Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Keeping rest areas clean for freight haulers during COVID-19

By Meagan Lott

When you think of a rest area, it is probably something you consider as just a nice place to take a break and maybe stretch your legs before heading home. However, during a national pandemic it becomes one of the only places to take a break. Especially for those freight haulers carrying critical medical equipment, medications, food and supplies in response to COVID-19.
All of our rest areas remain open to help support freight traffic but we are increasing
cleaning efforts to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

This is why we are keeping all 45 of our year-round rest areas open. In order to limit the spread of the virus we are stepping up our efforts to clean and disinfect all touch point areas every two hours at our most-trafficked rest areas along I-5, I-90 and I-82. This includes things like sinks and faucets, door handles and hand dryers. All other rest areas will be cleaned twice a day and cleaning will take place daily between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Areas that receive a lot of contact such as door handles are being disinfected
every two hours at our most-traveled rest areas.

This is not the time for recreational travel. Please listen to Governor Inslee’s direction to stay home and practice social distancing. This will ensure the health of our employees who are on the frontlines to ensure our rest areas are clean and safe for the thousands of freight haulers delivering goods and services to our communities every day. We have also temporarily suspending our Free Coffee Volunteer Program until further notice as a continuation of efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
Rest areas are vitally important to freight traffic and we are working to keep them
as clean as possible during the COVID-19 emergency.

The freight community is always vitally important, and perhaps even more so during a national emergency. This is a very challenging time for all of us, but we need to continue to do our part to keep everyone safe and do all we can to help keep goods moving and those that haul them as safe as possible.

Partnering to help keep freight moving

By Andrea E. Petrich

When I was a little kid my favorite thing about road trips was when I'd try to get a semi driver to honk by doing the crazy up-and down-arm pull movement. At the time all I cared about was whether they'd honk or not and had no idea that those drivers were the ones working long hours to help get the things my family needed from farm/factory to the store.

As an adult – and as someone who works to help keep travelers moving – I have a huge appreciation for the work truck drivers do to make my life easier. So this year we are working with Washington State Patrol to help make those trucker's travels a bit easier as they move the things we need to the places where we need them.
Crews from Granite Construction will work to fix pavement, barriers and improve truck movement with updated striping at the Washington State Patrol weigh station that sits along southbound I-5 near Bow Hill in Skagit County.

I-5 Southbound Bow Hill Weigh Station
First up, our contractor crew from Granite Construction will start work to rehabilitate the southbound I-5 Bow Hill Weigh Station just north of Burlington. We will close this weigh station for about 10 days during this work and most of you won't even know it is happening. During this closure trucks will just remain on southbound I-5 while crews repave, adjust and add barrier and restripe to improve flow and make the best use of space in this area.

We hope to begin work on this project in March if the weather cooperates. During construction, the officers typically assigned to this scale will be working the road in patrol cars, continuing their commitment to making Washington roadways the safest in the nation.
During project design, crews did survey work along SR 9 near the area where crews from Northeast Electric will install
the new virtual weigh in motion station for Washington State Patrol to monitor truck traffic.

SR 9 Virtual Weigh in Motion
Later this year – potentially by the summer – our contractor from Northeast Electric will put in sensors and other electronics to create a virtual weigh in motion station on SR 9 in Acme in Whatcom County. This VWIM station will allow WSP to monitor truck weights as well as about 50 other regulatory and safety items from anywhere and local troopers can then pull over trucks whose load weight might be over the limit. Being able to leverage technology to assist with the limited resources available to find potential hazards is another step in helping keep our highways safe. You can subscribe to Whatcom County weekly highway emails www.bit.ly/WhatcomCoEmail for updates.

Thank you, truckers
When you're on the road this year and you see all those semi drivers, give them a wave. They're continuously working to get what we need where we want it.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Oh my girders, what a year!

By Cara Mitchell

One year. We are now one year closer to finishing a project that will transform travel for people crossing the Puyallup River in Pierce County. Easing congestion, adding new HOV lanes and building a brand-new I-5 bridge. After almost 20 years of construction in the area, being one year closer to finishing the final funded project on I-5 through Tacoma is kind of a big deal. So, if you’re the person who called the other day asking if construction is ever going to end, this blog is for you.

Construction on the officially named I-5 – Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Southbound HOV project began in February 2019. Since then, design-build contractor Guy F. Atkinson Construction has managed to hit several construction milestones despite being soaked by almost 43 inches of rain.

Gargantuan girders and unique walls

Who is getting the longest girder in the country? We are!

This past February, crews set bridge girders for six of the nine bridge spans that make up the new southbound I-5 bridge over the Puyallup River. To do this, the contractor had to close a section of 20th Street East in Fife. The closure opened up space for a large crane that guided some of the girders into place.
Girders for the new southbound Puyallup River Bridge being put into place
The longest of these girders, measuring 223 feet, will be installed later this year. At this time, the girder will be the longest prestressed concrete girder made in the United States.

But let’s not let our glamorous girders get all the attention. Over the past year Atkinson Construction has been building an 1,100-foot “soil nail” wall. To build it, the contractor dug into the hillside and used a driller to place four rows of giant nails into the ground. A mix of sprayed-on concrete and concrete panels were used to secure the nails and the earth (or hillside) around them. The result is a wall that is more environmentally friendly, faster to build, and creates less of an impact on travel.

Affectionately known as NB-1, the wall is located next to northbound I-5 near East L Street. It ultimately creates space for a northbound auxiliary lane that will help ease congestion in an area that sees more than 115,000 vehicles a day. The new lane will allow people driving on SR 7 and I-705 to exit at Portland Avenue without having to merge with northbound I-5 traffic.
Atkinson Construction placing concrete panels onto steel along the NB-1 soil nail wall. Building the wall is part of the widening piece of the project that creates space for a new auxiliary lane near the SR 7, I-705 and I-5 merge point.

What’s next for Portland Avenue?

Widening I-5 also means adjusting the ramps that lead into it. That is what’s happening at the northbound I-5 exit to Portland Avenue. The contractor needs to adjust the Portland Avenue exit to align with the wider highway. But because of a lack of space to safely and efficiently complete this work, the following temporary changes are planned this spring:
  • Up to a month-long closure of the SR 7 on-ramp to northbound I-5
  • I-705 on-ramp to northbound I-5 reduced to a single lane
  • Northbound I-5 exit to Portland Avenue will temporarily move about a quarter of a mile closer than it is currently located and while the ramp will remain open, drivers will need to be in the far-right lane sooner than they are used to.
We understand the impact closing the SR 7 on-ramp to northbound I-5 for a month will have. Our crews will be working as quickly as the weather allows to avoid impacting traffic any longer than is absolutely necessary. Drivers who use the SR 7 on-ramp to northbound I-5 will be able to follow a signed detour. Four lanes will remain open in each direction on I-5 during the upcoming work. We’ll tell you more details about these changes and what to expect as we get closer to making them.
Drivers will need to use this detour while the SR 7 ramp to northbound I-5 is closed. Our goal
is to complete this work as quickly as weather allows.

