Monday, May 20, 2019

Long-term closure of Wellesley Avenue coming as North Spokane Corridor progresses

By Ryan Overton

Change is good, and it's continuing for the North Spokane Corridor as construction ramps up with the second phase of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BSNF) railway realignment project.
Here's the site of the second realignment of BNSF railroad tracks in Spokane.

The biggest change will be the closure of east-west roadways that are in line with the future US 395. Several closures will be permanent, including Bridgeport, Fairview, Cleveland, Grace, Marietta and Jackson avenues. This means the only options for drivers in the area to cross east and west will be Francis, Euclid, Carlisle and Upriver Drive.

Another big change is the three-year closure of Wellesley Avenue from Market to Freya. This happens to be the only central crossing between Francis and Euclid for the Hil­lyard and Morgan Acres neighborhoods. When Wellesley closes later this year, residents will drive approximately a mile north or south from Wellesley to find a suitable crossing to travel east or west.

Wellesley is slated for completion in late 2022, with the goal of opening a new stretch of the NSC between Freya and Wellesley, adding approximately 1½ miles of new freeway.

Construction takes time, and in Spokane the winter months from late October through March make it very difficult to work year-round. Battling snow and frozen ground puts us into a winter shutdown each year, which leaves a short window to be pouring concrete and moving the earth.

On top of that, one piece of the puzzle still has to fall into place.

That puzzle is to realign the BSNF railway to make way for the NSC. This project is expected to begin construction in late summer to early fall. Crews will then work to move the tracks away from the NSC corridor and construct the new alignment and overpass over Wellesley Ave.

A 3D rendering of the completed Wellesley interchange reconstruction project.

While the realignment continues on the BNSF track, 2020 will bring several new projects including the paving from Columbia Street to the Spokane River and beginning of construction on the raised roadway over the Spokane Community College parking lot. This is a huge milestone, as it will be very visible to the public, and the first project to start on the south side of the Spokane River.

Once the BNSF track has been moved, construction will begin on the Wellesley interchange, overpass, and connecting ramps. The current design includes two roundabouts for both on and off ramps.
East-west travel will have some adjustments during the next phase of the North Spokane Corridor project.

It will take roughly two years from start of construction to complete the Wellesley Avenue interchange, and it will be well worth it. The added roundabouts and wider roadway will make travel through the area much smoother and easier for drivers.

If you would like to learn more about the upcoming closure of Wellesley Avenue, the North Spokane Corridor or the Children of the Sun Trail, please join us for an open house Thursday, May 30, from 6-8 p.m. at the Northeast Community Center, 4001 N Cook St, Spokane, WA 99207.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Weekend-long lane reductions coming to Aurora Bridge

By Tom Pearce
Traffic will reduce to one lane in each direction
while a portion of the Aurora Bridge is repaved
May 31-June 3. The rest of the bridge will be
paved during other weekends.

Ah, another summer, another round of weekend-long lane reductions in Seattle for repaving. This year the closures will take place on the State Route 99 George Washington Bridge, aka the Aurora Bridge. It’s part of a larger preservation project that includes painting the bridge.

Our contract with Liberty Maintenance allows for paving for up to 10 weekends. These weekends include around-the-clock lane reductions on the bridge. This leaves just one lane open in each direction. The first lane reduction weekend will be 9 p.m. Friday, May 31, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 3. Other weekend lane reductions scheduled so far are:
  • June 14-17
  • June 28-July 1
  • July 12-15
  • Aug. 9-12, 16-19 and 23-26
Bridge vs. land

Paving a bridge is different than paving on land. When there’s solid ground underneath, we can grind off the old pavement and leave it ground for a few days, then repave it a few nights later.

Bridges have layers – the Aurora Bridge has steel beams and stringers supporting the structure, a concrete deck, a layer of waterproofing material and an asphalt driving surface. The waterproofing material is the thinnest part – just a fraction of an inch – but it’s critical. It protects the concrete deck from water, something that isn’t necessary on land. So when we remove the material, we want to replace it and repave as soon as possible, hence weekend-long lane reductions. Sounds simple, right?

Well, not exactly. The surface has to be totally dry 24 hours before we install the waterproofing or it won’t bond properly with the asphalt and concrete. We have a cool short video from our westbound US 2 project that shows what happens when the material is put down when the surface is wet. It’s not good. That means the work is weather-dependent – if there’s a good chance of rain in the forecast, our contractor will have to postpone the work.
The bridge needs repaving to eliminate cracks and ruts, and to protect the bridge deck.

Repaving Aurora in Seattle

The bridge paving is just one of two projects that will repave SR 99 between Roy Street in downtown Seattle and North 145th Street at the Seattle/Shoreline city limits. While one team works on the bridge, another will tackle the rest of the highway on land.

Crews already have finished paving the southbound section of SR 99 between the Aurora Bridge and Roy Street and are working northbound in that same area now. They’ll continue working north of the bridge throughout the summer.
Crews already have finished paving the southbound section of SR 99
between the Aurora Bridge and Roy Street and are working northbound
in that same area now. They’ll continue working north of the bridge
throughout the summer.

All of this work helps preserve the highway and provide a safer experience for travelers. When we repave, the new asphalt protects the ground that supports the road. Repaving also eliminates potholes, cracks and ruts where water can collect, which could reduce traction. Finally, repaving helps reduce maintenance costs or the need for emergency repairs which can be a big hassle for people who travel.

We understand it can be harder for people to get around when we have a major project like this. But for a season’s disruptions, these projects provide years of better travel conditions. Sounds like a pretty good trade.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Swift action from bridge crews inspecting the I-5 Nisqually River Bridge saves more than taxpayer dollars

By Tina Werner

A routine inspection of the northbound Nisqually River Bridge on Saturday, May 4 became anything but normal when our crews noticed a new crack under the 82-year-old bridge. Thankfully, their keen eyes and quick response helped avoid major delays for the 121,000 vehicles that travel that section of I-5 between Olympia and DuPont each day.

We regularly inspect all state bridges to ensure public safety, manage our facilities and properly plan for the future. These inspections allow us to monitor structure condition and address problems or damage early on before they become bigger and more expensive.
This crack beneath the bridge deck was identified during a routine inspection of the
northbound I-5 Nisqually River Bridge in early May.

