Friday, September 20, 2019

Getting HOV connections open at I-5 and SR 16

By Cara Mitchell

Update 9/21/19 11:45 a.m.
The southbound I-5 auxiliary lane from South 38th Street to South 56th Street is now open. The left lane of southbound I-5 in that same area is now closed. Westbound South 56th Street on-ramp to southbound I-5 is closed. Drivers on westbound South 56th Street can still access southbound I-5 using the left turn lane at the Tacoma Mall Boulevard interchange.

Original Post
Are we there yet?  Well, almost. We're talking about the finish line for construction at the I-5 and SR 16 interchange in Tacoma. Last month, we crossed a big milestone with getting southbound I-5 into its final alignment by SR 16, and reopening the final connection between eastbound SR 16 to southbound I-5.

This September and October, design-builder Skanska is putting the final pieces of the puzzle together.

What's left to build?
Here's a quick rundown of items the contractor is finishing up:
  • New southbound I-5 auxiliary lane from South 38th Street to South 56th Street
  • Final alignment for northbound I-5 and new lane striping
  • Two overhead sign structures that will provide HOV information for northbound I-5 travelers
  • Paving for HOV ramp connections along with a concrete barrier
To get this finished will require an around-the-clock lane closure on southbound I-5 for several weeks. We also need good weather, and your continued patience.

Sign structure construction brings lane closure
A new auxiliary lane at South 38th Street, shown in the far right of this photo, will open to traffic as early as Sept. 21

As early as the morning of Saturday, Sept. 21, a new auxiliary lane on southbound I-5 from South 38th Street to South 56th Street will open. The new lane will give South 38th Street travelers a dedicated lane to merge on to southbound I-5.

At the same time, crews will temporarily close the far left lane of southbound I-5 from South 38th Street to South 56th Street. This closure creates a median work zone allowing crews to construct two overhead HOV sign structures. The left lane closure will be in place, around-the-clock, for approximately six weeks or until the work is finished.

During this work, southbound I-5 past the Tacoma Mall will have three general purpose lanes open, plus the new auxiliary lane. The collector/distributor ramp at South 56th Street will become a temporary through lane. The westbound South 56th Street on-ramp to southbound I-5 will close during this time. Drivers can still access southbound I-5 by using the left turn lane and the South 56th Street and Tacoma Mall Boulevard intersection.

We know that during peak afternoon commute hours there will be congestion on southbound I-5 from this work. We and the contractor are working hard to complete this work in as short amount of time as possible. While we understand closing a lane is an inconvenience, safety is our top priority. The lane must close while we build the sign structure in the middle of the highway.

Concrete barrier work
Now that traffic has been shifted onto the new northbound and southbound I-5 alignments, Skanska is able to complete work on new concrete barriers for the final configuration of I-5 and the HOV ramps, along with final ramp paving. This includes pouring concrete for most of the remaining barrier sections along with the sign structure foundations. This work will be done by the end of October, provided there are stretches of reasonably favorable weather. The concrete barrier work will have little effect on mainline travelers.
The center of this aerial photo shows where new HOV ramp connections between SR 16 and I-5 will connect in Tacoma.

When will HOV ramp connections open?
The contractor will open HOV connections between SR 16 and I-5 once the sign and barrier work is complete, which we anticipate by the end of October. While we would love to have the HOV connections open sooner, some are a part of an active work zone. This would require some temporary barrier or striping that would add more work to the project. No one wants to open something up, only to have to close it again. All of the HOV ramps will open at the same time once the work is complete.

Finish line
That's it! That is the work left on the I-5/SR 16 Realignment and HOV Connections project. We know you're anxious to see this work complete. We are too.

To the 200,000 travelers a day that use this interchange, your patience through all of this has been greatly appreciated. We need your help during this final push to get us all to the finish line.

Please continue to watch your speed in work zones and give construction crews the room they need to finish this important project, and the nearby project that is building a new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

Follow the latest closure and detour information for all Pierce County maintenance and construction projects online at

Popular ferry photo contest returning to Twitter for third year

By Justin Fujioka

Fall is almost here and there’s no shortage of images to snap pictures of in the Puget Sound area.

Well, we’d like all you talented shutterbugs to focus on our ferries because our popular #FerryFotoContest on Twitter is back! We want a fantastic picture to be on the cover of our printed Winter 2020 Sailing Schedule. It's your chance for thousands of people to see your best ferry shot!

