Thursday, July 18, 2019

Making the merge: improvements will help SR 204 and 20th Street Southeast drivers share the road in Snohomish County

By Frances Fedoriska

For years, the westbound merge of State Route 204 and 20th Street Southeast between Lake Stevens and Snohomish has been a trouble spot.

Almost every reported collision is rear-end or side-swipe. Many times, downhill traffic on 20th Street is picking up speed as drivers on the westbound SR 204 ramp are slowing down to make the curve.

We’re taking steps this summer to change that.

A few months ago, our employee Shane Oden came up with a practical solution to noticeably improve safety at the merge. “More and more I have been hearing residents around the neighboring communities voice concern and frustration with this merge,” he said.

The majority of travelers agreed they need to all share the road, so Oden went to work on making it easier to do so. Rather than a new construction project, Oden developed modifications to the existing merge point that “are meant to remind and encourage motorists to slow down and stay alert,” he said.

So, when westbound US 2 is closed for a weekend this summer for the Hewitt Avenue trestle repaving and rehabilitation project, our maintenance crews also will use the existing closure to make the following changes:
  1. Relocate the “freeway entrance” sign currently near the top of westbound 20th Street Southeast to west of the merge point. The move means drivers won’t be encouraged to accelerate to highway speeds until after the merge.
  2. Install a new advisory “35 mph” speed limit sign on 20th Street Southeast approaching the merge. When SR 204 drivers are rounding the corner to the merge, the current posted speed limit is 30 mph. Asking drivers on 20th Street Southeast to better match SR 204 speeds will create a safer merge.
  3. Install rumble strips on 20th Street Southeast leading up to the merge. The strips will alert drivers to slow down and allow SR 204 travelers to safely merge. 
  4. Extend a white centerline off the gore point. This will encourage travelers to share the roadway, slow down traffic and create more space to see approaching ramp traffic.
  5. New location of "Freeway Entrance" sign.

These simple changes are a smart use of time and money to influence driver behavior, slow down traffic and cultivate a safer environment for merging onto a highway that serves roughly 22,000 drivers every day. They can also be implemented easier and more quickly than a more elaborate construction project, meaning travelers will see benefits sooner.

Bottom line, when we work together to share the road, we reduce the number of backups that can make an already long commute longer.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Getting ready for SR 99 tunnel tolling

By Chris Foster

If you haven't already heard, tolling in the SR 99 tunnel will start this fall – and now's the perfect time to get ready. We'll have an exact start date when viaduct demolition is closer to completion and as toll system testing progresses. And we'll also make sure you receive at least a month's advance notice before tolling starts.

We still have a limited number of free Good To Go! sticker passes available to people who use the SR 99 tunnel. This offer eliminates the $5 cost of the sticker pass. A Good To Go! pass is the only way to pay the lowest toll rates in the tunnel, ranging between $1 and $2.25.
SR 99 tunnel toll rate signs, like these, will be uncovered before tolling starts this fall.

If you already have a Good To Go! pass then you're all set. All Good To Go! passes will work in the SR 99 tunnel.

Getting a free sticker pass
  • The sticker pass is one of four Good To Go! passes. First, make sure the sticker pass is the best pass for you.
  • To get a free sticker pass, fill out a short survey. We will mail the pass within four weeks of your completing the survey, and then customers must activate it by adding it to a Good To Go! account.
  • One free sticker pass per person, while supplies last.
  • Additional sticker passes can be purchased for $5 online at or at retail locations.
Activating your pass
Before your pass will work to pay tolls in the SR 99 tunnel or other toll roads, you'll need to activate it by adding it to a Good To Go! account. Setting up a new account requires a $30 balance – which will only be used to cover tolls – and any additional passes you decide to purchase.

Why we are tolling
Although the tunnel opened toll-free, tolling is required under state law. We must start tolling this fall to start paying back $200 million in bonds sold to pay for construction of the SR 99 tunnel as required by state law. Also, tolling revenue will support maintenance and operation of the 2-mile-long tunnel.

New payment option available this winter
We are transitioning to a new Good To Go! billing system, one that will include several new features for our customers. This includes the option to open a new Good To Go! account without a pre-paid balance, called Pay As You Go. This option will allow tolls to be charged to your credit card after you travel.

Recently it became clear that our billing system vendor, ETAN, needs additional time to test the new system. We are dedicated to you having as seamless an experience as possible while we work with ETAN to transition to this new system and upgraded features. So the new Pay As You Go option, a feature ETAN is developing within the new system, will be available sometime after SR 99 tolling starts.

While we are disappointed that you won't have access to the new features just yet, everyone will be able to switch to the new Pay As You Go option when it is available sometime this winter.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Help is on the way for trucks and travelers

Construction of a wider 70th Avenue East Bridge over I-5 in Fife begins this fall

By Lauren Foster

Do you regularly experience delays on the 70th Avenue East Bridge over Interstate 5? For residents and workers in Tacoma and Fife, we know the answer is a resounding yes.

The bridge is the designated route for trucks heading to the Port of Tacoma from the area’s warehouse and industrial centers, which can create backups that last for several hours each day.

Here’s some good news: We’re all one step closer to a much more reliable trip.
Trucks and cars line up on 70th Avenue East Bridge throughout the day. A new,
wider bridge and roundabout will improve reliability.

Construction on WSDOT’s SR 167 Completion Project, part of WSDOT’s Puget Sound Gateway Program, is getting underway this fall with the construction of a new 70th Avenue East Bridge. The existing two-lane bridge will be replaced with a new four-lane bridge just south of its current location, and the project includes a 12-foot wide path for pedestrians and bicycles. The new bridge will provide a more reliable route for freight and the community.

WSDOT announced its award of the design-build contract to Guy F. Atkinson Construction today, July 15. The firm will complete the project’s design and start construction early next year.
The new 70th Avenue East Bridge project includes a roundabout and 12-foot wide path for pedestrians
and bicycles. WSDOT expects to open the bridge to traffic by mid-2021.

