Friday, October 11, 2019

Steamboat Slough now flows in 12½ acres of restored estuary

By Tom Pearce

It was a dark and stormy night. …OK, maybe it wasn’t stormy, but it was dark and there were a couple of really low tides in the early morning hours late last week. That made for perfect conditions for our contractor crews to breach a dike in a couple of places along Steamboat Slough south of Marysville.

As the tide rose, water flowed into 12½ acres of estuary between State Route 529 and Interstate 5 we restored this summer, expanding the “nursery” for young salmon where the Snohomish River meets Puget Sound.

A place for salmon to grow

As recently hatched salmon make their way downstream, estuaries provide a place for them to grow and get stronger for the rigors of life in the ocean. They can grow as they feed on marine life that moves into the estuary and hide from predators among the logs and tree root wads that crews installed on the site during construction as habitat features for salmon and other aquatic critters.

The project is part of our ongoing effort to improve salmon habitat around the state. For many years we’ve been replacing culverts under highways that blocked fish passage, opening up miles of waterways and breeding ground for salmon and other fish. Here in Marysville, this was a case of rehabilitating an area that we covered with fill many decades ago, first to build SR 529 and later for I-5. When we did that, salmon were plentiful and most people didn’t consider the effect on habitat and salmon. Filling in estuaries to create more land for farming or business was common.
The area between the orange barrels is where crews dug out the dike to allow water from
Steamboat Slough into the western part of the estuary.

Now most of us recognize the importance of salmon not just for people, but for other marine life such as orcas that populate the Salish Sea. The rapid decline of salmon populations in our area means less food for orcas in local waters, and has taken its toll on local fishermen as well. Restoring access to more habitat should help with salmon recovery.

More than restoration

Restoring this estuarine environment serves another purpose. It provides advanced mitigation for future transportation projects. In the past it was necessary to fill wetlands for projects, as it was when we built SR 529 and I-5. In those cases, we filled more than was needed. Today, it is necessary to compensate for impacts to wetlands from transportation projects.
As the sun rises so does the tide, coming into the rehabilitated western section of the estuary for the first time.

In 2021 we will need to fill in about 2½ acres of wetland so we can extend an HOV lane on northbound I-5 and add ramps connecting northbound and southbound I-5 with SR 529 near Steamboat Slough, improving access to and from Marysville. The area we rehabilitated to create this 12½-acre estuarine wetland more than mitigates the effect that will be incurred by that project.

It’s all part of a balancing act we frequently deal with – meeting the needs of people while preserving the natural environment, or in this case restoring it. Sites like this provide opportunities for both.

Changes coming to the northbound SR 99 tunnel off-ramp to South Lake Union

By Emily Glad

On Monday morning, Oct. 14, drivers who use the northbound SR 99 tunnel exit to Mercer and Dexter in Seattle will notice something different - flexible pylons that will steer exiting traffic to remain in the single lane exit rather than line up on the shoulder.

Why the change?

The northbound off-ramp is designed for a single lane of traffic. However, during busy times, drivers sometimes create a second lane of traffic by driving on the shoulders of the ramps.
Drivers who use the northbound SR 99 tunnel exit at Mercer and Dexter will find
flexible pylons guiding them to a single lane under tolling equipment.

As we tested tolling equipment in advance of the start of tolling the SR 99 tunnel, we noticed inconsistencies with toll readings at the northbound off-ramp that created the potential to charge vehicles incorrectly. This only happened when drivers created two lanes of traffic. The toll equipment functions properly when the exit remains a single lane.

In an effort to make sure no one is overcharged, pylons will now guide drivers into a single lane exit until vehicles pass underneath the toll reader.

Are the pylons permanent?

The pylons are a temporary fix. This is a complex tolling system, and finding the right solution will take time. Until that happens, we must ensure that our equipment is able to work properly. We are working with our partners at the City of Seattle on a long-term solution.

