places to park their trucks. With many freight haulers using Interstate 90, we know that roadway in particular needs to meet their needs as well as all other types of travelers.

We wanted to share an update on several I-90 projects that improve traffic for freight haulers -- as well as all other types of travelers. All told from 2009 to 2027, we're scheduled to spend $912 million improving the roadway, adding capacity and improving safety.

Widening I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass
This work, done in stages between Hyak and Easton, adds a lane of traffic in each direction to meet projected traffic volume increases. Work also includes stabilizing slopes, replacing and repairing bridges and straightening some curves.
This view from 2016 shows the first of two avalanche bridges on I-90, which allow snow from a historically active avalanche chute to travel under the elevated bridge and into Keechelus Lake instead onto the old roadway (shown at left).
This reduces the number of avalanche control closures needed on this main freight route.

Avalanche bridges
This improvement elevated the highway at a historical avalanche site on the west side of Snoqualmie Pass, allowing snow, trees and other debris to flow underneath the roadway instead of on to it. This reduces the number of closures needed for avalanche control east of the pass or to clear the roadway and keeps traffic flowing.

Chain areas
Chain up and chain off areas are being increased, making more room for larger freight trucks to allow drivers enough space to safely install chains before heading over the pass.

Wildlife crossings
A number of crossings are being designed to help wildlife move more freely thorough the corridor as well as to prevent collisions. The most noticeable is the wildlife overcrossing east of Snoqualmie Pass, but there are also a number of undercrossings as well that allow animals to cross without entering the roadway. Fencing will help guide animals to the crossing locations.
The new wildlife overcrossing on I-90 will be complete this spring and is one of several improvement projects that will benefit freight traffic -- and all travelers -- by helping prevent collisions with wildlife that close the key cross-state highway.

Other improvements for freight drivers
While not I-90 specific, two other recent efforts to assist commercial vehicle drivers as they move goods throughout our state are:
  • Extended rest area stays: Commercial truck drivers face strict restrictions on hours of work and mandated rest breaks and it can be difficult to find safe places to take those breaks (see truck parking maps below). Safety rest areas can be a good option, but state law limits stays there to 8 hours per day, two hours less than commercial drivers are required to rest before driving again. We're trying a pilot project of extending stays to 11 hours for commercial vehicles only. It's only in place at six rest areas right now, and we'll use those spots to evaluate how the change affects overall access and parking for all travelers. The rest areas in the pilot project are Smokey Point (north and southbound), Maytown, Scatter Creek on I-5 and Indian John Hill (both east and westbound) on I-90.
Truck parking maps: An outgrowth of the 2016 Truck Parking Study, we produced these maps to aid truck drivers in finding safe and convenient places to park. Each location – including public and private options – includes details about number of parking spots as well as available amenities such as showers, restaurants or fuel. The maps are distributed at rest areas and other locations and also can be downloaded from our truck parking website.
Truck parking maps help freight haulers find safe and convenient places to park overnight or during mandatory rest breaks. Several versions are available.

View larger truck parking map (pdf 1 mb)