Tuesday, April 30, 2019

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

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

By Ally Barrera

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

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

Bumpy like a molehill

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

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

Master pavers to the rescue!

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

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

Don't forget about other highway users

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

A 'Full Shade' project

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

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

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

Constant vigilance

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

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

Monday, April 29, 2019

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

By Cara Mitchell

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

The final class schedule

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

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

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

Second semester: The traffic shift

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

Study group session: Which bridge is what?

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

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

Our yearbook quote: Eyes up, Drive slow

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

When do we toss our caps?

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

To find the most up-to-date closure information during construction, visit www.TacomaTraffic.com.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

SR 18 project will smooth westbound Issaquah-Hobart Road overpass

By Tom Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Getting ready to rumble in the North Cascades

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

By Frances Fedoriska

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Our role in helping protect our species

By Ann Briggs and Mike Allende

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

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

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

Friday, April 19, 2019

Noticeable progress on I-5 construction near JBLM

By Lauren Wheeler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Barb Chamberlain

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

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

How do I get involved or get more information?

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

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

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

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

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

What IS active transportation, anyway?

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

What’s the schedule?

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

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Working behind the scenes to keep our fleet running

By Joseph Calabro

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

Our fantastic group of mechanics, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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

By Joe Calabro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, it was gross.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Summer is coming: Five tips when making a vehicle reservation during Ferries’ busiest time of the year

By Marqise Allen

Summer ferry reservations tend to sell out just as quickly as Seattle Seahawks tickets these days. And this year will likely be no different when the initial round of reservations for our summer sailing schedule are released at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, April 23.

But there’s no need to fret if you come up empty the first time around. There’s still hope for your wedding plans in the San Juan Islands, and you’ll still likely be able to get to that appointment on Whidbey Island. Most people can always at least get on a ferry on their desired day of travel. Please note, day does not mean time. There’s a difference. Ensuring you get to where you’re going may take some flexibility.
Summer is a very busy time at our ferry
 terminals, but making reservations early
 will help ensure you get on the
sailing you want.

How does the reservation system work?

Before launching into tips on how to secure a reservation, it’s important to explain how the system works. First, reservations are only needed on certain routes: Port Townsend/Coupeville and Anacortes/San Juan Islands (this includes trips to Sidney B.C. on Vancouver Island).

Thirty percent of the total standard vehicle space is released two months prior to the start of any upcoming season. The 2019 summer schedule goes from June 23 through Sept. 28. After the initial release, another 30 percent of vehicle space opens up for reservations two weeks before each sailing date. So if you’re looking to travel on July 18, that means more reservations are available on July 4. Looking for sailings on Aug. 26? Be ready to look for reservations on Aug. 12. The final 30 percent of space is released two days prior to each sailing.

So you may be thinking that this only adds up to 90 percent. And you would be right, person who is good at math. Ten percent of space is left open for emergency and stand-by vehicles.

The system is structured with separate release dates to accommodate tourists, residents, and many others with widely varying travel plans. People visiting the area tend to have their travel plans mapped out well in advance and need to lock in their accommodations sooner rather than later, hence the two month release. However, residents generally don’t plan their trips to the store two months in advance. Therefore, there’s the two-week and two-day release dates. If all the reservations were available on Day One, they’d get snatched up by tourists. By giving visitors multiple opportunities starting two months prior to the new season, they’re given the time they need to plan.
Sunny, warm weather means big crowds on our ferries, which makes making a reservation all the more important.

Side note: If you’re traveling with a vehicle that is 7-foot-2 or taller and/or 30 feet or longer, disregard the explanation about the tiered release system. One hundred percent of reservations for tall or large vehicles are available on the first release day.

Tips to get a reservation

“Enough with the history lesson. I came to learn how to get a darn reservation,” I hear you say. Patience, my reservation padwan. Understanding how the system works helps understanding how to snag that reservation. So on to the main event. Here are five tips to help you get the reservation you desire.
The first round of summer sailing reservations go live on the morning of April 23.

  1. Be Flexible: Trying to get that 2 p.m. sailing from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on a summer Friday? Yeah. You and everybody else. Reservations during peak travel times go fast. Try leaving a little earlier or later in the day. Leaving the day before or day after may also work if your schedule allows. Don’t lock yourself into sailing at a specific time, unless you need to. Give yourself options.
  2. Teamwork makes the dream work: It’s simple math. Your chances of getting that coveted reservation go up if you have friends and family working with you. But be sure to only book the number of reservations you need. There’s only so many to go around, and you don’t want to be THAT person that squats on a reservation that someone else needs. There’s also a no-show fee if you book a reservation and don’t take that sailing without canceling. So if empathy isn’t your thing, there’s that to consider too.
  3. Phone a friend: We may not have met, but we consider ourselves your ferry friends. Give us a call the morning of a scheduled release. We might have some additional information about that sailing you’re interested in.
  4. Check for reservations the afternoon before your sailing: Without fail, there are a slew of reservations that always become available at about 4 to 5 p.m. the day before a given sailing. That’s because 5 p.m. is the latest a passenger can cancel a reservation without incurring that previously mentioned no-show fee. People’s plans frequently change, so they’ll cancel those reservations at the last minute, freeing them up for other folks.
  5. Standby isn’t a bad thing: If all else fails, there’s always standby. As mentioned above, 10 percent of every sailing is reserved specifically for standby customers. On top of that, there’s always other reservation holders who don’t show up without cancelling. So you’re not putting your plans in the hands of some higher power by attempting standby, even on holiday weekends. Just show up early and give yourself plenty of travel time. You’re almost assured to get on a sailing that day.
So that’s it. With these tools and tips, you’re officially a reservation making expert. If you have any other questions about making a reservation or about the ferry system in general, there’s plenty of additional information on our website. You can also give us a call at 206-464-6400 or toll free at 888-808-7977. That’s also the same number you’ll want to call to make a reservation. Best of luck to you come April 23!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Being tough enough to ask for help

A colleague talks about the emotional toil of work zone crashes, and why we need everyone's help to keep workers and travelers safe

By Barbara LaBoe

David Sacchini is tough.

He's worked on construction and road crews, put out a garage fire at his house and helped save a loved one's life with CPR. He's been hurt on the job. A few days before Christmas in 2017, he was hurt again while working with our bridge maintenance crew on the I-5 Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle. The truck he was in was struck by a drunk driver and pushed 20 feet even though it had its brakes on.

But when Sacchini returned to job after that latest injury, he struggled.

He was anxious being back on the side of a road or bridge and worried about the responsibility for his crew. At times his heart was beating so hard during panic attacks that it felt like it was jumping out of his chest. He was also angry at the drunk driver who was going 120 mph when he struck Sacchini's work truck, putting everyone on the crew in danger.
Dave Sacchini (left) works on replacing an expansion joint on SR 520 in this 2012 picture. Dave says
he often wears white to make himself more visible to traffic.

Sacchini tried to hide his anxiety at work because he wanted to be strong for his crew. So he toughed it out most days, but at home he had trouble sleeping and was irritable, often taking it out on his family.

Eventually, he knew he needed help.

"It can be hard to ask for this kind of help but it's so important," Sacchini said during our annual Worker Memorial ceremony Wednesday in Olympia. The event is part of our National Work Zone Awareness week activities. "We need to do away with the attitude that we're tough and don't need help."
Bridge maintenance worker Dave Sacchini addresses the crowd at this year's Worker Memorial ceremony in Olympia.

Sacchini has worked with a counselor and said things are getting better. He's learned breathing exercises to help calm himself if he gets a panic attack, and he's also able to take time from work if needed to continue his recovery.

And, as he now tells his crew, he knows it's okay to be a little scared out in a work zone. They're dangerous places with vehicles passing just a few feet from the workers. Everyone out there should remember the dangers and stay alert, he said. Getting complacent is dangerous for everybody.

Help us help you
Sacchini also wants travelers to remember to stay alert and be extra cautious near work zones. Crews like his are out there helping keep roadways safe for everybody. They have family and friends and lives they want to return to at the end of each shift, and they need everyone's help to stay safe.

"I've had crew members literally run for their lives to get out of the way when vehicles veer in between our work trucks," he said. "Some members of my small crew have been struck more than once."

He now regularly shares the emotional effect of work zone crashes with his crew, making sure they're all checking in with each other and seeking assistance if they need it. They've become like a second family to him, he said.
Dave Sacchini, a bridge maintenance worker, shared his story with the Seattle
media about being injured in a work zone collision.

Sacchini spoke at Wednesday's ceremony because he wants everyone to understand the toll that work zone crashes can take on our crews. Broken bones or cuts are visible and the healing process is often straightforward. Emotional trauma is hidden and more insidious, he said, coming back at random times and without warning.

"We need to take the emotional and mental toll of our work zone experiences seriously," he said. "And we need to talk about it more."

Call it his new and improved form of toughness – reminding everyone that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

New US 2 project frets about possible mistaken identity

Bickford to Gold Bar project has its own major closure, wants out from the shadow of 2018 trestle project

By Frances Fedoriska

Similar names. Same highway. Same type of work. You'll excuse our two paving projects on US 2 in Snohomish County if they're feeling like the Doublemint Twins. Now the newer project, kicking off this spring, is setting the record straight.

"I'm my own project," the Bickford-to-Gold Bar paving project said. "I'm not the trestle. I'm not in Everett. I'm my own thing, and I hope people recognize that."

The US 2/I-5 to Bickford Avenue project that began last year rehabs about three miles of pavement including the Hewitt Avenue Trestle. That will continue into this construction season and it's a big deal. But the new project wants you to know it's no second fiddle.

"Three miles, that's impressive," Gold Bar said. "And no doubt the trestle is a big deal. But look, I'm repaving almost 12 miles of all lanes of US 2 between Bickford Avenue in Snohomish and Monroe. That's three-times as many miles. That's pretty good."

The differences don't stop there. Known by friends as "Bickford to Gold Bar," the project is in the hands of contractor crews from Granite Construction. This spring and summer they will:
  • Remove old, damaged asphalt from all lanes of US 2 between Bickford Avenue and Monroe.
  • Build a 6-foot median separating eastbound and westbound lanes from milepost 3.8 (Bickford Avenue) to milepost 5.85 (near South Machias).
  • Build a 4-foot median separating eastbound and westbound lanes from South Machias to milepost 12.8 (Fryelands Boulevard).
  • Replace two expansion joints and make any necessary bridge deck repairs on the Pilchuck River Bridge in Snohomish.
  • Inspect and make any necessary repairs to the US 2 bridges over French Creek, Farm Road and Woods Creek.
  • Improve intersection crossings along US 2 between Fryelands Boulevard and Cascade View Drive.
  • Rehabilitate the asphalt on SR 9 at the US 2 interchange.
  • Cut centerline and shoulder rumblestrips.
Most work will happen overnight during the week.
Cracks and crevices are on full display on this stretch of US 2.

However, to chisel two 40-year-old expansion joints out of the Pilchuck River bridge, install the new joints, then inspect, make any necessary repairs and repave the roadway, crews will need to reduce the bridge to one lane for up to two weekends this summer, likely late June or September. We're still working on exact dates but expect some significant delays during those weekends.
The two expansion joints scheduled for removal and replacement this year are original to the Pilchuck River bridge.

Flaggers will alternate traffic, but the project knows those weekends won't be easy.

"Look where I'm located," it said. "I don't have any good alternative routes. I could see some major backups so I need drivers to adjust their plans."
The location of the Pilchuck River bridge limits alternative routes. Drivers should alter their plans if
possible to avoid the area during weekend lane reductions or expect massive delays and backups.

What we need from drivers

As soon as we confirm the dates of the Pilchuck River bridge lane reductions, start planning to do what you can to change your travel plans to avoid US 2 during those times. Doing just one thing differently will help us keep traffic moving:
  • Carpool
  • Take transit
  • Move discretionary travel to a non-construction weekend.
  • Travel during non-peak hours. Before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
  • Be a helper. Share this information with friends and family.
  • Stay engaged. We will post the confirmed weekend lane reduction dates on:
This needs to be done

The project understands that this is going to be a challenge for many people, and there's never really a good time for this type of closure. But it knows this stretch of road is also feeling its age and with 200,000 people projected to move to Snohomish County in the next 15 years, we can't afford to wait.
"This stretch of US 2 hasn't been repaved since 1998," it said. "That asphalt only has a lifespan of about 15 years, and with 40,000 drivers taking this stretch between Snohomish and Gold Bar every day, I need some serious TLC."