50 is nifty

Safety first. It is one of our core values. That’s why we want to take a moment to remind everyone to be extra cautious while traveling through the construction areas. Keep your eyes on the road and be mindful of the drivers around you. The speed limit is 50 miles per hour. Shifting lanes, narrow lanes and narrow shoulders make this speed reduction necessary for the safety of drivers and our construction workers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Ramp meters coming soon to I-5 in Olympia, Lacey

By Doug Adamson

Every afternoon, travelers in Lacey and Olympia sit in backups on southbound I-5, and wonder, why can't someone fix this? There is some good news. We are.

One way to help maintain traffic flow is regulating vehicles entering the highway. And that's where traffic meters come in, and what's coming to Thurston County. Come mid-April, we expect to activate new meters at:
  • Martin Way East
  • Sleater-Kinney Road Southeast 
  • Pacific Avenue Southeast
  • Henderson Boulevard Southeast
Ramp meters are an effective and proven tool that help delay the onset of backups seen regularly on southbound I-5 between Lacey and Olympia. They also help reduce the potential for collisions.
New ramp meters are coming to I-5 in Olympia and Lacey to help improve traffic flow on the highway.

What's causing the backups?
Every day, we see large groups of vehicles flood southbound I-5 at the same time. Drivers naturally slow down due to merging traffic and congestion builds until traffic slows to a crawl.

Ramp meters – traffic signals at the end of highway on-ramps – regulate the flow of traffic entering the highway. The regulated pace vehicles enter the highway makes it more predicable for travelers already using I-5. Meters provide consistent gaps between vehicles, rather than allowing multiple vehicles to flood the highway at once.

But why not add more lanes to I-5? The answer is cost. We look at lower-cost enhancements, such as ramp meters, before big-ticket items like widening I-5. Right now, there is no funding to widen this section of I-5.

Why ramp meters?
Ramp meters are a long-used tool to help improve the flow of traffic on state highways. While new to southbound I-5 in Olympia and Lacey, ramp meters have successfully operated at the Marvin Road and Nisqually on-ramps to northbound I-5 in Thurston County for years.

Another southbound I-5 ramp meter at Marvin Road will activate later as part of the diverging diamond interchange project.

How and when ramp meters work
Ramp meters react to real-time conditions. Using computer-assisted technology and specially trained operators, ramp meters can activate anytime or any day if the network detects I-5 congestion.

On-ramp delays?
While ramp metering benefits the interstate, it can produce delays for drivers merging onto the highway. We will monitor the system and make adjustments as needed. At the same time, we do anticipate it will take longer to reach the highway. We expect some drivers will opt for in-city travel instead of using I-5. And as always, for those able to do so we encourage people to consider alternate forms of transportation such as transit, bicycling or walking.

What about northbound I-5?
It's a worst-first strategy. While there is northbound congestion, southbound is the focus due to longer-lasting afternoon chronic congestion. There also is no funding at this time for northbound ramp meters. However, you can expect this tool for northbound I-5 in the south sound when funding becomes available.

Not stopping in Lacey or Olympia?
Travelers heading to locations south of Olympia can help. Through traffic is encouraged to use the left two lanes. This does not apply to vehicles towing a trailer or vehicle or combination over 10,000 gross vehicle weight.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

What's going on with Seattle area traffic with COVID-19?

Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 20
Driving south from Everett to Northgate, traffic volumes are down 30 percent, and 36 percent between Northgate and downtown Seattle compared to traffic volumes in February. This was especially noticeable during the A.M. commute with overall traffic volumes down by 41 percent as of Friday, March 10.

South of downtown, traffic volumes also fell throughout the week with peak decline on Friday, decreasing by 32 percent.

Traffic in Bellevue along I-405 fell by roughly 35 percent, with decreases along the ends of the freeway in Bothell and Renton — both of which saw reductions near 30 percent compared to February volumes. During the same time period, traffic decreased by 45 percent on the I-90 bridge and 60 percent along SR 520.

Tuesday, March 17
We are seeing a sharp decrease on all Seattle area highways. Although we do not yet have exact figures for Monday, travel times were well below average during the typical peak commute periods. This includes I-5 between Everett and Seattle, which saw trips taking 30-40 minutes during the morning and afternoon drive times. That’s roughly a 50 percent drop from normal conditions.

In looking at the previous week, the daily average volume dropped about 10 percent in the region compared to February. The largest decrease was along SR 520, which saw 30 percent fewer vehicles.
By DiAngelea Millar

As many large employers in King and Snohomish counties encourage teleworking and school districts take the classroom to the cloud because of COVID-19 concerns, we started fielding questions about the affect those changes had on the morning and afternoon commutes.

It's too soon to call what we're seeing a "trend"- technically, trends require lots of time and data, but as the weeks march on it's pretty clear the demand on the highway system is lighter.
Left: The light morning commute through the middle of downtown Seattle on Thursday, March 12 shows how much traffic has been affected by people staying home due to the coronavirus. Right: A look at I-405 in Bothell during
the peak of the morning commute on Thursday, March 12.

As we watch the roads and collect travel information over the coming weeks, we'll continue to update this post.

Let's start with the first week of March
Traffic volumes (a measurement of the number of vehicles on a section of roadway during specific time) in early March were consistently average as were the length of backups. Interestingly, the backups cleared faster than usual.

Wednesday, March 4

Traffic patterns showed lower than average travel times, with commutes 5-30 minutes quicker than normal. This was most apparent on southbound I-5 between Everett and Seattle. With the decrease in travel demand, the amount of vehicles making use of the highway system more closely matches the capacity of our roads. Simply put, we weren't seeing as much congestion with fewer cars on the road.

Friday, March 6

It doesn't take much to bump up the commute times, even when there are fewer vehicles on the roads. Case in point was northbound I-5 into Seattle. Wet roads and blocking incidents created a blip in our seemingly easy commute week. A crash involving a truck that spilled oil closed two left lanes in downtown Seattle but cleared before 7 a.m. Commute times from Federal Way to Seattle were 30-40 minutes higher than usual.
A look at traffic graphs from Wednesday, March 4 shows a significant change in traffic congestion. The vertical axis shows travel time in minutes, the horizontal shows time of day. The 90th percent line indicates the top 90 percent travel
times on that route and the 10 percent line is an average of the lowest times on that route.