Here’s what travelers should know about construction and schedule:
  • The project is expected to start this fall with crews breaking ground in November and significant construction beginning in early 2020.
  • The new 70th Avenue East Bridge is scheduled to open to traffic by mid-2021.
  • Crews will also build a new roundabout at the 70th Avenue East/SR 99 intersection and construct several hundred feet of new trail and a new Interurban Trail parking lot.
  • Relocating the bridge allows WSDOT to construct a new SR 167/I-5 interchange in Fife. The interchange is the first step toward completing the SR 167 corridor between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma. The stretch between I-5 and the Port of Tacoma is scheduled to open in 2026, and WSDOT expects to open SR 167 between Puyallup and I-5 in 2028.
The 70th Avenue East Bridge Replacement is the first of three construction stages for the SR 167 Completion Project, with the final stage completing in 2028. You can see what the new SR 167 corridor will look like in our project video:
The SR 167 Completion Project and the SR 509 Completion Project make up the Puget Sound Gateway Program that, once completed, will enhance the state's economic competitiveness, both nationally and globally, by connecting the state's largest ports to key distribution centers in King and Pierce counties that serve eastern Washington and beyond.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Are you ready? Today’s earthquake is a reminder to get prepared

By Kris Rietmann

Thousands near Monroe, Washington, woke to shaking this morning. Not the best way to start the day and with the California quakes on people's minds, it is certainly a reminder to prepare yourself and your family.

Immediately following today's (July 12) earthquake, DOT crews were in action almost as soon as the shaking stopped. Our bridge team inspected bridges from Seattle to Monroe looking for broken concrete, cracks, alignment and damaged welding.

Many of you have asked if our agency is prepared to swing into action. We wanted to respond to some common questions and send out a reminder: none of us can become complacent about our earthquake risk or the long road to recovery after a truly massive quake.

Will WSDOT be able to make repairs quickly?

The quick answer is yes, we have emergency response plans and train regularly. The longer answer is it depends a lot on the location and severity of the quake.

We have employees and technology that will begin inspections almost as soon as the ground stops shaking. Our goal is to restore essential services as soon as possible, and in some cases that could be a matter of days depending on damage. In other situations, including a very large 9.0 magnitude earthquake, our bridges are designed not to collapse, but still may need repairs or even to be rebuilt before traffic can return.

In the greater Puget Sound region, we have many bridges and older multi-story buildings vulnerable to earthquakes. The severity and location of damage – and how much effort is needed to rescue or transport the injured – will drive many of the initial decisions about which road repairs are prioritized.

Because older bridges are vulnerable to earthquakes, we've spent more than $195 million retrofitting more than 400 bridges in the past two decades. Our newer structures, such as the State Route 520 bridge and the SR 99 tunnel, are built to current seismic standards to make them far more resilient to earthquake damage. In conjunction with the state Office of Emergency Management, we've also focused much of our recent bridge retrofit work on creating a lifeline route both north-south and east-west, which might help crews bring in supplies and emergency help after an earthquake.

Emergency repairs versus construction projects

There is a big difference between emergency repairs and construction projects and it's not an "apples to apples" comparison with normal construction or maintenance work.

Emergency repairs can also be accomplished more quickly because bidding, public notice and environmental reviews are suspended and often the entire road is closed – so crews don't have to set up traffic control or work with vehicles passing in nearby lanes. When Alaska had its earthquake last November, officials in Alaska said initial work was more of a "Band Aid" fix, with more substantial work planned for the summer. "We're slapping bandages on this damage so we can keep people and goods moving on our roadways. We'll come back later and make it right, but it will take longer," Alaska officials tweeted. "The work being accomplished right now is 100% incredible, amazing, awesome, and impressive. But it's less miracle, more just a ton of hard work." (We did the same thing after the Skagit River Bridge was damaged, quickly putting a temporary bridge in place to restore traffic flow but later installing a permanent, long-lasting replacement).

What should I do if I'm driving during an earthquake?

Maximilian Dixon, the earthquake program manager at the Washington Emergency Management Division, says your best bet is to stay calm and pull over.

The tell-tale signs of an earthquake could be others you see on a street reacting to the earthquake. Maybe trees are moving and cracks are opening on the road or sidewalks. Drive slowly to the side of the road, stop the car and set the parking brake.
  • If a power line falls on your car, call 911 and wait for expert help or follow power utility advice on what to do next.
  • Make sure to avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards and stay inside your car.
  • If you are on the coast and can get out of your car safely, do so and start heading for high ground if you are in a tsunami hazard zone. Look for tsunami evacuation signs to guide you. Don't wait for the sound of a siren or an official warning because the earthquake itself might be the only warning you get. You might need to leave your car behind if there is debris on the road and no way to safely drive to high ground. In this case, find a safe place to park your car and start walking.
  • You should keep a "go" kit in your vehicle for these kinds of incidents (or if you become isolated because of winter weather). Make sure your kit has food and water, a first aid kit, a flashlight, comfortable clothes and shoes, and more.
Preparation is paramount

The state Emergency Management Division urges all residents to have two weeks of supplies for their family and be prepared to check on neighbors after a large earthquake. If roadways are damaged, emergency crews will have difficulty reaching some areas and it could be some time before regular traffic and visits to grocery stores, etc., are restored.

Here are some initial steps to make sure you and your family are better prepared:

Seem overwhelming? Set a goal of stocking one new emergency kit item during your weekly or monthly grocery store run. The sooner you start, the more prepared you are for both small and large emergencies.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Westbound US 2 between Snohomish and Everett closed Aug. 3-4

July 16, 2019 at 9 a.m.
New closure hours: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 to 4 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5

Up to two more closures needed to complete critical preservation work

By Frances Fedoriska

We know, you've heard this before. But we'll keep talking about it until it's done. The westbound US 2 trestle has a weekend closure coming up.

The highway will close between State Route 9 and Interstate 5 from 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 to 4 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5 for extensive paving and rehabilitation work on the Hewitt Avenue trestle. That's assuming we get good weather. During the closure, we need help preventing the extensive backups and delays on the SR 9 detour route when we had the last weekend closure in September 2018.
During the last US 2 Hewitt Avenue trestle closure in September 2018, a third of typical westbound
travelers adjusted their habits and delays still hovered around one hour.