Thank you in advance

We know there is no good time to reduce a segment of US 2 to one lane, but the alternative is costly emergency repairs that come with little or no warning and could potentially require closing all lanes. We thank you for your continued engagement and understanding of the need for projects like this to preserve and improve our highways to handle the demands of a booming population.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Horrific crash a stark reminder of need for work zone safety

By Barbara LaBoe

Less than a minute.

That's all that saved Rob Shepherd as he worked along State Route 3 helping with soil samples on a geotechnical crew on March 19, 2019.

Shepherd, a transportation engineer, had just left his work pickup on the road shoulder when the crew heard a semitruck barreling down on them, scraping the guardrail. They were already standing on the other side of the guardrail, but several hit the deck, some rolling down an embankment to get as far away as possible.

"I jumped and closed my eyes, and then hit and tumbled down the hill," Shepherd said.

Next they heard a "terrible explosion," Shepherd said, which was the semi striking the pickup and slamming it 150 feet forward into the drill truck. The three-quarter pickup was crushed like a soda can, barely recognizable in the wreckage.
The crushed pickup is smashed up against a drill truck with the semi cab resting on top of it.

Thankfully, none of the crew was in either vehicle – but the wreckage shows all too clearly the danger crews in work zones face across the state on a regular basis. A few seconds later leaving the truck and Shepherd almost certainly have been killed.
Depending on the angle, the remains of the crushed pickup from the March 19 work zone crash are barely recognizable.

Today marks the beginning of National Work Zone Awareness week as well as our own outreach in Washington. Ceremonies are planned as well as displays to help raise public awareness of the need for everyone to slow down and pay attention in work zones. The remains of Shepherd's truck will be part of one of those displays, along Capital Way in Olympia. Other displays are planned at several of our regional offices across the state.
60 barrels line the entrance of our Northwest Region headquarters in Shoreline, one of several
regional displays for National Work Zone Awareness Week.

Many include 60 barrels or cones – representing the number of WSDOT workers killed on the job since 1959. Countless others have been injured or had close calls such as Shepherd, who was merely going about a regular workday until he was suddenly diving down a bank to save his life.

Sadly, Shepherd's story is far from unique. Far too many of our workers have had close calls, serious injuries and even deaths in our work zones. It's hard to find a crew that hasn't had an injury or numerous close calls.

"I'm so thankful I was out of the truck and none of the crew was hurt," Shepherd said. "But it's a good reminder for all of us that something like this can happen in just seconds and just how dangerous it can be on the side of the road."

And it's not just workers at risk. Statewide 94 percent of those injured in work zones or backups are motorists, passengers or passing pedestrians.

The cause of the March 19 crash on SR 3 is still under investigation by the Washington State Patrol, and it's not known what caused the semi driver to leave the road and strike our trucks. That driver was transported to the hospital after the crash, though he was alert and talking when crews helped get him out of his truck.

What is clear, though, is that if Shepherd had taken a few more seconds getting out of his truck he likely wouldn't be here today. The mangled remains of the truck leave no room in either the front or back seat for anyone to survive. From some angles it's hard to even recognize it as a truck.

That's why it's important for everyone on the road to do their part to keep both workers and the traveling public safe. We work hard to ensure safety every day, but we also need the public's help.

"If people can look at this and think 'what if that had been a family member of mine or a friend in that crash?' maybe they'll all be more careful," Shepherd said.

This month – and every month – we ask all travelers to remember to:
  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety
  • Be Kind – our workers are helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life
Crews work while traffic speeds by just feet or inches away. They are there working to keep all travelers safe, either through repairs or new construction. They deserve our respect and extra attention.

As the remains of the pickup Shepherd was driving shows, lives can be changed or lost in just seconds.

Friday, April 5, 2019

How’s traffic in Seattle’s SR 99 tunnel?