Now on to the second week of March
The week started off with low traffic volumes and travel times. 

Monday, March 10

Traffic volumes decreased by 4 percent on southbound I-5 between Everett and Seattle. On the same day, northbound I-405 traffic between Renton and Bellevue decreased by 8 percent. It may not sound like much, but the difference between a smooth commute and a rough one is at the margins. Any specific drop in traffic demand, especially during the peak periods, can result in a noticeable improvement in trip time.

With slightly fewer cars using our roads, vehicles can move faster with greater spacing. This makes it possible to prevent traffic-flow breakdown, essentially the point when there is more demand than carrying capacity, which results in backups and delays and fewer vehicles getting through each lane. Additionally, it took less time for normal speed to resume following a blocking incident like a crash or stalled vehicle, especially during peak travel times.
Highly unusual to see travel times at or below average on these routes from these
travel times at 8:40 a.m. on Thursday, March 12.

Fewer vehicles in toll lanes
We've seen a decrease in traffic on our toll roads, although it is too early to tell how this will impact revenue long-term.

What does this mean?
Many factors affect travel times including weather and blocking incidents. But work and school schedules also affect demand on our highway system and if schools are closed or people work from home, we can see the result of this in our travel times and traffic volumes.

Stay tuned. As we gather more data over the next weeks and months, we'll update this blog with additional information.

This is a great time to plug a couple of our useful tools to keep in your back pocket. Check our statewide travel alerts, Twitter accounts and the WSDOT App for the most up to date traffic information. As outlined above, commutes can turn on a dime and it's in our best interest to be an informed traveler.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Construction at Thorne Lane reaches new heights

By Cara Mitchell

Now that the new Berkeley Street overpass is open to the majority of travelers in Lakewood, construction at Thorne Lane is shifting into high gear. The existing overpass at Thorne Lane is being replaced, not by one, but two new bridges. In fact, one is already finished. The second overpass, which is almost 24-feet tall and spans all lanes of I-5 and the railroad, will open in late spring, weather permitting. Replacement of both overpasses is necessary as crews continue to widen I-5 between Steilacoom-DuPont Road and Thorne Lane.

To make this happen, travelers who use the I-5/Thorne Lane interchange to reach Union Avenue in the Tillicum neighborhood, or Murray Road to reach 146th Street Southwest in the Woodbrook neighborhood, will see long local street closures and detours.

Two-week closure of 146th Street Southwest
At 9 p.m., Saturday, March 14, design-build contractor Guy F. Atkinson Construction will close 146th Street Southwest at Murray Road around-the-clock until March 28. During that time, crews will build new curbs and sidewalks at the intersection of Murray Road and 146th Street Southwest. During the closure, drivers will detour using Spring Street Southwest and 150th Street Southwest.

New roundabout opens
If the weather allows, during the overnight hours of Saturday, March 14, construction crews will open the newly realigned northbound I-5 exit to Thorne Lane and the new roundabout. During the overnight work, the following closures will occur for paving and striping:
  • Northbound I-5 exit to Thorne Lane will close from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Sunday, March 15
  • Thorne Lane on-ramp to northbound I-5 will close from 10:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Sunday, March 15
  • Single-lane alternating traffic on Murray Road at the new roundabout from 10 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Sunday, March 15
Once fully open, the new roundabout will bring a continuous flow of traffic that will move through the intersection more quickly. Studies show that roundabouts lead to a 20-percent reduction in delays.  Anyone who uses the Thorne Lane interchange knows just how long the signals cycle through. Replacing them with roundabouts will be a huge improvement.

Union Avenue closed until late May
As long as all ramp connections at the new Berkeley Street overpass are open, as early as 8 a.m. on Monday, March 16, a one-block section of Union Avenue will close between Spruce Street and Thorne Lane.

The closure allows construction crews to raise the profile of Union Avenue over 23 feet so the street can connect with the new Thorne Lane overpass. The around-the-clock closure will be in place until the end of May.

During the closure, travelers will detour on Thorne Lane to Portland Avenue and to Berkeley Street. The I-5/Thorne Lane interchange will remain open during daytime hours.

With all of the closures and detours, planning for extra travel time during your commute is highly advised. We will work through this next phase of construction as efficiently and quickly as possible.

There will be a lot of changes in 2020 for both of these intersections. We appreciate your continued patience while crews finish this important work. Please continue to watch your speed in work zones and give construction crews the room they need to finish this important project.

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Emergency repair – and weekend closure – will preserve westbound SR 18 west of Tiger Mountain summit

Emergency repairs on westbound SR 18 were finished at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 8. The highway is now open in both directions.
By Tom Pearce

The drenching rains that started 2020 may have subsided, but we’re still dealing with the aftermath of all the water that soaked our state and highway system – including on State Route 18.

The rain damage in western Washington included an early February slide under the shoulder of SR 18 about 1.5 miles west of the Tiger Summit Trailhead. To repair damage from this slide, at 8 p.m. Friday, March 6, contractor crews will close westbound SR 18 from Tiger Mountain Summit to Issaquah-Hobart Road until noon Tuesday, March 10. During the closure, travelers will detour via westbound I-90, I-405 and SR 167 or I-5.
Contractor crews will repair westbound SR 18 between Tiger Mountain Summit and Issaquah-Hobart Road. This will require closure of the westbound lane from the evening of
Friday, March 6, until noon on Tuesday, March, 10.

The Feb. 6 slide washed away soil under a wide spot of the westbound shoulder between Interstate 90 and Issaquah-Hobart Road. Part of the pavement collapsed, but damage did not reach the shoulder – yet.

The highway is fine, though if you travel in one of the 27,000 vehicles that goes through that area each day you probably have seen our orange traffic barrels on the shoulder.
When the soil eroded away under the SR 18 shoulder, the guard rail was left
hanging and pieces of the asphalt turnout collapsed.

To prevent any further damage, we need to close the westbound lane so crews have enough space to safely dig out saturated soil from under the damaged turnout near the shoulder. When they reach solid ground, which we expect they’ll find about 10 feet down, the crews will place rock to fill and support the area, then repave it.