Why weekend closures?
The asphalt on US 2 between Bickford Avenue and I-5 has outlived its anticipated 15-year lifespan. We are doing the work to ensure the highway is in a state of good repair, able to safely transport the people and goods who rely on this road. During weekend closures, crews:

  • Remove old asphalt
  • Inspect the trestle
  • Make any repairs
  • Put down a waterproof barrier to protect the trestle
  • Repave the road

This is just too much work in too small of a space to complete in an overnight closure.

Last year, we allowed our contractor up to six weekend closures to complete this project. Between major events, summer holidays and rain, they got in four closures before fall's cold, wet forecast postponed the project to this year.

But before they called it a season, on eastbound US 2 they were able to

  • Remove old, cracked, rutted and pothole-riddled asphalt
  • Repaved one mile from SR 204 to Bickford Avenue during overnight closures
  • Side note: the eastbound trestle is made of newer concrete, so no repaving happened

On the westbound trestle, they:

  • Repaved 2½ miles between Bickford Avenue and the Snohomish River
  • Repaired expansion joints, inspected and made any fixes to the Hewitt Avenue trestle between SR 204 and the Snohomish River. This work reduces the risk of future emergency repairs.

Now that the weather is warm and dry – we hope! – crews can finish rehabilitating the last half-mile of the westbound US 2 trestle between the Snohomish River and I-5 interchange.

The detours aren't big enough for all of us
On the average non-holiday summer weekend, 2,600 drivers take US 2 west between the SR 204 interchange and Everett every hour. Delays are usually minimal because the two-lane highway can handle the traffic.

The detour routes are on SR 9, a single-lane highway. On a normal day, that road is near capacity. SR 9 doesn't have the space to absorb displaced vehicles from US 2.

Thanks in advance
We know it's never a good time to shut down an entire direction of a major highway. During the disruption, keep in mind that doing this extensive preservation work now reduces the risk of costly emergency repairs that add time to already long commutes in Snohomish County.

How to get more information
  • Our website will have closure and lane reduction updates.
  • Get weekly email updates on Snohomish County projects.
  • Our Twitter account will have info about traffic.
  • Download our mobile app for traffic maps and other news and updates.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Vital regular maintenance keeps old structures like the SR 99 Aurora Bridge open

Prepare for delays during July 12-15 upkeep work

By Tom Pearce

Out with the old and in with the new? Not necessarily when it comes to bridges or other infrastructure. Just because something is old, it can still be useful as long as it is properly maintained – like the SR 99 Aurora Bridge in Seattle.

The bridge is 88 years old but it certainly doesn't look its age because through the years we have worked to take care of it – occasional new paint, steel repairs, new pavement.

OK, so the pavement does look pretty worn. That's why we're repaving the bridge. Repaving not only provides a smoother driving surface, it gives us a chance to look at the bridge deck underneath the pavement and make any needed repairs before small problems become big ones. That's what we did on the south end of the bridge during two weekends in June.
Removing the old asphalt allows us to inspect the concrete deck underneath and make repairs.

Beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, July 12, we'll start on the north end. Contractor crews from Lakeside Industries will repave the north end of the southbound lanes. To accomplish this, crews will reduce the bridge to one lane in each direction on the eastern (northbound) lanes. They'll finish up by 5 a.m. Monday, July 15. We do need dry weather for this, though. A decent chance of rain in the forecast would require us to postpone the work.

When we repave a bridge deck, we need to put down a waterproof layer to keep the deck in good shape. We need dry weather for 24 hours before and after we place the waterproofing. With the new waterproof layer in place, we can put down new asphalt.
When the concrete has been checked and repaired, a waterproof layer between the concrete and the asphalt protects it.
The weekend of July 13-14, crews will repave the northern part of the southbound lanes.

What to expect
With work taking place in the southbound lanes, we need to close the on-ramp to southbound SR 99 from Fremont Avenue and the off-ramp to Raye Street at the south end of the bridge. Drivers need to plan ahead for the Fremont ramp closure.

A couple weeks ago when we had the same ramps closed, we saw some backups onto Stone Way, east of the bridge, as drivers tried to go south on SR 99 using the Fremont on-ramp. Travelers can still get onto southbound SR 99, but they need to do so farther north, like at the North 46th Street on-ramp.

We still expect to see backups on both directions of SR 99 near the bridge, but people can help.
  • Use alternate routes like I-5 or other bridges to get to Seattle.
  • If it's a short trip, particularly near Fremont and Wallingford, try a bicycle.
  • How important is the trip? If you don't have to be somewhere at a certain time, consider postponing until later.
  • Get real-time traffic information with the WSDOT mobile app and the WSDOT Traffic Twitter feed.
I'm guessing the people who designed and built the Aurora Bridge in 1931 never imagined that 50,000 vehicles would use the bridge each day. It's a vital piece of our transportation infrastructure that we need to protect.

We know any lane closures are frustrating but thank you for your patience while we complete this upkeep work. Regular painting, paving and other maintenance will help the bridge begin its second century of service to Seattle residents.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Driving with the fishies: SR 9 fish passage project just around the creek bend

Travelers can expect delays in Whatcom County

By Frances Fedoriska

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Counting all of the migratory fish that call Whatcom County home isn't easy, but it had to be done ahead of our upcoming Tawes Creek Fish Passage project along State Route 9 in Van Zandt.

The 'egg' stage
In this project's infancy, environmental teams from partner agencies conducted a fish count just downstream of the project area. In early 2012, five Coho salmon were counted in Tawes Creek. Flash forward to last month, when our environmental crews found 156 aquatic species. Among them were eight Coho, 54 cutthroat trout, 75 lamphrey, 14 crayfish and six stickleback. In other words, this fish passage project is happening at the right time, with the goal of further increasing those numbers.
These two culverts near SR 9 and Potter Road will be replaced with larger passages.

Starting in July, contractor crews will begin the process of replacing two tiny fish culverts at the south tributaries with larger 12-foot wide box culverts near the intersection of SR 9 and Potter Road.

North on SR 9 near Williams Lake Road, a new 20-foot bridge will be built over Tawes Creek.
The current Tawes Creek culvert in Van Zandt.

What drivers need to know
To help keep traffic flowing, contractor crews built a temporary bypass lane on SR 9 at the south end of the project area. Flaggers will alternate traffic on that bypass when SR 9 is reduced to one lane. A bypass lane was also built on the north end of the project. A temporary traffic light will alternate traffic there. Expect delays on this portion of SR 9 in July and August, especially during the morning and afternoon commutes.
Temporary bypass lanes controlled with flaggers and a signal will help
keep traffic moving during this project.

Why this work is important
When water is funneled through small spaces, such as tiny pipes under highways, the flow of the water is very swift. Many young fish aren't strong enough to swim against the current, which prevents them from continuing their journeys. But when this $5.5 million project is complete this fall, the water will flow at a slower rate through the wider passages, making it easier for these juvenile fish to connect with roughly two miles of previously-unreachable habitat.

This new fish passage also helps us comply with a U.S. District Court ruling, requiring the replacement of nearly 1,000 culverts blocking fish passage under state roads to restore historical tribal fishing rights.

Plan ahead
Check real-time traffic conditions before heading out the door. Find closure updates on the:

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Small steps help in the journey to restore salmon habitat

By Tom Pearce

Times change. In the 1800s, there were so many salmon few people gave them a second thought. Where there was marshland, it was easy to dry the land and put it to work.

Now we know preserving and reestablishing salmon habitat is important. That’s part of the reason that where SR 529 and I-5 meet just outside Marysville, we are going to restore a roughly 11-acre site along Steamboat Slough to the way it was in the 1800s – saltwater marshes near where the slough meets Puget Sound.

The restoration is important because beginning before the turn of the 20th-century developers built dikes to keep out water, allowing businesses and farms to use the land. Other projects buried the original marshes with fill material dredged from Steamboat Slough.
The Snohomish River delta used to be a huge estuarine habitat for young salmon. Development 
has reduced that habitat to just 17 percent of what it once was.

And yep, long ago we were among those turning marshes into dry land. Back in the 1950s and ’60s we built dikes and dredged to build up the area where I-5 and the northbound lanes of SR 529 now carry tens of thousands of people each day. The cost was eliminating estuarine habitat, where saltwater and freshwater mix.

Now we realize how important those wetlands are and the effect they have on marine life and the food chain. Tiny marine organisms need calm places to live. Young salmon, which feed on smaller organisms, need a place to grow stronger for their journey to the ocean. Orcas need those salmon to grow and become a food source to help the whales thrive.
Saltwater marshes like this provide an important nursery for young salmon. 

Land development projects have reduced the estuarine habitat in the Snohomish River delta to just 17 percent of what it was more than 100 years ago. Restoring 11 acres may not sound like much, but it’s something, particularly to young Chinook, coho, pink and chum salmon who use this habitat as a nursery before heading out to sea. Sometimes we need to disturb these valuable wetlands. When that happens, we’re as careful as possible. We have a project in a couple of years to build new ramps connecting I-5 with SR 529. To do this, we’ll need to take about 2½ acres of wetland where the highways currently cross.
This project will restore this saltwater marsh by cutting down these trees, lowering the land level and breaching the dikes, allowing tidal flows from Steamboat Slough into the area.

We’re restoring the 11-acre site to replace that 2½ acres and expand the estuarine habitat along Steamboat Slough. In the coming weeks, we will cut down trees that have grown on the site between I-5 and SR 529. We’ll dig out the dredged material to lower the land to its original level, cut channels for water and place the felled trees on the site to add diversity to the habitat. We’ll add native plants that grow well in marshy land. In late summer or early fall, we’ll open the dikes to let the water flow in with the tide. In the end, we’ll add a net gain of about 8½ acres of estuarine habitat. Biologists expect fish to return almost immediately.

A hundred years ago salmon were an afterthought. Now we’re much more conscious of their importance to the ecosystem. It will take a long time for salmon populations to recover. Projects that restore habitat, like this one, will make a difference.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Keep cool and safe as summer construction heats up in Clark County

By Tamara Greenwell

As the warm summer sun shines down, construction projects are revving up in Clark County. With four large construction projects happening on Interstate 5 and I-205, as well as State Route 14 and SR 500 this summer, we all need to be prepared for some congestion or travel delays.

We know summer roadwork can be frustrating, but warm, dry weather is needed for asphalt to set and harden and roadway paint to stick to the pavement, leaving us a small window to get this work completed. We try to schedule work at night or off-peak times when possible and we appreciate your patience during the times that’s not possible. A little planning will go a long way in helping all of us reach our destinations safely and on time.
Locations of summer highway construction in Clark County

I-5 and I-205 Pavement Rehabilitation
Anyone who travels on I-5 or I-205 in Clark County is familiar with the thump-tha-thump-thump sound from the ruts and cracks in the pavement. Beginning in late July, crews will replace worn asphalt and concrete panels on both directions of I-205 between the Glenn Jackson Bridge and the I-5/I-205 split, and on southbound I-5 between SR 502 near Battle Ground and the I-5/I-205 split. To minimize disruptions, most of the work will be done at night with lane closures, as well as some overnight ramp closures on I-205.
I-5 in Clark County will see some lane closures this summer, though most will be overnight.

SR 500 between Saint John’s Boulevard and Fourth Plain Boulevard Paving and Expansion Joints
You may recall that due to a high number of crashes, this past fall we removed the traffic signals on SR 500 at the intersections of Northeast Falk Road/42nd Avenue and Northeast 54th Avenue/Northeast Stapleton Road in Vancouver. Starting in late July, crews will widen the SR 500 ramps at those same intersections as part of a project to pave the highway between Burnt Bridge Creek near St. John’s Boulevard and Fourth Plain Boulevard. Work will also include replacing the bridge expansion joints on the SR 500 overpass, over I-205, and updating sidewalk ramps to improve access

This weather-sensitive work will require weekend closures of sections of SR 500 between I-5 and Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard, as well as some lane and ramp closures, so be sure to check travel conditions before you go, and expect delays.
The ramps near SR 500 at Northeast Falk Road/42nd Avenue in Vancouver will be widened this summer.

