Thursday, December 26, 2019

How we work to prevent and respond to unstable slopes and landslides

By WSDOT staff

A lot of people think of pavement when they hear our name, but we're often just as focused on the land around – and above and below – our roadways. Given Washington's abundant rain and topography there are hundreds of slopes statewide that affect our roadways and travelers – and that's where our local and specialized crews come in.

We work hard to prevent slides when we can and to quickly clear roadways if debris does close a highway. We also need the public's help whenever they encounter a slide area or road closure.

Do not get out and attempt to clear a slide, leave the area and call 911 to notify authorities. Please, never drive around a closure sign – they're there for your protection and we need everyone's help to ensure the road can be cleared as quickly as possible.
A massive slide in January 2016 blocked US 2 in Pine Canyon near Waterville and
took more than two weeks to fully clear the roadway.

Before a slide

We're often able to start monitoring and planning a response to an area in danger of sliding before large amounts of a slope slide. Often one of our crews, residents or one of our partner agencies notice something amiss above or below a roadway.

That's what happened in early October 2017 when a slow-moving landslide east of Yakima on Rattlesnake Ridge threatened residents and travelers on Interstate 82. Several agencies worked together to research and monitor the risk while also planning for a worst-case catastrophic slide – including placing barriers near the roadway and installing monitoring equipment to track and better understand the land movement.
During the initial Rattlesnake Ridge slide monitoring, large freight containers were placed along
Thorp Road block any rockfall debris from reaching I-82.

The Rattlesnake Ridge movement has slowed since it was initially discovered and, based on on-going monitoring data, it now appears it will continue to move slowly to the south and fall into a quarry pit until it stabilizes.

Slide response and reopening roads

Mother Nature is often the ultimate determining factor of when and where a slope gives way. When that happens, our crews work to clear the road as soon as it's safe to do so – which sometimes requires assessment by our specialized Geo Tech crews to determine if the slope has stopped moving.

In July on US 97, the forecast had crews out on the roadway looking for trouble areas, making them first on the scene when mudflow topped the roadway and spilled on to adjacent train tracks. The slide was still moving as night drew near, so we closed the road overnight between Wenatchee and Chelan rather than put crews in a dangerous situation. We know these closures are disruptive, but our first priority is the safety of our crews and travelers.

More than mud, our maintenance crews chase rock, particularly in cold weather. When there's been a stretch of below-freezing temperatures and a Chinook blows in (unseasonably warm weather up to 45 degrees), that sets the stage for rocks to fall. Sometimes it's just little spatters of gravel and pebbles, sometimes rocks as large as basketballs.

Sometimes the situation calls for an emergency contract to scale the slope – remove loose or potentially unstable material – before a road can reopen. A few years ago, a large rockfall in Pine Canyon closed US 2 for several weeks in late winter, leading to a large scaling project in which crews removed loose rock and debris to prevent further slides.

Different conditions closed SR 20 near Loup Loup this spring, where thousands of yards of material fell on the downslope of the roadway, undermining the pavement nearly to the centerline. Cleaning that up and rebuilding the roadway required constructing an access road to the bottom of the drainage and lasted more than a month.
Crews begin clearing rocks that fell on the roadway along US 97 near Knapps Tunnel in the Chelan area.

Many of the routes where slides are common are rural highways through mountain passes, canyons and along rivers with few options for detour – which makes closures particularly disruptive. We know access is vital and an expedited reopening of the highway is always the goal, but safety remains our top priority when determining when and how to reopen the road to the public.

Long-term slide repair

Slides, particularly repeat events, often require work beyond cleanup to proactively stabilize the slope against future landslides. Because each slope is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and often a number of factors come into play when prioritizing work in our slope stabilization program. We create a plan for work each year, but severe weather also plays a factor or alters our schedules.

In winter 2015, for example, after several days of heavy rain, the slope above northbound I-5 near Woodland gave way, closing the roadway with dirt, debris and rocks across all three lanes. The road was closed for two days while it was cleared and one lane remained closed for two months while crews worked around the clock to stabilize the slope with a series of rock anchors.
After a 2015 slide along I-5 near Woodland, crews drilled holes and placed and grouted steel rods
50 feet into the hillside to stabilize the slope.

