Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A 12-ton helping hand

Our "push truck" helps vehicles struggling or stopped on Snoqualmie Pass – which helps keep everyone moving

By Barbara LaBoe

Sometimes you just need a little extra nudge to get moving. It can be a parent rousting a child out of bed in the morning, or the friend who reminds you not to give up on an important long-term goal like going back to school or finding a new career.

Or, in the case of our push truck on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass, it can be a literal heavy-duty assist – as in a 12-ton vehicle pushing your vehicle to help you regain traction or get you out of the line of traffic.

We created the push truck in house to meet a need crews kept seeing on the pass – vehicles either disabled or unable to regain traction and thus blocking traffic and even forcing pass closures. The push truck, which debuted in November, is designed to help quickly clear roadways, either by pushing disabled vehicles off to the shoulder or giving a struggling vehicle the extra help it needs to regain traction and start moving again.
Watch our push truck in action from earlier this winter when it helped a semitruck up a steep incline
So why do we need a push truck? Our main goal is to get the roadway cleared and get traffic moving as soon as possible after a crash or spin out. We know no one likes having their plans disrupted, especially in winter conditions, so we wanted another option to help avoid lengthy closures.

Most of the closures our crews see on Snoqualmie Pass – roughly 80 percent – are due to unprepared motorists who either ignored posted speed limits, failed to chain up, drove on bald tires or tried to drive through conditions they're just not prepared to handle. The end results are spin outs and crashes or vehicles struggling to continue up the pass and slowing down or stalling others behind them. And they all need assistance, usually a tow truck.

The push truck, which is housed at our Hyak maintenance facility, doesn't replace commercial tow trucks, but it can move vehicles out of the way until a tow arrives. It also can help get a struggling vehicle moving up the hill again or assist a tow truck in clearing the scene. This lets other travelers get back on their way more quickly. The push truck also means we don't have to divert a grader from plowing to assist in moving heavy vehicles.
Left: We recycled a surplus plow for the push truck, adding an adjustable hydraulic bumper as well as tow cables and an onboard camera for the operator. Right: Our push truck can help move crashed vehicles off the roadway or, as in this picture, help a semitruck regain traction on a steep part of Snoqualmie Pass.

This isn't the first time we've tried a push truck on Snoqualmie. A truck was donated several years ago, but it ended up not meeting our needs, especially for large semitrucks. Using an old plow for the new and improved push truck not only saved us money, it also ensured the vehicle had enough push power for steep inclines. By "recycling" a plow headed for surplus and using salvaged parts from other vehicles we were able to put the push truck into service for a little less than $15,000.

As part of its modifications, crews added a hydraulic, adjustable push bumper that the operator can move using an onboard camera to help line up with the vehicle in need. It also has tow cables if a vehicle needs to be pulled out of the way rather than pushed.

The result? The push truck on the west side of the pass worked so well this winter we're already making plans to add another so we have one on the east side of the pass as well. It has been deployed 11 times this winter (basically anytime severe weather is predicted) and assisted between 10 and 20 vehicles during each session. That's almost 200 vehicles helped directly and many more who weren't delayed. We're also sharing the results in case other pass crews want to consider it for their needs.

We direct a lot of time and resources to keeping Snoqualmie Pass open in the winter. The push truck is now another tool in that tool box, and that extra nudge helps improve safety for both our workers and all travelers.


Robert Webster said...

Looks pretty AWESOME!

Ellen Matthewson said...

What a creative solution. I love that you were able to use a truck already in the fleet and modify it to use this way.

Unknown said...

Is this for pushing cars or trucks.

WSDOT said...

The push truck can push both cars and trucks. The former snow plow was modified so that it has enough “pushing power” to move even semitrucks. The goal is clear the road, either by pushing disabled vehicles to the shoulder or giving a vehicle an extra nudge to help it regain traction on steep sections.

Bradysmail1969 said...

That truck should have an impact barrier on the rear of it for driver safety.

yrabena said...

Reminds me of the time decades ago when Consolidated Freight had pusher trucks (they even did some pulling) on the pass to help all truckers up the passes.

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