Friday, September 20, 2019

Getting HOV connections open at I-5 and SR 16

By Cara Mitchell

Update 9/21/19 11:45 a.m.
The southbound I-5 auxiliary lane from South 38th Street to South 56th Street is now open. The left lane of southbound I-5 in that same area is now closed. Westbound South 56th Street on-ramp to southbound I-5 is closed. Drivers on westbound South 56th Street can still access southbound I-5 using the left turn lane at the Tacoma Mall Boulevard interchange.

Original Post
Are we there yet?  Well, almost. We're talking about the finish line for construction at the I-5 and SR 16 interchange in Tacoma. Last month, we crossed a big milestone with getting southbound I-5 into its final alignment by SR 16, and reopening the final connection between eastbound SR 16 to southbound I-5.

This September and October, design-builder Skanska is putting the final pieces of the puzzle together.

What's left to build?
Here's a quick rundown of items the contractor is finishing up:
  • New southbound I-5 auxiliary lane from South 38th Street to South 56th Street
  • Final alignment for northbound I-5 and new lane striping
  • Two overhead sign structures that will provide HOV information for northbound I-5 travelers
  • Paving for HOV ramp connections along with a concrete barrier
To get this finished will require an around-the-clock lane closure on southbound I-5 for several weeks. We also need good weather, and your continued patience.

Sign structure construction brings lane closure
A new auxiliary lane at South 38th Street, shown in the far right of this photo, will open to traffic as early as Sept. 21

As early as the morning of Saturday, Sept. 21, a new auxiliary lane on southbound I-5 from South 38th Street to South 56th Street will open. The new lane will give South 38th Street travelers a dedicated lane to merge on to southbound I-5.

At the same time, crews will temporarily close the far left lane of southbound I-5 from South 38th Street to South 56th Street. This closure creates a median work zone allowing crews to construct two overhead HOV sign structures. The left lane closure will be in place, around-the-clock, for approximately six weeks or until the work is finished.

During this work, southbound I-5 past the Tacoma Mall will have three general purpose lanes open, plus the new auxiliary lane. The collector/distributor ramp at South 56th Street will become a temporary through lane. The westbound South 56th Street on-ramp to southbound I-5 will close during this time. Drivers can still access southbound I-5 by using the left turn lane and the South 56th Street and Tacoma Mall Boulevard intersection.

We know that during peak afternoon commute hours there will be congestion on southbound I-5 from this work. We and the contractor are working hard to complete this work in as short amount of time as possible. While we understand closing a lane is an inconvenience, safety is our top priority. The lane must close while we build the sign structure in the middle of the highway.

Concrete barrier work
Now that traffic has been shifted onto the new northbound and southbound I-5 alignments, Skanska is able to complete work on new concrete barriers for the final configuration of I-5 and the HOV ramps, along with final ramp paving. This includes pouring concrete for most of the remaining barrier sections along with the sign structure foundations. This work will be done by the end of October, provided there are stretches of reasonably favorable weather. The concrete barrier work will have little effect on mainline travelers.
The center of this aerial photo shows where new HOV ramp connections between SR 16 and I-5 will connect in Tacoma.

When will HOV ramp connections open?
The contractor will open HOV connections between SR 16 and I-5 once the sign and barrier work is complete, which we anticipate by the end of October. While we would love to have the HOV connections open sooner, some are a part of an active work zone. This would require some temporary barrier or striping that would add more work to the project. No one wants to open something up, only to have to close it again. All of the HOV ramps will open at the same time once the work is complete.

Finish line
That's it! That is the work left on the I-5/SR 16 Realignment and HOV Connections project. We know you're anxious to see this work complete. We are too.

To the 200,000 travelers a day that use this interchange, your patience through all of this has been greatly appreciated. We need your help during this final push to get us all to the finish line.

Please continue to watch your speed in work zones and give construction crews the room they need to finish this important project, and the nearby project that is building a new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

Follow the latest closure and detour information for all Pierce County maintenance and construction projects online at

Popular ferry photo contest returning to Twitter for third year

By Justin Fujioka

Fall is almost here and there’s no shortage of images to snap pictures of in the Puget Sound area.

Well, we’d like all you talented shutterbugs to focus on our ferries because our popular #FerryFotoContest on Twitter is back! We want a fantastic picture to be on the cover of our printed Winter 2020 Sailing Schedule. It's your chance for thousands of people to see your best ferry shot!

How to submit a photo
All you have to do is follow @wsferries on Twitter, then Tweet your picture between noon Monday, Sept. 30, and noon Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. Be sure to include the hashtag #FerryFotoContest. All members of the public except WSDOT employees and contractors are eligible and invited to participate. No fare purchase is required.
This photo by Jim Reitz won our 2018 ferry photo contest and was on our winter sailing schedule cover.

Photo requirements and contest rules
We’re not looking for just any old image of a ferry. We want something unique, striking and interesting. You may want to include a city skyline, mountains, passengers, or if you're lucky, wildlife. In addition to the submission qualifications listed above, each entrant must follow these requirements and rules:
  • Your photo:
    • Must include at least one vessel in the Washington State Ferries system (in full or partial).
    • Will be printed in black and white, so consider how that will look.
    • Must have been taken yourself and you have the rights to submit it to this contest.
    • May have been taken at any time.
  • Do not break any laws or do anything unsafe in order to snap a shot. If you are on a ferry please steer clear of restricted areas, and if driving, please no photographing or Tweeting.
  • Do not Tweet a link to an image that has been uploaded to another site.
  • Do not send your photo via direct message on Twitter.
  • You may submit up to three pictures. If you Tweet more than three, we will only consider the first three shared.
  • You will retain rights to your photograph, however our five finalists must agree to grant us rights to use their snapshots for marketing and communication purposes, which will include photo credit. We will never sell your picture.
Selecting a winner
A panel of judges will select six finalists based on originality, technicality, composition, artistic merit and overall impact. The decision of the panel is subjective, final and cannot be appealed.