SR 14 between Vancouver and Camas Paving
Folks heading into the Gorge could encounter a couple of work zones as crews pave both directions of SR 14 between Southeast 164th Avenue in Vancouver and Northwest 6th Avenue in Camas. Construction is expected to take a little more than one month and the work and lane closures will occur mostly at night. The on- and off-ramps at Southeast 192nd Avenue will also close for overnight paving.

SR 14 Washougal Roundabouts
Farther east, expect delays in Washougal as work is underway to build roundabouts on SR 14 at the intersections of Washougal River Road/15th Street and 32nd Street. We’ll try to minimize travel delays as much as possible, but there will be several closures and delays during construction. When complete, travelers will encounter fewer travel backups and delays through the area.
A roundabout is being built at SR 14 at 32nd Street in Washougal.

Work on all of these projects is weather dependent and scheduled to wrap up before the end of the year.

While you’re traveling this summer, we hope you keep this mangled mess of metal that was once one of our work trucks in mind. It’s a powerful reminder of the dangers our crews face every day when working along area roadways, and why we need everyone’s help in work zones. A semi struck the three-quarter-ton pickup truck and it crushed like a soda can. Thankfully, the driver of the pickup had exited it less than a minute before the crash and none of the crew was injured.
This crushed work truck is a good reminder to be cautious, alert and slow down in work zones.

Work zone crashes aren’t just dangerous for workers. Travelers are also at risk during crashes or other incidents. Last year, 94 percent of Washington roadway work zone fatalities and injuries were to drivers, their passengers or pedestrians. Many of these crashes are preventable, as the number one reason for crashes in work zones is distracted drivers, followed by impairment and speeding.

Whenever you’re in a work zone please slow down to the posted speed and pay attention to signs, workers and other travelers around you. If you can, move over a lane to give workers more space. It’s also good to allow extra time if traveling through a construction zone. If you do face delays, remember to stay calm – it’s not worth risking someone’s life.

Traveler tips
While we can’t promise a congestion-free trip, we provide lots of information to help you make informed choices about getting around during construction. You can sign up for Clark County construction email alerts  and you can get 24/7 travel information via the WSDOT mobile app and Twitter account.

Be sure to check with the City of Vancouver and Clark County for updates on other area road projects. As you head out to enjoy our long summer days and cool nights, please watch for signs, flaggers and pilot cars to guide you through construction zones, and drive carefully! Getting through construction can take a little more time than we're used to, but once the work is complete, it's easy to enjoy the long-term benefits of a smooth ride.

Monday, June 24, 2019

New roundabout comes in for a landing at SR 20 on Whidbey Island

By Ally Barrera

The fighter jets that take off from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island are no strangers to performing different maneuvers. On Sunday, June 23, people traveling past the air base on State Route 20 near Oak Harbor had to perform a different maneuver of their own: Navigating a new roundabout.

A time lapse camera captured crews building the roundabout at SR 20
and Banta Road from Thursday, June 6 to Sunday, June 23

Working at the speed of sound
When contractor crews with SRV Construction began excavating the highway at the Banta Road/Northgate Drive intersection on Thursday, June 6, the goal was to open the roundabout by July 4. After working 20 hours a day, six days a week at what seemed like Mach 1 speed, the roundabout opened to traffic on Sunday, June 23, 10 days ahead of schedule.
These concrete pourers were just one of the many different crews working together to complete this project early.

Highway to the safety zone
So why build this roundabout in the first place? In a word, safety.

Since 2011, law enforcement responded to 26 crashes that injured 11 people at the SR 20 and Banta/Northgate intersection. Half of those collisions involved vehicles trying to turn onto the highway from side roads. Roundabouts have a proven history of reducing injury and deadly crashes by more than 75 percent.

The roundabout also provides a new U-turn option for people located north and south of Banta/Northgate, which could reduce left turns onto the highway and the chance of broadside “T-bone” collisions.

There's also new highway crossing areas to help Island Transit riders safely cross the highway to nearby bus stops.
Pedestrians and bicyclists will use crosswalks connected to the splitter islands separating
SR 20 traffic to safely cross the highway. Watch out for them!

More fly-bys to come
Even though the roundabout is open to traffic, crews still have some work to finish, like sealing the new asphalt, adding fresh striping and landscaping, before they fly off for good. While this work doesn't involve the same around-the-clock lane closures travelers have grown accustomed to the past couple of weeks, people should prepare for the occasional closure. All work associated with this project is expected to wrap up in the fall.

Avoid the last-second scramble by checking these resources ahead of time for alerts of upcoming road work:
Thanks for being our wingman
Just like performing a barrel roll takes timing and coordination, so did completing this project. A stretch of spectacular weather and several different crews harmoniously working alongside one another led to finishing the roundabout early.

It also took the patience of those traveling through the work zone. Although there have been traffic delays, the crews appreciated every wave and kind word they received from travelers during construction. Don't lose that loving feeling!

For more pictures from this project, check out our Flickr album

Roundabout 101
Navigating a roundabout can feel like flying aerobatics if you don't know how to do it. Sure, there is a learning curve just like with any traffic revision. Just follow these simple tips:
  • Vehicles already in the roundabout have the right-of-way. As you approach the roundabout, pay attention to the yield sign and slow down. If a vehicle in the roundabout is coming toward you, yield. If not, enter the roundabout to your right. NEVER enter to your left!
  • Signal. That's right. When you're ready to exit the roundabout, signal as you would any time you make a turn. This lets vehicles behind you and vehicles waiting to enter know your intention.
  • Watch for pedestrians/bikes. Just like this new roundabout near Oak Harbor, many other roundabouts have crosswalks as well. Keep an eye out for anyone needing to cross.
  • Give larger vehicles extra room. Semis, large RVs and other large loads may need extra room to move through the roundabout. That's why we build them with truck aprons. Work together to keep everyone safe and moving.
  • Don't stop in the middle of a roundabout. If you think you missed your exit, just continue going around until you come back to it. Stopping is often how collisions happen. Remember, vehicles already in the roundabout have the right-of-way.
More of a visual learner? We have a five-part video series about roundabout etiquette that may help.