Plan ahead

Tolling in the tunnel starts November 9. During peak periods, tunnel exits see more volumes, so plan accordingly. It’s always a good idea to follow us on Twitter and download the WSDOT app to stay updated.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The nuts and bolts of installing a big temporary bridge

By Tina Werner

Many of us know the fun and wonder that comes from building with LEGOs and other blocks. Seeing objects come together right before our eyes is amazing. People in Buckley in east Pierce County are about to see something equally impressive get built in their community, only this won't involve red, yellow and green plastic bricks.
A bulldozer pushes the first section of the temporary bridge across Spiketon Creek.

The State Route 162 Spiketon Creek Bridge has been closed since Aug. 2018 due to almost 4 inches of pier settlement. Like constructing a LEGO Star Wars battleship, work to rebuild the bridge has been happening in stages, piece-by-piece.

Now it's time to install a modular bridge across the creek overlooking Foothills Trail, but this isn't just any modular bridge. The temporary structure will be one of the largest single-span, multi-lane temporary bridges ever produced, approximately 240 feet long and 32 feet wide. Acrow Bridge, which specializes in prefabricated modular steel bridges, produced the structure.
When complete, the temporary bridge across Spiketon Creek will be 240 feet long and weigh 320 tons.

If the schedule holds, contractor Hamilton Construction Company of Olympia hopes to be ready to reopen this section of SR 162 by late November. Once the temporary bridge is open, it will accommodate a single lane in each direction with no load restrictions.

How'd we get here?

While preparing for a month-long deck repair of the Spiketon Creek Bridge, we discovered significant pier settlement so for safety, we closed the structure on Aug. 16, 2018. The closure has meant a detour for the 5,600 drivers who use the bridge daily.
The temporary Spiketon Creek bridge has 352 individual truss panels that will be bolted and pinned – this is one of the pins – together. The pins connect the individual truss sections transversely and 5,320 bolts connect it longitudinally.

After extensive meetings with the community and elected officials, the decision was made to stick to the original plan of replacing the bridge in 2026 and using a temporary span until then.

What has been going on?

Crews have been working six days a week to meet our target deadline of late November to open the bridge to vehicle traffic. The contractor is assembling the temporary bridge on the east end and rolling, or “launching” it across the creek. This work is taking place in three stages. The first launch happened on Wednesday, Oct. 2 when crews pushed the first section of the bridge forward to make room to build and connect the next section. It is quite a detailed process but again, think of assembling LEGOs and building it piece by piece. There are exact parts that are required to be installed at just the right time to successfully span the creek. Because the bridge is already closed at the site, and for public safety, we are not able to accommodate public viewings for the remaining two launches.
One of the 5,320 bolts that will connect the bridge components of the temporary SR 162 Spiketon Creek Bridge.

The remaining two bridge launches are scheduled to occur over the next two weeks. Check our project webpage for updates, including more photos of the progress.
All of the components of the temporary Spiketon
Creek Bridge, including the aggregate anti-skid
epoxy coated deck panels, were made in the
United States, mostly from recycled steel.

A happy Thanksgiving?

The contractor anticipates completing the work by late November and reopening the structure before the Thanksgiving holiday. Once the bridge is open, the signed detour will be removed and no further closures of the Foothills Trail – which is owned and operated by Pierce County – will be required.

We appreciate the public's interest and patience throughout the entire process. We are also eager to eliminate the lengthy detour and reopen the vital crossing for east Pierce County travelers.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

One month to go before tolling begins in the SR 99 tunnel

By Emily Glad

Mark your calendars. On Nov. 9, 2019, tolling starts in Seattle’s SR 99 tunnel. We know this is a big change for the approximately 80,000 drivers who use the tunnel every day, so here’s everything you need to know to be Good To Go!.
Tolls in the SR 99 tunnel vary by time of day.

Benefits of Good To Go!

You have several easy options to pay tolls in Washington, and a Good To Go! account is the best choice for most people. Good To Go! accounts save you money on every toll road in the state and give you the convenience of automatic payments via your preferred payment method, so you don’t have to worry about bills in the mail.