The finalists’ pictures will be posted on the @wsferries Twitter page at noon Monday, Oct. 14. The image with the most “likes” at noon Friday, Oct. 18, will be named the winner and their photo will be featured on our 2020 winter schedules!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Seattle travelers should develop a game plan with several weekend closures coming up

By Thomas Charlson

With three games and major roadwork, prepare for delays on downtown highways and city streets

While the summer season may seem mostly over, we still have vital work to do to keep the highways in the Seattle area running smoothly. Add home games for the Sounders, Mariners and Huskies to the mix and it's going to be a busy traffic weekend for the highways and city streets around the region.

So what's closed this weekend? Here's what you need to know:

South Dearborn Street closure
Contractor crews are preparing to remove two small sections of the Alaskan Way Viaduct on South Dearborn Street near the stadiums. This work will close South Dearborn Street for up to ten days starting on Thursday, Sept. 12 and narrow First Avenue South to two lanes on either side of the intersection to create a safe work zone.

This work will affect those headed to the stadiums for the Sounders and Mariners games. During this time, consider alternate routes, including exiting SR 99 at Spokane Street, as well as transit, carpooling or bicycling.

SR 99 tunnel maintenance closures
Typically the monthly overnight maintenance closures of the SR 99 tunnel are in one direction, but we need to do a structural inspection of the tunnel's double-deck highway. To do that, we need to turn off the air exhaust system, so for the safety of the public we will close the tunnel in both directions.

Here's the schedule:
  • From 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, to 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 – Both directions of the SR 99 tunnel will fully close.
  • From 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, to 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 15 – The northbound SR 99 tunnel will close.
We will also complete routine maintenance, which includes checking the cameras and signals, cleaning the tunnel and performing weed control. Tolling vendors will also be working on their equipment during this closure.
Lift trucks are used to access the cameras, signs and lighting in Seattle's SR 99 tunnel.

Northbound I-5 lane reductions at 85th Street
Two lanes of northbound I-5 at 85th Street will close from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday. We are repairing concrete panels near the area. During this weather-dependent work, the northbound I-5 express lanes will remain open overnight.

Stay updated
We've had our fair share of roadway closures this summer and this weekend is no exception. The best thing you can do is plan ahead, use alternate routes in some circumstances and stay updated using our online tools.
You can also consider using public transit, walking or biking to get to where you need to go safely. We appreciate everyone's patience as we get this work done during the final days of summer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Emergency expansion joint repair on northbound I-5 in Seattle needed as seasons change

By Tom Pearce

When you manage more than 7,000 miles of highway, sometimes things pop up that require emergency repairs.

Two years ago, we made improvements to a section of northbound I-5 at the Duwamish River in Tukwila. As part of our design, we reused steel plates in four of the interstate's expansion joints. We thought the plates had some life left in them, but that just wasn't the case.
Expansion joint repairs keep a joint stable until more permanent repairs can be scheduled.

In August, one of the joints broke. We did a temporary repair, but now we will make a permanent fix during the weekends of Sept. 21-22 and 28-29.

Weekend closures
To complete this critical emergency repair, our contractor crews will reduce northbound I-5 to only the two right lanes beginning at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20. All lanes will reopen by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22. Then on the following weekend, at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, crews will shift all traffic to the two left lanes until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29.

During these back-to-back weekend closures, crews will chip out concrete and put in new steel plates. The repairs take two weekends because the crews can only work on half of an expansion joint at a time.
The left lanes will close the weekend of Sept. 21-22; the right lanes will close Sept. 28-29.

Planning ahead
It's important to finish this work on a weekend when there is less traffic. If we wait, the joint could break at a very inopportune time, such as during a weekday commute.

We want to complete these repairs before cool, wet weather moves in, but once we hit fall, that means football season as well as the end of baseball. We've talked to the Seahawks and Mariners, so they know our schedule. The Seahawks play the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 22; the Mariners are at home for their final series of the season Sept. 26-29 with the Oakland Athletics.

Getting to your destination
We have worked on game weekends before and are again asking people to plan ahead for these lane reductions:
  • Take Sound Transit Link light rail from Angle Lake or Tukwila – it will drop you off a few blocks from the stadium.
  • Use King County Metro or Sound Transit. Yes, the buses will have to deal with the traffic, but riding a bus allows you to avoid the stress of driving.
  • Carpool – it's always more fun to go to a game with fellow fans.
  • Take an alternate route, like I-405 and I-90 or SR 509.
If you choose to drive, we have tools to let you know what to expect:
  • Our Twitter account and mobile app will have traffic information.
  • Our website shows which ramps are open and closed near the work zone.
  • You can get weekly email updates with information about construction and other events that may affect traffic.
Any time we limit lanes on a highway, it's a challenge. We appreciate you planning ahead and being patient as we work to keep I-5 in good shape for everybody - during every season.

Monday, September 9, 2019

From simple repair to near tragedy

Two maintenance workers jump over barrier at last second to avoid work zone collision

By Ryan Overton

A simple concrete repair job in Spokane quickly became terrifying for Allen Sexton and Koby Whetstine.

Working on the eastbound I-90 ramp to Hamilton Street in Spokane on Aug. 5, Allen and Koby were wrapping things up. The noisy work was done and they'd removed their ear protection, which quite possibly saved their lives. Moments later, a driver lost control of his vehicle and slid along the concrete barrier.
A speeding vehicle entered our work zone on I-90 in Spokane and slammed into our work truck,
sending the road crew members jumping over a barrier to safety.

The sound of the oncoming vehicle gave the two maintenance workers a split-second warning that the vehicle was careening toward them. With just seconds to react, Koby and Allen jumped over the barrier before the vehicle slammed into the back of their pickup truck.

"We heard it before we saw it, and all we did was look at it and jump," Koby said.

Our two colleagues remembered the incident in this video.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident. After a short foot pursuit, the driver of the car was taken into custody by the Washington State Patrol on suspicion of DUI.

"Incredibly lucky," Allen said. "You don't think too much ahead of time other than get out of the way. But afterwards, you think about it a lot."

This is another stark reminder about the dangers road crews face. The men and women who work to keep our highways safe have families and friends to go home to, and they count on the public's help to make that happen.
Left: The driver of the car that crashed into our I-90 work zone was arrested for possible DUI.
Right: A car smashed into the concrete barrier and construction sign, which alerted our
crew members up ahead just seconds before the car struck their work truck.