How to submit a photo
All you have to do is follow @wsferries on Twitter, then Tweet your picture between noon Monday, Sept. 30, and noon Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. Be sure to include the hashtag #FerryFotoContest. All members of the public except WSDOT employees and contractors are eligible and invited to participate. No fare purchase is required.
This photo by Jim Reitz won our 2018 ferry photo contest and was on our winter sailing schedule cover.

Photo requirements and contest rules
We’re not looking for just any old image of a ferry. We want something unique, striking and interesting. You may want to include a city skyline, mountains, passengers, or if you're lucky, wildlife. In addition to the submission qualifications listed above, each entrant must follow these requirements and rules:
  • Your photo:
    • Must include at least one vessel in the Washington State Ferries system (in full or partial).
    • Will be printed in black and white, so consider how that will look.
    • Must have been taken yourself and you have the rights to submit it to this contest.
    • May have been taken at any time.
  • Do not break any laws or do anything unsafe in order to snap a shot. If you are on a ferry please steer clear of restricted areas, and if driving, please no photographing or Tweeting.
  • Do not Tweet a link to an image that has been uploaded to another site.
  • Do not send your photo via direct message on Twitter.
  • You may submit up to three pictures. If you Tweet more than three, we will only consider the first three shared.
  • You will retain rights to your photograph, however our five finalists must agree to grant us rights to use their snapshots for marketing and communication purposes, which will include photo credit. We will never sell your picture.
Selecting a winner
A panel of judges will select six finalists based on originality, technicality, composition, artistic merit and overall impact. The decision of the panel is subjective, final and cannot be appealed.

The finalists’ pictures will be posted on the @wsferries Twitter page at noon Monday, Oct. 14. The image with the most “likes” at noon Friday, Oct. 18, will be named the winner and their photo will be featured on our 2020 winter schedules!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Seattle travelers should develop a game plan with several weekend closures coming up

By Thomas Charlson

With three games and major roadwork, prepare for delays on downtown highways and city streets

While the summer season may seem mostly over, we still have vital work to do to keep the highways in the Seattle area running smoothly. Add home games for the Sounders, Mariners and Huskies to the mix and it's going to be a busy traffic weekend for the highways and city streets around the region.

So what's closed this weekend? Here's what you need to know:

South Dearborn Street closure
Contractor crews are preparing to remove two small sections of the Alaskan Way Viaduct on South Dearborn Street near the stadiums. This work will close South Dearborn Street for up to ten days starting on Thursday, Sept. 12 and narrow First Avenue South to two lanes on either side of the intersection to create a safe work zone.

This work will affect those headed to the stadiums for the Sounders and Mariners games. During this time, consider alternate routes, including exiting SR 99 at Spokane Street, as well as transit, carpooling or bicycling.

SR 99 tunnel maintenance closures
Typically the monthly overnight maintenance closures of the SR 99 tunnel are in one direction, but we need to do a structural inspection of the tunnel's double-deck highway. To do that, we need to turn off the air exhaust system, so for the safety of the public we will close the tunnel in both directions.

Here's the schedule:
  • From 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, to 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 – Both directions of the SR 99 tunnel will fully close.
  • From 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, to 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 15 – The northbound SR 99 tunnel will close.
We will also complete routine maintenance, which includes checking the cameras and signals, cleaning the tunnel and performing weed control. Tolling vendors will also be working on their equipment during this closure.
Lift trucks are used to access the cameras, signs and lighting in Seattle's SR 99 tunnel.

Northbound I-5 lane reductions at 85th Street
Two lanes of northbound I-5 at 85th Street will close from 10 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday. We are repairing concrete panels near the area. During this weather-dependent work, the northbound I-5 express lanes will remain open overnight.

Stay updated
We've had our fair share of roadway closures this summer and this weekend is no exception. The best thing you can do is plan ahead, use alternate routes in some circumstances and stay updated using our online tools.
You can also consider using public transit, walking or biking to get to where you need to go safely. We appreciate everyone's patience as we get this work done during the final days of summer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Emergency expansion joint repair on northbound I-5 in Seattle needed as seasons change

By Tom Pearce

When you manage more than 7,000 miles of highway, sometimes things pop up that require emergency repairs.

Two years ago, we made improvements to a section of northbound I-5 at the Duwamish River in Tukwila. As part of our design, we reused steel plates in four of the interstate's expansion joints. We thought the plates had some life left in them, but that just wasn't the case.
Expansion joint repairs keep a joint stable until more permanent repairs can be scheduled.