If you’d rather manually replenish your account balance, or you want to pay in cash, you can do that too. However, these types of accounts must be opened in person at one of our walk-in centers, or by calling us at 1-866-936-8246.

New to Good To Go!? This video will help you get started.
Get a FREE sticker pass

All Good To Go! passes will work in the SR 99 tunnel. For anyone who doesn’t have a Good To Go! pass, we’re giving away a limited number of free Good To Go! sticker passes. This incentive eliminates the up-front cost of a pass. Drivers will still be responsible for paying tolls. We have four different Good To Go! passes, so make sure the sticker pass is the best pass for you. If it is, fill out a short survey and we’ll send you a free pass in the mail.

Once you receive your sticker pass, be sure to activate it (pdf 439 kb) by adding it to a Good To Go! account and install it in your vehicle. If you don’t have a Good To Go! account, you can open one online, over the phone, or in-person at one of our customer service centers.

Do I need a pass to use the tunnel?

If you don’t want to open a Good To Go! account, you can Pay By Mail. You don’t need to do anything in advance of driving in the tunnel; we’ll take a photo of your license plate and mail you a bill within a month. However, you'll be charged an additional $2 per trip, so Pay By Mail only makes sense if you use toll roads infrequently. You can contact Good To Go! at any time to open an account and we’ll lower your tolls and waive any fees.

Helpful tips

As drivers prepare for tolling to begin, we anticipate that our call center will be quite busy. This could mean long wait times for customers who choose to call in. While we do have an automated system that allows customers to handle some tasks via phone, you can also manage most aspects of your account online at, including:
Why toll now?

We are required by law to use toll revenues to start paying back $200 million in bonds sold to finance construction of the SR 99 tunnel. Toll revenue will also help pay the costs of operating the two-mile long tunnel and keeping it safe.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Managing highway runoff for better water quality

By Jana Crawford

It’s always been our goal to get stormwater off our roadways as fast as possible. We manage stormwater runoff to ensure traveler safety and to reduce damage to the roadway. Today, while safety and preservation continue to be top priorities for us, we also recognize that stormwater runoff from highways and other paved surfaces can contribute to water quality problems.
Caption below photo
A stormwater pond along I-5 near Salmon Creek in the Vancouver area.

The main problems associated with stormwater runoff are water pollution, erosion, and flooding. We know our paved surfaces are part of the problem and we are working together with the state Department of Ecology to be part of the solution. When we make improvements in stormwater management, we help reduce pollutants in our streams and rivers, contribute to salmon and Puget Sound recovery efforts, and reduce flooding and erosion.
Caption below photo
Members of our maintenance team inspect and work on a catch basin to ensure it’s working properly.

In spring, Ecology re-issued our permit that regulates stormwater runoff from state highways, rest areas, park-and-ride lots, ferry terminals, and maintenance facilities in urban areas throughout the state. One part of the permit requires us to develop a Stormwater Management Program Plan that describes how we will implement the permit’s requirements. We’re submitting an updated stormwater plan to Ecology by Oct. 31 and we’d like feedback from you to help shape the plan. If we receive your comments before Friday, Oct. 18, we will consider them before finalizing the plan this year. Any comments received after this date will be considered for next year’s stormwater plan update.

These are some of the ways we manage stormwater:

  • Mapping the pipes and structures built to move and treat stormwater.
  • Building facilities that remove pollutants or control the flow rate and volume of runoff as part of new construction projects that add new roadway.
  • Building facilities that remove pollutants along highways where stormwater treatment currently doesn’t exist, focusing in areas with the highest environmental benefits relative to cost.
  • Inspecting and maintaining catch basins and stormwater facilities by cleaning out accumulated sediment to ensure facilities function as intended.
  • Implementing vegetation management practices along highways and other transportation facilities to reduce the use of herbicides.
  • Training staff on methods for managing stormwater and preventing pollution.
  • Conducting and participating in stormwater monitoring research to help define, analyze, and answer stormwater issues including developing new BMPs or improving existing stormwater BMPs.
  • Implementing erosion and sediment control on construction projects.
  • Identifying and working to resolve discharges into our stormwater system that may contain polluted water.
  • Participating in various workgroups regarding water quality and coordinating stormwater management efforts.