"The first thing I did was think about my 11-month-old daughter, after it happened, and how I might've never seen her (again)," Koby said.

So what can you do to help?
  • Slow down, especially near work zones
  • Move over and give road crews some extra room. Not only is it smart, it's also the law.
  • Stay alert for signage and work zones.
  • Never drive while distracted – this is the top cause of work zone crashes in our state.
  • Drive sober
We're so thankful that Allen and Koby made it through this scary incident safely, but it could've been so much worse. Sadly, all of our road workers have a story of a near miss – or worse – that they've experienced on the job.

Working near traffic is dangerous. We take as many precautions as possible, but we also need your help to make sure everyone -- our workers and the traveling public -- gets home safely at the end of the day.

"We want to get home to our family as much as they want to get home to their family every night," Allen said.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Creating pathways to a better future

By Ann Briggs

Wouldn't it be great if we could all have a "do-over" after making a big mistake and drastically change the path we're on? For some incarcerated individuals who are motivated and close to re-entering their communities, that do-over is coming in the form of education and job skills training while they serve their time.

So what does that have to do with transportation? Our agency supports and encourages inclusion and workforce development, providing equal opportunity and access for anyone who wants to do business with us. Working with an interagency partnership program called, Sustainability in Prison Project (SPP), we're helping currently and formerly incarcerated people see that there are opportunities for them to have a successful career in the transportation sector after they are released using the new skills they're developing now.
Our staff helps incarcerated people prepare to re-enter the work force, not only with technical training but also
assistance with interviewing and resume-building skills. Photo credit: Sustainability in Prisons Program

Studies show that people who are released from prison and are able to find living-wage jobs are less likely to re-offend and end up back in prison. For those who are willing to learn, the training and experience they receive while doing time can help them become contributing members of their communities.

SPP is a partnership founded by The Evergreen State College and the Department of Corrections that delivers a wide range of science, sustainability and environmental education programs in Washington's prison system. We are one of the many partner agencies that are participating in the program, with an initial focus on wetlands and stormwater management.
People taking part in the Sustainability in Prison Project learn how the education they're gaining can help
them find employment in our agency. Photo credit: Sustainability in Prisons Program

As a second chance employer, we're working with the SPP to identify qualifications and training needed for individuals to successfully compete for entry-level employment in our environmental and maintenance programs. Those skills might include certification or technical training in areas such as pesticide application, commercial driver's license, welding, flagging, wetland ecology, stormwater management and roadside restoration.
Inmates receive training in a variety of science and environmental skills that can help them
find work in our agency and others. Photo credit: Sustainability in Prisons Program

This past year we participated in several workshops at the prisons, reaching out to 30 to 50 incarcerated individuals at a time. These workshops gave us a chance to talk with them about how their education and training can be applied to work in our agency. In addition, our Human Resource staff shared tips to help them navigate the state application process, create a cover letter and resume that showcase their new skills, and practice answering questions through mock interviews.

For us, SPP is creating a new pool of skilled, diverse talent to draw from as we face a wave of retirements in the next few years and a shortage of workers in hard-to-fill positions. For formerly incarcerated individuals, it's a way to help them break through a barrier to employment and make a positive change for their future. It's a win-win all the way around.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Time for another bite of the SR 99 Aurora bridge in Seattle this weekend

By Tom Pearce

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, a bridge is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Think of the asphalt driving surface as the chocolate coating and the concrete deck below as the nougat, caramel or cream filling. Until we bite into the asphalt, we can’t be sure we’ll be happy with what’s underneath.

We’ll take another bite out of the State Route 99 Aurora bridge this weekend when we reduce traffic to one lane in each direction beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23. If the bridge deck is in good condition and only needs small repairs, when our contractor crews open the lanes at 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 26, the bridge paving could be finished. If they find large sections of concrete that need repairs, the work could require additional weekend closures.
Contractor crews expect to do some concrete repairs on the SR 99 Aurora bridge.
If major repairs are needed, it could extend work.

The condition of the bridge deck is just one variable. The other, of course, is weather. If you’ve followed this project or others like it, you know we must have dry weather to install waterproofing on the bridge before we repave with asphalt. So if we end up with rain in the weekend forecast, we will have to postpone the work.

What’s been completed?
The good news is that we have already finished three weekends of work on the bridge. The southbound lanes of SR 99 have new asphalt all the way across the bridge. About half the length of the northbound lanes has been repaved. If the last length of the northbound lanes is like the other sections, and the weather forecast holds, there is a good chance our contractor will complete the paving. It’ll still be a few weeks before the asphalt cures and permanent lane striping is added, but the heavy lift of paving will be done.

Plan ahead
Three weekends of lane reductions for bridge paving give us a pretty good idea of what to expect. People who usually drive in the area are finding alternate routes through Fremont, Wallingford, Queen Anne and Ballard. As a result, we’ve had some backups on SR 99 and surrounding roads, but it’s been manageable. You can continue to help by:

  • Using alternate routes like I-5 or other bridges.
  • Try a bicycle if it’s a short trip, particularly in the Fremont/Wallingford area.
  • If you don’t have to be somewhere at a certain time, consider postponing your trip.
  • Check traffic before you go on our mobile app or Twitter feed.

Preserving the highway
This paving work is part of a much larger effort to preserve the Aurora bridge and the SR 99 highway. During the past year, contractor crews painted the steel structure under the bridge deck; they’re now finishing up that work by taking down the scaffolding.
The bridge is just one area of SR 99 that is getting new pavement between Roy and North 145th streets.

On both sides of the bridge, all lanes of SR 99 between Roy Street near the Seattle Center and North 145th Street – the north Seattle city limit – will have a smooth new layer of asphalt thanks to another paving project.

I can’t offer you a box of chocolates if we complete the paving this weekend. But for those of you who use the SR 99 Aurora bridge, finishing the bridge paving early will be a nice treat all by itself.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Weekend roadwork to bring delays to Puget Sound area and across state

By Joe Calabro

It’s a recurring theme during this time of year: another summer weekend, another busy time for road work and events throughout the state. Whether it’s the excitement of sporting events or the buzz of an occasional festival, there’s always something going on, and there’s always roadwork to account for.