In August, one of the joints broke. We did a temporary repair, but now we will make a permanent fix during the weekends of Sept. 21-22 and 28-29.

Weekend closures
To complete this critical emergency repair, our contractor crews will reduce northbound I-5 to only the two right lanes beginning at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20. All lanes will reopen by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22. Then on the following weekend, at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, crews will shift all traffic to the two left lanes until 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29.

During these back-to-back weekend closures, crews will chip out concrete and put in new steel plates. The repairs take two weekends because the crews can only work on half of an expansion joint at a time.
The left lanes will close the weekend of Sept. 21-22; the right lanes will close Sept. 28-29.

Planning ahead
It's important to finish this work on a weekend when there is less traffic. If we wait, the joint could break at a very inopportune time, such as during a weekday commute.

We want to complete these repairs before cool, wet weather moves in, but once we hit fall, that means football season as well as the end of baseball. We've talked to the Seahawks and Mariners, so they know our schedule. The Seahawks play the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 22; the Mariners are at home for their final series of the season Sept. 26-29 with the Oakland Athletics.

Getting to your destination
We have worked on game weekends before and are again asking people to plan ahead for these lane reductions:
  • Take Sound Transit Link light rail from Angle Lake or Tukwila – it will drop you off a few blocks from the stadium.
  • Use King County Metro or Sound Transit. Yes, the buses will have to deal with the traffic, but riding a bus allows you to avoid the stress of driving.
  • Carpool – it's always more fun to go to a game with fellow fans.
  • Take an alternate route, like I-405 and I-90 or SR 509.
If you choose to drive, we have tools to let you know what to expect:
  • Our Twitter account and mobile app will have traffic information.
  • Our website shows which ramps are open and closed near the work zone.
  • You can get weekly email updates with information about construction and other events that may affect traffic.
Any time we limit lanes on a highway, it's a challenge. We appreciate you planning ahead and being patient as we work to keep I-5 in good shape for everybody - during every season.

Monday, September 9, 2019

From simple repair to near tragedy

Two maintenance workers jump over barrier at last second to avoid work zone collision

By Ryan Overton

A simple concrete repair job in Spokane quickly became terrifying for Allen Sexton and Koby Whetstine.

Working on the eastbound I-90 ramp to Hamilton Street in Spokane on Aug. 5, Allen and Koby were wrapping things up. The noisy work was done and they'd removed their ear protection, which quite possibly saved their lives. Moments later, a driver lost control of his vehicle and slid along the concrete barrier.
A speeding vehicle entered our work zone on I-90 in Spokane and slammed into our work truck,
sending the road crew members jumping over a barrier to safety.

The sound of the oncoming vehicle gave the two maintenance workers a split-second warning that the vehicle was careening toward them. With just seconds to react, Koby and Allen jumped over the barrier before the vehicle slammed into the back of their pickup truck.

"We heard it before we saw it, and all we did was look at it and jump," Koby said.

Our two colleagues remembered the incident in this video.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident. After a short foot pursuit, the driver of the car was taken into custody by the Washington State Patrol on suspicion of DUI.

"Incredibly lucky," Allen said. "You don't think too much ahead of time other than get out of the way. But afterwards, you think about it a lot."

This is another stark reminder about the dangers road crews face. The men and women who work to keep our highways safe have families and friends to go home to, and they count on the public's help to make that happen.
Left: The driver of the car that crashed into our I-90 work zone was arrested for possible DUI.
Right: A car smashed into the concrete barrier and construction sign, which alerted our
crew members up ahead just seconds before the car struck their work truck.

"The first thing I did was think about my 11-month-old daughter, after it happened, and how I might've never seen her (again)," Koby said.

So what can you do to help?
  • Slow down, especially near work zones
  • Move over and give road crews some extra room. Not only is it smart, it's also the law.
  • Stay alert for signage and work zones.
  • Never drive while distracted – this is the top cause of work zone crashes in our state.
  • Drive sober
We're so thankful that Allen and Koby made it through this scary incident safely, but it could've been so much worse. Sadly, all of our road workers have a story of a near miss – or worse – that they've experienced on the job.

Working near traffic is dangerous. We take as many precautions as possible, but we also need your help to make sure everyone -- our workers and the traveling public -- gets home safely at the end of the day.

"We want to get home to our family as much as they want to get home to their family every night," Allen said.