Caption below photo
Crews implement erosion protection on SR 6 near Rock Creek, west of Chehalis.

What can you do to help?

Pollutants that run off the highway are mostly from motor vehicle “wear and tear” and emissions, as well as particle-laden smokestacks. Untreated stormwater runoff from highways can carry these pollutants to water bodies. Here are some ways you can do your part:

  • Report spills and discharges to the appropriate responders listed on our Report a spill website
  • Keep your vehicle properly maintained – fix drips and leaks and tune your vehicle’s engine.
  • Choose to leave your vehicle at home – fewer vehicles on the road mean less congestion and idling, less vehicle residue, and cleaner air due to reduced emissions – try transit, carpools, telecommuting, walking or bicycling.
  • Use a vehicle trash bag and secure your loads – litter on roadways can end up in waterways – don’t toss trash from your vehicle and make sure the loads you haul won’t blow out the back.
  • Become an Adopt-a-Highway volunteer or sponsor.
  • Consider purchasing a low-emission vehicle when it comes time to replace your existing car – vehicle emissions contribute to the pollutants found in stormwater runoff.
  • Park your vehicle and go inside to purchase your coffee or fast food – idling vehicles at drive-ups contribute to pollutants that find their way into stormwater runoff.
  • Pick up after your pet at rest areas and along roadways – organic materials contribute to stormwater runoff pollution.

Caption below photo
Volunteers with the Adopt A Highway program help clean roadsides, an important part of our stormwater work.

These small actions can make a big difference in our state’s environmental health – let’s all do our part!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Improvements coming to northbound I-5 between Everett and Marysville

By Kris Olsen

Continuing growth in population and employment in Snohomish County has resulted in more traffic congestion. If you travel between Everett and Marysville you are likely spending more time sitting in traffic and staring at the vehicle ahead of you. Fortunately, we have some good news.

In 2021, we will start construction on extending the northbound I-5 HOV lane to Marysville. Right now, the lane ends near US 2 in Everett. To create the HOV lane, we’ll do a bit of widening, paving, and restriping. When it’s done, we’ll still have the existing three northbound lanes, plus the HOV lane, for a total of four lanes.

Northbound I-5 from Marine View Drive to SR 529 – existing section

Northbound I-5 from Marine View Drive to SR 529 in its current design sees heavy
congestion during and outside peak travel times.

The recommended new design of northbound I-5 from Marine View Drive to SR 529 includes a fixed fourth HOV lane to provide new capacity for transit and carpools while maintaining general purpose access and
an outside/right shoulder for breakdowns or collisions.

Listening to the community
We worked closely with community leaders to review data about this stretch of I-5 as part of the I-5/NB Marine View Drive to SR 529 Corridor and Interchange (I/C) Improvements project. We worked with Snohomish County, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, the Tulalip Tribes, the cities of Everett and Marysville, Community Transit, and the Washington State Patrol to help us choose the best solution for the least cost.

This group looked at many different options to improve traffic. After considering different ideas, analyzing traffic patterns and forecasts, the group determined a permanent HOV lane helps address congestion during the weekdays and weekends, since close to 25 percent of all vehicles traveling this section have two or more people in them.

The new HOV lane will extend from US 2 to SR 529. The project will also improve the I-5/SR 529 interchange in Marysville with new ramps.

Construction of the new lane and SR 529 ramps is scheduled to begin in 2021 with completion in 2022.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Bridge building in Tacoma

By Cara Mitchell

It has been a busy summer for construction crews building a new southbound Interstate 5 bridge across the Puyallup River.