This weekend is especially busy, though, and I’m not just saying that because I have my fantasy football draft. Besides Hempfest in Seattle, there are several festivals and the second weekend of students moving in to WSU in Pullman. Add to that a large amount of lane and road closures in the Puget Sound area and across the state, and getting around could be a challenge.

So what’s happening? Here’s the lowdown:


  • The SR 99 Aurora bridge will be reduced to a single lane in each direction from 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, to 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 19, as crews continue a major paving project.They will pave the southbound lanes on the north end of the bridge. This work is dependent on dry weather.
  • All lanes of the southbound SR 99 tunnel will close from 10 p.m. Friday  to 8 a.m. Saturday for routine maintenance that includes checking the jet fans, cameras and overhead signs and cleaning the tunnel.
  • Two lanes of the southbound I-5 Ship Canal Bridge will close from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. nightly on Friday and Saturday as our maintenance crews make repairs to the bridge deck.
  • All lanes of eastbound I-90 between I-5 in Seattle and Island Crest Way on Mercer Island will close from 10 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday for inspection of the safety systems inside the Mercer Lid and maintenance in the Mount Baker tunnel. All ramps to eastbound I-90 between I-5 and Island Crest Way will also close but the Island Crest Way on-ramps will be open. 


  • All lanes of northbound I-405 between NE 10th Street and Main Street will close from 11:59 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Monday as Sound Transit removes a temporary structure as part of their light rail project. The northbound I-405 ramp to NE 8th Street will close from 10 p.m. Friday to 11:59 p.m. Saturday as well. During the full highway closure, traffic will use the collector-distributor lanes to get around the work area.

Northbound I-405 will be closed in Bellevue this weekend for Sound Transit work.

Snoqualmie Pass

Drivers using I-90 across Snoqualmie Pass should expect heavy weekend traffic including students returning to WSU, as well as lane closures for summer paving and construction work across the corridor.


A traffic shift putting southbound I-5 into its final configuration near SR 16 in Tacoma is scheduled to take place from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday. Drivers will see some lane and ramp closures as this work is happening and should slow down and be alert for road workers.


The second of two weekend-long closures of SR 500 is scheduled from 10 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday. The eastbound highway will be closed between NE Thurston Way and I-5 as crews repave the roadway. Drivers should plan on taking alternate routes.


One lane of I-90 over the Latah Bridge/Hangman Creek will be closed intermittently from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday for bridge inspections. Drivers should expect delays during this work.

So should I just stay home? 

No! Well you could if that sounds good, but it looks like a beautiful weekend and we want people to get out and enjoy. It’ll just take some planning.

  • Visit our travel alerts page for details on closures.
  • Download our mobile app for information about construction, active blocking incidents, toll rates, ferry info, mountain passes – OK, there’s a lot there. 
  • Follow us on Twitter. We have several accounts covering most of your travel needs.
  • If possible, consider using transit, carpooling, walk or bike.

Yes, it’s going to be busy, and in some cases challenging to get where you need to go. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we take advantage of the dry weather to get as much done as we can before the wetter months roll in.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Rain dampens SR 99 Aurora bridge paving schedule

By Tom Pearce

Many of our projects can deal with a little bit of rain. When it comes to repaving bridges, though, dry weather is critical. That's why last week we had no choice but to postpone work on Seattle's SR 99 Aurora bridge. Now our plan is to pave the next two weekends, Aug. 17-18 and 24-25.

During paving, traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction across the bridge from 7 p.m. each Friday until 5 a.m. each Monday, the same as during weekend-long lane reductions in June.

Thinking about this rain delay, I was struck by the irony. When we announced this project schedule, I thought dry weather for two whole weekends in June was pretty optimistic and July and August weekends were more realistic. Two months later, here we are – the June weekends came off fine, and we've postponed weekends in July and August due to rainy forecasts.
Waterproofing material keeps water from corroding rebar in the concrete deck.

Why do we need a dry full weekend?
To install waterproofing between the concrete deck and asphalt pavement used by more than 40,000 vehicles a day, the deck needs to be completely dry. If there's even a little moisture, the waterproofing could fail. That can lead to water getting into the concrete deck, which can corrode the rebar inside and weaken the deck structure. So even a little rain can be a big problem.

Now we're hoping for a couple of dry weekends in late August to help us finish this project. We still have several weekends of paving scheduled to remove the old asphalt, inspect and repair the bridge deck, then repave the bridge.
Once the asphalt is removed, crews can repair the concrete deck,
an original part of the bridge that opened in 1931.

Several more weekends may be necessary
The deck repairs are the wild card – until we scrape off the asphalt, we don't know the condition of the deck that was poured more than 88 years ago. If it only needs some basic patching, that's fine, we can do that right away and repave. If we find the deck needs larger repairs, it will require more time and more weekends.

This work is part of our effort to pave all of SR 99 between Roy Street near the Seattle Center and North 145th Street at the Seattle-Shoreline city limit. Most of the paving is being done on weeknights. Bridge repairs and installing the waterproofing requires too much work to do overnight, so we use weekends when traffic isn't quite as heavy.

We will complete this work, we'll do it right and we hope to complete it this year. As long as the weather cooperates.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Proper handling of contaminated soil means State Route 530 fish passage project will take longer

By Tom Pearce

If you dig up your yard, it's always a good idea to call 811 first so you don't get any nasty surprises, like hitting fiber optic, electrical, sewer or gas lines. We always work closely with utilities when our projects require excavation. But even 811 can't always help us if we find something other than utilities. Fortunately, we have plans in place for when that happens.

Right now, we are replacing a culvert for Schoolyard Creek that goes under SR 530 east of Arlington. When the original culvert was installed many decades ago, it was common practice for construction crews to fill holes with whatever was available. Under SR 530, this included construction debris.
Excavation to replace a culvert under SR 530 revealed soil contaminated by construction debris

Anytime contractors excavate for us, we check the material removed to be sure it is clean. It turns out, some of the construction material that was used long ago as fill under SR 530 contained creosote, a wood preservative that contaminated some of the soil. That means it's going to take until after Labor Day, Sept. 2, to finish the work and put SR 530 back on its regular route.