In late December 2017, heavy rain caused the slope above SR 4 near Stella to give way, closing all lanes. In that case, crews determined there was an ongoing threat of additional slides and placed shipping containers to block debris from getting onto the roadway short term until a more permanent fix could be made. Then, in the summer, the slopes were excavated and stabilized and a damaged portion of debris flow fence was repaired.

While the repairs and timing may be different – and timing may not always be as quick as we'd hope – the end goal of all slope stabilization work is the same. We're working to keep the roads clear and people and goods moving.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Spokane message boards get "lit" for the holiday season

By Ryan Overton

The holiday season is upon us. Kids are on winter break. Travelers are heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. It is a very busy time of year. One that involves celebration, family and friends. And as always, we want you to be safe on the roads.

If you have driven through Spokane recently, you may have noticed more messages on the reader boards that sit over Interstate 90, US 2, US 395 and US 195. We're trying a pilot program to do more safety messages to get drivers attention and remind them of safe driving habits. Previously we used these types of messages for several years on a system of portable message boards on State Route 26 and US 195 near Pullman.

How it started

There had been several serious or fatal collisions on the routes we're testing messages on. About 17 percent were related to distracted driving, 7 percent being right-of-way or unsafe passing, another 7 percent were sleeping behind the wheel. The rest were related to animal strikes. In 2016 we collaborated with Washington State University and the Washington State Patrol on the #BeSafeCougs campaign to help highway safety messages reach WSU students/staff/families.

Our part of the campaign involves safety messages on the portable message boards when students begin school in August then again around Thanksgiving and Apple Cup, winter break, spring break and the end of the school year. These dates were chosen as times of high volume of traffic coming to and leaving the university.

At first messages were simple – "Don't text and drive" or "Tired? Take a break". Since then messages have evolved to become relatable and personable to students such as "Santa is watching, put down the phone" or "Who you going to call? No one you're driving!" The most popular message this year has been "Ralphie put down phone, you'll txt your eye out!"

By using more creative and relatable messaging we are reaching a larger audience and able to cut through the white noise of typical messaging and get people talking about it. We also try to keep the number of days they are up limited to keep them fresh and noticeable.

Moving from portable signs to permanent

With about 127,000 vehicles moving through Spokane daily, there is opportunity to reach a large audience. In years past the message boards have been reserved for Amber Alerts, blocking collisions and the occasional emphasis patrol. We saw an opportunity to use them to promote safe driving habits, especially around the holidays.

The first message ran on November 26 ahead of Thanksgiving reading "Feast your eyes on the road, not your phone".

For the past week the messages are part of a DUI emphasis patrol that Washington State Patrol is doing. The messages have included "You're not Rudolph, don't drive lit!" and "Don't drive Blitzen, use a sober driver!" Both messages encourage people not to drink and drive this holiday season. We will continue to put up new messages through January 2.

Starting January 9, students heading back to WSU will also get a fresh set of messages displayed.

Who creates the messages?

We have a team that comes up with the messages that includes people from our traffic office, maintenance, communications and staff from the Spokane Regional Transportation Management Center. We generally meet once a month or two weeks prior to any of the higher-volume traffic events that would involve WSU. We brainstorm ideas and talk about each one, picking usually between 6-8 messages to put on the portable boards. In these meetings we also discuss when, where and how long to place messages around the Spokane region on the permanent message boards.

Can we expect more fun messages?

Absolutely! In the coming months there will be more messages that will go up on the permanent message boards. We also have a partnership with weather forecasters to bring warnings about heavy forecasted snow. There will also be other emphasis patrols by Washington State Patrol that will offer more opportunity to be creative in our messaging. Finally, we will use other holidays to promote safe driving behavior.

While these messages can be fun, at the end of the day they have a purpose and an action for drivers to take so we can all get home to our friends and family safely.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Snohomish County highways ready to ring in 2020

What we accomplished in 2019

By Frances Fedoriska

With less than two weeks left before 2020, most of our Snohomish County construction work for the year is complete. We want to end the year with a big “Thank you!” to travelers who took the time to stay engaged, planned ahead during closures and made adjustments to help us make safety improvements and complete preservation work. These projects reduce the risk of costly emergency repairs that add time to already long commutes.

Here’s a look at a few of the accomplishments on state highways in Snohomish County that happened in 2019.

