Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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

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

By Thomas Charlson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 26, 2019

Snaking along SR 129 through Eastern Washington’s Rattlesnake Canyon

By David Mosley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Summer travel on our busiest ferry route will improve in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

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

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

By Frances Fedoriska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 22, 2019

First Eastern Washington J-Turn opening in Spokane

By Ryan Overton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

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

Travelers should expect traffic delays in rural Skagit County

By Ally Barrera & Andrea Petrich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 18, 2019

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

By Frances Fedoriska

Update July 23, 2019

The level of community engagement with this change has been outstanding, and we thank each and every one of you for taking the time to educate yourselves and spark conversation with fellow commuters regarding what improvements are/can be made along this corridor.

Opportunity for improvement
As mentioned in the blog, most of the collisions are rear-end or side-swipe in nature. The bulk of these collisions happen before or after a peak commute, as the mainline (20th Street) starts to open up. When drivers are traveling well above the posted speed limit of 35 mph on 20th, it is virtually impossible to safely merge from SR 204. That is why we are taking the opportunity presented with the westbound US 2 closure to make small improvements to remind drivers of current merging expectations.

Yield signs
Many of your comments are about the yield signs on SR 204. Yes, they will remain. As for moving the “freeway entrance” sign from up on 20th Street to past the merge with SR 204, we need downhill drivers to do their diligence and maintain the reduced speed to better match speeds from SR 204. This enables SR 204 drivers to find gaps and merge safely.

Who merges?
During traffic congestion, travelers naturally merge together as this is safe and courteous. SR 204 drivers are still required to yield to 20th St. drivers when necessary; especially outside of congested periods when traffic is more free flowing.

Investing in US 2
US 2 is one of the few year-round highways across Washington’s Cascade Mountain range, making it vitally important to the state’s entire transportation picture. From 2008-2017, WSDOT invested nearly $60 million in improvements on US 2 between Everett and the Stevens Pass summit. Projects included adding roundabouts, dedicated turn lanes, traffic cameras, new pavement, electronic message and warning signs, rumble strips and reduced speed limits. More improvement projects are on track to break ground along the corridor within the next 5 years.

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

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

We’re taking steps this summer to change that.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Getting ready for SR 99 tunnel tolling

By Chris Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 15, 2019

Help is on the way for trucks and travelers

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

By Lauren Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 12, 2019

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

By Kris Rietmann

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

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

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

Will WSDOT be able to make repairs quickly?

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

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

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

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

Emergency repairs versus construction projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 5, 2019

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

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

Up to two more closures needed to complete critical preservation work

By Frances Fedoriska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the westbound trestle, they:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

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

Prepare for delays during July 12-15 upkeep work

By Tom Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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