Friday, June 28, 2019

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

Travelers can expect delays in Whatcom County

By Frances Fedoriska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Small steps help in the journey to restore salmon habitat

By Tom Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

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

By Tamara Greenwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 24, 2019

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

By Ally Barrera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good things come to those who wait

What’s next for the North Spokane Corridor

By Ryan Overton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Looking abroad to find transportation answers

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

By Heather DeRosa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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

Art contest bags blog update

Update: New Adopt-A-Highway art contest bags have arrived
Our new Adopt-A-Highway vehicle litter bags feature the artwork of four young Washington artists selected earlier this year.
In addition to helping to physically keep trash off the roadway, each bag’s design also helps spread our message about the need for everyone to work together to secure all loads to help keep our highways clean.

Our new Adopt-A-Highway vehicle litter bags feature the artwork of four young Washington artists selected earlier this year.

The bags arrived last month and are being distributed at county fairs and other public events. If you don’t see a booth at your local event, contact the Adopt-A-Highway local coordinators in your area for details for getting one of your own.

So grab a bag, admire the artwork and then put it to use!

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

By Barbara LaBoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

Encouraging pollinator activity at Scatter Creek Rest Area

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

By Ann Briggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The North Spokane Corridor - The puzzle fits

By Ryan Overton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

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

By Barbara LaBoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help us help you

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Community forum kicks off planning for a new regional trail

By Samantha DeMars-Hanson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westbound US 2 trestle closures return this summer

By Frances Fedoriska

The closure of westbound US 2 originally scheduled for June 22-23, has been postponed to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 to 4 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5 due to an unfavorable weather forecast.

The same weekend that Buzz, Woody and friends return in Toy Story 4, contractor crews with Lakeside Industries return to the US 2 preservation project that a year ago came so close to completing the repaving of both directions of the highway between Lake Stevens and Everett.
Plenty got done on the US 2 trestle last summer, but there’s still work to be done to complete the project.

Where we’re at

We did get plenty done last year, setting us up well for what’s still to come.

On eastbound US 2, we:
  • Removed old, cracked, rutted and pothole-riddled asphalt from the eastbound lanes
  • Repaved one mile from State Route 204 to Bickford Avenue during overnight closures
  • Side note: the eastbound trestle is made of newer concrete, so no repaving happened there.
On westbound US 2, we:
  • Repaved 2½ miles from Bickford Avenue to near the Snohomish River
  • During four weekend closures, inspected and made any necessary fixes to the Hewitt Avenue trestle to reduce the risk of future emergency repairs.
Cold, wet weather postponed the final two weekends of work, pushing those westbound closures to this year. Now the weather is warm and dry enough for the sequel, er, final closures of the westbound US 2 Hewitt Avenue trestle between SR 9 and Interstate 5.
Putting down the waterproofing material on the US 2 trestle requires a stretch of completely dry weather.

The schedule and the weather

Westbound US 2 will close between SR 9 and I-5 from 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 to 4 a.m. Monday, Aug 5. If weather postpones the work, we have identified potential backup closure weekends later in August and early September.

We can’t emphasize this enough: this work is highly weather-dependent. Closures will be rescheduled if it rains. We need the roadway to be completely dry for this work to get done.

Why weekend closures?

We know for many, the weekends are as precious as a childhood toy. However, they’re also an important time for getting this critical work done for two reasons:
  • The trestle is too narrow to accommodate construction work, machinery and keep a lane open to protect our crews from passing traffic.
  • The preparation work and repairs our crews have to make takes far longer than the seven hours we get in a typical overnight closure.
What we need from drivers

An average of 2,600 drivers use westbound US 2 every hour on the weekends. State routes 9, 96 and 528 will be the primary detours again this year. These roads are already close to capacity and absorbing displaced US 2 drivers will create lengthy backups.
During the full weekend closures of westbound US 2 between I-5 and State Route 9 in 2019,
this will be the official southbound detour route. 

During the last two full weekend closures of westbound US 2 between I-5 and State Route 9 in 2019,
this will be the official northbound detour route.

This video from the September 2018 closure shows the lengthy backups on the detour routes. So please, do one thing differently to help us keep traffic moving so no one misses their rendezvous with Star Command:
  • Carpool
  • Take transit
  • Move discretionary travel to a non-construction weekend
  • Travel before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
  • Share this information with friends and family
  • Be prepared. Check our resources before you get behind the wheel.
    • Our website will have closure and lane reduction updates
    • Get weekly email updates on Snohomish County projects
    • Our Twitter account will have info about traffic
    • Download our mobile app for traffic maps and other news and updates
You’ve got a friend in us

We know there is no good time to shut down an entire direction of a busy highway. Travelers who change their plans or try something new will help us meet our goal of safely getting commuters and commerce back on Washington’s freeways, to infinity and beyond.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The North Spokane Corridor is coming. … no seriously, it is, and quickly!