In June, crews moved three lanes of southbound I-5 near the Port of Tacoma Road on to a recently completed new bridge that also carries northbound I-5 traffic across the Puyallup River. This traffic shift set the stage for design-builder Guy F. Atkinson Construction to begin building the foundations of the new southbound I-5 bridge. This is an example of how we work very hard to keep travelers and the project moving at the same time.

Bridge building starts at bedrock

Drivers likely have seen the large cranes towering next to the highway – a sign that work activity is occurring under the bridge decks. The cranes are there to help build bridge piers, which support the entire bridge and are the foundations that carry vehicles across the river. Piers are made up of multiple columns connected by a crossbeam.

If you think these piers look tall above ground, you might be surprised to learn the columns that support them go more than 100 feet underground into bedrock! This allows our crews to build a new bridge that meets modern earthquake standards.

Our construction teams build new piers using an in-depth five-step process:
  1. Drill a 10-foot wide, 100-foot deep hole in the ground and insert a temporary casing.
  2. Break up and remove dirt from the hole using a crane-mounted excavating tool.
  3. Insert a cylindrical cage made of steel rebar deep into the earth. These cagws are used as the center of the pier structure to reinforce the concrete. 
  4. Fill the hole with concrete from the bottom up. This causes any debris in the hole to rise to the top as the concrete fills the hole. 
  5. While the concrete fills the hole, the team removes the temporary casings. With one column done, we repeat the process until the pier is complete.
Rebar shaft cages go over 100 feet underground and form the initial structure for support on the new I-5 bridge.

The new southbound I-5 bridge will have 10 piers total, with fewer piers in the river than its predecessor. Just as we did on the northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge, a temporary work platform is being built on both sides of the river. This platform will give crews access to the in-water shafts for the new bridge as it spans the Puyallup River.
A temporary structure made from steel beams and wood decking gives us the ability to work in water.

A bridge over clean water

One of our top concerns during any construction project is to be good stewards of the environment. In this case, it is critical that our crews help ensure the work does not degrade water quality. Crews placed three water monitors upstream from, in the middle of, and downstream from our construction site.
We have water quality monitoring at three different points of our construction site.

When we drill down with our temporary casing, we use water to balance the earth’s pressure at the bottom of the hole. After we install the casing, we pump the water out and store it in four 20,000-gallon tanks under the bridge. From there, we test it for turbidity (water cleanliness) and pH levels, treat it if necessary, and then send it to the sanitary sewer system. As work progresses, crews are careful to not allow any silty water to enter the river.

Removing the old bridge structures

In order to make way for new bridge piers, crews have started removing sections of the 57-year-old northbound I-5 bridge. Not only do we need to remove the old bridges to make way for the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge, we are removing them because they are part of an aging infrastructure that no longer meets current seismic standards.  As crews advance this work, there will be overnight closures of East Bay Street between East 27th Street and East 28th Street. Signed detours will be in place during this work.  Removing the old bridge piers will greatly reduce obstructions within the river channel as the new bridges have significantly fewer in-water piers.

Widening northbound I-5 near East L Street

One item of work that is very visible to travelers is the widening of northbound I-5 between the I-705 onramp and the Portland Avenue exit. Once finished, the widened pavement will be used for a new auxiliary lane which will provide much needed capacity to a section of northbound I-5 that sees on average 115,000 vehicles a day.

Looking ahead

The contractor anticipates the project will be complete in fall 2021. When that happens:
  • Southbound lanes across the Puyallup River will increase from four to five, which includes four general purpose lanes and one HOV lane.
  • Northbound I-5 will include an additional lane at Pacific Avenue, an extra lane between the I-705 on-ramp and the Portland Avenue exit, and an HOV lane that connects HOV traffic from State Route 16 into Seattle and destinations beyond.
The completion of this project will mark the end of the last funded piece of HOV construction on I-5 in Tacoma as part of the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV project. In short, this means highway construction between the Puyallup River and SR 16 in Tacoma has been completed.