US 2/I-5 to Bickford
  • We rehabilitated the westbound Hewitt Avenue trestle with fewer weekend closures than the contract required (5 instead of 6). Over the project’s two season’s, weather postponed weekend work more than a dozen times.
  • Repaired aging expansion joints
  • Fun fact: The 2½-mile westbound trestle required roughly 5,500 tons of new asphalt and enough waterproof membrane to cover almost 7½ football fields.

The final weekend closure of the westbound US 2 trestle between Lake Stevens and Everett ended Monday, Aug. 6.

US 2/Bickford to Gold Bar
  • Repaved both directions of US 2 between Bickford Avenue near Snohomish and the east end of Monroe
  • Installed rumble strips between eastbound and westbound traffic to alert drivers when they drift from their lane
  • Built 6-foot medians between Bickford Avenue and the Pilchuck River bridge. In 2020, contractors will install median barriers to further separate the eastbound and westbound lanes.
  • Also in 2020, we’ll have a weekend of lane reductions to complete Pilchuck River bridge rehab and will pave US 2 between 88th Street near Snohomish and the west side of Monroe.
New 6-foot-wide medians were added to separate eastbound and westbound lanes on US 2
from Bickford Avenue to the Pilchuck River bridge.

SR 9/108th Street Northeast – Intersection Improvements
  • Ground down a hill on the west side of the intersection during a weekend closure to improve site distance
  • Relocated utilities ahead of the installation of a new roundabout coming in 2020

Looking west at the new eastbound entrance at SR 9 and 108th Street.

BST – US 2 Resurfacing
  • Resurfacing project, spanning 35 miles on four highways in Snohomish, King and Whatcom counties
  • Work included two segments of US 2 near Index and Skykomish

SR 525/526 – Boeing Access Road
  • Repaved these sections of two highways near Paine Field
  • Repurposed a westbound downhill lane on 84th Street/SR 526 to add bike lanes in each direction in support of Mukilteo’s “By the Way” plan (pdf 14 mb)
  • Coming in 2020: Contractor crews will complete asphalt repairs close to the Boeing Future of Flight Museum.

SR 9/SR 204 – Intersection Improvements
  • Constructed an additional southbound lane between Marketplace and SE 4th Street
  • Completed the first of a three-phase project that will culminate in the installation of intersection improvements at SR 9 & SR 204 at Frontier Village

Phase Two of the SR 9/SR 204 intersection improvements will add a northbound lane ahead of the intersection reconfiguration, currently scheduled to begin construction in 2022.

We’re not done!

Starting in spring 2020, we will spend more than $2 million rehabilitating 19 bridge decks between Index and Skykomish. The asphalt on many of these bridges have exceeded their lifespan of 15 years. Further west on US 2, a $3.1 million safety improvement project will add physical barriers between the eastbound and westbound lanes between Bickford Avenue and the SR 9 interchange.

We will continue to deliver projects that keep Washingtonians moving, and hope you remain resolved to staying informed, engaged and committed to sharing important project information with friends, family and co-workers when it comes to critical work happening our highways.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Uncovering past relics on the road to building our highways

By Thomas Charlson

When I was a kid, my first introduction to archaeology was with Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was fascinated by the action, the mystery and the artifacts Dr. Jones would find on his adventures around the world. The one idea that stuck with me from the movie series is that historical artifacts belong in a museum!

After I joined WSDOT, I was intrigued by the work our cultural resources department does to uncover archaeological artifacts and preserve them for future generations. While we’re not traveling to exotic locations to look for the Ark of the Covenant, we do undertake an environmental review in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act to address how our construction projects may affect historical properties. The goal is to maintain these historical properties and protect the cultural artifacts we find during the process.

Check out some of the artifacts we found on our projects and the stories they tell!

Finding a waterfront community on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program
As part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, our archaeologists uncovered the remnants of a small waterfront neighborhood just west of Seattle’s Pioneer Square. The neighborhood was abandoned around 1905 and likely occupied by Seattle’s early waterfront labor force, which included longshoreman, saloon-keepers, transient workers and entrepreneurs. While the men and women who lived in the neighborhood are now silent, the jumble of pier foundations and household materials found at the site tell their story.
Archaeologists uncover the foundations of a neighborhood that stood along Seattle’s waterfront
during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

We examined the layers of soil and collected the materials people used, including tableware, glass fragments and pharmaceutical bottles. We also found animal bones, which were used to determine what the small waterfront community ate on a daily basis. Although we weren’t able to solve all the mysteries of this community, we did gain some insights into Seattle’s working class through the artifacts we recovered.
Old pharmaceutical bottles and glassware found during a May 2010 excavation.