By Ryan Overton

Alright Spokane, it’s time to talk.

We know. We’ve heard it a thousand times. The North Spokane Corridor (NSC) will never be finished. To some the NSC is like a unicorn, often dreamed about but with no evidence of its existence, well. ... We get it. Building the NSC has been quite the process.
So we decided it’s time to have a heart to heart, and in this 3-part blog series we will give a full overview of what has been constructed, the struggles associated, what we are currently working on and looking ahead to its completion. Because this mysterious unicorn is becoming a reality.
The US 395 present and future interchange in Wandermere.

What is it?
Not familiar with the North Spokane Corridor project? In short, it’s a project to improve mobility by allowing drivers and freight to move north and south through Spokane from I-90 to US 395 at Wandermere. Once complete, it’ll decrease travel time and congestion while improving safety.

The beginning
Any good story starts with some history, and with the NSC, that history is long. The NSC has been discussed since the mid-1940’s with little movement. Proposals had tried and failed. But in the mid-1990’s buzz surrounding the NSC began to build. The first hurdle that was needed to get the ground moving was the final NSC Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which was approved in April 1997. This meant that what was once a myth might actually become something.
The initial structure being built for the US 395 Wandermere interchange in June 2010.

In August 2001, the NSC broke ground with the first project, “Hawthorne Road to US 2 Grading.” No pavement was poured, but ground was moved, leaving one big missing piece: funding.

Our first large funding allocation came in 2003 when the State Nickel Gas Tax Package provided $321 million to the project. That funding covered roughly 23 percent of the total costs needed to build the NSC. This funded projects between 2003 and 2011, providing design, right-of-way purchases and construction of Francis to Farwell, the US 2 Wandermere interchange and US 2 Lowering projects.
An aerial view of the US 395 Wandermere
 interchange construction project.

More good news came in 2005 with passing of the Transportation Partnership Act (TPA). This allocated the NSC $152 million for projects between 2007 and 2019, meaning the project was about one-third funded. This funding went to right-of-way acquisitions north and south along I-90 between the Liberty Park and Sprague Avenue interchange. This also provided funding to design the southbound lanes project between Francis/Freya and Farwell interchanges. The NSC received $45 million in Federal “TIGER” funds to construct the southbound lanes project, Parksmith Road interchange and the first BNSF Rail Realignment. An additional $28 million of TPA funds were allocated to the NSC in 2009. It was that same year that the first portion, Francis to Farwell, opened to traffic.

The biggest milestone so far
The most visible milestone came in October 2012 when traffic opened on the 5½-mile stretch from Wandermere to Francis Ave. This is the section of road that most people know as the NSC today. The same year saw construction begin on the Francis Avenue bridge replacement project which opened in 2014. Still, more than half of the funds needed to finish the NSC had not been allocated.

Connecting Washington
That changed in 2015 with the Connecting Washington package passed by the Legislature, providing the final $879 million needed to complete the project. This is where Spokane’s unicorn turned from myth into reality, as it meant we could finish the last five miles to tie into I-90.
Steel girders being hung for the US 395 interchange at Wandermere in September 2010.

Since 2001 there has never been a year that the NSC hasn’t been worked on. We understand it’s been slow-going, and we hear you. Besides environmental studies, right-of-way acquisitions, public hearings and other behind-the-scenes work, it hasn’t always been evident. Add to that winter shutdowns on the east side of our state when weather makes road construction almost impossible for months, and it can seem that nothing is happening.
Columns and steel girders going up at US 395 at Wandermere in September 2010.

It’s been a challenging journey and there’s still plenty of work to do, but this 10½-mile unicorn is slowly being born.

Next week in this series we’ll look at current projects and what to expect the next couple years. There are big changes coming and it’s time to get excited.

Zipper merge - applying the "taking turns" approach to keep traffic moving

New signage at US 101 and SR 8 relies on lessons from grade school to zip commuters through

By Doug Adamson

Sharing, taking turns, treating others as you would want to be treated - turns out the lessons we learned as kids will help South Sounders navigate a new "zipper merge" at the US 101 and State Route 8 interchange. It's a practical solution to an old problem that will rely on travelers taking that "Northwest nice" adage to heart.

As always, being polite and cooperative has advantages. In this case, it will help reduce congestion, delays, and the kind of annoying backups that can turn a sweet demeanor sour.
The situation
During the morning commute, southbound US 101 near Steamboat Island outside Olympia has regular congestion. Two lanes reduce to one where the highway passes under SR 8. Most commuters merge into the left lane after signs advise that the right lane ends in less than a mile.

All of those vehicles crammed into one lane creates a long line of slower-moving travelers slogging through the interchange. All the while, the right lane goes mostly unused, except for a few who zoom by, eliciting scowls and scorn from all of the drivers waiting in line.