For up-to-date closure information during construction, visit

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Coast Salish tribal culture alive at new Mukilteo ferry terminal

By Diane Rhodes

He began carving out of necessity, making tools needed for daily life. From watching his father, a master carver, he learned the cuts and techniques that would lead him to become a master carver in his own right with a long and storied career. For Tulalip master carver Joe Gobin, his work has, in many ways, swung back around to necessity as a force for keeping his tribe's stories and its rich Lushootseed language alive.

"I started out carving pins for our fishing nets and fish sticks that we used to grill fish," Gobin said. Utilitarian stuff of daily life. As he grew in skill, his work grew in size to 30-foot story poles, ornate doors, canoes, and other works on display at museums and studied by others. Still an angler and a carver with multiple commissioned works to his name, Gobin resists the title master carver. "I learn from others every day," he said.

Go to the Tulalip Tribe's administration building and you will see his giant story poles. His twin hand-carved doors beckon visitors inside the Tulalip's Hibulb Cultural Center in Marysville. These stunning pieces tell of his tribe's spiritual connection to the region's land and water. In 1988, he helped carve the first canoe of modern times with Jerry Jones, another Tulalip master carver, for the tribe's annual canoe journey. Many of his pieces feature tribal totems – water, salmon, orcas, eagles.

When the new Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal opens in 2020, ferry riders will see Gobin's work throughout the passenger building and indigenous tribes' stories told throughout the site.
The design of the new Mukilteo ferry terminal passenger building (above left) takes the form of a Coast Salish longhouse; the photo at right marks its progress toward that end.

Tribal cooperation and cultural influence
The new Mukilteo terminal sits on the traditional lands of the Snohomish people – present day Tulalip Tribes – along the shores they've used as a hunting, fishing, and gathering spot for generations. It's also the site of the 1855 signing of the Point Elliott treaty between the U.S. government and Puget Sound native tribes. Without tribal approval and cooperation, the project would not have been possible.

Our agreement with the Samish, Sauk-Suiattle, Snoqualmie, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, and Tulalip tribes directly shaped all elements of the project's design. Tribal motifs infuse the site – the passenger building, tollbooths, waterfront promenade, landscaping, and even in the holding lanes' permeable concrete that filters stormwater runoff. Native plantings, important to tribal life, will fill the grounds where signs will describe their native importance and their Lushootseed names.
Gobin has carved an eight-foot diameter spindle whorl that tells the story of his tribe's ancestral connection to the water, orcas, and salmon. It and a working canoe he is currently carving will hang in the gathering room of the new passenger building, which is designed in the form of a Coast Salish longhouse. Gobin is also at work on male and female figures that will stand sentry outside the restrooms. Two more spindle whorls, mirroring the design of the one inside, will be made of metal and hang outside at the east and west ends of the passenger building.
An eight-foot diameter spindle whorl shows a man holding tails of two salmon and surrounded by two orcas. The red outer ring depicts water, key to Tulalip life and art. The spindle whorl will adorn the interior of the
new Mukilteo passenger building.

"The killer whale is spiritual for us," Gobin said. "It was spiritual before it was art. We used it on everyday things, tools, boxes, weaving, clothing. It was on our smoke house (longhouse). It evolved into an art form."

Welcoming from land and water
The tribes asked us to make the terminal welcoming from land and water. A ride up one of the twin elevators offers sweeping views of Possession Sound toward Whidbey Island through expansive glass windows decorated with orcas, kelp, and other water motifs designed by James Madison, another Tulalip artist and Gobin's nephew. Two Coast Salish welcome figures from Suquamish artist Kate Ahvakana will greet all who enter by land through the four tollbooths.
Gobin carved the front doors of Hibulb Cultural Center with a "people of the salmon" design;
its bronze handles sculpted into orcas, the tribes' totem animal.

Gobin's cultural pieces for the Mukilteo terminal are more meaningful than simple decoration. They honor a living site of his ancestors on the Mukilteo waterfront and stand as permanent reminders that the Snohomish tribes were there and still very much are.

"We are still representing our culture in these pieces," Gobin said.