Remnants of an old mining railroad discovered through a fish passage project
The historic remains of an abandoned railroad trestle, found on the SR 92 Little Pilchuck Creek Fish Passage Project, played a role in Washington’s past mining industry. In 1892, the Everett and Monte Cristo Railway Company began building a railroad to access the mines near Monte Cristo. The company built a 147-foot-long bridge on top of piles crossing Little Pilchuck Creek. We discovered a few of the old piles from this railroad during the construction of our fish passage project.
The bottom of one of the piles used to support the railroad trestle crossing Little Pilchuck Creek.

Fossilized creepy crawlers reveal Washington’s geological history
Not all of the stuff we find in the ground is cultural. During the construction of the SR 9 Gribble Creek Fish Passage Project in Skagit County, we found a natural deposit of saltwater clam shells and fossilized tubeworms.

A close-up look at one of the fossilized tubeworms recovered at Gribble Creek.

The geological history of the area indicated the shell materials were likely deposited from glacial seawater inundating the Skagit River watershed. With the retreat of the glaciers, the marine invertebrates were left in the fine grain silts, sands and clay material for our archaeologists to find thousands of years later.
Mixed in the sand and clay soils are shell material deposited by the retreating glaciers.

These artifacts are only small pieces of history we’ve uncovered through our construction projects. By recording and preserving some of these artifacts, we’re fulfilling our commitment to maintain and protect the cultural resources found in our region. You may not find all of these artifacts and materials in a museum, but they lend an important voice to telling the stories of past eras in Washington state history.

If you’re interested in learning more about our cultural resources program, check out our history page to find videos, project webpages and other publicly available resources describing the history of Washington’s transportation system.

Monday, December 16, 2019

There’s never a dull moment for our IRT team

By Angie Millar

Josh Stuckey has seen a lot and done a lot. That will happen when your workday involves driving up and down the I-5 corridor from downtown Seattle to Shoreline. Josh, a member of our Incident Response Team, might be helping a stranded driver change a tire one minute, then may race to the scene of a major collision the next.

It's a normal day-in-the-life for our highway super heroes.

Josh, a former Skagit County firefighter, joined our agency as a maintenance worker before shifting to IRT about eight years ago, saying being a first responder was always his main interest. And that's just what he does with IRT.

Our response team is typically among the first people on scene of a highway incident. That could be as simple as helping a driver who is out of gas, or it could be coordinating with Washington State Patrol and other aid groups to safely handle a large crash. It's not a job for the timid as our team regularly works near live traffic.

"Once you're out of your car on the freeway, it's a very hostile environment," he said. "We're the first on scene for a lot of incidents. We're in the thick of it."
Left: IRT driver Josh Stuckey regularly patrols the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Shoreline helping stranded drivers. Right: Josh Stuckey and the rest of our IRT team stay in regular contact with our dispatchers as well as
Washington State Patrol as they work to help keep drivers safe on state highways.

During a recent ride along, I watched Josh help clear a disabled vehicle from the I-5 express lanes during rush hour. To get to the incident quickly, he had to go in the opposite direction on the I-5 express lanes. After coordinating with the State Patrol to stop traffic, he flipped on his Chevy truck's sirens and once on scene used the truck's rubber bumper to push the car off to the shoulder.

On average, our IRTs are able to clear an incident within 13 minutes of first being notified of the situation.

New IRT members train with experienced teammates for 2-4 months, learning first aid, traffic control, HAZMAT response and other skills. They spread out over many of our most-traveled state highways patrolling for incidents and staying in regular contact with our dispatch as well as State Patrol communications.

Josh has had his share of scary situations, including a standoff with an armed suspect on the SR 520 bridge. He has to compartmentalize to focus on helping people and clearing the roads and said that he doesn't let himself think about work at home, which helps manage any dangerous situations he's been in.

"We've got guys out here involved in deep stuff," he said. "We're immersed in this world that no one sees. I love this program so much."

While a lot of what our IRT members learn comes from being on the job, there are some things we look for. So if you're interested in joining that team, it will help if you:
  • Have a commercial vehicle driver's license
  • Familiarize yourself with our maintenance work and processes to help you assess condition of our infrastructure after crashes and know what has to be fixed
  • Are super safety focused, for yourself, other responders and the public
  • Experience operating a tow truck
  • Calm in high pressure situations
  • Comfortable communicating with the public as you are often the first person from our agency they will be dealing with, often in stressful situations.
We're always thankful to Josh and all of our IRT and maintenance group for the fantastic work they do helping everyone stay safe on the highways. Be sure to help them out by staying alert and focused behind the wheel, follow their directions if they're trying to help you out and slow down and give them space if you see them on the highways assisting other drivers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Cause for celebration and commitment: Washington still leads as #1 Bike Friendly State

By Barb Chamberlain

Washington state is again ranked as No. 1 “Most Bicycle Friendly State in America” – the only state in the nation to be consistently named by the League of American Bicyclists as a leader for the past decade. It’s great news but it comes with a note of caution. While Washington has addressed important policy actions, the number of people killed on our roads while bicycling has more than doubled since 2014.

This echoes a national trend where the rate of traffic fatalities for vehicle drivers and their passengers is trending down, but drivers strike and seriously injure or kill an increasing number of people walking or rolling. In the past year alone, serious injuries to people walking increased 12 percent and serious injuries to people bicycling increased 32 percent in Washington.
Cyclists enjoy the Tommy Thompson Trail in Anacortes.

That’s somber news and it means we have more work to do. We’re working with our partners in traffic safety at every jurisdictional level to address questions of roadway design, operations and maintenance, especially on higher-speed roads, such as state highways where 27 percent of serious injury and fatal crashes occur.

In the Bicycle Friendly State Report Card (pdf 1.4 mb), the League credited Washington for enacting a Safe Passing Law in the 2019 session and beginning our update to the state plan. Our State Active Transportation Plan is especially critical for developing a 21st-century transportation system. We hope you’ll visit our online open house, review how we’re evaluating state routes to help us identify future needs, and take our questionnaire that asks about your transportation habits, challenges and priorities. We have an online information session on the plan coming up Wednesday, Dec. 11, that you can register for to participate from your kitchen table or desktop via webinar.
Infrastructure like the SR 520 bike/pedestrian path have helped Washington consistently rank
as the top bicycling state in the country.

Everyone uses active transportation at some point in their trip. You might walk or roll all the way to your destination. You may get to the nearest transit stop, ferry landing or rail station. You might drive downtown, park, and get out to walk around for shopping and entertainment. At some point in each of these journeys you are a vulnerable road user.

Your opinion on how state, regional, tribal and local governments can improve your comfort, safety and mobility matters. While you take a moment to celebrate our #1 Bicycle Friendly State status, take 10 minutes to answer our questionnaire and help shape the future of active transportation in Washington state.

Monday, December 9, 2019

What’s happened to traffic since SR 99 tunnel tolling started

By WSDOT, SDOT, King County Metro, Sound Transit

One month after tolling began in the State Route 99 tunnel, we're getting our first few weeks of traffic data. While it's still early, SR 99 tunnel usage remains high and exceeds forecasts. Traffic volumes were within normal ranges on I-5 and ridership on King County Metro Transit remained consistent.

Initial information from Seattle-area transportation partner agencies reflects weekday data between Nov. 12 and Nov. 22. (Thanksgiving week was excluded as it is an unusual travel week). Traffic patterns vary and we expect they will continue to change as drivers look for best routes to reach their destinations.

By the numbers
Prior to the start of tolling on Nov. 9, 2019, about 77,000 vehicles used the tunnel on average weekdays. Since tolling started, roughly 20,000 fewer vehicles are using the tunnel – about 26% less. This drop is less than the 35% to 50% predicted. However, the story is more nuanced. Peak travel volumes in the tunnel remain high. Mid-day volumes are lower, likely due to less crowding on city streets.

Where is traffic going?
The traffic story is evolving. As expected, week one looked different than week two. Volumes have increased on city streets near the tunnel, but to date, travel times and reliability are not greatly impacted.

For example, traffic volumes on Alaskan Way increased by about 20% in the first two weeks of tolling, the equivalent of about 5,000 more cars, but travel times increased just 3% to 4%. Traffic volumes on First Avenue also increased in both directions, yet travel times slightly improved.

In week one, we observed increased volumes on Alaskan Way in both directions during the morning and afternoon peaks, as mentioned prior, and along Elliott Avenue West northbound during the morning peak varying from 25% to 30%.

In week two, we observed the same volume increases along the waterfront, plus higher northbound volumes in the evening through SODO on Airport Way, East Marginal Way, and Fourth Avenue South, from between 20% and 25%.

It's common for traffic volumes on Seattle streets to fluctuate up to 20% on any given day. Therefore, depending on the street and time of day, some drivers may or may not notice more cars.

Fluctuations are typical on urban freeways. The number of vehicles using I-5 during the first two weeks of tolling on SR 99 were within the normal ranges for this time of year. There were some days when people experienced longer travel times during the morning and afternoon peak periods. This can be attributed to a number of factors including weather – people tend to drive slower in wet conditions – blocking incidents such as collisions or stalled vehicles, and even special events.

We continue to urge commuters to check the roads before you leave by using WSDOT's travel tools, SDOT's travel tools or other traffic apps.

During the past year, Metro ridership has generally increased on the 41 routes affected by the SR 99 tunnel project. Transit ridership has remained stable during the first two weeks of tolling.

Looking at the past year, Metro's ridership changes on affected trips varied somewhat by route. Route 40 average weekday ridership climbed from an estimated 12,440 in November 2018 to 14,330 in November 2019. Meanwhile, Rapid Ride C Line dipped slightly during the same time period ­– 12,050 to 11,710. (Not all buses have passenger counters, and ridership estimates are based on extrapolations of available samples.)

Additionally, the RapidRide C Line and 11 other former viaduct routes have experienced disruptions and changes in pathways in the past year. Since the viaduct closed in January 2019, average peak hour travel times are longer than they were in 2018, and fluctuate daily based on peak traffic congestion.

Between October and November 2019, average transit trip times increase slightly during the morning and afternoon peak hours:
  • Morning inbound travel times on average were unchanged for Route 120, 1.5 minutes longer for Rapid Ride E Line, 2 minutes longer for routes 40, and 3 minutes longer on Route 131.
  • Afternoon outbound travel times on average were less than 2 minutes longer for Route 120, nearly 4 minutes longer for Route 131, and 5.7 minutes longer for Route 62, and 2 minutes longer for Route 40.
Factors other than tolling might partially explain these travel time increases. Fewer hours of daylight, increasing ridership, weather conditions, and other factors also affect bus speeds.

No information is available for Link or Sounder usage.

Water Taxi usage and bike usage
Since 2018, King County Water Taxi has been steadily increasing ridership, and comparing November 2018 to November 2019, there were about 400 more weekly riders each on the Vashon Island route and the West Seattle route. Water Taxi ridership before and after tolling is stable.

Dry weather and improved bike infrastructure made biking a good travel option during November. As captured by four counters on paths in and out of the Center City – which encompasses South Lake Union south to SODO and east to Capitol Hill – bike ridership was 25% higher than the previous year. In 2019, we only experienced on 1.72 inches of rain compared to 5.42 inches in 2018. And Seattle's network of protected bike lanes though the Center City grew.

Map of Center City Protected Bike Lanes

Good To Go!
One final observation: Roughly 80% of vehicles in the tunnel are using either a Good To Go! pass or Pay By Plate. Drivers with a Good To Go! pass will always pay the lowest toll rate in the tunnel and all other toll roads in Washington. Even if you used the tunnel without an account and received a bill in the mail, it's not too late to save money on your bill by creating an account and having the reduced rate applied retroactively.

The SR 99 tunnel is a two-mile long, double-decked road tunnel that carries SR 99 underneath downtown Seattle. It replaced the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct, which used to carry SR 99 above Seattle's waterfront. State law required WSDOT to use toll revenues to pay back $200 million in construction bonds, as well as pay the costs of operating and maintaining a safe tunnel.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

It’s a wrap on Snoqualmie Pass, almost

By Meagan Lott

As the cooler weather sets in, construction projects across I-90 between North Bend and Vantage are wrapping up for the season -- and one in particular is wrapping up for good.

We are checking the new 7-mile stretch of highway between Hyak and Stampede Pass off of our list, which means we are now at the halfway point of the 15-mile project that improves I-90 all the way to Easton. Over the past nine construction seasons, contractor crews have removed more than 2 million cubic yards of dirt and rock and poured 153,000 cubic yards of concrete as part of this massive undertaking.
When we started there were two lanes in each direction but now a third lane has been added both east and west. In addition, due to a realignment, all six of the lanes here were built from scratch and are brand new roadways and surfaces for travelers. This work also built 17 new bridges, including two new avalanche bridges and a wildlife overcrossing that is already being put to good use by local wildlife.

All of this hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Recently, this project received the regional Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials award for best use of technology and innovation. Also Brian White, assistant regional administrator, recently received the Jim Ellis Spirit Award from the Mountains to Sound Greenway, for his role in project management and his ability to foster collaborative partnerships, to create a solution for both wildlife and people.
Our work on the I-90 in recent years included two new avalanche bridges which allow snow and debris from avalanches to flow under the bridges and reduce the amount of avalanche-related closures in the winter.

The other projects wrapping up for the season include the improvements we have been working on for the past couple of summers between North Bend and the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. To date, contractor crews have removed 2,278 concrete panels that were in rough shape and poured more than 9,100 cubic yards of new concrete to replace them. Crews also repaired four bridge decks. This project starts back up next spring and is scheduled to be complete in fall 2020.

Near Cle Elum, crews placed more than 5,700 tons of new asphalt and started work to repaint the two bridges over the Cle Elum River. Crews will be back next summer to finish the new paint job as well as repair both bridge decks. Speaking of bridges, crews are also repairing the decks on the bridges over the Yakima River in Cle Elum and Ellensburg. So far they’ve placed more than 2,700 tons of asphalt and will finish things up next summer.

Finally, paving between Ellensburg and Vantage is now complete. Crews placed more than 41,600 tons of new asphalt during this summer of work, giving travelers a new smooth surface to drive on.

What’s next in this area? Work on the second half of the 15-mile I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project was scheduled to kick off in summer 2020, but that has been put on hold for a bit as part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s direction after the passage of Initiative 976. Postponing projects like this one, which hadn’t yet gone to bid, gives the governor and Legislature time and flexibility to determine how to implement the initiative as they work toward an amended budget during the 2020 session.

We want to thank all of you who traveled across I-90 this summer and fall and for your patience and understanding. We know construction zones can be frustrating during travel, but the short-term pain pays off in the long run when travelers have improved and expanded roadways for their trips for many years to come.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

New westbound I-90 auxiliary ramp in Snoqualmie scheduled to open on Thursday, Dec. 5

Final paving, striping to occur in spring 2020

By Nicole Daniels

After about a month of work, the new temporary State Route 18/Snoqualmie Parkway auxiliary on-ramp to westbound Interstate 90 opened to traffic on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 5. These modifications are expected to provide some short-term congestion relief and help improve traffic flow on Snoqualmie Parkway and nearby local intersections before the new I-90/SR 18 interchange project is complete in 2023.

Completed improvements
In partnership with the city of Snoqualmie, our contractor crews from Road Construction Northwest, Inc. used the old westbound I-90 weigh station property to create a second on-ramp lane for highway users. The traffic signal on SR 18 was also retimed, and ramp meters were added to evenly distribute vehicles merging onto westbound I-90.
Graphic outlining the changes to the Snoqualmie Parkway/SR 18 on-ramp to westbound I-90

Southbound Snoqualmie Parkway travelers going to westbound I-90 will notice:
  • A right turn only lane on southbound Snoqualmie Parkway.
  • No traffic signal as you enter the ramp.
  • A dedicated westbound I-90 on-ramp lane.
  • A meter at the end of the on-ramp.
Eastbound SR 18 travelers going to westbound I-90 will notice:
  • A retimed traffic signal on SR 18 - providing a longer green light for those turning on to westbound I-90.
  • A dedicated westbound I-90 on-ramp lane.
  • A meter at the end of the on-ramp.
Why meter the on-ramp?
The ramp meters will operate during peak commute times - activating automatically based on westbound I-90 traffic flow. Metering the two-lane on-ramp will reduce congestion on westbound I-90 by providing consistent gaps between vehicles, rather than allowing multiple vehicles to flood the highway at once.

Final work resumes in spring 2020
The final paving and striping will occur in spring 2020, when warmer, drier weather returns. Crews will complete this weather-dependent work during daytime lane closures. Travelers should check the King County construction page or sign up for weekly email updates for current closure information.