Our contractor, Kiewit, discovered the contaminated soil July 28, when it was hauled to a storage area. We have specific protocols for dealing with this sort of thing. The material is stored in a lined, covered area to keep the contamination from further leaching into the ground. We develop an environmentally sound plan to dispose of it that must be approved by the Department of Ecology – in this case our contractor will haul it to a business in South Seattle that handles this type of material.
The contaminated material that was excavated is temporarily stored in protective
plastic until proper disposal can be arranged.

With an approved plan in place, our contractor crews can get back to work. They've already removed about 80 percent of what needs to go; they'll start work on the last 20 percent by the week of Aug. 12.

When the excavation is complete, several steps remain:
  • Setting the box frames for the new culvert
  • Putting in base material for and building the creek bed
  • Adding the caps to the culvert
  • Filling around the sides of the box frames, then the rest of the hole
  • Repaving the section of highway
Being a good steward of the environment is one of our top priorities. If it takes a little longer to do a job the right way, that's what we'll do.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Final connections ahead SR 16 and southbound I-5 in Tacoma

By Cara Mitchell

Update 8/19/19
The traffic shift has been completed.

Update 8/13/19 3:30 p.m.
The overnight traffic shift for southbound Interstate 5 at State Route 16 in Tacoma was postponed late Saturday, Aug. 10 due to rain and a collision in the work zone. Skanska is now planning for this traffic shift to occur during the overnight hours of Thursday, Aug. 15 and Saturday, Aug. 17.

Updated: 8/12/19 8:00 a.m
The overnight traffic shift for southbound Interstate 5 at State Route 16 in Tacoma was postponed late Saturday, Aug. 10 due to rain and a collision in the work zone. Skanska is now planning for this traffic shift to occur during the overnight hours of Saturday, Aug. 17. Once complete, Skanska will open new ramps to all traffic, bringing congestion relief and changes to the South 38th Street interchange.

Original post
This August, new highway connections at the Interstate 5 and State Route 16 interchange in Tacoma will open. This means an end to the multi-year, three-project effort to rebuild and widen the SR 16 Nalley Valley Viaduct is near.

Weather permitting, during the overnight hours of Saturday, August 10, contractor Skanska will shift all southbound I-5 lanes to its new permanent alignment, reopen two popular ramps and shift eastbound SR 16 traffic going to southbound I-5 between Union Avenue and Sprague Avenue back to its original configuration.

While many eastbound SR 16 drivers will rejoice at not having to merge left at Union Avenue to reach southbound I-5, there are some key improvements that will require drivers to reprogram into memory.

Dedicated lanes to eliminate weaving traffic

It wasn’t that long ago that drivers coming from either eastbound SR 16 or southbound I-5 experienced long backups and frequent lane changes at the South 38th Street interchange. Over the past three months, Skanska has been building new ramp connections that will reduce the congestion we all previously experienced at this location. To do this, in April the eastbound SR 16 traffic to southbound I-5 was diverted temporarily on to new lanes that will become permanent HOV lanes. The southbound I-5 exit 132A to South 38th Street and the South Sprague Avenue ramp to southbound I-5 were also closed.

When these ramps re-open and eastbound SR 16 traffic is shifted back to its original lanes, the following permanent improvements will be in place:
  • Southbound I-5 exit 132A and eastbound SR 16 to westbound and eastbound South 38th Street will be an exit only. There will no longer be a continuous lane that re-connects with southbound I-5 past South 38th Street.
  • Eastbound SR 16 and South Sprague Avenue drivers heading to southbound I-5 will use a new dedicated ramp to southbound I-5. Drivers headed to the South 38th Street interchange will use their own dedicated ramp.
New ramp choices

Once the dedicated ramps open, there will be a new decision point for Sprague Avenue or eastbound SR 16 travelers headed to southbound I-5 or South 38th Street. One ramp will connect directly to travel lanes of southbound I-5. The other ramp will allow travelers to go directly to eastbound or westbound South 38th Street. New signs will be in place to alert travelers of these permanent improvements.

Southbound I-5 on new alignment

In addition to new ramp connections opening, all lanes of southbound I-5 will move on to a new final alignment across a brand new bridge. Currently there is one lane of traffic going across this new bridge. In the days and nights leading up to the August 10 traffic shift, the contractor will be removing 8,000 feet of temporary barrier and replacing it with temporary orange construction barrels. Drivers may also see crews installing the final lane striping in the work zone behind the orange construction barrels.

Once all lanes of southbound I-5 are moved to this final alignment, the contractor will begin removing temporary striping and barrier along lanes of northbound I-5 from approximately 48th Street to M Street to the permanent configuration of 12-foot lane widths and wider shoulders.

Finish line is near

The I-5 – SR 16 Realignment – HOV Structure and Connections project began in February 2017. Over the past 29 months, Skanska and their design firm WSP USA have completed design work and moved travel lanes from one side of the highway to another, built four new bridges, installed 83 new girders project-wide and moved thousands of cubic yards of soil, all while keeping traffic moving.

In the last few weeks of construction, Skanska will finish the HOV connections between SR 16 and I-5. We will provide more information on that in the coming weeks. Throughout these changes, please continue to watch your speed in work zones and give construction crews the room they need to finish this project.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sound Transit East Link Light Rail construction to close I-405 in downtown Bellevue

Prepare for delays on the weekends of Aug. 9-12 and Aug. 16-19

By Thomas Charlson

If you plan to travel on either side of Lake Washington on the weekends of Aug. 9-12 or Aug. 16-19, be prepared for significant closures on I-405 that will create long delays region-wide on the surrounding highways and city streets.

Last year Sound Transit's contractor crews built a temporary support structure as part of East Link Light Rail construction in downtown Bellevue. Just like unwrapping a present on Christmas morning, it's time to remove the temporary structure around the brand new concrete light rail structure, which will require two weekends of directional closures of I-405 in Bellevue.
Here is a view of the Sound Transit light rail construction. The temporary support
structure needs to be removed over I-405 in Bellevue.

What to expect for traffic
Between 85,000 and 108,000 vehicles use this section of I-405 in downtown Bellevue, so plan for long traffic delays during the closures. Even if you don't regularly use I-405, the closures will create added congestion on alternate routes like SR 520, I-90, I-5 and city streets.

We need everyone's help to keep traffic moving. Allow extra time to reach your destination and consider using alternate routes through downtown Bellevue. Taking public transit, carpooling, walking or biking may be good options to consider during these weekend closures.
Directional closures of I-405 will be between Northeast 10th Street and Main Street.

Closure details
So just what's going to be closed? Here's a look:

From 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, to 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10
  • The southbound I-405 off-ramp to Northeast 4th Street
  • The Northeast 8th Street on-ramp to southbound I-405
From 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, to 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 12
  • Southbound I-405 between Northeast 10th Street and Main Street
  • The northbound I-405 HOV off-ramp and the southbound HOV on-ramp to and from Northeast 6th Street
  • The southbound I-405 HOV off-ramp to Northeast 6th Street
  • The southbound I-405 off-ramp to Northeast 4th Street
  • The Northeast 8th Street on-ramp to southbound I-405
From 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, to 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17
  • The northbound I-405 off-ramp to Northeast 8th Street
  • The Northeast 4th Street on-ramp to northbound I-405
From 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, to 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 19
  • Northbound I-405 between Main Street and Northeast 10th Street
  • The northbound I-405 HOV off-ramp and the southbound HOV on-ramp to and from Northeast 6th Street
  • The Northeast 4th Street on-ramp to northbound I-405
Stay updated
To stay updated on the Sound Transit closures, you can always use the following tools to find detour routes and the latest info:
These closures are going to be a challenge, no question. Please plan ahead, add plenty of time to get where you're going, be patient and work together to get where you need to go safely.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Snaking along SR 129 through Eastern Washington’s Rattlesnake Canyon

By David Mosley

Like many motor enthusiasts, I enjoy a beautiful stretch of highway that offers a variable driving experience combined with astounding views. Nestled away in the southeastern corner of Washington is one such drive.
A sign marks the summit of Rattlesnake Ridge on SR 129, marking the beginning of
the highway’s decent through Rattlesnake Canyon.

It was my privilege to have recently visited State Route 129, which stretches from north to south across Asotin County. Its path took me through the breathtaking Rattlesnake Canyon down to the Grande Ronde River and south to the Oregon border.

I started on the highway where it begins in the city of Clarkston, which sits on the border with Idaho. The highway took me south along the Snake River to the town of Asotin where I climbed as the road weaved its way to the heights above the river and the fertile farm lands found there. It is here that SR 129 stretches out fairly flat for the next 15 or so miles, passing through the small town of Anatone to the summit of Rattlesnake Ridge. The summit at 3,965 feet is dotted with evergreens, with no indication of the visually astounding descent to and through Rattlesnake Canyon that is about to occur.
 Descending past evergreen trees, drivers on SR 129 begin to view parts of the upper reaches of Rattlesnake Canyon.

With the tall trees around me, interspersed with the occasional farmland, SR 129 quickly starts to descend and as the trees begin to thin, more and more of Rattlesnake Canyon comes into view. Ultimately it descends more than 2,700 feet, winding through more than 40 bends and turns as it makes its way down from the summit to the Grande Ronde River. While the speed limit can be as high as 50 mph, I recommend taking it slow and enjoying the drive on this remote section of highway.
SR 129 winds its way through more than 40 turns as it descends through Rattlesnake Canyon and
across the Grande Ronde River before snaking off toward the Oregon border.

Throughout the descent, there are numerous places to safely pull over and take in the sights. The canyon views are some of the most spectacular I have seen anywhere in the state! During my trip, I was able to spot deer in the thickets along the road, and even had to stop for a few ptarmigan that decided it was time to cross the highway. The sides of the canyon are filled with varying vegetation and rock formations. From turn to turn, the view was ever changing.
SR 129 sees a mixture of cars, motorcycles and heavy trucks but speeds allow for safe travel and there are
many pullouts allowing people to take in the views of the canyon.

During the drive, the roadway was smooth and in good repair with signs of pavement preservation dotting the trip. Traffic was light, with motorcycles seemingly outnumbering automobiles. There are heavy trucks that use the route, so be alert and give them space.
Motorcyclists on SR 129 cross the Grande Ronde River bridge at the bottom of Rattlesnake Canyon. Drivers descend
more than 2,700 feet from the top of Rattlesnake Ridge to the bottom of the canyon.

For those who would enjoy seeing Rattlesnake Canyon for themselves, it lies more than five hours east of Snoqualmie Pass, 2½  hours south of Spokane and about three hours east of the Tri-Cities. Exploring this area of the state might be best as part of a weekend trip. If you have the time, a detour to see Palouse Falls (a Washington State Discover Pass is required), and drive across the 90-year-old Lyons Ferry Bridge – which was originally built to cross the Columbia River and was later moved to its current location – are well worth taking.
SR 129 stretches through the bottom of Rattlesnake Canyon. Those traveling on it cross the Grande Ronde River,
snake along the bottom of the canyon then climb out to the Oregon border.

Or you can head down to the Tri-Cities area, passing through part of our wine country by taking US 12 through Walla Walla. No matter what you choose, there are lots of amenities as you drive to find SR 129, but please note that once you depart the Clarkston/Asotin area, there are few if any resources available until you arrive in the towns south in Oregon.
As drivers end their trip along SR 129, they’ll see the Welcome to Washington sign in their rearview mirror as they
enter Oregon. Once in Oregon the highway becomes SR 3, AKA the Lewiston Highway.

For me, this is now one of my favorite drives within our state and I cannot wait until I get to visit and drive the beautiful stretch of highway again!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Summer travel on our busiest ferry route will improve in 2020

By Diane Rhodes
The new Mukilteo ferry terminal with Mount Baker in the distance. 

A summer ferry ride is a thing to savor. Tourists come from far-flung places to do it and, as the photos from our customers attest, it’s also something to capture. On the Mukilteo/Clinton route – our busiest route for vehicles – summertime also brings together a challenging mix of vehicles, pedestrians, and tourists every 30 minutes as ferry traffic takes over a cramped intersection in old town Mukilteo.