Good things come to those who wait

What’s next for the North Spokane Corridor

By Ryan Overton

Over the past two weeks, we’ve told you about the history of the North Spokane Corridor (NSC), and where the project is at today. Now it’s time to prepare for what’s to come, including its completion! 

We know, we know. We’ve heard plenty of people say it will never get finished. But it will. And sooner than you probably think.

Picking up momentum
Think of the NSC like the Tortoise and the Hare. It has been 18 years since it first broke ground in 2001. It took 11 years to open the first 5½ miles to traffic and since then, we haven’t opened any new roadway as part of the project. That’s the tortoise part, but remember, the tortoise wins in the end. While seven years have passed since a new stretch of highway opened, work has been consistently moving forward with small projects waiting for funding.

Last week we mentioned the missing puzzle piece – the second Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad realignment – which will open the flood gates to new projects and start a chain reaction to finish the NSC. Now it’s time to talk about how we will finish.
A 3-D rendering look at the North Spokane Corridor looking west over Spokane Community College.

2020 will be a big year
Once the tracks are moved, a flurry of new NSC projects will start in 2020. The Connecting Washington transportation package provided $879 million in funding to finish the NSC. In the next two years, $100 million will be spent on new projects for the NSC, the largest two-year expenditure ever for construction on the project.

This includes the Wellesley interchange project, which will include two roundabouts for both the north and south on- and off-ramps for the NSC at Wellesley Avenue. There will also be a new bridge over Wellesley to carry NSC traffic. Finally, working with the City of Spokane, Wellesley at Market and Haven streets will get a makeover to carry the expected increase in traffic in the Hillyard neighborhood once the freeway is open.

The next big project in 2020 will be another paving project, from Columbia St. south to Carlisle Ave., about 400 feet shy of the Spokane River. This will include a bridge over Euclid Ave.
A 3-D rendering look at the North Spokane Corridor at the new Wellesley interchange looking north.

The last and most exciting project in 2020 will be construction of the first portion of the NSC south of the Spokane River. Yes, people, it is really happening! The skyway portion of the NSC from Mission to Ermina will start construction next year, meaning portions of Spokane Community College’s parking lot will be under construction.

All three projects starting in 2020 will take two construction seasons to finish, but we aren’t stopping there.

Then what?
Once we reach 2021, another $150 million in construction funds becomes available. That means construction of the NSC Bridge over the Spokane River begins and the NSC from Ermina to Carlisle will be completed. In 2022, the second skyway portion of the NSC from Mission down to Sprague Ave. – including the Trent interchange – will begin.

The last and most complex part of finishing the NSC will kick off in 2023. This will be the tie into I-90. It’s quite a challenge and will take a lot of time as there are unique construction staging and phasing work that has to be done.

We’ll need to move portions of 2nd, 3rd and 4th avenues that run parallel to I-90. There will be a total of 17 new bridges constructed and new on- and off-ramps along the NSC to finish the tie into I-90. The new ramps to enter and exit the NSC will extend over a mile both east and west along I-90.

So when will the entire NSC be completed? In 2029. Yes, the final project is scheduled to take six years to complete and, again, it comes down to funding. The NSC will only receive so much in funding every two years. Between that and winter weather-related shutdowns, it will take time. But the finish line is within view and remember, the best things come to those who wait.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Looking abroad to find transportation answers

International fellow from Turkey spends a month in Seattle learning about sustainable transportation

By Heather DeRosa

For most, a visit to the Seattle area in May brings soaking up limited sunshine and checking out Pike Place Market or the Space Needle. But for Ali Onuralp √únal, his visit was far from what tourists see.

Ali's month-long visit was part of the Professional Fellowship Program, funded by the United States Department of State, administered by the American Councils for International Education. As one of 30 young professionals visiting cities all across the United States, Ali came to our Regional Transit Coordination Division hoping to take many of our sustainable and active transportation plans and best practices home with him to Ankara, Turkey.
WSDOT Regional Transit Coordination Division engineer Jay Cooper took Ali on a tour of the I-90 floating bridge,
soon to be the first floating bridge to house a light rail line.

Our Regional Transit Coordination Division proved to be a perfect match to host Ali last month. Working with Sound Transit and other local transit agencies in the Central Puget Sound area, the Regional Transit Coordination Division helps deliver a more sustainable, integrated, multimodal transportation system that gives people more choices for how to get around.

Ali spent much of his time learning about active transportation. His days were filled with field trips, informational interviews, and plenty of walking and exploring Seattle and Olympia. Our staff along with, staff from local cities, transit agencies and others groups made themselves available to share their expertise and provide inspiration.

One of those field trips was touring Seattle DOT's bike lanes with City Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang.

"Dongho took me to see the separated bike lanes from traffic," Ali said. "I was able to see the pros and cons of using Lime and Jump bicycles in these lanes."
Six million people live in Ankara, and many of those people are part of families with two or three cars, leading to traffic congestion, decreased air quality, and difficulty navigating through biking or walking. He said the key to tackling their issues is creating an urban mobility plan.
Left: Seattle DOT City Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang gave Ali a tour of the city’s bicycle lanes. Right: Ali (upper left) and other Professional Fellows from Turkey made a stop at Healy Hall at Georgetown University in
Washington, D.C. as part of his experience in the United States.

"We can improve air quality and optimize transportation by building sidewalks and bike lanes," he said. "Seattle has lots of solutions about solving traffic congestion, which is a problem in all cities of the world, but in Ankara it's one of our most political items to date."

Ali came to Seattle hoping to gain more resources about sustainable transportation, and he says that goal was met.

"I was able to see the bike master plan, pedestrian master plan, Vision 2020, and the I-5 system partnership," he said. "I really saw how to create a new mobility plan for a big city through these informational interviews."

As a continuation of the bridge that was formed between our agencies through his visit, Ali invited Celeste Gilman, our Deputy Director of Regional Transit Coordination, to visit Ankara in October to share our best practices with Ankara's city leaders as an outbound project as part of the Professional Fellows Program.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

When it comes to reducing roadside litter, listen to the kids

Four winners selected in Adopt-A-Highway litter bag art contest

By Barbara LaBoe

With our elementary school litter bag art contest complete, one thing is clear: Our messaging is about to get quite a creative boost!