By Laura Newborn

A little more than two months ago, the new SR 99 tunnel under downtown Seattle opened in the middle of a series of record-breaking snowstorms. The weather, combined with final SR 99 off-ramp construction, made it hard to know what kind of a traffic story was emerging in this new SR 99 corridor. Now that we have a few more weeks of data under our belt, we are starting to get a better picture of how many drivers are using the tunnel. During this toll-free time, what are we seeing?

Weekly tunnel use
Tunnel usage is increasing over time. We are now measuring almost 500,000 trips each week (Monday-Sunday).

Daily tunnel use
The tunnel is seeing more than 70,000 daily trips Monday-Friday. The busiest days so far are Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Comparing the tunnel to the Alaskan Way Viaduct
Comparing the new tunnel's usage to usage of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is not an ‘apples-to-apples' comparison as the tunnel ramps are in different locations than the viaduct's ramps. But comparing traffic counts between Seneca Street and Western Avenue suggests the tunnel is now carrying about the same number of vehicles during peak travel times as the viaduct did.

Looking ahead to tolling
We are required to collect tolls to help pay for construction costs and ongoing tunnel and maintenance operations. Tolling will start in late summer 2019 – after toll systems are fully tested and viaduct demolition is complete along Seattle's central waterfront.

A Good To Go! pass is the only way to get the lowest possible toll rates - $1 to $2.25, depending on time of day. In the coming weeks, we will be giving away free Good To Go! sticker passes for SR 99 tunnel users. Sign up for email notifications to know when the free passes become available.

Beyond tolling
After tolling begins, we expect to see a decline in drivers using the tunnel. However, based on the SR 520 Bridge and other toll roads around the country, we also expect to see a gradual increase in tunnel usage over time.

The combination of the SR 99 tunnel and a new, rebuilt Alaskan Way were designed to replace the capacity of the viaduct. The City of Seattle expects to complete the new Alaskan Way in 2021. One thing is certain – given all the changes happening in Seattle, traffic patterns will continue to evolve as people determine their own best ways to get around.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ferries’ haiku contest inspires young poets

By Justin Fujioka

We didn’t expect a Twitter contest to turn into an educational tool. But on San Juan Island, our haiku contest did just that. And it’s getting high school students excited about poetry.

In early 2018, our ferries communications team was looking for clever ways to boost awareness of their Twitter account. The decision? A fun, free and engaging haiku contest to engage and hopefully increase followers. None of us imagined the idea would make its way into the classroom.

How it worked

We solicited haiku entries on the ferries’ Twitter account the first week of March. We were happy to receive 176 submissions, which were narrowed to 35 semifinalists by a panel of employees. As we did in 2018, we sent those to Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna, who narrowed it to three finalists. Followers of our ferries’ Twitter account then voted on the finalists to pick the winner.
Siri Lindstrum (right) won this year’s ferries’ haiku contest, a year after her school’s librarian,
Lisa Salisbury (left) won the same contest.

The winning submission will be featured on the cover of our Summer 2019 ferries sailing schedule.

Keeping it in the Friday Harbor family

As soon as this year’s winner, Siri Lindstrom, told me she’s a student at Friday Harbor High School, it put a big smile on my face. I knew last year’s winner, Lisa Salisbury – a staff librarian at the school – had a hand in it. I had to find out more.
“Ms. Salisbury advertised it to our school, and our English teachers promoted it as well,” Siri said. “So I thought ‘why not?’ I really love poetry.”
After winning our 2018 ferries’ haiku contest, Friday Harbor High School librarian Lisa Salisbury (right) encouraged her students to enter in 2019. One who did, Siri Lindstrum (left) ended up winning the contest.

Salisbury said faculty members gave students a brief haiku intro the week prior to the contest along with basics on safely and responsibly navigating Twitter. Students at the school have been working away on poetry for some time now.

It’s not a big surprise that Lindstrom won. Not only is she a library aid this semester, she created a poetry website in January.

“It is a fun story how it has all unfolded, and the support from her fellow students has been wonderful,” Salisbury said. “Teenagers getting excited about poetry… this is awesome!!”