From July through September last year, we carried nearly 630,000 vehicles (and their passengers) across the waters of Possession Sound to Whidbey Island and back.

We outgrew our small terminal at that busy intersection of State Route 525 and Front Street in Mukilteo long ago.

Designed to hold more cars
When the new Mukilteo terminal opens in fall 2020, getting to and from Whidbey Island will be a different experience. The terminal will be one-third of a mile east of the existing one. To reach it, drivers will travel down SR 525 and turn right onto a new First Street that leads to seven holding lanes that can accommodate 245 cars, enough to fill a boat and a half. (The current lanes hold 216 cars.)

While we won’t be adding more sailings – they’ll remain at 30-minute intervals – the terminal’s location and configuration will take more ferry traffic off local streets. Even at peak travel times when there’s a two-boat wait, queuing traffic will be able to fit into the seven holding lanes and along the new First Street. This reduces the backups along SR 525 and takes ferry traffic completely off Front Street.

Geared for comfort, multimodal travel
Walk-on passengers will board via an overhead walkway as vehicles load below. This reduces conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians and makes boarding easier for people with disabilities. Once inside the new terminal, passengers will find a beautiful space in which to roam, sit, or work at a stand-up laptop counter looking out toward Whidbey Island – a big change from the tight quarters at our current terminal. People waiting in their vehicles will find a food cart and restrooms inside the holding lanes.

Cyclists will have their own dedicated lane and priority boarding. Walk-on passengers inbound to Mukilteo will find a transit center just outside the terminal with bus service. The Sounder station is a four-to-five-minute walk from the terminal.

Tribal influence
Honoring our commitment to local tribes, the building is designed in the style of a Coast Salish longhouse – albeit a modern interpretation of one. The light-on-the-earth building will be constructed to LEED Silver specifications integrating solar panels, natural ventilation, rain water harvesting, enhanced stormwater treatment, native plantings, and other green elements into its design. Tulalip master carvers are at work now creating spindle whorls, figures, and a working canoe that will be prominently displayed inside the terminal. 

A long time coming
Work on this project began in 2010 with environmental review and presentations to the City Council and public meetings and community outreach in 2012. Design started in 2014 and removal of the old U.S. Air Force fueling station and pier in 2015. The construction of the trestle and underground stormwater utilities began in 2017. Currently, construction of the terminal, maintenance building, toll booths, and holding lanes is underway and on track for a fall 2020 opening.

Back to natural
The site, previously home to 10 fuel storage tanks and a 1,360-foot long fueling pier, is being transformed into a strollable waterfront where people can linger among the natural beauty – and maybe spot a pod of orcas.

We’re excited about the progress we’ve made and for the safety and efficiency improvements the new multimodal terminal will bring when it opens next year.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Plan for delays on SR 542, 547, 548 and US 2 starting late July

Longer delays, backups expected in Whatcom, Snohomish and King counties during second stage of resurfacing work

By Frances Fedoriska

Crews continue to resurface four highways in three counties, but the next phase of the project will bring with it delays of up to 45 minutes.

Daytime lane closures
Contractor crews from Doolittle Construction continue their nighttime and daytime lane closures. Work hours vary depending on the highway, but the majority is happening on weekdays or weeknights, with flaggers and/or a pilot car alternating traffic through a single open lane of highway. Travelers need to continue to factor in extra time into their trips.

Stages of work
During the first phases of resurfacing work that happened in the spring and early summer, crews sealed cracks, repaired damaged pavement, dug out pot holes and filled wheel ruts. I've been documenting their progress on the @WSDOT_North twitter account using #WABST2019. Drivers reported delays hovering around 15-20 minutes during these early phases.
We promise to leave it better than we found it. Contractor crews made repairs to the Bell Creek
bridge west of Deming on SR 542 in the earlier stages of this project.

The second stage will begin in late July and early August, depending on the highway and weather. Crews need dry conditions and hotter temperatures to place a mixture of oil, sand and gravel on the road to form the new asphalt. Then, and here's where the extended wait times come in, they must allow the new surface to properly adhere to the road surface and dry before reopening lanes to traffic.

Travelers should allow an extra 45 minutes in travel time during this second stage of work in the following locations:

Snohomish County
  • US 2 between Mount Index Road near Index and Eagle Falls west of Halford.
King County
  • US 2 between Northeast 182nd Street/east of Baring and Northeast Old Cascade Highway/Money Creek campground.
Whatcom County
  • SR 542/Mount Baker Highway between Britton Road in Bellingham and St. Peter's Catholic Church/Markel Road west of Kendall.
  • SR 547/Kendall Road between Peaceful Valley Drive and Saar Creek/Hillview Road.
  • SR 548/Grandview Road between North Starr Road and the Blaine Road roundabout.
Updated schedules will be sent out every Thursday through the Whatcom county list serv, and posted each Friday on the Whatcom county construction page.

Weather conditions could cancel work in one area and push crews to another area instead. When possible, changes will be posted on the WSDOT North Twitter account.

Monday, July 22, 2019

First Eastern Washington J-Turn opening in Spokane

By Ryan Overton

Update: a graphic of the new J-turn has been added to the blog.

If you haven’t noticed the construction on US 195 at Thorpe Road just south of Spokane, you’ll want to start paying close attention, especially if you drive this route frequently. Starting Tuesday, July 23, a new traffic pattern will open to drivers, affecting both those on US 195 as well as travelers on Thorpe Road wanting to access US 195 to the north or south.

It is called the J-Turn… or Michigan Left… or even RCUT (Restricted Crossing U-Turn). Whatever you prefer to call it, the J-Turn – the first in Eastern Washington – is ready to open to drivers. Because it is a new traffic pattern, it may take some getting used to. So to help you prepare, we’ve answered some common questions below.