We asked children in grades 1 to 6 to send us artwork for new Adopt-A-Highway litter bags and we were thrilled to see the great artwork. And, just as exciting, were the creative ways students came up with sharing our litter prevention messages.
Lanie Burchfiel, 9

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.

So, we asked our state's student artists to lend us a hand in spreading the prevention message. It wasn't an easy decision picking among almost 100 entries, but our judges ultimately selected four designs that will be featured on the bags – one design per bag.
Ronin Sole, 11

And the winners are...
  • Samantha Daniel, 7, of North Star Elementary
  • Lanie Burchfiel, 9, of Tekoa Elementary
  • Logan Domingo, 10, of Shorewood Elementary
  • Ronin Sole, 11, Voyager Elementary
The judges' selections span the state and age ranges and include stylized drawings of mountains and trees, a drawing of a large earth and even a puppy helping cheer on disposing of trash properly.
Logan Domingo, 10

We specifically wanted to reach out to children for this contest because we wanted them to share the message not only amongst their peers, but also with the adults in their lives. We'd also be remiss if we didn't thank the many teachers and other educators who helped share the news of the contest. Working together we can all take steps to reduce roadside litter, which creates a better and cleaner environment for everyone.

With the designs selected, we'll now work with printers and hope to have the bags – made of biodegradable plastic – printed by late summer. They'll be available at community events as well as at our regional offices. (We generally limit bags to one per driver to ensure everyone has a chance to receive them).
Samantha Daniel, 7

Please join us in congratulating the four selected artists as well as everyone who participated. And, please remember these tips for helping keep our highways clean:
  • Secure all loads, even "quick trips" in town – it's the law and it can prevent injuries as well as roadside litter
  • Never throw trash or other items in the back of pickups where they can fly out and land on the roadways
  • Keep track of trash inside your vehicle so that it doesn't fall out when you exit the vehicle
Never toss litter out of a vehicle or along a roadway

Monday, June 17, 2019

Encouraging pollinator activity at Scatter Creek Rest Area

National Pollinator Week a great time to check in on progress being made

By Ann Briggs

A couple years ago, we talked about our integrated vegetation management program as a way of helping pollinators and encouraging a healthier ecosystem around our state highways.

One of the projects we highlighted at that time was our work around the Scatter Creek Rest Area on I-5 north of Centralia. By limiting mowing operations, we let native plants return to form a meadow, providing habitat for native pollinators unique to that ecosystem.
Solitary bees have been one of the main pollinators we’ve observed at the Scatter Creek Rest Area.

With National Pollinator Week June 17-21, it's a good time to check in on the progress.

In September 2018, we planted 39 species of native plants in three seed mixes, with species overlap among the mixes. Our goal is to evaluate seed mixes and site preparation treatments to determine which mix will establish pollinator-friendly plant cover for use on roadsides and at construction sites.
Left: A hover fly finds a good spot to check out near the I-5 Scatter Creek Rest Area. Right: Empid flies like this have been a frequent visitor to the meadow area near the Scatter Creek Rest Area.

We had a relatively cold spring in 2019, followed by an unusual warm and dry period in April when some of these plants were beginning to germinate. As of late May, at least 10 species of plants had germinated from the seed mixes – some were not yet at a stage where we could identify the species. Within the 29 test plots, we identified 35 plants in total, including 10 native plant species from the seed mixes, which indicates there are still many seeds remaining from prior plants despite our efforts to remove them. The most common species from the seed mixes were Roemer's fescue (Festuca roemeri), giant blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora), and lupine (Lupinus bicolor).
By limiting our mowing to encourage growth of native plans, we’re working to produce a healthier
ecosystem for pollinators at the rest area near Scatter Creek along I-5.

The majority of pollinators we observed are "generalists" visiting any flowers that are available. As one species of plant blooms out, the pollinators switch to other species that are beginning to bloom. We also observed shifts in the abundance and diversity of pollinators over time. In late May, the dominant pollinator groups were solitary bees, hover flies, and empid flies. In mid-June, dominant pollinator groups were honeybees, solitary bees, and hover flies.

This is important work that our environmental team is doing. Evaluating this and other areas will take some time but we're committed to helping encourage healthy ecosystems for pollinators as part of our roadside management program. We will continue to measure both plant and pollinator activity throughout the summer.

The North Spokane Corridor - The puzzle fits

By Ryan Overton

Imagine a world in which Spokane has finished the North Spokane Corridor (NSC). Can you picture it? For those that have lived in Spokane awhile, it’s hard to imagine. Picture a puzzle that's halfway done but you are missing one piece to complete the outer edge. After spending countless hours looking for it, you finally find the piece on the floor! Connecting that one piece of the puzzle now sends you in a frenzy and you finish within just a few minutes.
An aerial view of the Freya interchange, with structures being built on the south edge of the North Spokane Corridor

The NSC is like that puzzle. The first 5½ miles are the nearly-completed outer portion. Then we waited for that one missing piece to complete the outer edge. And now the waiting game is over. The piece has been placed and the flurry of activity is about to pick up.

Last week in our series we touched on the history of the NSC. This week we look at current progress, the puzzle piece project that will open the flood gates for construction and how you can get involved in placemaking of the Children of the Sun Trail.
The future site of the second BNSF Railroad Project on Wellesley Ave.
The road will be closed for three years during construction.

Current projects
For the past couple years construction slowed due to limited funding. In 2014, the Francis Avenue Bridge was completed over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad and future NSC. Then the first BNSF rail realignment came in 2015, a new roundabout at the Freya and Wellesley intersection in 2016 and Oxarc site cleanup in 2017. A grading project kicked off in 2018 along with new bridges over Freya, which continues this year. This project was funded with money remaining from favorable bids.
Paving a new portion of the North Spokane Corridor as part of the Columbia-to-Freya project

The Legislature provided funding for the remaining portion of the NSC, including the connection to I-90, through the Connecting Washington funding package passed in 2015. In 2018 the first Connecting Washington project provided for grading and an asphalt base layer on a new segment of road from Freya down to Columbia Street. This project is continuing, with concrete paving that started just a few weeks ago.