We know this will be an inconvenience for people who rely on this important route between Snoqualmie Pass and south King County or Tacoma. This relatively quick restoration allows us to preserve the highway and avoid a major problem should more of the hill slide away from under the roadbed before we can fix it. That could cause a long-term closure, perhaps of both directions of SR 18 – something we all want to avoid.

Thank you for your patience as we work to preserve this vital roadway!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Ferries' haiku contest returns for a third year

By Justin Fujioka

Third time's a charm!

That's the hope if you're looking to dethrone what's become a poetry powerhouse on San Juan Island as our ferries haiku contest champion.

In the contest's first two go-arounds, both winners hailed from Friday Harbor. The first year, a faculty member at the town's high school won. Last year, a student from the same school was crowned champ.

So if you're looking to participate in a little friendly competition, hop on board one of our ferries and get your creative juices flowing because our popular haiku cover contest on Twitter is back!

We're looking for a traditional haiku about the Washington State Ferries experience. The winning poem will be featured on the cover of our Summer 2020 Sailing Schedule!

How to enter
All you have to do is follow @wsferries on Twitter, then tweet your haiku between noon Monday, March 9, and noon Friday, March 13, 2020. Be sure to include the hashtag #WSFHaiku. All members of the public, except WSDOT employees and contractors, are eligible and invited to participate. No fare purchase is required.

Haiku requirements and contest rules
In addition to the submission qualifications listed above, each entrant must follow these requirements and rules:
  • One haiku per tweet
  • Poem must be a traditional haiku with five (5) syllables on the first line, seven (7) on the second and five (5) on the third.
  • Haiku must be about the Washington State Ferries experience.
  • Poem must be the sole, original work of the entrant.
  • An entry may be disqualified if it has been previously published or won awards or competitions.
  • Each contestant may submit up to three haiku. Any additional haiku received after the first three are not eligible.
  • By entering, all submitters grant us the right to use their poems for marketing and communication purposes.
  • Do not send your haiku via direct message on Twitter.
Selecting a winner
A panel of judges from WSF will select up to 25 entries based on relevance to the WSF experience. Those submissions will be sent to Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna and local haiku poet Michael Dylan Welch, who will each choose two finalists based on creativity, originality, content and writing. Decisions of the judges are subjective, final, and cannot be appealed.

For those who want to sharpen their haiku skills, contest judge Michael Dylan Welch recommends reading his "Becoming a Haiku Poet" webpage.

The four finalists' poems will be posted on the @wsferries Twitter page at noon Monday, March 23. The haiku with the most likes at noon Friday, March 27, will be named the winner.

We will then work with the winner to find a photo to serve as a background for their haiku. The work of art will be featured on our 2020 summer schedules!

Monday, February 10, 2020

SR 706 road to Paradise a muddy, debris-covered mess after heavy rains


8:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24
We have good news about the work on State Route 706.

Both lanes of State Route 706 east of Ashford have reopened to all travelers this morning.

Favorable weather allowed our emergency contractor, Granite Construction, to repair and reopen the highway well in advance of the original mid-March estimate. Crews will finish paving and striping as weather allows. Until crews can complete the work, you can expect daytime one-way alternating traffic.

Throughout the closure, several agencies worked together to maintain access for people who live in the slide area. WSDOT worked closely with Pierce County Emergency Management, Eatonville School District, the U.S. Forest Service and Mount Rainier National Park in coordinating caravans for residents in and out of the slide area.

Thank you again for your patience during this work.

10:15 a.m. Friday, Feb. 21
Emergency contractor crews continue work 7-days a week on State Route 706. While the highway remains closed to most travelers until further notice at the Kernahan Road (milepost 10.18), this stretch of good weather has certainly helped bolster recovery efforts. Crews so far have removed hundreds of dump truck loads of mud, dirt and rocks. A major part of the work included installation of a new culvert to carry water under the highway.
Crews in this photo are building the new channel to divert the water away from the highway.

4:45 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18
Since arriving at the scene on Thursday, Feb. 13, the emergency contractor has made substantial progress at the slide site. Over the past six days, over 2,250 cubic yards of slide debris has been removed. The contractor is building new ditches next to the highway so that stream runoff from the hillside above has a place to go - instead of over the highway.

Moving forward, this week’s work includes continued debris removal, embankment construction and utility relocation. Once those items are taken care of, the next big item on the list is getting the culvert installed. Once installed, crews will be able to make pavement repairs and install highway markers. This work is weather sensitive and could get delayed.

SR 706 remains closed at milepost 10.18, blocking access to Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually entrance. There is no detour available. We strongly encourages travelers to not venture beyond the closure location, which is an active work zone.

We are hopeful that SR 706 can re-open with two-way traffic by mid-March. Weather conditions may alter this timeline. We will provide updates as they become available.

12:40 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14
On Thursday, Feb. 13, Granite Construction crews began bringing in large equipment to clear the slide debris covering SR 706 east of Ashford.

Today, crews began separating the rock from the wood debris, so the rock can be incorporated into the project. Crews are also hauling debris out of the work zone. The contractor estimates that it will take approximately one week to remove the slide debris, inspect for damage and identify repairs. The contractor will be working seven days a week during daylight hours.

We are hopeful that SR 706 can re-open with two-way traffic by mid-March. Due to the conditions of the slide and weather conditions, the timeline may change. We will provide updates as they become available.

The closure at milepost 10.18, which blocks access to Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually entrance, will remain in place. There is no detour available. We strongly encourages travelers to not venture beyond the closure location, which is now an active work zone.

4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12
Today, our crews worked with Pierce County Emergency Management to coordinate a single escorted convoy for residents on State Route 706. As our emergency contractor mobilizes tomorrow, we will continue to evaluate damage and how we can safely reopen the road beyond emergency and escorted access.

9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12
Our crews have cleared a path through the slides on SR 706 for emergency vehicle access only.  After we fully evaluate the extent of the damage and debris, we can develop a timeline for reopening one lane beyond emergency access. We’ll continue to provide updates here on the blog.

4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11
Today, our maintenance crews began moving debris and repairing several sections of SR 706 approaching the slide area at milepost 11.4. Under guidance from engineering geologists, crews are addressing safety issues concerning trees near power lines in the slide area near milepost 11. Crews are also preparing to move in larger equipment to the work area.

We also received the authorization today to initiate an emergency contract to begin repairs on SR 706 in the extensive slide area.

With rain or snow in the forecast, it is possible that the slide activity will again increase, which can cause unforeseen delays.  As crews clear away the debris, the creek and stream water coming down from the hillside has to be closely monitored.