This particular bridge – which was built in 1937 to carry both northbound and southbound traffic on US 99 (I-5 was still a couple decades away) – was last inspected in 2017.

This time, though, crews discovered a floor beam beneath the right lane on the northbound bridge deck – called a stringer – that had cracked from top to bottom, raising serious concerns. The damage was not there in the previous inspection. Concern about the safety of the bridge was enough to require a lane to remain closed until a full repair could be made. We have crews available 24/7 for critical work like this, helping minimize repair and lane closure times, and they swung into action.

Engineers from our Bridge Preservation Office collaborated with our bridge maintenance crews to design a repair. At the same time, bridge maintenance workers got ready on-scene so they could start the moment the repair plan was approved.
A routine inspection discovered a crack from top to bottom of this floor beam – called a stringer –
below the I-5 Nisqually River Bridge, leading to emergency repairs.

Meanwhile, because the lane closure would last longer than initially announced from our earlier inspection, our communications team went to work informing the public through our various outreach channels.

The repair was estimated to take eight hours to complete but instead, the entire fix took just under seven hours. That’s a remarkable turnaround time given the complexity of bridge repairs and the need to work next to moving traffic –  and it wouldn’t have happened without many people working together to make it possible.

What did we do?

The repair plan determined that a 3/8-inch steel plate was needed on each side of the bridge stringer with a new connection to the floor beam to reinforce the damaged girder. After searching in our maintenance yard, the steel plate was not available in house but our crews found and purchased the plate from a local steel vendor and set to work on the repairs.

First crews removed the rivets and cut the steel to size. Next they placed it over the defective area and drilled new holes to secure the plate. Finally, they tied the ends together and got the highway reopened. It may sound simple, but there are many moving, complex parts that come into play, and working from a mobile platform suspended over the water does not make it easy, especially while trying to keep our workers and drivers safe and traffic moving.
Teams from our Bridge Preservation Office as well as bridge maintenance crews collaborated on an emergency repair of the Nisqually River Bridge on I-5, fully reopening the highway just seven hours after the repair started.

Regular inspections prevent emergency closures

Most bridge inspections on our state highways happen every two years but some can happen more often depending on concern. For example, before it was permanently closed earlier this year, Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct was inspected every six months. These inspections are critical in catching small problems that can be fixed early before they become larger, emergency situations that would require our crews to shut down or restrict access to a bridge they don’t feel is safe. Besides the increased safety risk, the cost of replacing a bridge is much more expensive than repairing and maintaining it.

That said, we also understand lane closures needed for some of this work can be an inconvenience and we thank you for your patience while we got this critical work done. And of course, we extend a huge thanks to our bridge preservation engineers and our maintenance and IRT workers who pulled off this successful repair quickly and safely to get the highway fully reopened for weekend travelers. Great job!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

New signs on eastbound I-90 in Snoqualmie

By Nicole Daniels

If you regularly travel on eastbound Interstate 90 between Preston and Snoqualmie, you are probably aware of the frequent backups near the State Route 18 off-ramp during peak commute periods. Although construction to improve the I-90/SR 18 interchange is scheduled to start in 2021, we're continuing to implement low-cost improvements to manage congestion and improve safety in the interim.

Recently, contractor crews from Northeast Electric, LLC installed two new active warning signs on eastbound I-90 just west of the SR 18 off-ramp. The first sign is approximately two miles before the I-90/SR 18 interchange, and the second sign is about a mile before the interchange. These signs will be activated on Monday, May 13.
Location of the two new active warning signs on eastbound I-90.

The signs are wired to automatically turn on when traffic ahead is slowed or stopped, giving drivers more time to slow down in order to prevent rear-end collisions.
When activated, the signs will read "stopped traffic ahead," and will have two flashing beacons at the top.

Previous improvements
Like this sign, we've also implemented many other low-cost improvements to help keep travelers moving safely until an improved interchange is built. Here's what we've done so far:
  • Widened the eastbound I-90 off-ramp to SR 18
  • Changed the right lanes of eastbound and westbound I-90 to exit-only lanes
  • Partnered with the City of Snoqualmie to change the lane configuration on southbound Snoqualmie Parkway - making the right lane a right-turn-only lane to the westbound I-90 on-ramp
  • Adjusted the signal timing at the two intersections to operate the interchange as efficiently as possible
  • Installed "Thru traffic keep left" signs on both directions of I-90 prior to the SR 18 interchange to guide through-traffic to stay in the left two lanes and keep the right lanes clear for drivers exiting to SR 18 or Snoqualmie Parkway
  • Installed "No U-turn" signs on SR 18 at the interchange to prohibit U-turns that have caused congestion for the off-ramp traffic
In spring/summer 2019, we will also extend the "exit only" striping on eastbound I-90 approaching the SR 18 off-ramp.

Upcoming I-90/SR 18 interchange improvements
The I-90/SR 18 interchange improvement project is one of the bigger projects in the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package. The Legislature designated $150 million to implement improvements. At this time, a Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) is the leading concept, as we believe this can provide improved traffic flow and congestion relief for all of the movements at the I-90/SR 18 interchange. However, we plan to conduct extensive community engagement, traffic and environmental analysis as an interchange design is developed and refined.

Until the improved interchange is complete in 2023, we will continue to monitor traffic in the area and make low-cost improvements when feasible.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Travel reduced to one lane on SR 20 near Loup Loup Summit

Load restrictions and signal-controlled traffic are currently in place

By Lauren Loebsack

UPDATE Monday, May 20 8:30 a.m.
Work continues on the emergency repairs to SR 20 near the summit of Loup Loup between Twisp and Okanogan following a washout earlier this month. The contractor completed an access road from the roadside down to the bottom of the washout. Next they'll haul rip rap and fill down the road to rebuild the slope from the bottom up. One lane, signal-controlled traffic is still in place though it's possible some full closures may be necessary as the repair continues.