As of today, that is the only active Connecting Washington project on the NSC. But things are about to change.

Placing the puzzle piece
Remember that puzzle? The missing piece is the 2nd BNSF Railroad Realignment project, which will make room for the NSC. Moving the BNSF railroad track will allow the NSC to be built in its place. This is the first large funding expenditure allocated by the Connecting Washington package and the project is no easy task.
An aerial view looking north at the new Francis Avenue Bridge and southern
terminus of the North Spokane Corridor at the Freya interchange

Two new rail bridges will be built over Wellesley Avenue. In some places the track will move almost 120 feet closer to Market Street to the west. Once the NSC is built, the current spur line - a secondary railway line -  will be severed and replaced with a northern entry to a second spur line on the east side of the NSC. While that is happening, there will be a lot of earth moving – about 565,000 cubic yards! – to get ready for the new Wellesley interchange improvements with the NSC.

To put this in perspective, it takes about 3,000 cubic yards to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, so this project will move roughly 190 pools of earth. When construction begins in a few months, there will be no central east-west crossing from Market to Freya for about three years. Drivers will travel north to Francis or south to Euclid to cross where the future NSC will be.
The first BNSF realignment, looking north. The overpass is the Children of the Sun Trail
 and to the right is the future North Spokane Corridor.

Children of the Sun Trail
Also happening around the Spokane area are a series of charrettes for the Children of the Sun Trail, a shared-use path that follows the length of the NSC. It will eventually tie into the Ben Burr and Centennial Trails.

These charrettes are an opportunity to identify relevant issues and find potential solutions within the project that has community-wide significance. The meetings will be:
  • 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22 at Southeast Day Care Center, 2227 E. Hartson Ave. Spokane
  • 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Saturday, July 13 at Sheridan Elementary Commons, 3737 E. 5th Ave. Spokane
Just like the first 5½ miles of the NSC, the Children of the Sun Trail is also complete along the same stretch. And with the second BNSF Realignment puzzle piece being placed, the flood gates of projects are about to open. In next week’s blog we look ahead to the timing and projects that will complete the NSC to I-90.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

After several close calls we’re asking everyone to help us keep our workers and everyone on the road safe

By Barbara LaBoe

The busy roadway construction season is still gearing up – and will only increase during summer – yet we’ve already seen too many close calls in our work zones.

In just 28 days – from April 23 to May 15 – we had three work zone crashes. Each time, someone struck one of our truck mounted attenuators – large accordion-like devices attached to the back of a truck to absorb a crash’s impact and protect crews up ahead. The TMAs did their job and shielded our crews, but that’s still way too many close calls.

On April 23, a pick-up truck struck a TMA on northbound I-5 near DuPont. No crew members were hurt, but the pick-up driver was taken to the hospital complaining of pain.
The electronic message board on top of this TMA was directing traffic to move over,
but the yellow attenuator was still damaged in a collision.

On May 15 another TMA was hit on State Route 16 near Gig Harbor while working with a road sweeping crew. Our driver pulled forward and honked the horn when he saw the other vehicle failing to stop, but the TMA was still struck and damaged.

The far left corner of this TMA was clipped along SR 16 near Gig Harbor, even though
the TMA driver pulled forward to minimize the impact.

Five days later, on May 20, a car struck a TMA in a closed lane on southbound I-5 in Seattle and then spun around due to the impact and also bumped the maintenance truck up ahead.
This accordion-like truck mounted attenuator crumpled from the force of the impact
 it absorbed in a crash along I-5 near Seattle.

In each case there were warning signs about the work up ahead, but drivers either didn’t notice or didn’t slow down in time to avoid the collisions. Thankfully, in all three cases no one was seriously injured, but with more construction on the way, we need everyone’s help to avoid more crashes in the coming months.

Help us help you

We know summer construction can be frustrating, but often this is the only time of year that the weather is dry enough to complete major projects and make needed repairs. We try to schedule work at night or off-peak times when possible, but that doesn’t work for every project.

We need the public’s help in keeping everyone safe in work zones. We work hard to provide our crews training and equipment – but everyone has to do their part.

Our workers are someone’s child, spouse, parent or loved one and they’re out on roadways to help keep everyone safe. They – and everyone traveling – deserve to go home to their families at the end of their shifts.

So, whenever you’re in or near a work zone please remember to:

  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they’re there for your safety
  • Be Kind – our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic; put down your phone when behind the wheel
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone’s life.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Community forum kicks off planning for a new regional trail

By Samantha DeMars-Hanson

Tacoma to Puyallup Regional Trail Route Analysis to plan implementation for the future trail connection

One of our keys to building and maintaining a healthy multimodal transportation system is creating safe infrastructure for everyone regardless of how they choose to get around.

That’s why we’re excited that efforts to develop a regional bicycle and pedestrian trail between Tacoma and Puyallup received a big boost with a Tacoma to Puyallup Regional Trail Route Analysis to assess three options for connecting the two cities. This connection will bridge a major gap in the vision to create a broader Tahoma to Tacoma Regional Trail network.
Building and supporting infrastructure that works for all modes of travel is key to a healthy transportation system.

Want to learn more? Great! We’re co-hosting a public event from 5:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, June 27 at the Pioneer Park Pavilion (330 S. Meridian in Puyallup).

The evening will begin with an informal open house at 5:30 p.m. and will also include a presentation from mayors Kim Roscoe of Fife and John Palmer of Puyallup as well as Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar at 6 p.m. and small group discussions at 6:30 p.m. The event will have transportation themed toys, books and activities to engage young participants. The event location is ADA accessible.

A Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) – comprised of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Pierce County, the cities of Fife, Puyallup, and Tacoma, Metro Parks Tacoma, Sound Transit, Downtown On the Go, Port of Tacoma, ForeverGreen Trails, the Puyallup Watershed Initiative Active Transportation Community of Interest and us – met earlier this month to discuss the options and review data. It will meet twice more this year to evaluate options and make a recommendation. The route analysis – funded through a partnership between the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Pierce County, the cities of Fife, Puyallup and Tacoma, Metro Parks Tacoma and us – will conclude in early 2020 with an implementation and funding plan for making the proposed trail a reality.