Wednesday, December 23, 2020

SR 112 closed in Clallam County

Update: Jan. 8, 2021
A fifth slide has been identified along SR 112 at milepost 36.9. The roadway remains closed between milepost 31 and 39. WSDOT GeoTechnical Engineers are currently evaluating the roadway and will recommend repairs and reopening plans.

Update: Dec. 28, 2020
Beginning the week of Jan. 4, our geotechnical experts will survey and assess multiple slide zones along SR 112 near milepost 31.8 through 32.2 at Jim Creek. The highway remains closed until further notice until a plan for repairs is recommended and approved. An estimated timeline for reopening has not been made available at this time. Travelers are currently detouring using SR 113 and US 101.
Real time travel information
By Doug Adamson

When winter weather strikes in Washington, sometimes we see snow, and sometimes we see rain.

Both struck at the same time this week on State Route 112 in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula, including especially intense driving rain.

The damage left behind closed a portion of the highway until further notice.

What we know so far
A section of SR 112 east of Pysht closed due to sloughing and roadway settlement Monday. The damage occurred in three places around milepost 31.8.
A large winter storm including heavy rain and snow forced this section of US 112 in Clallam County to drop.
The stop sign gives an idea of the scale of the situation.

WSDOT crews inspect sunken section of SR 112

Our engineering geologists examined the three locations and found the hillside is still moving in at least one place around the highway. In one section, the roadway drops 22 inches where a 100-foot-long settlement stretches across the highway. We've yet to see the settlement stop, and geologists observed a crack in the hillside over the roadway. In another, a large stretch of the hillside below the road sloughed away. In the third, the hillside sloughed off below the roadway.
A hill behind SR 112 in Clallam County washed out during a recent winter
storm that included heavy rainfall.

What we're doing
As of Tuesday afternoon, crews could still hear material moving in the forest above the roadway. Our engineering geologists saw continued movement on the roadway and the slide areas. They'll return next week to survey the area again. Once they give us the all-clear, our crews can safely clear and repair the roadway.

Travelers will continue to take the detour around via US 101 until we're able to make the fixes and safely clear the roadway for the people who rely on it.
SR 112 detour map

We understand the importance of this highway for everyone who uses it. However, Mother Nature is setting the tempo at this time. We'll continue to monitor the situation and set a game plan for repairs.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Starting 2021 off big in Tacoma with record-setting bridge girders

Update: Jan. 15, 2021
Over the past two weeks, between windstorms and working through mechanical issues with cranes, crews set 22 bridge girders, including a record-breaking 223-foot-long girder. During the overnight hours the week of Jan. 18, crews will install the final 8 bridge girders to complete the backbone of this new bridge. The bridge has a total of 84 girders. Travelers on I-5 and State Route 167 in Tacoma will see overnight lane and ramp closures. We are keeping this list updated at

Update: Jan. 6, 2021
Overnight closures:
Full closures of southbound SR 167/Bay Street/River Road at East Grandview Avenue may begin as early as 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday nights. Any Friday night closures of southbound SR 167 will start at 10 p.m. The southbound I-5 exit 135 to Portland Avenue and North SR 167 and the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 are now closing each night at 9 p.m.
By Cara Mitchell and Nick VinZant

We, like you, are ready to kick 2020 to the curb. It just so happens that the pandemic delays felt in our construction schedule allows us to start 2021 with a big project milestone. What is happening in January is no small matter. In fact, it is record breaking.

The longest prestressed concrete girder made in North America will soon arrive at its new home on the new southbound Interstate 5 Puyallup River Bridge in Tacoma. At 223 feet long, almost nine feet high and more than 246,500 pounds, it is a record. This mammoth girder, along with 29 others that are almost as big, will complete the backbone of a bridge that will carry southbound I-5 traffic over the Puyallup River and several railroad lines.
Our new 223-foot-long girder stretches all the way across Port of Tacoma Road.

Installing these colossal girders will require some overnight lane and ramp closures. Once installed, we will be one step closer to easing congestion on I-5 near the Puyallup River Bridge and connecting HOV lanes from SR 16 in Gig Harbor to I-5 and across the Puyallup River in Tacoma and into King County.

The girders
Picture a blue whale and a 747 airplane. Your average blue whale weighs around 200,000 pounds. Most 747s have a wingspan of just under 200 feet. That is roughly the same weight and length as each of the 30 girders we are about to install.

Our contractor, Guy F. Atkinson Construction, will begin installing these girders as early as Monday, January 4. Each weeknight through the month of January, construction crews will move the girders from their current home at Concrete Technology Corporation in Tacoma to their new home on the southbound side of the new I-5 Puyallup River bridge. Two cranes will move 3-to-5 girders a night into place. Once installed, this final set of girders – along with 54 others that were installed in February 2020 – will form the backbone of the new bridge.
Overnight closures and detours
Because of the size of the girders and the equipment being used, and to keep drivers and workers safe, some overnight lane and ramp closures will be in place during this work.
This map shows the closures and detours needed to safely install girders on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. Not all closures will happen at the same time.

Monday, Jan. 4 through Thursday, Jan. 7
  • One lane of southbound I-5 across the Puyallup River Bridge will close each night from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
  • The Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 will close each night from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  • The southbound I-5 exit 135 to Portland Avenue and North SR 167 will close each night from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  • Southbound SR 167/Bay Street/River Road will close at East Grandview Avenue each night from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Monday, Jan. 11 through Thursday, Jan. 14
  • One lane of southbound I-5 across the Puyallup River Bridge will close each night from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
  • The Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 will close each night from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  • The southbound I-5 exit 135 to Portland Avenue and North SR 167 will close each night from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Monday, Jan. 18 through Thursday, Jan. 20
  • Two lanes of southbound I-5 across the Puyallup River Bridge will close each night from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
  • Southbound SR 167/Bay Street/River Road will close at East Grandview Avenue each night from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.
  • The Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 will close each night from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  • The southbound I-5 exit 135 to Portland Avenue and North SR 167 will close each night from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Clearly signed detours will be in place for each of the closures. We will share the closure hours and dates on the project website and on the Pierce and Thurston County travel planner one week prior to the closure.