Why not expand the roadway?
Extension of a second lane under SR 8 would eliminate the bottleneck, but it would require crews to demolish two existing bridges and rebuild them with much larger and more expensive spans - a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

Enter the zipper merge
The zipper merge is all about making the most of the existing roadway by having drivers rethink what it means to "drive nice." Instead of merging while up the hill near Steamboat Island, we want drivers to merge closer to the area where the lane ends. Vehicles will politely switch off, letting their neighbor proceed at a nice steady speed, just like a zipper.
Although it might feel like cheating, merging at this location in this fashion will help cut congestion and increase the efficiency of the existing highway. Nobody is cheating or cutting in line. When you drive nice in the zipper, all of the unused road gets used, so we can all get there with reduced congestion and reduced scowling.

What's the timeline?
We will install new signs in late June to encourage use of the zipper merge. This effort is a pilot project that we will evaluate for possible use in other areas.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Cooperation leads to smooth weekend of SR 99 Aurora bridge paving in Seattle

Travelers make the difference by choosing different routes, modes of transportation

By Tom Pearce

If you follow horse racing, you know a trifecta is hard to hit. But we managed to hit a trifecta – perfect weather, good coordination by our contractors and help from people traveling in the area – to finish a successful first of 10 weekend-long lane reductions on the SR 99 Aurora bridge in Seattle.
Crews repave the northbound lanes of the Aurora bridge.

We can’t do anything about the weather, so when conditions are good we depend on our contractors and the traveling public to make these projects succeed. Last weekend the contractors did their part by staying on schedule or even a little ahead.

But people who travel are the ones who make the biggest difference when we’re doing major preservation work like repaving this venerable 88-year-old structure, officially named the George Washington Bridge. Sometimes we need to reduce a highway to two or even one lane in each direction for construction. In this case, it was reducing three lanes to one.

If all the people who usually drive the Aurora bridge on weekends continued to do so last weekend, we could have seen long backups – perhaps to Green Lake or beyond southbound and well into the new SR 99 tunnel northbound. Instead, people made other choices – different routes, different modes of transportation – and we saw backups we could measure in city blocks instead of miles.
Keep up the good planning!
This is just the first of several weekend-long lane reductions to repave the bridge. We have another scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, June 14, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 17. This time they’ll repave the southbound lanes on the south end of the bridge, if the weather cooperates again. We’ll have a similar road setup as last weekend, only with traffic shifted to one lane in each direction on the east side of the bridge.

We understand reducing a major highway like SR 99 to one lane in each direction for an entire weekend is rough for people who travel, but safety is our first priority, and this allows us to provide our contractors with a safe work zone. Because we can repave long stretches of three lanes at once, it gives us a better end-product, reducing the number of seams in the asphalt. That means a smoother road for you for years to come.

In the meantime, thanks for helping create a great first weekend. As I mentioned, we have several more to come. Keep planning ahead and we’ll try to finish as soon as possible. You can get the latest information by checking our mobile app and the WSDOT Traffic Twitter feed. Working together, we can all hit some more trifectas.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Like a car needs an oil change and tune-up, Seattle’s SR 99 tunnel also needs regular checkups

Full overnight closure of the tunnel happening Friday night to Saturday morning

By Thomas Charlson

Many of us have experienced car maintenance issues. When my car broke down last year, I learned the hard way about the importance of getting regular tune-ups to save money on repairs in the long run. In this case, I had the spark plugs replaced earlier in the year but continued to have engine problems. After a series of other car repairs, I found out that they were the wrong brand of spark plugs for my car model.

Similar to maintaining a vehicle, we need to give Seattle’s new SR 99 tunnel a regular checkup. That means monthly closures to ensure the tunnel systems are running smoothly and to keep up with the warranties. This helps us avoid problems like I experienced with my car.
Prior to opening the tunnel, we washed the walls. This vehicle is also used for regular maintenance cleanings.

Full tunnel closure June 7-8
While these maintenance closures of the SR 99 tunnel will typically be in one direction, the closure coming up this weekend – from 10 p.m. Friday, June 7 until 8 a.m. Saturday, June 8 – will be a little different.

This time, we need to update the fire control system software. To do that, we need to turn off the fire control system. For the safety of the public, that will require a full closure of the tunnel in both directions. People who use the northbound SR 99 tunnel will be diverted onto the northbound off-ramp to South Dearborn Street and Alaskan Way South.
Crews use lift trucks to access the cameras, signs and lighting in the SR 99 tunnel.

Past and future maintenance closures
Monthly maintenance closures for the tunnel began in April and will usually close just one direction of the tunnel. Our goal is to keep disruptions at a minimum, so we combine all our maintenance operations into one closure. But instead of changing spark plugs and rotating tires, we wash the tunnel walls, sweep the roadway surface, and inspect fire detection systems, cameras, lights and overhead signs.

Crews check the jet fans used to push fresh air into the tunnel.
In July, we’ll resume our regular schedule and close the northbound lanes. To stay updated on SR 99 maintenance closures, you can always use the following tools to get the latest info: