Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Creating pathways to a better future

By Ann Briggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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

By Tom Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

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

By Joe Calabro

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

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

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


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


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

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

Snoqualmie Pass

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


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


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


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

So should I just stay home? 

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Rain dampens SR 99 Aurora bridge paving schedule

By Tom Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 9, 2019

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

By Tom Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 5, 2019

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

By Cara Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated lanes to eliminate weaving traffic

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

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

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

Southbound I-5 on new alignment

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

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

Finish line is near

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

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