After crews start to work on the slides and evaluate the extent of the damage and debris, we can develop a timeline for roadwork going forward and will continue to provide updates.
WSDOT crews began moving debris off SR 706 near milepost 11.

1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11
While visiting the site on Monday, Feb. 10, geotechnical engineers began outlining a plan for us to begin safely clearing the road to allow emergency access for local residents only who live and work near Mount Rainier National Park.

There are two known slide sites that our engineers are focused on. Both locations have unique characteristics that crews will be addressing. Crews will begin their work at the slide located near milepost 11. The work at milepost 11 will initially involve safely diverting the water and debris away from SR 706 and begin removing the debris from the highway. We will continue to provide updates once crews are able to safely mobilize and begin the temporary repairs.

5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10
SR 410 has reopened in both directions.

By Doug Adamson

Many travelers who visit Mount Rainier National Park often refer to State Route 706 east of Ashford as "the road to Paradise." But after several days of torrential rain, the road to Paradise now resembles a muddy creek bed complete with large boulders, six-foot deep debris and several streams in areas where they shouldn't be. In short, the roadway is a mess and the hillside above is extremely unstable. That means the road, which first closed due to slides at 4 a.m. on Feb. 6, will remain closed with no timeframe for reopening.

While we know keeping the highway closed is frustrating to residents and backcountry adventurers seeking the tranquility of one of our state's most notable landmarks, until water from the displaced streams is redirected, we can't reopen the highway.
What's the problem?
On most slides, once our geotechnical engineers give us the all-clear, contractors or maintenance teams break out the heavy equipment to scoop off debris. Once the debris is clear, we sometimes need to reduce the roadway to one lane of alternating travel to ensure safety while we complete repair work, depending on the conditions of the site.

However, this slide is much different and much more dangerous.

Following early-February's driving rain, the area around a U.S. Forest Service road above SR 706 collapsed in at least two locations. Early on Thursday, Feb. 6, the slide was reported to our crews as debris and water began to cover the highway. SR 706 now resembles a creek bed, complete with a new creek and other running water in at least two locations. Additional slides have been reported along a 4-mile section that our crews have not yet been able to reach.
Left: an overhead look at the origin of the slide above SR 706. Right: The second slide on SR 706 further east cutting through Forest Service Road #59 with an unidentified source of water runoff.

If we simply cleared the debris – which is up to six-feet deep in places – running water, which is still eating away at the hillside above the highway, could still cause the highway to collapse. According to geotechnical engineers, the crews that inspect hillsides all across our state, this creates an extremely hazardous situation for anyone in the area, as running water could trigger additional mudslides or landslides.

The bottom line: crews need to have the spigot turned off before we can begin to clear the roadway, and that's really in Mother Nature's hands. While the dry weather of the past couple days has helped a little, she doesn't seem eager to let off the accelerator. Inspections of the highway and any repairs will then need to occur before we can reopen SR 706. Right now, we have no timeline for when the water and debris will stop flowing.

We're going to do everything we can to safely clear the roadway for the people who rely on it every day.
Left: An abundance of debris blocks the highway at milepost 11.6 in Pierce County with no estimated time of reopening. Right: Our Assistant Regional Administrator of Maintenance and Construction, Troy Cowan observing the debris and devastation across SR 706. Much work remains for our crews.

Stay out, your life could be in jeopardy
We cannot overstate the importance of staying out of this area. Do not go beyond our road closure location due to the imminent threat to life and safety. The hillside is unstable and running water only compounds the problem. People who venture into the area potentially endanger themselves and the lives of rescuers who go to the area.

We will update this blog with any new information in terms of progress of reopening SR 706.

Nearby slides on SR 410
SR 706 isn't the only road affected by the heavy rain this month. Our crews along with other agencies have been responding to or monitoring more than 20 slides around the state. While many have reopened, several remain closed, including on SR 410. During the course of three days, four landslides fell onto SR 410, resulting in a closure between Mud Mountain Road and Greenwater. These slides took down trees and power lines. On Sunday, crews were able to restore power and clear three landslides to open up SR 410 to milepost 48 for local traffic only. However, debris from the farthest landslide remains, keeping SR 410 closed to all traffic between these two points. Crews continue to work on this last closure. Until all debris is cleared, SR 410 cannot be opened to all.

People can stay updated to any road closures by checking our travel alerts page and by downloading our app.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Happy Birthday, SR 99 Tunnel

By Laura Newborn

One year ago today, we opened the State Route 99 tunnel and quickly watched it become a fast, easy way to bypass downtown Seattle traffic. Traveling SR 99 through Seattle is much safer than it was pre-tunnel, when the Alaskan Way Viaduct carried SR 99 through the city. Drivers now travel underneath Seattle inside a tunnel designed to survive strong earthquakes, with state-of-the-art ventilation, fire suppression and intelligent traffic systems.
Seattle's SR 99 tunnel opened on Feb. 4, 2019 and in the year since, the downtown waterfront has completely transformed.

In the year since the tunnel opened, the Alaskan Way Viaduct was demolished. Seattle’s central waterfront has transformed visually and audibly – it’s hard to describe how much quieter it is to walk along the water today without two decks of highway traffic roaring overhead.

With the viaduct out of the way, the City of Seattle is building its waterfront of the future. One of the first elements of that project will open later this winter: a new, two-way bus route on Columbia Street to connect thousands of bus commuters between Third Avenue and points south and west of downtown.

Tunnel usage
The SR 99 tunnel now averages more than a million trips each month. To no one’s surprise, the busiest travel times are the peak hours – weekday mornings between 6-9 a.m. and weekday afternoon/evenings between 4-7 p.m. Tolling started in November 2019, and 83 percent of drivers using the tunnel have a Good To Go! account, which means they pay the lowest toll rates possible ($2 less than having no pass or account). The tolls help pay back construction bonds and pay to keep the two-mile-long tunnel running safely and smoothly.

Did you know?
Drivers can sign up for a Good To Go! pass and save $2 off every trip in the tunnel and other toll roads in Washington. It only takes about 15 minutes to open a Good To Go! account online – here’s everything you need to know.

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.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Did you receive a civil penalty in the mail? Don’t panic – you may be able to waive it!

By Lauren McLaughlin

It's been almost three months since tolling in Seattle's SR 99 tunnel began. Many people are paying the lowest toll rate possible through a Good To Go! account. Drivers without accounts will receive a bill in the mail for their trips.

Early tunnel-users who've forgotten about their bill or let their due date pass may see a Notice of Civil Penalty in their mailbox.

What is a Notice of Civil Penalty?
If you don't pay your first toll bill, you'll receive a second bill with a $5 reprocessing fee. If the toll remains unpaid after 80 days, you'll receive a $40 civil penalty for each unpaid toll.

Please don't ignore a Notice of Civil Penalty.

The good news is, if you're receiving a Notice of Civil Penalty, you may have an option for lowering that bill through our customer forgiveness program.

Get first-time forgiveness of penalties
You can contact Good To Go! to see if you qualify for a one-time waiver of all unpaid late fees and penalties if you pay all of the original tolls at the time of the request.

Call 1-866-936-8246 or visit the customer service centers in Bellevue or Seattle to request your civil penalties be waived.

I've requested penalty forgiveness once before – can I get it again?
If you request forgiveness a second time, you will be required to create a Good To Go! account to receive the waiver. You'll also need to pay all original tolls and any late fees.

Don't wait too long to pay those bills
If you have a civil penalty that has not been paid or disputed after 20 days, the state Department of Licensing may place a hold on your vehicle registration.

Learn more about vehicle registration holds.

Questions about your bill?
If you haven't paid that bill because something doesn't seem right, please give us a call. Contact Good To Go! to dispute the bill. There are several valid reasons for disputing a bill such as the vehicle being sold prior to the tolls being incurred, the license plate on the bill not matching the plate on your car, or because the vehicle was stolen.

You can also dispute the civil penalty fees for other reasons, including if you have a Good To Go! account and there was an issue which led to the tolls not being deducted from your account.

I have an account. Why am I getting a toll bill or Notice of Civil Penalty in the mail?
If you have an account and receive a bill or notice in the mail, don't ignore it! This could mean there's a problem with your account.

Any notifications you receive in the mail are not connected to your account so adding more funds will not resolve the problem. Call customer service at 1-866-936-8246 immediately so we can fix the root cause of the issue.

You could receive a mailed notification if:
  • Your account balance is negative
  • Your credit card information on your account is not up to date and it couldn't replenish automatically
  • You purchased a new vehicle, or got a new license plate and did not add them to your account
We're here to help
While you have to call customer service, 1-866-936-8246, or visit one of our customer service centers to take part in the forgiveness program, we're available to help with other issues on Twitter and Facebook. So don't hesitate to reach out if you have questions and concerns.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Drivers, Move Over Three Feet or More to Pass: It's the Law

By Barb Chamberlain

People who drive, walk, use a wheelchair or ride a bike should be aware that a new law went into effect on Jan. 1 that clarifies how various users of the road are to operate. The law is intended to reduce the number of collisions and risks for vulnerable users of the roadway.
State law specifies who vulnerable road users are, and includes those on a bicycle, pedestrians and someone on a farm tractor, and it's important that everyone shares the road safely.

What's a vulnerable road user?

In state law a vulnerable road user is a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, moped rider, someone riding an animal, or someone using a farm tractor or other vehicle or device used in agricultural operations that doesn't have an enclosed shell.
New state law says on one-lane roads, drivers
must move into the lane going the opposite
direction if it's safe to do so when passing
a vulnerable road user.

Driver requirements for passing

With the passage of Substitute Senate Bill 5723, the new requirements for drivers overtaking bicyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable road users are:
  • When there are two or more lanes in the same direction of travel, the driver must move left into the adjacent lane to pass, after making sure it's safe to do so.
  • When the driver has only one lane for traffic moving in the direction of travel, the driver must move into the lane going in the opposite direction to pass, if it's safe to do so. If not, they should pass when it's possible to do so at a distance of at least three feet and slow down to a safe speed for passing relative to the speed of the individual being overtaken.
  • Drivers must also allow sufficient space for safety when following behind a vulnerable user.
Bicyclist lane positioning

The new law clarifies an important element of bicyclist lane positioning. Washington law already specified that riders are to position themselves in the lane as far to the right as is safe. SSB 5723 specifies that riders may position themselves in the lane as needed to avoid grates, debris and other hazards. They may also bike in the right-hand turn lane even if it's discontinued after the intersection; this enables them to maintain position at the right side of the through lanes.
Bicyclists may use a lane of travel
as needed to avoid hazards like
debris and grates.

On a roadway with parked cars, riders know they need to stay out of the door zone. This is the space where a driver might open a door without first looking. RCW 46.61.620 already directs people not to open the door on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless this can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic. That's why we recommend the "Dutch reach," and it's another reason a rider might position more toward the middle of the through lane.

Pedestrians and accessible sidewalks

Pedestrian movements received an important clarification: They are directed to use sidewalks if the sidewalks are accessible. If not, they may use the shoulder or roadway. The law also clarifies that a pedestrian should move clear of the roadway "when practicable" if there's an oncoming driver. That's not always possible if, for example, there's a deep ditch or rock wall along the shoulder they're using.

Some sidewalks are not accessible due to lack of ADA infrastructure. Weather is another factor that can affect accessibility. With winter conditions affecting sidewalks, drivers particularly need to be on the lookout for people who don't have an accessible walkway available.

This video helps tell the story:
What's the penalty if I don't?

Fines for drivers who violate the new requirements are doubled, with those revenues going into a vulnerable roadway user education safety fund.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Spinouts, downed power lines and trees create challenging 24 hours on US 2

3:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16
US 2 will fully open at 4 p.m. across Stevens Pass! Crews spent the day clearing the final downed power lines and addressing potentially hazardous trees, followed by plowing and treating the highway. While drivers may still see utility crews in the area, the highway is fully open in time for the weekend. The highway closed on Sunday after heavy snowfall brought down power lines and trees between Gold Bar and the Stevens Pass summit, creating hazardous travel conditions. We know this has been a stressful and at times frustrating week and we extend a huge thank you to the residents of the area and the rest of the public for their patience throughout. We also offer our gratitude to all the crews who worked to keep people safe and reopen the road, including our maintenance crew, the Washington State Patrol, Snohomish PUD, Puget Sound Energy and King County and Snohomish County Emergency Management. Please be cautious as you travel through the area!

9:25 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 16
While US 2 remains closed between Skykomish and Stevens Pass, we have resumed work in that area. While conditions were too dangerous to work overnight, at daylight it was safe enough for our crews to return to the area to remove trees at risk of falling and for utilities to deal with downed power lines. Once the trees and utility lines are clear, we will use a snow blower and plows to clear the road. At this time there is still no estimate for when it will reopen. We will update this blog as soon as conditions change.

2:00 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15
An additional portion of US 2 is now open for local access up to Skykomish for people living between Money Creek tunnel (milepost 46) and Skykomish. US 2 remains closed between Skykomish and the Stevens Pass summit (mile post 64) as that stretch remains unsafe for travel as there are still power lines across the roadway. As has been the case all day, high winds are in the forecast and the highway could close again depending on conditions and any associated risk to the traveling public. We will update as we get further information.

10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15
Some good news for the US 2 Gold Bar/Skykomish closure. The highway is temporarily reopened to Money Creek at milepost 46. That said, high winds are in the forecast and the road could close again for safety depending on conditions. The road remains closed from Money Creek to Skykomish as that stretch remains unsafe for travel as there are still power lines in the roadway. We will update as we get further information.

3:45 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14
Our crews were back out at US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area on Tuesday. They found several dozen more trees that fell overnight. There are more trees leaning overhead loaded with snow and there is more snow in the forecast Tuesday night into Wednesday. We are working to clear what we can during the daylight hours, and utility crews are also onsite trying to restore their lines. On Wednesday, we will be out with additional crews to continue working but there is still no estimate for reopening.
By Frances Fedoriska

A fierce weekend winter storm brought down power lines and trees and led to the overnight closure of US 2 between Gold Bar and Skykomish on Sunday, Jan. 12, leaving many travelers huddled in for the night and into Monday morning. We know this was frustrating for travelers as well as the crews working through the night trying to provide options or reopen roadways, but safety has to be the driving force behind all our decisions. And on Sunday – and today as well – the risk of downed trees and falling power lines was just too high to reopen the road.

On Monday morning, utility crews were able to access the downed power lines to begin restoration work. Once the lines are restored and the area is secure, our maintenance crews will remove any downed trees and assess the area for any additional hazards. This work can’t be safely done in the dark so it was suspended Sunday night until Monday morning, and because evaluation is ongoing as power lines are removed, the closure will remain in place through the night of Monday, Jan. 13, until further notice. We know travelers would like an estimate for reopening, but at this point conditions and needed evaluations just don’t allow us to provide one. (Those with urgent needs should contact local emergency services).
Left: Crews need to assess the potential hazards of trees on US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area before the highway is safe enough to reopen. Right: Trees leaning under the weight of heavy snow continue to be safety risks
on US 2 in the Gold Bar/Skykomish area.

So what happened?
A combination of worsening weather exacerbated both travel and road clearing plans across US 2 on Sunday.

Backups and closures started up on Stevens Pass in the afternoon around 2:30 p.m. due to collisions and spin outs and while that was being cleared, deteriorating weather increased the amount of snow on the roadway while vehicles waited to be allowed back through the area. Crews were able to start clearing backed up traffic off the pass – both to the east and west – around 5 p.m. Then, at just before 6 p.m. trees and power lines came down on US 2 near Skykomish, making conditions dangerous for both response crews and travelers. At one point a tree struck one of the work trucks – thankfully no one was injured – and at 7 p.m. it became clear that the road needed to be closed in both directions.

The closure was needed to keep crews and travelers safe, but it also meant that traffic that had headed west down off the pass was now stuck between closures with no ability to go east or west. Crews responded to begin trying to clear the debris and assess the situation, but conditions made it extremely difficult to do so accurately.

With the utility agencies, State Patrol and us, there were a lot of moving parts and teams worked to try to coordinate what was going on and what the plan was. Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of good options for travelers given the conditions.
Left: Leaning and fallen trees continue to pose safety risks for drivers and road workers on US 2 near Gold Bar and Skykomish. Right: Several trees blocked US 2, necessitating the closure
of the highway in the Skyview/Gold Bar area.

For some time, drivers at Skykomish were advised that they could head back east from Skykomish over Stevens Pass and stay in Leavenworth/Wenatchee or go around using Blewett and Snoqualmie passes. Their other option was to stay in Skykomish, but there would be no estimate on when the highway might reopen.

As Sunday night slipped into early Monday morning, conditions reached a point at Stevens Pass that sending people eastbound up and over the pass was no longer possible and word was delivered that people should find a safe location in Skykomish and wait until Monday morning when crews were able to better assess the situation, though later that very early morning some other vehicles were allowed to go eastbound. Some convoys were able to get some of those vehicles out Monday but conditions are still challenging and the closure remains in place.

Getting stranded overnight can turn a fun day at the pass into a long, difficult night. That’s why it’s so vital this time of year that people who are traveling, especially in higher elevations and mountain passes, be prepared for winter conditions, including possible closures and delays. They can come with little warning and last for an extended time. We worked with partners to keep people informed as conditions changed but we’re also always looking for ways to improve those efforts.

While our crews work to clear closures as quickly as possible, their safety and that of the public is always the main priority and we can’t reopen roads until we are confident that conditions are safe for everyone.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Year 2020 – New Lakewood overpasses and ramp connections come into focus

By Cara Mitchell

Update: January 10, 2020
Due to the weather, Atkinson Construction has rescheduled the two-week closure of the Washington Avenue and Berkeley Street intersection to begin Monday, Jan. 20.
Year 2020 marks the beginning of a new decade, and inevitably, new changes for travelers. This will be especially true for commuters who use the Berkeley Street overpass to Camp Murray and Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Over the past year, commuters have watched a new Berkeley Street overpass rise up from shoulders of Interstate 5. Starting mid-January, design build contractor Guy F. Atkinson Construction will begin connecting local streets to the ramps of the new overpass. This work involves a series of local street and ramp closures that Tillicum businesses, residents and commuters will want to pay attention to.
The new I-5/Berkeley Street interchange will open in early 2020.

As early as January 13, the intersection of Washington Avenue and Berkeley Street will close around-the-clock for two weeks so crews can rebuild the roadway surface that leads to the new Berkeley Street overpass. During the closure, signed detours will be in place.

Once the intersection reopens, the contractor will begin a weekend closure of the old Berkeley Street overpass, allowing crews to connect the new overpass to the Madigan Army Medical Center gate.  During the weekend closure, Tillicum residents and businesses will need to use the Thorne Lane interchange to access I-5. Travelers who normally use the Madigan Gate will need to use alternate gates to reach JBLM.

At the end of the weekend closure, the new interchange will be open for all travelers, except for Berkeley Street to northbound I-5 on-ramp from Tillicum. This on-ramp will remain closed for an additional 15 days. Access to northbound I-5 will be maintained for JBLM drivers coming out of the Madigan Gate.

Once this work is complete, sometime towards the end of February, the new Berkeley Street Bridge will be completely open to travelers.

Thorne Lane interchange
Once the Berkeley Street overpass is fully open, construction activity at Thorne Lane will notably increase. The existing overpass at Thorne Lane is being replaced by two new ones. In fact, one is already finished. The second overpass that is almost 24-feet tall and spans all lanes of I-5 and the railroad, will have its bridge deck poured starting in March. Around the same time, Union Avenue between Spruce Street and Thorne Lane will undergo a long-term closure so the profile of Union Street can be raised to match the height of the new overpass.

Over on Murray Road, a new roundabout is being constructed to connect the northbound I-5 off- and on- ramps with the new Thorne Lane overpass. Once complete, this roundabout will help move traffic through the area without the delays that the current signalized intersection brings.

It's too early to say when the new Thorne Lane overpasses will fully open. A lot can happen during wet winter and spring months that have the potential to delay projects. We will continue to provide updates as construction progresses.
A new I-5/Thorne Lane interchange is taking shape with two overpasses and roundabouts that will keep travelers moving.

I-5 gets a new elevation
Here's some highway trivia you may not know: There's a pump house on the shoulder of northbound I-5 near the old Berkeley Street overpass that has a 1950's era pump running inside of it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The purpose of this pump is to keep water off of the lanes of I-5 as the highway sits below the water table at this location.

One big improvement we included in this project was to raise the elevation of I-5 at Berkeley Street. Maintaining water pumps is an ongoing maintenance expense we'd like to eliminate. To raise the elevation of I-5 to new heights, the old Berkeley Street overpass has to be removed. This will occur shortly after the new Berkeley Street overpass is open.

Once removed, crews will begin shifting lanes of I-5, making room for fill material to be put into place to raise the elevation of the highway. We will keep people moving by maintaining three lanes of traffic in both directions during construction.

About those closures…
Construction crews like to minimize closures just as much as you. They also need to finish the project. Up until now, the new overpasses at Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane have been built with the contractor closing lanes and ramps only at night when traffic volumes are much lower. When it comes time to connect all the local streets to the new overpasses, sometimes we have to implement longer-term closures. We know it is an inconvenience, which is why we are giving you advance notice on what to expect so you can plan ahead.

There will be a lot of new changes in 2020 for both of these intersections. We appreciate your continued patience while crews finish this important work. Please continue to watch your speed in work zones and give construction crews the room they need to finish this important project.

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

Friday, January 3, 2020

Tumbling into the new year

By Summer Derrey and Mike Allende

Some of our maintenance team and the Washington State Patrol welcomed in 2020 in a pretty unusual way. A 9-million-cubic-yard unusual way.

Tumbleweeds stacked 20-to-30-feet high blocked a two-mile section of SR 240 west of Richland near the Tri-Cities on New Year's Eve and into the first day of the new year. The Tumblegeddon – as the Washington State Patrol trooper on the scene dubbed it – buried five abandoned vehicles. Some people were also trapped for several hours in their vehicles by the thorny debris, and hundreds of drivers had to detour or turn around. Poor visibility, a sea of tumbleweeds, gusty winds and the dark night was no laughing matter for those involved. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.

"It was a new experience," maintenance worker Jason Vandine said. "We'd dealt with tumbleweeds before, but not to that extent. To have a road closed because of it was different. And then not knowing the extent of it because it was so dark. I opened the first section and thought we were in business to let traffic go and then found out there's a whole other section covered. You couldn't get a good perspective."

Over the course of 10 hours, our crews, with help from the State Patrol and Hanford Police, worked to clear the tumbleweeds. WSP kept track of the vehicles, and some were removed to make way for snow plows – yes, snow plows – to clear the road. Eight of our maintenance workers in the plows ran over, shaved down and pushed the dead Russian thistles off the highway.

Vandine said once vehicles started stopping because of the" tumbleweed blizzard," everything changed as they had to slow down operations to account for the people and vehicles. One of the biggest helps was the temperature being warm enough that they didn't have to worry about people freezing. Plow operators had to drive under 10 mph to avoid obstacles such as vehicles that were hard to see through the darkness and the debris.
Our maintenance crews work to uncover a semi truck buried by tumbleweeds
on SR 240 on New Year's Eve
"You just couldn't see what might be in the piles, if there were cars and people in the middle of it, so we couldn't just plow through them," Vandine said. "We were lucky because a lot of things could've gone wrong because it was so hard to see anything. I give the public a lot of credit, they did a good job with what was going on."

Our priorities were making sure the public and our workers were safe first, getting the road opened second. Communication was key, especially between our crews and the State Patrol as troopers worked as spotters for our crews as they dug into the piles of debris.
Nope, not snow. This is a huge pile of tumbleweeds on SR 240
near Richland that a snowplow is working to clear.
Our crews also had to be careful to avoid the tumbleweeds wrapping around the undercarriage of the trucks and puncturing a hole that would lead to air leaks. And while the wind dying down helped, it also hurt because it was needed to help push the debris along.

"I had tumbleweeds just engulf the plow truck on its sides, on top and in front," Vandine said. "The people would try to let us know where their vehicles were so we could try to keep track of what was there and where so we could avoid damaging any property and so we could keep everyone safe."

While tumbleweeds aren't an unusual sight on the east side of our state, the amount of them and the fact that they actually closed a road and buried vehicles, was enough to draw attention from news outlets all over the country.

"I've worked here for about 20 years and although there are a lot of tumbleweeds blowing out there in the desert, I have never seen that much at once, and that deep," said Ryan Miller, one of our maintenance supervisors. Kara Shute, maintenance superintendent for that area, agreed that she hasn't seen a tumbleweed storm of this magnitude in 35 years.

It's believed that heavy rain and strong, gusty winds up to 30 mph loosened the weeds and produced the unusual event. Fencing along the shoulder of the highway was able to catch some of the weeds. Our crew estimated that had all of the tumbleweeds been hauled away, it would've taken at least 5,000 truckloads.
High winds created a tumbleweed blizzard that buried several vehicles on SR 240 near Richland on New Year's Eve.

Vandine said it was similar to large snow events but the big difference was with snow, we often know it's coming and can prepare ahead of time. This rolled in so quickly that it was all about catching – and then keeping – up.

While more work is needed to remove the debris from the berms, our crews are keeping a close eye on the weather in order to respond should a Tumblegeddon 2: The Tumbleweeds Strike Back, happen. If it does and you find yourself in the middle of a storm of tumbleweeds, State Patrol Trooper Chris Thorson says to treat it like a blizzard. If you can't see the road, pull off to the right shoulder as far as you can, activate your hazards and wait for help to arrive.