UPDATE Tuesday, May 7
An emergency contractor has been named to rebuild the hillside under the eastbound lane of SR 20 between Loup Loup summit and Okanogan that washed out on Wednesday, May 1. Our geotechnical engineers have designed a repair plan and Hurst Construction of East Wenatchee will begin mobilizing and could begin staging equipment as soon as this weekend.

For now, as the hillside under the westbound lane remains stable and single-lane alternating traffic will continue, as will oversize load restrictions with no vehicles wider than 12 feet being permitted. As the repair work proceeds, some full closures and a detour are likely to be necessary. An estimated 15-20,000 cubic yards of rocks and mud slid toward Loup Loup Creek hundreds of feet below the highway. Our geotechnical engineers determined ground water saturated the soils and caused the washout below the road seven miles east of Loup Loup Pass at milepost 222.4.

There is no estimate for how long the repairs will take. The initial hurdle to overcome is locating and transporting 2,000 dump truck loads of boulders, rock and gravel to rebuild the hillside.

The current slide area is about a mile further east from where a series of slides closed 16 miles of SR 20 in April, 2017, requiring almost four months to repair.

Original Post
We've seen some beautiful weather lately and with that comes plenty of people out exploring our state. But if you're planning a trip on SR 20 between Twisp and Okanogan, be prepared for some delays. A mudslide earlier this week has left just one lane open about seven miles east of Loup Loup Pass at milepost 222.4. Our geotechnical crews have been on scene since the incident and have determined that ground water eroded the bank below the road. An emergency repair plan is being developed, but for now, we've installed a traffic signal as well as barriers and cones to help guide traffic through the one open lane. Additionally, no vehicles wider than 12 feet are permitted.

There is no estimate yet on when the roadway will be restored to normal.

The current slide area is less than a mile east of the location where a series of slides closed SR 20 in April 2017. At that time, nine distinct slide areas from milepost 207 to milepost 222 closed SR 20 and required almost four months of repair work.
A look at the location of the mudslide that has a lane closed on SR 20. (Picture courtesy of Okanogan County EMS).

A traffic signal will direct traffic through the open lane at the site of the SR 20 mudslide east of Loup Loup Pass summit.

Repairing the roadway will be no easy task. The height and slope of the roadway and hillside present very challenging conditions. It's not known yet if making repairs from below the roadway is feasible, and at best, the work will be very difficult. If it's not possible to make repairs from below, we'd need to work from above the washout. Repairs could require a full closure of the roadway.

If you must drive through the area, please be prepared for potential delays and be alert for road workers. Watch your speed and abide by the traffic signals. We will provide updates as a plan is developed.
A mudslide took down guardrail and some of the shoulder of SR 20 east of Loup Loup Pass summit earlier this week.

The steepness of the slope and height of the road will make emergency repairs a significant challenge.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Know a child who loves the earth and art? We've got a contest for them.

By Barbara LaBoe

No one likes litter along the roadway. We don't like seeing it marring our highways and we know the public doesn't either.

Our crews, along with our invaluable Adopt-a-Highway volunteers, clear about 600 tons of trash off of more than 18,000 miles of state roadways every year. Despite that effort, roadside litter remains an ongoing problem and concern. And the easiest way to tackle the problem is to prevent the trash from getting to the roadways in the first place.

That's where our state's young artists come in.

We're creating new Adopt-a-Highway automobile litter bags. The bags help physically contain trash, of course, but we also want to help spread our litter prevention message on the outside. And we need some new artwork reminding everyone how preventing litter helps keep our state beautiful.

That includes:
  • Securing all loads, even "quick trips" in town - it's the law and it can prevent injuries as well as roadside litter
  • Never throwing trash or other items in the back of pickups where they can fly out and land on the roadways
  • Keeping track of trash inside your vehicle so that it doesn't fall out when you exit the vehicle
  • Never tossing litter out of a vehicle or along a roadway
The hope is not only will the contest raise awareness in the next generation of citizens, but that they'll also share the message with the adults in their lives right now. The bags will also remind people of Adopt-a-Highway volunteer opportunities, with more details available online.
Our Adopt-A-Highway art contest is open to any students in grades 1-6.

So, know an elementary school student who could design the perfect art for our new litter bags? Maybe someone with a zeal for keeping our state and planet beautiful? Read the details below and then send us their best work.

OK, what are the details?
All students (except children of WSDOT employees and contractors) in grades 1-6 are eligible and invited to participate in this contest. Drawings should depict the theme of "Keeping Washington Beautiful/Reducing Roadside Litter."

Submissions will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Friday, May 31. All mailed submissions must be postmarked by May 31.

Winning submissions will be featured on new Adopt-A-Highway automotive litter bags and will also be featured online, including on our Adopt-A-Highway website and our social media channels.

What are the submission requirements?
  • Dimensions:
    • Electronic: Submissions must be 300 dpi or higher, and portrait oriented.
    • By mail: Submissions must be on 8.5 x 11 paper, and portrait oriented.
  • Media: Submissions must be in black and white and hand-drawn (no electronic illustrations, please). Any of the following media may be used: paint (watercolor, tempera, poster, acrylic, etc.) and drawing materials (pencil, charcoal, chalk, pastels, markers, crayons, etc.). Artists are encouraged to use bold, strong lines in black and white only.
  • Original artwork: All work must include the theme of Keeping Washington Beautiful/Reducing Roadside Litter, (including how to prevent litter, why we should all keep the state clean, etc.).  No copyright images, text or other material will be accepted (for example, artwork depicting characters from television shows, video games or books is not allowed).
  • Ownership: Artist submissions shall be treated as being free of restrictions and limitations to their use. By submitting artwork, you give ownership to WSDOT and authorize us to post your entry on our website indefinitely, and grant us the right to use, print and publish your design.
Entries in our Adopt-A-Highway art contest should reflect the theme
"Keeping Washington Beautiful/Reducing Roadside Litter"
How to submit drawings
  • Electronic: Scan, attach, and email your drawing with the subject line "Adopt-a-Highway litter bag contest" to the body of the email include the student's name, age, school, and the best phone number and email to contact the winner. Also include parents' names and a note that they have approved the submission. Email deadline is 5 p.m. May 31.
  • By Mail: All submissions should include a note with the student's name, age, school, and the best phone number and email to contact the winner. Also include parents' names and a note that they have approved the submission.Must be postmarked May 31.All hard copy submissions should be sent to the following address:
WSDOT Maintenance and Operations Division
ATTN: Adopt-a-Highway litter bag contest
PO Box 47358
Olympia, WA  98504-7358

  • Please note: Each child may only submit one drawing.
Who will select the winning drawing?
A panel of judges from our Maintenance Division will review entries. Up to four winners will be selected. Entries will be judged on creativity, originality, clarity of theme and artistic merit.

Around-the-clock work on I-5 may bring big backups to south Skagit County

Travelers should prepare for temporary reconfiguration of lanes and reduced speed limits

By Ally Barrera

Springtime is often associated with change, and a big change is on the horizon for folks who travel on northbound I-5 in south Skagit County.

Starting Sunday, May 5, contractor crews with our concrete rehabilitation project between Conway and Arlington will begin five straight days of lane closures and traffic reconfigurations. No need to panic,'s only temporary. And navigating your way through the construction zone will be easier than you think.

Hard five days of work
Since this project began last summer, crews mostly worked overnight to replace hundreds of damaged concrete panels and grind down thousands more. The goal: to preserve the highway and create a smoother driving surface for the 85,000 vehicles that use it every day.

Now, they will close two out of three lanes of northbound I-5 at Starbird Road from 7 p.m. Sunday, May 5 to noon on Friday, May 10. These five days of around-the-clock work will give crews the time and space to replace 200 of those cracked and rut-riddled concrete panels. That's almost enough to cover an entire football field.

Hundreds of concrete panels on I-5 between Conway and Arlington are riddled with cracks and ruts like these, and are in the process of being replaced.
Hundreds of concrete panels on I-5 between Conway and Arlington are riddled with cracks.
and ruts like these, and are in the process of being replaced.

The shift is on
To keep traffic moving, we devised a way to get two lanes of traffic past the work zone, rather than just one. On Sunday night, crews will temporarily restripe northbound I-5 so what is normally the middle lane will shift to the right, and what is normally the far right lane will shift vehicles to the Starbird Road exit. Motorists will then rejoin northbound I-5 using the Starbird Road on-ramp.

The arrows show how crews will keep two lanes of traffic moving during the two-lane closure.
The arrows show how crews will keep two lanes of traffic
moving during the two-lane closure

As you can see on the map above, vehicles shifted onto the Starbird Road exit will be able to rejoin northbound I-5 using the on-ramp. During the traffic shift, the speed limit on I-5 will reduce from 70 mph to 55 mph. Those choosing to use the Starbird Road exit must go 25 mph.

This shift will make getting around more complicated for locals. In order to keep the highway traffic continuously flowing, we will close the Starbird Road overpass to traffic. The maps below show some of the alternate ways people can get to I-5.

Folks living west of I-5 can still access southbound I-5 at Starbird Road, but will need to use a detour for northbound.

Even with this temporary striping and traffic shifts, we expect up to three-mile backups on northbound I-5 during peak travel periods, especially in the late afternoons. Travelers will likely encounter the biggest backups on Monday, May 6, as motorists adjust to this new configuration.

Why are we doing this?
Reducing I-5 by two lanes for five days is a big ask, but we have good reason to do it. Three good reasons in fact.

First, with this uninterrupted lane reduction, crews will condense 30 nights of work into five days. This will save us time and money because workers will only need to set up and take down traffic control once rather than 30 times. It also means fewer delays for late-night and early-morning travelers.

Second, the quality of work will be higher because the crews can focus on the concrete and not be preoccupied with reopening the highway in time for the morning commute. A higher quality product means the road will stay smoother for longer.

Third – and probably most important – we're doing this to keep our crews safe. Working this five-day stretch means crews will spend less time working alongside 70 mph traffic with just plastic barrels to protect them.

During their shifts, crews are just feet away from vehicles traveling at freeway speeds. This around-the-clock work will mean crews will spend less time in harm's way.
During their shifts, crews are just feet away from vehicles traveling at freeway speeds. This around-the-clock
work will mean crews will spend less time in harm's way.

Plan ahead
Alternate routes around this work zone are limited in this neck of the woods. If you're like me and need to use this stretch of I-5 between May 5-10, consider other options to help you avoid the backups:
  • Leave before or after peak travel periods (6-8 a.m. and 2-6 p.m.)
  • Carpool or vanpool
  • Ride Skagit Transit
  • Telework, if you can
Stay up-to-date with the project and the traffic backups by following our WSDOT North Twitter account and signing up for our weekly Skagit County construction emails.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Not-so-garden-variety paving project to begin in tulip country

Smoother travel coming to all users of State Route 536 in Mount Vernon

By Ally Barrera

Another Skagit Valley Tulip Festival has come and gone. Now the bright orange of construction signs will replace the rich reds, yellows, pinks and purples of the Mount Vernon tulip fields.

Starting May 5, contractor crews from Granite Construction will begin ripping out old, damaged asphalt as if it was a ribbon of non-native weeds and replacing it for a smoother ride for all. This is for our State Route 536 paving project from the Skagit River Bridge to Interstate 5.

Bumpy like a molehill

SR 536/Division Street/West 3rd Street cuts through the heart of downtown Mount Vernon and carries an average of 15,000 vehicles a day through the tulip hub. Over the years, all that traffic has worn down the existing pavement and freckled the highway with cracks, ruts and bumps. This damage is the molehills of the road world - the worst!
Unlike in a garden, you don't want water seeping into asphalt. Rain gets into these
cracks on SR 536, compromising the integrity of the pavement.

Not only has this uneven surface created a rough ride for travelers, but it's also increased the risk of water pooling on the roadway. Wet roads lead to difficult driving conditions as well as costly emergency repairs and unexpected lane closures.

Master pavers to the rescue!

Once crews grind off the old pavement and make any necessary repairs to the road base, they'll cover their handiwork with new, silky-smooth asphalt. This weather-dependent work will result in a safer highway that's more enjoyable to travel on.

The new asphalt - and accompanying repairs to the Skagit River Bridge deck - will extend the life of the roadway so that this section of Mount Vernon remains accessible to all modes of travel for decades to come.

Don't forget about other highway users

We didn't! Thirty sidewalk ramps in downtown Mount Vernon are getting upgrades. They'll be wider with more gradual sloping, so it is safer and easier to cross this busy road.
One of 30 ramps along SR 536 that crews will improve to meet ADA specifications.

A 'Full Shade' project

Unlike tulips, crews don't need sunlight to get this project done. Nearly all work will happen overnight between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Motorists can expect lane reductions and the occasional full highway closure - but don't worry - there will be signed detours to help you get around.

Folks who use the sidewalks should anticipate around-the-clock sidewalk closures during those improvements. Detours will be in place, but give yourself a few extra minutes.

Planned road or sidewalk closures should wrap up by fall 2019.

Constant vigilance

Any green thumb knows the key to a lush, colorful garden is to constantly check your plants for critters and pests, and to make sure they're getting enough light, food and water. Same goes for road closures.

Keep checking these resources for upcoming lane reductions, road and ramp closures:

Monday, April 29, 2019

Where were you when construction started on I-5 and SR 16 in Tacoma? Hint: Think back to the year 2000.

By Cara Mitchell

A lot can happen in 19 years. In 2000, the world didn’t end with Y2K. The iPhone didn’t exist. When the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV program began, approximately 178,000 vehicles each day traveled across the Puyallup River on I-5; today that number is 208,000. Over the years, from one project to the next, with the ebb and flow of project funding, we have widened I-5 and rebuilt overpasses with the goal of bringing HOV lanes to an area that continues to see huge surges in population. Thankfully, just as kids born in the early 2000s prepare for graduation, we are getting ready to welcome the completed project to the real world and your real commute.

The final class schedule

The last piece of this complex puzzle is a little something we refer to as the I-5/Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Southbound HOV project. Say that five times fast.

In addition to building a new bridge that carries travelers on southbound I-5 across the Puyallup River, the project will also:
  • Demolish and replace the L Street overpass spanning I-5
  • Replace the existing concrete pavement on I-5 from McKinley Way to Portland Avenue
  • Upgrade signs, lighting, driver information systems, and storm water ponds
  • Demolish the old northbound and southbound bridges that span the Puyallup River
  • Open transit and carpool lanes in both directions of I-5 through Tacoma, providing a complete HOV system that extends from SR 16 in Gig Harbor to I-5 into Seattle
First semester: L Street Overpass

Construction began last month with the closure and demolition of the L Street overpass. This work is necessary so crews can widen I-5 beneath it. This overpass will be back in operation late fall 2021, complete with one 11-foot lane in each direction, bike lanes in both directions, and wider sidewalks.

Second semester: The traffic shift

This coming May, all southbound I-5 lanes of traffic will shift onto the recently completed new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. This bridge was built wide enough to accommodate both northbound and southbound I-5 traffic. In addition to shifting all southbound lanes into a temporary configuration, Port of Tacoma Road drivers headed to southbound I-5 will still use a single lane of the old bridge and re-join southbound I-5 near Portland Avenue. Drivers exiting to Bay Street and SR 167 will need to follow new signs to reach exit 135 using the old southbound bridge. We created a video that describes what lanes travelers need to be in so they can reach their destinations.
To put this traffic shift into place, crews will implement overnight lane closures. This traffic shift will stay in place until the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge is in operation in 2021.

Study group session: Which bridge is what?

For those tracking at home, we currently have three bridges over the Puyallup River. In 2018, the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opened to traffic. As we said earlier, this new bridge was intentionally built wider to accommodate all (northbound and southbound) lanes of traffic to allow construction of the new southbound bridge.

The new southbound bridge will be built adjacent to the new northbound bridge. Once the new southbound bridge is complete, the old bridges will be removed.

Our yearbook quote: Eyes up, Drive slow

For the next 2½ years, as you travel through this area of Tacoma you can expect to see:
  • Decreased speed limits through Tacoma. For the safety of drivers and crews alike, speed limits have been lowered to 50 miles per hour through this part of I-5.
  • Narrowed and shifted lanes and ramps on I-5
  • Removal and rebuilding of the L Street overpass spanning I-5
  • Overnight lane and ramp closures
  • Occasional weekend ramp closures and extended closures of the following ramps:
    • Southbound I-5 exit to Bay Street
    • Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 
    • Northbound I-5 exit to Portland Avenue 
    • SR 167 on-ramp to southbound I-5
Watching the progress of construction work can be fascinating for some. No matter how cool you think a bridge demolition or concrete curing may be, please keep your eyes on the road in front of you. Driving responsibly prevents unnecessary roadway closures, construction delays, and keeps our crews safe. We’ll be sure to post behind the scenes videos and photos on social media. Follow our Twitter and Facebook accounts, and visit the project website for the latest project updates!

When do we toss our caps?

The I-5 Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Southbound HOV project completion date is fall 2021. The orange barrels, cones and temporary barriers will come up, and you will be driving on a wider I-5. The number of southbound lanes will increase from four to five which includes four general purpose lanes and one HOV lane. Final configuration of northbound I-5 will add an additional lane at Pacific Avenue, an extra lane between the I-705 on-ramp and the Portland Avenue exit, and one HOV lane. Once this project is complete, buses, soccer teams, and all of your high-occupancy trips will zoom up HOV lanes that span from Gig Harbor on State Route 16 to I-5 north into Seattle and points beyond.

To find the most up-to-date closure information during construction, visit

Design visualization from Atkinson Construction shows the new northbound and southbound I-5 bridges across the Puyallup River.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

SR 18 project will smooth westbound Issaquah-Hobart Road overpass

By Tom Pearce

If you've driven across the westbound State Route 18 overpass at Issaquah-Hobart Road, you probably know exactly why it needs to be repaved. But if you haven't, the satellite view below shows why. There are so many patches, it's hard to count – let's just say about 40 to 50, ranging in size from a few inches across to more than 10 feet long.
Just a few of the patches that dot the westbound SR 18 overpass at Issaquah-Hobart Road.

All those patches create a rough and bumpy ride for travelers in the 12,000 vehicles who use this section of highway each day. That's part of the reason why we're going to resurface the bridge starting Monday, May 13. The other is that we need to maintain our aging state highways so they can continue to serve the traveling public. But in order to complete the work safely, there will be more than two months of around-the-clock traffic adjustments through this area.

Around-the-clock work
The Issaquah-Hobart Road overpass is located about a half-mile west of where westbound SR 18 widens from one lane to two; the bridge is two lanes wide. When work begins, our contractor crews are simply going to extend the one-lane section to the west end of the bridge. This will allow crews to repave the closed lane, then shift traffic onto the freshly paved lane and repave the other lane. The work will occur around-the-clock for approximately 65 days.
When work begins on May 6, westbound SR 18 will remain one lane until
the west end of the Issaquah-Hobart Road overpass for 65 days.

The bridge was last paved in 1989. To create a more durable surface, our contractor crews will remove the old pavement, make any necessary repairs to the bridge deck, then repave it with concrete.

Overnight full closures
While we can keep one lane of the highway open through most of the bridge work, our contractor crews must close both westbound lanes for up to eight nights in order to pour the new driving surface. During these overnight full closures, traffic will bypass the bridge by using the Issaquah-Hobart Road off- and on-ramps, with a uniformed police officer directing traffic at the intersection.

Strengthening our highways
The 30-year-old driving surface across this overpass is worn to the point that it needs to be replaced. The many years of fluctuating weather, the growing number of vehicles using the roadway and heavy loads from freight have caused extensive wear and tear on the bridge deck. In addition to providing a smoother ride, these repairs will help preserve and protect the bridge structure and reduce the need for costly emergency repairs.

While we're resurfacing the westbound bridge, our contractor crews will continue work to repave more than four miles of eastbound SR 18 between Southeast 304th Street in Auburn and Southeast 256th Street in Covington.

All of this work is part of our ongoing efforts to maintain and preserve our aging state highways. Thank you, as always, for your patience and cooperation.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Getting ready to rumble in the North Cascades

Safety project adds layer of protection along one of Washington's most scenic highways

By Frances Fedoriska

Few will dispute emerald valleys, snow-capped monoliths and crystal clear waters make State Route 20 one of the most beautiful drives in the Pacific Northwest. However, driving through the winding wilderness requires total focus, which is challenging with such beautiful scenery. This spring, contractor crews working for WSDOT will install safety upgrades on the road.
Getting to Diablo Lake is about to get a little bit safer thanks to a project putting
rumble strips on more than 40 miles of State Route 20.

Collision history
Between 2014 and 2018, SR 20 from Marblemount to Granite Creek had 13 collisions involving vehicles crossing over the center line. Five of these were head-on collisions.
This spring, 42 miles of SR 20 in the Cascades is getting new centerline
rumble strips to reduce crossover collisions.

Rumble strips 101
When tires roll over the grooves that have been carved into the asphalt, they produce a loud rumbling noise. This alerts the driver to move back into their lane. Based on national research, these strips reduce the risk of head-on or opposite direction collisions by 21-25%.
Expect lane reductions and slow-going on the North Cascades Highway as crews
cut rumble strips into the center line of the road.

Meanwhile out west...
Contractor crews will also install centerline rumble strips on SR 20 in Skagit County as part of this project. In Anacortes, they'll divide the highway from just east of Deception Pass Tours to the area of the new Miller-Gibralter roundabout.

What we need from drivers
Work will begin as soon as Monday, April 29 and last for about one month. The highway will never be completely closed, but lane reductions are possible to provide our crews a safe space to work. Be prepared for backups and delays if traveling SR 20:
  • In the North Cascades, the highway will be reduced to a single lane with flaggers or pilot cars alternating traffic 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • In Skagit County, the highway will be reduced to a single lane with flaggers or pilot cars alternating traffic nightly from 8 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. the following day. Crews will not work on Friday and Saturday nights.
Stay engaged
Exact dates for the work haven't been released. As soon as they are, you'll find them:
Thanks in advance Travelers play a key role in helping us improve highway safety. Thank you for giving our crews room to work, remaining patient during backups and delays, and educating yourself about what is happening on our roads. Please share this information with friends and family who will find it useful. Together, we can get back to safely exploring the parks, places and hidden spaces we love in the PNW.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Our role in helping protect our species

By Ann Briggs and Mike Allende

Today, April 22, is Earth Day and the theme this year is "Protect Our Species." The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the accelerating rate of loss in plant and wildlife populations due to habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, pesticides and other human-related activities.
Restoring native vegetation – like this along SR 542 Anderson Creek in Whatcom County – is a key part
in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in construction areas.

The transportation sector is responsible for more than 42 percent of the state's carbon emissions - a concern for all of us as we see, experience and plan for the effects of climate change. Here in Washington state, we are often reminded of the need to protect our resident orca whales, salmon, pollinators and other wildlife as well as the habitats they depend on for their continued existence.
Building wildlife connections helps keep animals and people safe by limiting the possibility for vehicle/wildlife collisions.

Being good stewards of the environment is vitally important to our agency. But how are we doing that? Here's just a few examples of how we help preserve and enhance habitats to protect our species:
  • We use native plants to restore areas disturbed during construction to establish healthy plant communities that out-compete undesirable plants and provide pollinator habitat. Just east of Snoqualmie Pass, we teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to collect native seeds and cuttings to grow at local nurseries. Once the plants matured, we planted them along the Snoqualmie Pass East project to restore the habitat we affected during the first phases of the project.
  • In fall 2018, we began testing a variety of seed mixes and soil preparation methods at the Scatter Creek Rest Area along I-5 north of Centralia. We're monitoring the site for successful establishment of flowering plants and increased pollinator activity. The results will help us develop restoration and maintenance practices that provide future habitat for pollinators along roadsides.
  • We're working with Washington State University on a study of SR 20 North Cascades Highway Wildlife to gather information about the patterns of deer crossings along SR 20 between Twisp and Early Winters Campground. The goal of the study is to gain understanding of the environmental factors that affect deer-vehicle collisions and to provide recommendations that could reduce the number of collision each year.
Improving fish passages – we've corrected more than 300 so far – has improved
fish migration and the environment in those areas.
  • Since 2018, we've been exploring strategies to quiet our ferries to help protect orca whales, including ambient sound levels from ferries by slowing down in Haro Strait when whales are present.
  • To improve air quality and reduce emissions, our ferries use B5 biodiesel - a blend of 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent ultra-low sulfur diesel. This year we will increase use of B10 biodiesel. We are also working with the Governor and Legislature to move forward with converting vessels to hybrid-electric propulsion, which would reduce carbon emissions from our current fleet by 25 percent.
  • We've already corrected more than 300 barriers to fish passage, improving access to 1,000 miles of stream habitat. We're continuing our work to correct an additional 415 barriers, restoring access to 90 percent of blocked habitat in the northwest part of the state by 2030.
Encouraging active transportation by improving facilities – like the SR 520 trail across Lake Washington – helps
provide safe options for everyone, regardless of mode of transportation.
  • Promoting active transportation such as walking and bicycling by investing in connected infrastructure to give people more - and safer - options for getting around. For example, the SR 520 trail across the new SR 520 bridge saw more than 328,000 trips in its first year, giving bicycle riders, runners and walkers a safe alternative for crossing Lake Washington.
  • We continue to work to replace petroleum-fueled agency vehicles with hybrid and electric vehicles. As of late 2018, we had 45 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, 20 all-electric vehicles and 100 hybrids. Last year we also became the first state agency in Washington to begin using a hybrid work truck.
  • We're removing and replacing highway lighting with more energy-efficient LED lights. A project in 2017 converted 1,974 high pressure sodium lights with LED technology, resulting in energy savings of more than 68 percent.
We became the first state agency in Washington to begin using a hybrid work truck,
helping to cut down on our carbon footprint.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the many ways we support a sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation system. We're proud of the work we do as an agency and will continue to look for ways we can make a difference, on Earth Day and every day.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Noticeable progress on I-5 construction near JBLM

By Lauren Wheeler

Spring is here bringing longer days, warmer weather and increased progress on improvements along the I-5 corridor near Lakewood and Joint Base Lewis-McChord as part of the I-5 - Steilacoom-DuPont Road to Thorne Lane Corridor Improvements project.

Construction on the Berkeley Street overpass, also known as the Freedom Bridge, began in October 2018, and the tell-tale signs of the new structure are noticeable to travelers on I-5. Crews installed off-ramp and bridge piers, poured bridge abutment structures, and just recently installed the bridge’s 35 girders to support the new overpass deck.

The new overpass spans all lanes of I-5 and the adjacent rail line, elevating traffic over the trains. The size of the new overpass is eye opening compared to the existing structure that was built in 1954. This new overpass had to meet height requirements over the railroad. Crews will also raise the elevation of I-5 at Berkeley Street; once in place, it won’t make the new bridge feel so tall. Once the new overpass is opened to traffic, it will have two lanes in each direction with a large shared use path and bike lanes.

The new Berkeley Street interchange is scheduled to open this winter.
Bridge girders on the new Berkeley Street overpass spanning I-5 in Lakewood

Meanwhile, at Thorne Lane
While construction on the Berkeley Street overpass carries on, Thorne Lane construction has kicked into high gear. Crews are clearing the project site to where bridge support structures will be built. They’ve also begun constructing noise walls adjacent to northbound I-5 from 41st Division Drive to Berkeley Street, and along southbound I-5 adjacent to the Thorne Lane interchange. Crews are also widening I-5 to add one lane in each direction and additional auxiliary lanes to add capacity and improve traffic flow.
The new overpasses being built at Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane are much wider and taller than the existing overpasses.

Contractor Guy F. Atkinson are working hard to minimize traffic affects and road closures for this project. Most work happens at night and the new overpasses are built next to the existing overpasses. Expect to see continued overnight ramp and lane closures and be alert for signed detours.

The new Thorne Lane interchange is expected to open in summer 2020 and the final traffic configuration for this project is scheduled to be in place in fall 2020.

Walk, roll, connect: Active Transportation Plan update now underway

By Barb Chamberlain

When someone asks you to get involved in a planning process — especially a long-range statewide process — you might wonder why you should bother, since actual change is a long way down the road. Why should you care enough to take a 10-minute survey on the state Active Transportation Plan update by June 30, 2019?

A few reasons:
  • Because decisions about how and where people should be able to walk, use their wheelchair, or ride a bicycle comfortably and safely start with you telling us that matters to you.
  • Because nothing gets funded, designed, and built without being in some plan, somewhere. (This means you need to get involved in your local and regional plans, too — we start with those.)
  • Because our state plan shapes how we work with our partners in the towns and regions where you live and move around every day, and will help us agree on shared priorities.
This survey is for anyone who uses transportation — that means you. We ask about your transportation habits and what you value in a system that can work well for everyone – no matter where they live, how much money they make, or how age or disability might affect how they use transportation.
As a multimodal agency, it’s important for us to create safe transportation facilities for all users.

How do I get involved or get more information?

ATP E-news: This occasional email will tell you what’s happening next in the planning process and invite you to take future surveys. We encourage you to subscribe here.

WSDOT Walk and Roll Active Transportation e-news: Information 2-3 times a month on a wide range of topics related to active transportation in Washington state, including grants, training opportunities, and technical information in addition to news on the Active Transportation Plan. Be sure to subscribe for Walk and Roll here.

On social media: Use the #WSDOTactive tag to find news you can share.
We’re looking to improve our transportation system to provide safe travels for all modes of transportation.

On the web: Information and all language versions of the survey, including Spanish, Russian and others, will be linked on our Active Transportation Plan website. You will also find subscription links for ATP E-News and WSDOT Walk and Roll on the website.

Request materials or presentations: Let us know if you need some flyers to post or hand out, want to request a speaker if one can be made available, or will volunteer as a community ambassador to spread the word.

What IS active transportation, anyway?

If you’re still wondering what we mean by active transportation, it’s using an active means of travel such as walking, biking or skateboarding to get from one place to another. Almost everyone uses active transportation at some point in a trip, whether walking to a bus stop, bicycling to work or rolling home from a ferry terminal.

What’s the schedule?

The survey will go through June 30, 2019. The plan is scheduled for completion in December 2019. You’ll have a chance to review and comment on the draft plan; sign up for our e-news to receive announcements.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Working behind the scenes to keep our fleet running

By Joseph Calabro

Imagine you're one of our maintenance crews. It's 20 degrees outside and you're driving a snow plow during this past February's snow storm. And then, boom, a flat tire! Snow is building up, conditions are getting worse and you need to get moving. Who do you call?

Our fantastic group of mechanics, of course.

Referred to internally as "TEF" (Transportation Equipment Fund), our mechanics are one of our true unsung heroes, especially during our most recent winter storms.
A dump truck ready to be outfitted with a plow

Our mechanics keep the equipment our Incident Response Team (IRT) and maintenance crews use in good working order. The group also maintains equipment used by our ferries, our traffic signals and highway lighting.

Using 35 repair shops and 130 fuel stations statewide, staff is available 24/7 to keep our equipment up, running and ready to respond to whatever weather comes our way. Yes, this even means the occasional call-out in the middle of a storm. This happened several times during February's storms.

Our mechanics maintain approximately 14,000 equipment items. This includes, among other things, 4,800 vehicles ranging from tractors to dump trucks, 1,300 equipment attachments like sanders and plows, and 4,500 radios. Much of the equipment was utilized this winter.

The relationship between our maintenance groups and mechanics is similar to that of a lessee and lessor. Our maintenance offices rent the equipment and vehicles you see out on the roads from TEF, and in turn, our mechanics do most of the repair work and caretaking. This is a standard procedure that allows TEF, a non-appropriated program, to pay for equipment replacement, fuel, employee wages and more.
This truck is in the midst of engine repairs.

By early November, the mechanics in each shop have already done much of the work that goes into preparing for the winter. They've outfitted trucks with plows and attached hopper-sanders and tailgate sanders. End-of-summer inspections require mechanics to go through checklist after checklist evaluating every inch of a dump truck and sander. They encounter familiar issues each year. If it isn't properly cleaned after a winter operation, a truck with salt left in it can see corrosion. Other equipment, like sanders and plows, accumulate rust. The hydraulics associated with the sanders are also evaluated so maintenance crews don't have to deal with unresponsive equipment in the field.
Rust and corrosion are more visible on vehicles that see a lot of action in the winter months.

There is also the challenge of new equipment. Newer trucks often come with a new computing system, including an AVL (Automatic Vehicle Locator) that monitors how much sand, salt or liquid was dropped and where. Even the most seasoned operators can have a difficult time figuring out how to use a new system. Part of the equipment technician's job is to test the system and pass along tips to the maintenance side on how to use it.
Side-by-side comparison of an older application controller (left) and a new model put into service this year (right)

It's been a very busy winter for our crews, including our mechanics team. So the next time you see a snow plow on Stevens Pass, or a mower in a highway median this summer, take a second to appreciate the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to make sure all of our equipment stays moving.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it

By Joe Calabro

They told me it would be gross. They said it belonged on that show "Dirty Jobs." I'd be covered in dirt, and feel it my teeth, they warned.

They were right.
A look up at a Ship Canal Bridge expansion joint. Vehicles pass over at highway speeds.

Twice a year, we delay the opening of the I-5 express lanes through Seattle for a particular type of weekend maintenance. Crews use the morning closures to clean the drains on the Ship Canal Bridge. These drains, known as scuppers, collect whatever comes off the I-5 mainline and through the expansion joints.

If we don't clean the drains regularly, water can spill out the sides or find its way to the express lanes, creating a safety hazard for drivers.

A team effort
So why close the express lanes and not the upper bridge deck itself? Crews approach the scuppers from below, in the express lanes. A lift takes a team of three — two to clean and one to operate the lift and carry a high-powered hose — to each of five box beam girders that span east to west below the bridge's surface. After being harnessed and lifted 30-40 feet into the air, crewmembers crawl through a hole in each girder with shovels and hose in hand.
Maintenance crews are lifted up to a narrow hole in the girder where they crawl through.

Their mission is to clear the two drains located in each girder and confirm the downspout (about the diameter of a golf hole) is draining smoothly.

It's surprisingly roomy inside the girders. I'm 6-foot-5 and I was able to stand upright, as was our 6-foot-4-inch supervisor. There's almost enough space to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, but not quite. Two other scuppers are about half the size of this one.

And yes, it was gross.

A trough with water at shin-level ran the length of the girder. Piles of sludge had formed. Cigarette butts and a few pieces of plastic floated around us. The noise of semis, buses, motorcycles and passenger vehicles just inches above our heads made it tough to communicate. It was eerie to see the shadows of highway-speed vehicles appear, then disappear in an instant.
The hole crews crawl through now is much wider than the previous entrance behind the shovel

A hose and shovels are used to collect and remove sediment.

After clearing the drains, one crewmember uses a shovel to collect the sediment and push it toward the drain, while the other maneuvers the hose to break it up so it flows down the drain. Loose sediment often escapes the trough and falls to the express lanes during this process. This is the most important reason to keep the lanes closed. The debris could crack a windshield, startle a driver or affect visibility. At ground level, a vacuum truck collects whatever the crew pushes into the drains.
A cleared drain and the downspout that leads to ground level. The downspout is about the diameter of a golf hole.

Crews close the express lanes because debris often spills out during the cleaning.

Safety is job No. 1
Crews are pressed for time during each of the cleanings. It's safer to work when it's light out, so they generally start later than other maintenance operations.

The crew takes a number of safety precautions when they head into the girders, including wearing personal protective equipment and harnessing themselves to the lift as they head up and into the girder. Unfortunately, there's also the added risk of a wrong-way driver who enters the express lanes. A fourth member of the crew stays in the water truck below to supervise.

While cleaning a drain may sound simple, I saw first-hand it's not easy, or pleasant. But it was impressive to watch our workers tackle it. It's not just a dirty job, worthy of a visit from Mike Rowe; it's an important one.