Installing girders this size is weather dependent and brings with it some unique concerns. Construction work will need to be paused to accommodate railroad activity and stopped during periods of high wind. The schedule could change because of these delays. We will keep you updated if anything changes.

Focus on the finish
Seeing these massive girders being installed will be quite a sight but please keep your eyes focused on the road. We will be using drones to capture all the action, so you won't miss a thing.

Once crews are finished installing these girders, we will have completed a major step forward in construction of the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

With the bridge's backbone firmly in place, construction crews can continue building the bridge deck and take the next step forward in paving the road. Once this work is complete, the new lanes will open, and you'll be able to say you've driven across the biggest girder of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. That momentous occasion is just as big as finishing construction of the HOV lanes through Fife and Tacoma.

When might travelers be driving across the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge? Given the year we have just had, it's really hard to say. The contractor hopes to have one or two lanes open for southbound travelers exiting to SR 167/Portland Avenue or coming from the Port of Tacoma Road sometime in the summer of 2021. All lanes of the new bridge are tentatively scheduled to open in fall 2021. There is a lot of work left on the project such as finishing the new East L Street overpass, replacing the original roadway surface of I-5, and removing the old 1960s era bridge spans.
A drone's-eye view of the construction site of the southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

We know this has been a long time coming and we are just as eager as you are to finish the job!

Thank you for your continued patience. Please help keep workers safe by paying attention to the road in front of you as your drive through the work zone.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Partnering with UW students to provide real-life experience

By Angie Millar

Forging ahead through the difficulties of a remote-learning environment, University of Washington engineering students completed a project that could change the way we maintain infrastructure.

As part of our partnership with the UW, earlier this year, mechanical and electrical engineering students designed a small remote-controlled vehicle that can be used in cramped spaces, specifically to inspect culverts. With several culvert failings statewide each year, we are working to improve our ability to maintain current infrastructure by investing in new solutions like the HydroCUB bot designed by UW. Culvert failings can lead to flooding, sinkholes, and other environmental issues.
The HydroCUB bot designed by UW students can easily work in small spaces allowing
for better inspection of culverts and bridges.

Building a better bot
To inspect culverts, we currently use a remote-controlled vehicle bot called the HIVE bot, which has a few flaws students hoped to improve on. The HIVE bot runs on WiFi and cannot operate if it is out of range. The camera used on the HIVE bot also has limited mobility and sits too close to the ground.
The HydroCUB bot is able to operate without using WiFi. It also is equipped with a better camera to give inspectors improved views of potential issues, and has more speed control to allow for more precise operation.
Work on the HydroCUB bot project will continue in 2021 when UW students will complete two prototypes, one of which we will keep to use to improve our culvert inspections.

The work students completed would typically be done in a laboratory with in-person guidance. However, the pandemic pushed students, engineers and professors to adopt a virtual approach. In 2021, another team of students will work virtually on building two prototypes of the HydroCUB bot, one of which we will use to inspect culverts and even bridges.

A hands-on partnership
This work is an extension of the partnership we have with UW through which some of our hydraulic and environmental design and construction experts mentor and guide civil and environmental engineering students working on their final projects. We provide a list of possible projects to the professor— Faisal Hossain – which often include fish passage improvement work, and they pick one or two best suited for students to get involved with. Students work on teams for these industry-sponsored projects and then present the finished work to peers and professionals.
The partnership between our construction staff and UW civil and environmental engineering students is typically done in person but the pandemic has moved the partnership online, where students present their final projects virtually.

This type of project-oriented work provides students with hands-on experience interacting with industry professionals that not only helps them learn, but also to get a job in the field of their choice after graduation.

Students at UW and Washington State University also assist in collecting and analyzing data for various research projects. This helps transportation agencies get valuable information about projects, equity and more. Every summer the Data Science for Social Good program brings students from different schools around the nation together to work on in-depth projects.

Research projects involving both graduate and undergraduate students occur in a wide variety of subject areas ranging from Connected Vehicles and other Intelligent Transportation Systems, to examining how to reduce the frequency of wildlife-vehicle collisions, to more environmentally-friendly snow and ice control systems and water runoff treatments, to the design and construction of more seismically resistant bridges and more environmentally sustainable paving materials.

Past projects included an analysis of the equity of the use of I-405’s Express Toll Lanes, the Seattle Mobility Index Project and improving transit services using ORCA data. This program provides recent data that can assist agencies in tailoring their approach, solutions and work for communities.

We also have a popular internship program where most students work in our engineering offices and Traffic Management Centers. However, we also have roles within other offices such as environmental, real estate services, tolling, human resources, and even in our ferries engine rooms.
Taylor Lenderman interned at our Bellingham office this past summer, working on a variety of projects as part of our popular internship program.

Similar to our mentorship of university projects, interns are able to get hands-on experience developing practical solutions, better preparing them for careers.

For more information about career opportunities and internships, please visit us online.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Newly installed left-turn on SR 503 north of Battle Ground helps improve safety

By Kathryn Garcia-Stackpole

It's no surprise that we're seeing more people using State Route 503 – also known as Lewisville Highway – north of Battle Ground. New housing opportunities, proximity to outdoor recreation and economic activity in the area make Clark County our state's fourth-fastest-growing county.

The intersection of SR 503 near Northeast 299th Street and Northeast McBride Road has become increasingly difficult for people to get into and out of as more than 12,000 vehicles now travel this stretch of highway each day. This added congestion is also resulting in more collisions.

We knew something had to be done.
A low-cost solution
Sometimes, a relatively low-cost, somewhat simple solution can make a big difference.

In this case, adding left-turn lanes on the highway.

Our project team studied the area, including traffic and collision data, and gathered feedback from the community to develop a solution within the available budget.

Two left-turn lanes were added in late September at the intersection. These new turn lanes help limit possible conflicts between through traffic on the two-lane highway and vehicles slowing to turn. These also help reduce potential rear-end and side-impact crashes as well as provide refuge for left turning traffic while promoting lower speed through the intersection.

By making the most of the existing infrastructure of the highway, crews were able to provide left-turn  lanes in both directions on SR 503 at the intersection by reducing the shoulder width, beefing up the shoulder pavement depth, removing the centerline rumble strips and restriping the existing roadway.

Done ahead of schedule
Working within COVID-19 safety protocols has made construction and maintenance work even more challenging. State-mandated furloughs, limited budget and increased safety precautions all mean road work may move a bit slower than usual. But in this case, our project team was able to complete this project ahead of schedule, needing just four days to open the new turn lanes and completing the work for just $70,000.

As our video above shows, we're already seeing good safety improvements from the project and feedback from the public has been positive. Road work during the time of a pandemic is a big challenge but we're proud of the work our project team did in working with the public to develop this low-cost solution to an ever-busy traffic area!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

New timeline for the I-90/SR 18 interchange improvement project

By Bart Treece

For people who live and work in the city of Snoqualmie, the project to replace the Interstate 90/State Route 18 interchange is something to look forward to due to the chronic backups and delays during busy daytime commutes.

In the past few years, we worked with local leaders, tribes, partner agencies, and community members to develop a diverging diamond interchange as the design concept for construction. This year, we had planned to advertise this project for a contractor to complete design work and then begin construction. However, this will be moved to August 2021 at the earliest.
A look at the improvements planned for the I-90/SR 18 interchange in the Snoqualmie area.

We know there's a lot of interest in seeing this work continue but given new challenges that have surfaced, we need to adjust our timeline for moving forward. Much of these issues stem from the changing realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Revenue shortfall due to the pandemic
There is a significant revenue shortfall to the department due to reduced travel and gas tax stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the reduction in revenue, we took proactive steps earlier this year by implementing furloughs, and a freeze for new employee hiring and consultant agreements. This has affected the I-90/SR 18 interchange project as we were unable to bring staff onboard to assist us in completing specialized tasks for environmental permitting and documentation.
A project to help relieve backups and congestion at the I-90/SR 18 interchange is planned though it won't start until Aug. 2021 at the earliest.

We are committed to the successful delivery of the interchange improvement. Our best approach to do this is to allocate resources as they become available.

Ferries crews step up when needed most this fall

Update: Dec. 8, 2020
Walla Walla crew assists in rescue near Kingston
Our highly skilled crewmembers were at it again this week! For the seventh time in three months, our crews played an important role in saving a person's life. On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard asked for our assistance in a search and rescue following reports of someone overboard a small sailboat near our Kingston terminal. While another nearby vessel located and retrieved the person out of the water, our Walla Walla crewmembers were needed for medical assistance. The hypothermic person was transferred to our ferry for treatment and taken to our Kingston terminal. Thank you to all our crews for reminding us how lucky we are to have each one of you out on the water!

A series of rescues highlight the training and customer care by our workers

By Justin Fujioka and Mike Allende

While summer is typically the busiest time for travel about our ferries, the fall has been very busy for a different reason for our crews.

Since September, we've been involved in six rescues and/or medical emergencies, including three by our Puyallup crew alone! All of our crew members receive extensive safety, first-aid and firefighting training and regularly conduct rescue training exercises, and these events illustrate why.
Our ferries crews undergo extensive safety training including firefighting, and regularly conduct
rescue boat training, to prepare for emergencies.

Two in one day for Puyallup
On Labor Day, Sept. 7, our Puyallup crew saved the lives of multiple boaters in two separate rescues! The first involved a man suffering from heart problems on a nearby pleasure craft by our Kingston terminal. Our crew quickly deployed its rescue boat with Second Mate Jesse Rongo and Able-Bodied Seaman Cory Weitz aboard. The two of them began chest compressions and used an automated external defibrillator (AED) before safely navigating the vessel back to shore where medical responders took over. Just a few hours later, Jesse and Cory were back in the same rescue boat to assist in saving five people and two dogs after their vessel capsized off Edmonds. Incredible work by Cory and Jesse!
Puyallup crews deploy the ferry’s rescue boat to assist in a rescue off of Edmonds on Sept. 7, one of two
rescues they made on that day! (photo courtesy Janine Harles)

Puyallup crew back at it
On Nov. 1, the Puyallup crew stepped up again when two jet skiers and their dog were stranded in the water between Edmonds and Kingston when one of the jet skiers fell off their vehicle thanks to a large wake. Chief Mate John McMillen noticed one of the jet skiers waving a handkerchief for help and a rescue boat was launched. Our crew gathered the two people and dog and once aboard the ferry, the crew and three passengers who happened to be nurses treated the person who was in the water for 20 minutes for hypothermia until emergency medical services took over upon arrival in Kingston. Again, great job Puyallup crew!
Able-bodied seamen Steve Long and Jon Gordon Pine saved two jet skiers and their dog in the waters between Edmonds and Kingston on Nov. 1 (photo by Michele Soderstrom)

Saving a life aboard the Wenatchee
A week after our Puyallup crew pulled the jet skiers from the water, our crew aboard Wenatchee helped save a rider suffering from a medical emergency on Nov. 7. After our crew alerted 911, they used an AED on the rider until emergency medical services met them on board at the Bremerton terminal. Fantastic work in this life-saving emergency by our Wenatchee crew!
Shortly after departing Bainbridge on Nov. 1, Wenatchee returned to the terminal
as crews assisted with a medical emergency.

Walla Walla, Tokitae crews to the rescue
On Nov. 18, our Walla Walla crew noticed a kite surfer struggling in the water off of Edmonds. Launching a rescue boat from the terminal, they reached the person and brought them ashore into the care of emergency medical services. At about the same time, our Tokitae crew jumped into action when a paramedic transporting a patient alerted them that the person's condition was worsening. Our crew assisted with CPR and expedited the sailing from Clinton to Mukilteo.
While docked at Edmonds, Walla Walla crew members spotted a kite surfer in distress and launched
a rescue boat to bring them to safety.

We are so proud and thankful for our ferries crews for stepping up when needed most. These events highlight why their first aid and rescue training are so vital. Safety and care of our passengers is always our top priority and we salute all of our colleagues who were involved in these rescues!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

We’re working hard keeping roads open this winter during the pandemic, but we need your help

By Barbara LaBoe

Winter may not officially start until mid-December, but winter weather has certainly arrived in our state and our crews are once again working hard to pre-treat and clear roads.

But as with many things in 2020, they're also adjusting to a new normal, including additional safety equipment and procedures. We've been working hard to prepare for a COVID-19 winter, but this year more than ever we also need the public's help.
Extra COVID-19 safety precautions may mean more time between
 shift changes before our plows get back on the highways during storms.

To be clear, we're still staffing around the clock to prepare for and respond to storms. Our crews take pride in the job they do, day in and day out, to keep people and freight moving. But due to the pandemic, our levels of service may be affected this year, especially during heavy or long-lasting storms.

For example, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, we must sanitize equipment such as plows and other machines between each shift, lengthening shift change times. We can call crews in early during heavy storms, but physical distancing requirements also mean we must carefully time that this year to avoid excess crowding in the maintenance sheds. We also are keeping a frugal eye on overtime and materials to be good financial stewards during statewide budget reductions. And, due to hiring freezes and other reductions, hiring and training temporary winter crews started later this year and we have fewer overall Maintenance workers who can backfill crews during long storms or if several of our crew members get sick.
While our crews are still working 24/7 during storms, new physically distancing requirements
 and other safety protocols means shift changes must be timed well to avoid overcrowding.

What does this mean for travelers?
  • Roads or passes may close sooner than they normally would during storms. 
  • Closures may last longer as leaner crews will need more time to complete treating and clearing. We know closures are frustrating, but we must be sure our crews can work safely and that all the needed steps have taken place before we reopen a road to travelers. Safety remains our priority.
  • Lower priority roads may not be cleared as often as crews focus on the more heavily traveled high priority roads in their area.
  • Tire chains may be required more frequently. It's possible that chains will be required more often than a "normal" winter as leaner crews may not be able to keep roads to bare and wet conditions. 
As with any winter, location and severity of a given storm also play a role in response. But we want everyone to be prepared given the extra challenges this year.

Prioritizing which routes are plowed first and most often – like here on I-90 in Spokane –
will be even more important this winter.

So, how can you help? Be prepared for winter travel and stay informed both before and throughout your travel. Often, pass closures are due to collisions or slide-offs caused by drivers going too fast or not having proper winter travel equipment. Once a crash happens on a pass, for example, the entire road may have to be closed to allow tow trucks and others to reach the area. So one driver going too fast or failing to install chains can close an entire pass for thousands of travelers. That's why we need everyone's help to keep traffic moving.
Pass closures could take longer to clear this winter so it's vital that everyone be prepared
 for unexpected delays or closures.

What can you do?

  • Be prepared for possible delays and ensure you carry winter travel gear.
  • Stay informed. It's even more important to check weather and conditions before you leave and during travel – never check from behind the wheel. Use our travel alerts and many tools and social media accounts and the 511 phone system to keep informed of conditions and any possible closures or alerts.
  • Carry chains and know how to install them. Requiring chains allows us to keep moving during storms rather than closing a pass or roadway. If you haven't before, look into getting chains or the traction alternatives recommended for your vehicle. And practice putting them on at home, so you know how to do it if they're ever required.
  • Carry extra masks and hand sanitizer. Be prepared for unexpected delays and possibly needing to make unplanned stops or getting assistance such as towing. You'll want to be sure to stay safe in these interactions.
  • Expect less than ideal conditions.  Drive assuming snow and ice conditions. Even when it appears wet, it might be black ice. Reduce speeds and leave more space between vehicles.
  • Consider altering travel plans during heavy storms. If you're unsure about your winter driving ability or your vehicle's equipment, there's no shame in delaying or altering your travel plans.

Our crews have been and will continue working around the clock to keep traffic moving this winter. We thank you in advance for your patience during closures and ask all travelers to do all they can to help keep traffic moving. We want everyone to get where they're going and make it home safe and sound at the end of each day.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Traffic incident response work not for the faint of heart

By Mike Allende

Responding to traffic incidents on our state highways is not for the faint of heart. Whether it's our Incident Response Team or maintenance workers, or our partners with Washington State Patrol and other law enforcement, fire and medical response crews or tow truck companies, working amongst live traffic can be dangerous, challenging work.

But it's also vital in helping keep everyone safe and moving on our highways.

This week – Nov. 9-13 – is both national and Washington Traffic Incident Response Awareness week, where we recognize the fantastic work road crews do to keep the public safe. And we want to ask your help to do your part in keeping those crews safe.
A driver suffering a medical emergency crashed into the back of our Incident Response Team truck on I-5 near Federal Way in late October. Our IRT worker had pulled over to help another vehicle on the shoulder of the highway.

It's not unusual for us to hear about near-misses or worse that our road crews experience. Almost every one of our IRT and maintenance teams can recount an incident where their safety was compromised. Recently we saw two such incidents.

On Oct. 30, Matt, one of our IRT workers in King County, pulled over to the shoulder to help a vehicle that was stopped on the side of southbound I-5 south of SR 18 near the Federal Way weigh station. As he was preparing to exit his truck to see if the occupant of the car needed help, another car rear-ended his IRT truck. The driver of that vehicle reportedly had a medical issue, leading to the crash. Matt went to the hospital with back pain.

Meanwhile, on Nov. 5, one of our road crew was directing traffic on northbound I-5 south of Woodland when a car crashed into their truck just before 9 a.m. According to the Washington State Patrol, the vehicle failed to merge right and struck the rear of our work truck, which had flashing arrows directing traffic to move right.

Both our worker and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital for evaluation. The WSP said the driver of the other vehicle was charged with negligent driving.
The driver of the black car failed to merge over at an I-5 work zone in Woodland, crashing into the back of our attenuator truck doing traffic control. Both our driver and the driver of the car went to the hospital.

These are just two of many incidents our crews regularly encounter. And we need your help to prevent them. Always focus and stay alert when operating a vehicle. Slowing down when you are near road workers also helps protect everyone's safety. Give them as much room as possible. Remember, the Move Over, Slow Down state law requires drivers to move over at least one lane whenever possible near emergency response or temporary work on highways and shoulders. Failure to do so can result in a $214 ticket, but even more importantly, can create dangerous conditions for road workers. If you can't move over for emergency or temporary work, the law states you should slow down to 10 mph under the posted speed limit as you pass crews.

We train with our roadway partners to be as efficient and safe as possible when clearing a crash or making emergency repairs. But we also ask that you do your part to help them help you, and let's keep everyone as safe as possible on the highways.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Anatomy of designing a complex repair: How we’re working to restore SR 203

Update: Dec. 29, 2020
The extended closure of SR 203 resumes at noon on Monday, Jan. 4. During this closure, contractor crews will finish demolishing old, battered asphalt and pave a new roadway on top. A signed detour will route travelers around this closure between Stillwater Hill Road and NE 88th Street until the work is completed in late January.

Update: Nov. 18, 2020
On Monday, Nov. 30, contractor crews will close all lanes of SR 203 south of Northeast Stillwater Hill Road between Carnation and Duvall. During the closure they will install drainage pipes under the roadway and in the hillside above. We expect these repairs, and the associated closure, to last through mid-January 2021. When this work is complete, we will open both lanes of SR 203 and spend the winter months finalizing a more permanent design-construction solution.

During this around-the-clock closure, a signed detour will route travelers onto local roads.

Why a full highway closure?
Several factors drive this decision for an extended closure of the highway. Our first priority is for the safety of the people on the jobsite and the traveling public. There is simply not enough space on this narrow roadway to provide a safe space for crews doing the work, the equipment needed and still maintaining a safe distance for an open lane for travel.
By Frances Fedoriska

We often talk about what's going on with a road project – it's usually visual so it's easy to do. But you may not know what happens before the actual work starts. So we want to peel back the proverbial curtain and show you how a highway project goes from being a reported roadway issue to a shovel-ready construction job.

In this case, the SR 203 repair.

Our efforts to repair the highway between Carnation and Duvall following a slide almost 10 months ago has mostly been happening behind the scenes at the makeshift home offices of dozens of our employees from across the state.

In January 2020, a major winter storm destabilized a hillside and damaged southbound SR 203 between Carnation and Duvall.
A winter storm in January 2020 led to significant damage on SR 203 between Carnation and Duvall.

In the weeks that followed, we installed temporary traffic signals to alternate travelers through a single open lane. Our crews installed monitoring devices into the roadway and surrounding area to find the source of the slide. Then it was March, and COVID-19 really arrived.

Unforeseen delays
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the state issued a mandate in March to halt all construction for most of the spring. When King County returned to Phase Two-type construction allowances, we were grappling with workforce reductions and state-mandated furloughs. Both situations set back our timeline for designing a solution to repair the highway and prevent future slides.
A look at the rainfall totals, including for the winter storm that contributed to
significant damage on SR 203.

The process
The pandemic doesn't know or care about our process for taking a roadway incident through the paces to becoming a construction project. Many Washingtonians don't either. Here are the eight steps we most commonly use for major highway repairs. For reference, we are at Step 6 for designing an SR 203 solution.
  • Step 1 – We recognize a problem with a highway following a report of an issue from a source such as a traveler or our own crews.
  • Step 2 – The problem/emergency is defined (in this case as a complex roadway failure requiring more investigating) and our Region Materials Engineer (RME), Region Maintenance and typically the Project Engineer Office (PEO) in the area will discuss if there is a quick repair or mitigation that our maintenance group can make.  In the case of SR 203, the issue was too involved for a quick maintenance repair and we determined we needed a more in-depth assessment of the area/situation. During this process, we installed monitoring equipment in the roadway to collect data regarding ground movement and water tables.
  • Step 3 – Once we determine the source of the failure, we discuss possible repairs. In this case, a typical repair would be a buttress (removing failing soil and replacing it with large rocks). For SR 203 this repair was not recommended due to potential environmental effects requiring possible further exploration. A geotechnical engineer (GE) was assigned to this incident to start recommending other possible structural repair options.
  • Step 4 – Our geotech engineer collected additional information about what's happening under the roadway from the meters we installed,  field visits to the highway, field explorations (borings drilled below the ground surface) and laboratory tests on collected soil samples. This exploratory process was on hold until July due to COVID-19 restrictions. With more information, our engineering geologist (EG) and geotech engineer worked together to determine the layers of soil beneath the roadway. Think of it as building a layer cake, with the icing on top being the asphalt. Using this model, they can determine which layers of the cake failed. From there, our team can consider what type of repair is best for this given location.
  • Step 5 – We evaluate the proposed structural repairs based on which best balances feasibility and limiting cost to the taxpayer. At this point, our Bridge and Structures Office (BSO) gets involved to discuss the designs and which are cost-prohibitive to build. For SR 203, this step produced two feasible designs: a buttress, or a retaining wall/ground improvement hybrid solution. This combination of structural solutions is relatively unique for this type of project. 
  • Step 6 – Our geotechnical engineers get help from the project engineering and bridge and structures offices to put together plans and an estimated cost for the repair. Because this SR 203 project has two repair options, both have their own feasibility and estimate assessments. Ultimately, the project engineering office will lead the decision on which alternative to carry through to construction.
  • Step 7 – We develop a final design, cleaning up any loose ends from the preliminary design. At this step we are double-checking our work before …
  • Step 8 – The project goes to "Ad" – we advertise the opportunity for contractors to examine the scope of the work and bid on the project.

When working on a repair to SR 203, our engineers determine the layers of soil
beneath the roadway to determine where the failure occurred.

We know showing the steps being taken to restore SR 203 to a two-lane highway won't change anyone's experience on the road tonight or tomorrow. Like many highway projects, the earlier pause and resulting challenges that COVID-19 presented set us back and that's been frustrating for all of us. We don't have an exact timeline for when this will all get done and road work will begin, but we must do the job right, so we are doing all we can to make sure the right people are overseeing the right design to restore this highway and prevent future emergency closures.

Friday, October 23, 2020

New Thorne Lane high bridge open, low bridge not far behind

By Cara Mitchell

Despite fall's typical rainy weather, we are planning for some big things on the project that improves mobility and safety at the I-5/Thorne Lane interchange in Lakewood. The weather creates some challenges for paving and striping work on construction projects. As a result, schedules change. Never fear though, the work will get done.

Here's the good news: the new Thorne Lane "high" bridge has opened. This also means design-build contractor Atkinson Construction is quickly moving towards opening the Thorne Lane "low" bridge.
The new Thorne Lane "high" bridge opened to traffic on Friday, Oct. 23.

We're not going to sugar coat this next phase of work – it will require some partial closures of selected ramps over a weekend. Once the new Thorne Lane "low" bridge is open, it will be in a temporary configuration for at least six months. Our goal is to keep travelers moving while minimizing closures and associated detours as much as possible.

Setting the scene and what to expect
As a refresher, here's a look at what travelers on I-5 near Thorne Lane and Murray Road currently drive through – three bridges – two new ones and one old one.

Opening Thorne Lane "high" bridge
Shortly after noon on Friday, Oct. 23, we opened the new 344-foot long Thorne Lane "high" bridge that spans both I-5 and the railroad. It connects local streets using new roundabouts at Murray Road and Union Avenue.

For the next week, southbound I-5 travelers exiting to Thorne Lane will continue to use the old overpass to turn right onto Thorne Lane or left onto Murray Road.

Travelers headed to Tillicum can either continue to follow the existing detour on Thorne Lane to Union Avenue or use the roundabout at Murray Road and cross the new "high" bridge to Union Avenue. This temporary traffic pattern will remain in place until the last weekend of October.

Weekend partial closure of Thorne Lane interchange
If the weather cooperates, from Friday, Oct. 30 to Monday, Nov. 2, several I-5 ramps at Thorne Lane will close so crews can finish building the connections that will allow the Thorne Lane "low" bridge to open. This weekend closure will officially close the old overpass.

The weekend closures will occur on the following ramps:
  • Around-the-clock closure of Thorne Lane on-ramp to northbound I-5
  • Overnight closure of southbound I-5 exit 123 to Thorne Lane. The ramp will be open during daytime hours.
  • Overnight closure of Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5. The ramp will be open during daytime hours.
Northbound I-5 exit 123 to Thorne Lane and the new "high" bridge will remain open. Here's an overview of what travelers will see during the weekend partial closure:

Once the new Thorne Lane "low" bridge opens on Monday, Nov. 2, a temporary detour will be in place for several months.

Here is what travelers need to know:
  • Access to southbound I-5 from Thorne Lane will only be available from the Tillicum neighborhood via Thorne Lane. Travelers coming from Murray Road, JBLM Logistics Gate or the Woodbrook neighborhood will detour on northbound I-5 to Gravelly Lake Drive to southbound I-5.
  • Southbound I-5 travelers exiting to Thorne Lane will turn left and cross the new low bridge to reach the Murray Road roundabout. There, they can choose which direction they want to go – across the high bridge to the Tillicum neighborhood or to Woodbrook neighborhood.
This temporary detour will be in place until late spring or early summer 2021, when a new shared exit for southbound I-5 travelers headed to Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street opens. This video shows how the new interchange will operate once all the I-5 widening is finished.
Removing the old Thorne Lane overpass
Last but not least, one week after the Thorne Lane low bridge opens, construction crews will demolish and remove the old Thorne Lane overpass. This allows crews to finish widening I-5 and build the southbound I-5 collector/distributor lane that ties into the new shared exit the video describes.

The old overpass will be demolished and removed over two consecutive nights. For safety reasons, this work cannot take place over live traffic. Just like the removal of the old Berkeley Street overpass, crews will again reduce I-5 down to one lane in each direction. That one lane of traffic will be detoured up and over the ramp connections at Thorne Lane.

The lane closures occur at night when traffic volumes are at their lowest. That said, it is very possible travelers will see miles-long overnight backups during this work. There is no convenient alternate route around this work zone. We need travelers to go early or avoid the area during the demolition work. We will share details on the closure hours as we get closer to this work.

Don't lose sight of the goal posts
With the on-going and never-ending nightly ramp and lane closures, it's very easy to forget why this work is taking place: we are adding capacity with auxiliary lanes and ultimately HOV lanes to improve traffic flow and move as many people as possible through the JBLM corridor. The old interchanges had to go so we could widen I-5. The new interchange design removed conflicts and delays that travelers have historically faced with the existing railroad.  

It takes a lot of coordination and careful planning to complete a project like this, while keeping travelers moving. We will work through this next phase of construction as efficiently and quickly as possible, and keep you informed on what to expect.

Thank you for your continued patience and support while crews finish this work.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Guardrail safety improvements: The Sequel

Contractor crews expand safety improvement project to include more than 80 guardrails

By Frances Fedoriska

Round two of a multi-county highway safety improvement project kicks off in November. Contractor crews will replace dozens more guardrail ends on 13 state highways in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish and King counties.

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is. Just like the first phase of this safety improvement project, which wrapped up in early 2020, most of the work requires overnight lane or ramp closures. Signs warning travelers of those overnight closures will be placed at the ramps at least five days in advance. When ramps are closed, detour signs will route traffic.

What needs replacing

Many of the big, curvy end pieces (known as terminals) on our highway guardrails need an upgrade.
Curved guardrail terminals like this on I-5 are outdated
and need to be replaced to meet current standards.

The new terminals have larger reflective ends, and are better suited to absorb more energy in a collision. They also have lower anchors and other refined safety features.

You can stay looped in to where work is happening by checking our travel alerts page or following @wsdot_traffic on Twitter. 

Why now?

The curved endpiece design has been in use for decades. Just like car safety technology evolves to keep people safer in a collision, so does guardrail technology. We're working to replace these outdated end terminals so they align with new technology and meet federal safety criteria.
This non-flared guardrail terminal was one of dozens
installed during the first phase of this project last year.

Determining replacement locations 

When selecting which terminals to replace, our engineers look at many factors:
  • Crash history on a given stretch of highway
  • Traffic speeds
  • Road elevation 
  • Abrupt surrounding roadside ditches
  • Road angle and curve
  • Immovable objects (overpass foundations, large sign posts and trees)
  • Installation and maintenance costs
We need your help

Don't let your phone, the radio, passengers or other things distract you from operating your vehicle. Drivers always need to focus on the road. When you see a work zone, slow down and move over if there's room to do so. While these guardrails are designed to help keep travelers safe, we would prefer nobody ever put them to the test.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Repairs mean closures, lane reductions on SR 99 Duwamish River Bridge

By Tom Pearce

If you follow the work that our crews and contractors do, you will notice that most of it is preservation – repaving highways, maintaining facilities, repairing structures, etc. This work protects the investments the people of Washington have made to build our highway system.

That's what's happening right now on the southbound State Route 99 Duwamish River Bridge – also known as the First Avenue South bridge – in Seattle. We started this preservation work after our crews noticed wear on the bearings of two piers during a regular inspection of the bridge. These bearings are critical as they allow the bridge deck to move up and down a little when traffic goes over the pier.
A worn bearing under a support beam for the SR 99 southbound Duwamish River Bridge
has created a gap, as the pen inserted in the opening shows.

Our bridge maintenance crews began implementing a temporary fix for these bridge bearings this past Wednesday, Oct. 7. We're now developing a project for a permanent repair.

Bridges 101
When you build a bridge, it needs to be strong to support the weight of whatever will cross it, but it also has to be flexible. Heavy loads add stress to the bridge. Hot or cold weather causes a bridge to expand or contract. We're not talking large movements, only fractions of an inch, but being able to move a little as conditions change means less stress than a rigid structure may endure.

Bridge bearings are the support for the bridge deck and floor system. The bearings sit on top of the bridge piers. Some bearings are fixed or pinned; others tilt or slide. Whatever the bearing, it allows the bridge to move while maintaining support.
In this case, the bridge bearings have worn to the point that the bridge settles a little when heavy loads go over it. The video above starts with a heavy maintenance vehicle parked over the bearing. As the truck moves off the bearing, you can see the deck rise slightly. In immediate terms, this isn't too big a deal, but it should be fixed as soon as possible. Left as it is, eventually it will become a big deal.

What's happening now
We have coordinated with the Seattle Department of Transportation on brief daytime closures of the bridge that began Wednesday, Oct. 7. These closures, which occur several times during the day, are about the same length as an opening for marine traffic. They allow crews to repair these bearings. During each closure, crews jack up the deck a little, put in shims – in this case a piece of metal to close the gap – to counter the settlement, then lower the deck onto the shims.

This sort of repair is good for several months, but it's not a permanent answer. Remember, the bridge moves. That could eventually cause the shims to move, which means we'd need to go back every so often to replace them. The bridge remains safe for travel, and we'll continue to monitor the temporary repairs until we are ready for the permanent fix.

A permanent repair in 2021
In early 2021, we'll have a contractor crew replace the worn bearings atop the piers. We're still designing how this work will take place, so we don't have all the details yet. Right now we're looking at a project that will require us to reduce the bridge to two lanes for about four weeks to replace cement and grout. This will eliminate the settlement on that side of the bridge. When one side is finished, it will take another roughly two weeks to do the same thing on the other side. This could change as plans are finalized.
Drivers have several alternatives if they want to avoid the brief closures
on the southbound Duwamish River Bridge.

The SR 99 southbound Duwamish River Bridge carries about 50,000 cars a day. Reducing its capacity by half is going to mean heavier traffic. Drivers can help by using alternate routes like Interstate 5, Tukwila International Boulevard, East Marginal Way and the South Park Bridge.

We understand that reducing highway capacity temporarily is a challenge for the people who rely on these roads. But regular maintenance and repairs help keep our highways in good condition, reducing the need for costly major projects later. We appreciate your patience!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Join our team to help keep roads open and everyone moving this winter

By Mike Allende

Every winter we hire multiple non-permanent maintenance workers to help keep our highways open for travelers across the state. These positions are vital to our ability to keep state roads clear and to help freight and travelers make their way around as safely as possible.

And as the calendar flips to October, it's that time of year again. We're looking to fill many positions on our maintenance team all over the state. We need people comfortable working outdoors and with the public who are dedicated to keeping roads open and travelers moving as we move into the wet, cold months of winter.
Being prepared to respond to winter weather events 24/7 is a big part of our winter maintenance operations. 

So what kind of jobs will these positions handle? Great question:

  • Operating a variety of heavy equipment including snow plows and applying anti-icing materials to the roadway
  • Maintaining and repairing roadways, catch basins, culverts, guardrails and other infrastructure
  • Removing debris from highways and reporting possible issues with a highway such as potholes and cracks
  • Providing traffic control at work sites and collision scenes
  • Conducting minor maintenance and repairs on equipment
  • Conducting grounds keeping and upkeep at maintenance facilities
  • Being prepared to respond to emergencies 24/7
  • Providing excellent customer service when interacting with the public

Maintenance workers need a CDL as they're asked to operate a variety of large vehicles.

Now you know what you'd do in this job. But are you qualified? Here's what we're looking for:

  • Someone able to respond quickly and calmly to fast-changing situations
  • Someone able to stand and sit for long periods of time
  • Have a Commercial Driver's License Class A or Class B without restrictions, and a current medical card
  • Minimum of one year experience doing highway maintenance, roadway construction or related experience like landscaping, farming, forestry or heavy equipment operation
  • Comfortable operating large equipment in winter conditions on any type of roadway and around traffic
  • Able to communicate well with diverse groups, including verbally, written and electronically
  • High school diploma, GED or equivalent
  • Basic computer/table skills
  • Can lift and transport equipment up to 50 pounds
  • Ability to climb ladders and work at varying height levels

Making basic repairs to equipment is part of the
job for our winter maintenance crew.

Those are the minimum requirements. But we'd love it if you had a Commercial Driver's License Class A with N (cargo/tanker) endorsement without airbrake restrictions. If you have flagger and/or first aid certification, that will definitely get our attention, as would having at least two years of highway maintenance or construction experience.
In winter our maintenance crews are also responsible for clearing debris and other hazards from highways.

These positions typically last about 3-6 months to cover the winter maintenance season. Some might be part-time or on-call. But they're all vitally important to our ability to keep the public and freight community moving throughout the winter. So if it sounds like something you're up for, please check out our page. You'll find multiple listings for winter maintenance positions. Throw your hat in the ring and help us make this a safe winter for everyone.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Stuffed to the grates: filling complete in Seattle’s Battery Street Tunnel

By Laura Newborn

Contractor crews working on Battery Street in Seattle completed a major milestone in the rebuilding of SR 99 through Seattle. And it's possible nobody walking or driving nearby even noticed. In late September, crews completed the filling of the Battery Street Tunnel.

The Battery Street Tunnel once carried SR 99 between Aurora Avenue North and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. After the SR 99 tunnel opened in February 2019, crews began methodically removing the old tunnel's mechanical and electrical systems, installing new utilities, and filling the structure. Much of the Battery Street Tunnel was filled with recycled concrete from the demolished Alaskan Way Viaduct. The final seven feet was filled with lightweight concrete pumped through ventilation grates along Battery Street. You can see photos of this process on our Flickr page.

Through the rest of the year, contractor crews will continue their work along Battery Street, building ADA ramps at each intersection, removing and paving over the tunnel's ventilation grates and fan boxes, and installing new lighting. The Battery Street Tunnel's south portal will be also be turned into a slope and seeded with grass, then handed over to the City of Seattle.

Seventh Avenue North work also wrapping up
At the north end of the old Battery Street Tunnel, construction work is almost complete. The trench of highway lanes into and out of the tunnel that once prevented east-west travel between Denny Way and Mercer Street is now Seventh Avenue North. This new, three-block-long roadway offers bus lanes to help transit travel times, new signalized intersections for safe east-west crossings, and will support future bicycle and pedestrian corridor improvements along Thomas Street. The work has reconnected the South Lake Union and Uptown neighborhoods, as you can see in this video.

Although the project is nearly done, construction barrels will remain visible along Seventh Avenue North into early next year when a signal pole for the Denny Way intersection is expected to be installed and turned on.

What remains for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program
The program to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct has involved 30 separate projects. When the North Surface Streets and Battery Street Tunnel work concludes, that previously long checklist will be down to just two: rebuilding Alaskan Way (the project overseen and managed by City of Seattle's Office of the Waterfront), and the South Access Surface Streets Connections project near Seattle's stadiums.

The South Access project will complete roadway work between South Atlantic Street and South Dearborn Street in SODO. Sections of street and sidewalk that have been paved temporarily by asphalt will get longer-lasting concrete pavement. We will build a section of a new pedestrian plaza that will link Occidental Avenue to the new pedestrian amenities along Alaskan Way, connecting the waterfront to the stadiums. The project will also build a section of bicycle and pedestrian trail. Work on that project is scheduled to begin in spring 2021.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Renton to Bellevue construction on I-405 continues to ramp up this fall

By Victoria Miller

This has been a year of change for most of us, and that includes Interstate 405. The I-405, Renton to Bellevue Widening and Express Toll Lanes Project construction is underway!

The Renton to Bellevue project is part of our Master Plan, which is a set of long-term improvements to help give people choices and get more people moving through the corridor. We have partnered with Sound Transit and King County Parks to make Renton to Bellevue a multimodal project. The project will include a direct access ramp and inline transit station at the Northeast 44th Street interchange that will help support Sound Transit's Bus Rapid Transit line, as well as two sections of the new King County Eastrail along Lake Washington and in Bellevue north of I-90. This project also addresses several fish culverts as part of our commitment to correct fish barriers by 2030.

Drivers on the south end of I-405 have probably noticed lane and ramp closures beginning in Renton and south Bellevue as part of the project. The project will build a dual express toll lane system between State Route 167 in Renton and Northeast Sixth Street in Bellevue, giving travelers a choice for a more reliable trip. This project will also add two southbound auxiliary lanes, one between I-90 and 112th Avenue Southeast/Lake Washington Boulevard Southeast (Exit 9), and another between Northeast 44th Street and Northeast 30th Street.

We awarded this design-build project during summer 2019 and construction has been ramping up as the design is being completed. So far, our project team has been hard at work with the final design for the project, and construction crews have made good progress on the Eastrail. Now the construction has arrived near the I-405/Northeast 44th Street interchange in Renton, which is where the bulk of the work will be taking place for most of the life of the project. Once the project is complete in 2024, this interchange will look very different to both drivers and pedestrians in the area.

Traffic shifts make way for corridor work

Crews recently completed the project's first traffic shift on northbound I-405 between North 30th Street and Northeast 44th Street, also known as the Kennydale Hill in Renton. The traffic shift was necessary to provide crews enough space to create a new construction work zone. The same number of lanes remain in place as part of the shift, which moved the northbound lanes of traffic farther to the left side of the roadway.
A look at the first traffic shift on northbound I-405.

The traffic shifts for this project will be necessary for crews to safely complete the work behind barriers throughout the project area. Drivers should prepare to see a lot more construction over the next few years, until 2024 when the project is anticipated to open to traffic.
This first mainline traffic shift occurred between North 30th Street and Northeast 44th Street.

As construction continues to become more visible to travelers in the area, please make sure to keep up with the project's progress and weekly closures on the project webpage and the I-405 construction updates webpage.

Given the current circumstances regarding COVID-19, our crews continue to work closely with guidance from Gov. Inslee's "Safe Start" reopening plan to ensure all fieldwork complies with current construction requirements. The weekly closures are performed under COVID-19 safety plans and are monitored by both contractor safety staff and our inspectors to protect the health of crews and the public.