What is a J-turn?
A J-Turn is a new type of intersection that has travelers merge into traffic in one direction before using a modified U-Turn – a J-Turn – to merge into the opposite direction of travel. This means briefly going in the opposite direction you want to travel, but doing so allows for safer merging and more time in between each merge decision. This reduces the risk of serious injury or fatal crashes.
This graphic shows how vehicles will negotiate the new J-turns opening near Spokane on US 195 Tuesday, July 23.

Why construct a J-Turn?
Increasing traffic volumes along the US 195 corridor meant intersection improvements were needed to keep traffic flowing and reduce the risk of collisions. The J-Turn is a low-cost improvement option that reduces the number of conflict points and decisions a driver has to make during each step of travel.

How will the new J-Turn work?
When the J-Turn opens for traffic on Tuesday, July 23, drivers will have a much simpler time getting onto US 195 from Thorpe Road.
Crews finish work on deceleration lanes that allow drivers to complete a J-Turn rather than
crossing the median to enter traffic on US 195 from Thorpe Road.
Currently, if you travel east on Thorpe Road and want to travel north on US 195 toward Spokane, you have to cross the two lanes of heavy southbound traffic into a center median before turning into the northbound lanes. The J-Turn instead requires drivers to make a right turn and briefly head southbound on US 195.
Once drivers safely merge into the southbound lanes, they move into the far left lane and into a newly constructed deceleration lane to start the J-Turn. Drivers will pull up to a painted stop bar line, giving them time to look to the right at the oncoming northbound traffic and determine when they can safely complete the turn and travel north.
Crews add permanent striping paint to a deceleration lane to create one of the new J-Turns on US 195.

The J-Turn eliminates the need of having to cross multiple lanes of traffic and moves the decision points a driver has to make farther apart. The deceleration lane also has more room for vehicles than the median, because several vehicles can line up in the lane.
The painted stop bar in the left of this photo will be used for travelers to wait at the end of the deceleration
lane before completing the J-Turn to enter northbound US 195 traffic.

People traveling west on Thorpe Road and heading southbound on US 195 will also use a J-Turn. As a driver, you will initially head north a quarter of a mile, travel into the far left lane to the deceleration lane and then complete the turn and merge into southbound traffic.

Won’t it take more time to travel in the opposite direction?
You might think so, but the answer is no. Currently, it can take a minute or longer waiting to  cross traffic to the open median and make the left turn. Using the J-Turn will take roughly a minute, even with the brief travel in the other direction. At certain times of the day the J-Turn could actually be faster than the current configuration because it allows more cars to wait in the queue to merge.

While this may take some time to get used to, the new configuration will create a safer way to access the highway and reduce the amount of critical decisions for drivers. And that improves travel for everyone on the roadway.

We thank everyone in advance for their patience navigating the new J-Turns, as well as being extra alert in the area while travelers adjust to the change.

Friday, July 19, 2019

A shore thing: WSDOT to reinforce troublesome riverbank along SR 530

Travelers should expect traffic delays in rural Skagit County

By Ally Barrera & Andrea Petrich

This past Monday, July 15, folks traveling on State Route 530 between Darrington and Rockport started to notice contractor crews working alongside the highway, close to the Sauk River. But rather than executing the usual road resurfacing or fish passage projects we normally see this time of year, they’re working on a less-common project called a ‘chronic environmental deficiency retrofit’.

The 4-1-1 on C-E-D
To most, a ‘chronic environmental deficiency’ – or CED – sounds like something you get when you’re not exposed to enough Vitamin D. Actually, a CED is an area along a roadway where “recent, frequent and chronic maintenance repairs to the highway are negatively affecting fish and their habitat.”

The bank between the SR 530 and the Sauk River – highlighted in the map below – is one of those locations.
This map shows where work along SR 530 is taking place this summer
to shore up the riverbank and protect fish and other wildlife.

Over the last decade, our crews have repaired riverbank erosion in that area of SR 530 multiple times, only to have to return again when more of the bank erodes. This photo shows just how close the river is to the road.

When the river is running high, it comes within feet of the highway. Once this project is complete, logs, rocks and other materials will keep the river from encroaching on the road.

Sending our maintenance crews to repair SR 530 year after year not only takes them away from doing other important work, but it disrupts this thriving aquatic habitat that’s home to lots of fish and other creatures.

A work zone down by the river
This week, contractor crews with Trimaxx Construction, Inc., started moving logs, rocks and other materials to help stabilize the bank between the Sauk River and SR 530. Crews will use barriers to give themselves enough space to safely work along the bank as they build a protective barrier to shield the area from future erosion.
Crews will take advantage of the low-running river to build a protective barrier along SR 530 this summer.

In addition to building the barrier, the work will also help any fish or other wildlife caught between the barrier and the bank return to the rest of the river through a process called fish exclusion, where our environmental team catch aquatic creatures in the project area and move them to a different part of the river before work starts.  In order to do all this work, though, crews need to close the eastbound lane of SR 530.

What travelers should expect
During this first week of work, crews only needed to close the eastbound lane weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with flaggers alternating traffic. Starting Monday, July 22, that changes. Crews will keep the lane closed around the clock for a few weeks to safely complete the work. They’ll use temporary traffic signals to move traffic through the work zone by alternating traffic through the westbound lane.

Travelers should plan on 5- to 10-minute delays during peak travel times and big weekend events like the Darrington Summer Meltdown.

The highway will return to its original two-lane state in mid-September, with any additional lane reductions only happening during weekdays.

Happening downstream
Also taking place on SR 530, contractor crews are working on a separate project just east of Arlington, where they’re building a new fish passage under the highway at Schoolyard Creek.
This map shows the planned detour during work to help travelers cruising down SR 530
or beside the roadway in the Sauk River.

Folks traveling between Darrington and Arlington should expect traffic delays during the day on Monday, July 22, and Wednesday, July 24. Beginning Thursday, July 25, crews will close SR 530 near Schoolyard Creek and alternate vehicles through a single-lane bypass 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Wednesday, Aug. 20.

This fish passage project helps WSDOT comply with a 2013 U.S. District Court ruling requiring the state to remove or replace highway culverts that block habitat for salmon and steelhead.

Plan ahead for smoother travel
You wouldn’t head down the river without a paddle, so don’t head out the door without checking the real-time traffic conditions. Find closure updates on the: