Thursday, May 28, 2020

Our travel data helping to inform decision making

By Bill Bennion

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced leaders to make unprecedented and extremely difficult decisions, balancing public health and safety with economic repercussions. Data is key to understanding how the virus spreads and how people are modifying their behavior in response. Since early March, we have provided a daily travel report to the Governor, the Legislature, health professionals and others. Interest in that daily report led us to develop the COVID-19 Multimodal Transportation System Performance Dashboard.
Dashboards provide critical information to inform decisions, as seen here at the
emergency operations center at Camp Murray.

The dashboard gives leaders, agencies, data analysts, and others interested in travel access to our data in a user-friendly format. The landing page provides an overview of travel behaviors on highways, tolled facilities, ferries, public transit, and passenger rail from March 1, 2020 through the previous day. Users can also dig further into mode-specific data using the buttons below the executive snapshot.

"WSDOT's real-time traffic and transit volume data have been critical to understanding how the movement of people within Washington state relates to local trends in transmission rates of COVID-19" said Dr. Roy Burstein, a research scientist with the Institute for Disease Modeling. "We've also used WSDOT data as 'ground-truth' to help verify other sources of mobility data derived from cell phone app users."

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Historic 110 year-old East Trent Bridge says its final goodbye

By Ryan Overton

The East Trent Bridge has been through quite a lot over the 110 years since it was constructed on State Route 290/Trent Avenue in Spokane. In addition to accommodating daily traffic, the bridge – once known as the East Olive Avenue Bridge – has stood through two world wars, witnessed the transformative World’s Fair Expo ’74, and endured countless wind, snow and ice events.

The bridge was built in 1910 and was one of the first concrete bridges spanning the Spokane River. It is located near Gonzaga University’s campus and connects Hamilton Street to the west and Martin Luther King Jr. Way to the east.
An eye-in-the-sky look at the East Trent Bridge in Spokane.

Like an old vehicle, the cost of maintaining the old bridge is now more than the value of replacing it, and so now it’s time to bid farewell to the iconic, historical East Trent Bridge. New construction on the bridge actually began in early March but was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With low-risk construction starting back up, work is set to resume on June 1. Coinciding with the start of construction will be the almost four-year closure of SR 290/Trent Avenue over the Spokane River to demolish and rebuild the Trent River Bridge.
A 3D rendering of the design of the new East Trent Bridge.

Bird netting has already been installed to the underside of the bridge to keep birds from nesting before the bridge’s demolition. Now with June 1 approaching and water levels nearing a point where in-water work is possible, we can begin the bridge demolition.

With a closure of this magnitude comes significant detour routes for vehicles, truck traffic and those who bike, walk or roll.
The old East Trent Bridge in Spokane will be replaced starting June 1.

Large Trucks

  • Semi-trucks or those with heavy loads will have the longest detours around the bridge closure. Trucks traveling southbound on Hamilton Street and trying to head east across SR 290/Trent Avenue will have to continue south to eastbound I-90 and travel to the Freya Street exit and then head north to rejoin SR 290/Trent Avenue.

Small Vehicles

  • Smaller passenger vehicles will have the ability to take Spokane Falls Boulevard on the west end and then travel Martin Luther King Jr. Way to rejoin with SR 290/Trent Avenue to continue travels. An alternate route will be using Mission Avenue as a means to cross the Spokane River to get to Napa Avenue before rejoining SR 290/Trent Avenue.

Bike/Walk/Roll

  • Those who bike, walk or roll across the bridge will be able to use the Iron Bridge just to the north that connects along Iron Bridge Way. 

Construction during this project will be slow. Due to short windows where in-water work can be done, along with freezing weather in the winter months, construction is not anticipated to be complete until late 2023.
The East Trent Bridge under construction in February 1910 (photo from Washington State Archives)

While the end is a ways away, the new bridge once again will carry travelers east and west over the river. It will have lots to offer including three instead of four bridge piers which will reduce the drag and create a better flow of the Spokane River. Cyclists, runners, walkers and rollers will enjoy a shared use path, an in-traffic bike lane, and a pedestrian walkway.

And while we design our bridges to last 75 years, we hope this new bridge will be around for much longer, just like the last one.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Why you see so much yellow Scotch Broom on roadsides – and what you can do to help

By Ray Willard

A couple common questions we get each spring are, "What's that yellow plant we see along so many highways, and why don't we do something about it?"

The plant with the bright yellow flowers and distinctive smell is Scotch Broom, or Cytisus scoparious, an invasive species visible along many roadways this time of year. There's a long-standing rumor that our agency planted the invasive Scotch Broom along our roadways many years ago, but that is false. Prior to the 1970s we did plant some "cousins" of the Scotch Broom – called Moonlight Broom and Highway Broom – but those are ornamental varieties and do not produce viable seeds, and thus are not invasive.
Scotch Broom broke out on the cut-slope coming up from the Nisqually Delta on I-5 near Olympia
shortly after freeway construction in the mid-1960s.

How did Scotch Broom get here?
Scotch broom may be pretty, but as an invasive species it acts like an invader, crowding out native plants that are better suited to supporting native wildlife and pollinators. It was first brought here by settlers in the 1800s, who carried with them seeds for plants they enjoyed back in jolly old England or elsewhere, without realizing the threat to native species. It was further spread through clear-cuts by the booming logging industry during the 20th century, and also carried by ground transportation throughout western Washington.

Since we now know the plants are invasive and bad for the environment, why are they still there?
  • First, like most invasive species, Scotch Broom is hardy and hard to remove completely. It thrives in disturbed soil – such as along highway projects – and each mature plant produces hundreds of seeds each summer. Mowing slows but doesn't kill the plants, and their seeds can lay dormant for 60 to 70 years and still germinate in the right conditions.
  • Second, they're also very wide spread in places. The northwest coastal areas of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia are pretty much a perfect breeding ground for Scotch Broom once it's introduced. So there are a lot of plants to contend with. It's not just roads, either. Some of the most widespread and oldest infestations are in the low-lying forest logging areas throughout the region.
  • And third, while we do work to eradicate Scotch Broom in some areas – including around sensitive agriculture fields throughout eastern Washington – limited state funding means we have a containment rather than removal approach in many areas.
Our Scotch Broom management approach
Unfortunately, given funding constraints and the challenges of Scotch Broom itself, there is no way we will ever be able to fully control this plant on all our highways – and restoring an infested area takes decades of work and follow through. So until there is more money and time to devote to this issue, we are focused on protecting currently uninfested areas and preventing further spread. Our strategy is to prioritize control of plants that show up in otherwise uninfested areas as well as some other specially designated restoration areas.

Here are the locations we actively manage Scotch Broom:
  • In counties and areas with specific Scotch Broom concerns and requirements, including all counties in eastern Washington, Skagit County because of agricultural concerns, Pacific County, which is almost entirely Scotch Broom-free, and Clallam and Jefferson counties in gravel pits. In these locations, we are working with the county noxious weed control boards on long-term plans for management and control.
  • In existing naturally pristine sites such as national parks and national recreation areas, and highways on the west slopes of the Cascades approaching the passes.
  • Where individual plants or just small isolated patches exist in otherwise uninfested areas. This prevents the plant from producing seeds and spreading into new areas.
  • In select sites where highway construction work has added new roadside plantings, or where we are using a limited amount of maintenance funding to restore the roadside to a native, pollinator-friendly condition.
  • In strategic locations where the Department of Agriculture has approved releasing several types of seed-eating insects. When established, these bugs can reduce seed production in a patch of Scotch Broom by up to 90%.

In wide spread infestations, the only real management strategy is biological control. We work in cooperation with state and county weed control agents to release insects like the tiny seed eating beetles shown here (Bruchidius villosus)
and have several already established areas in the state.

Our plans and approach are detailed for each section of the state as one part of our Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Plans. These area-specific plans explain all of the vegetation management related work we do throughout the state, including where and how we control Scotch Broom.

Scotch Broom on the roadsides also got a bit of a "break" in 2015, when we implemented a "reduced mowing policy" to save money and promote better pollinator habitats.  Since then, designated roadside areas have been growing Scotch Broom and other assortments of non-regulated weed species like crazy! Eventually, we'd like to further restore those unmowed areas with more native plants, but that would require additional funding for roadside restoration. That means, for now at least, the Scotch Broom is here to stay.

You can help
Residents in eastern Washington may not even be familiar with Scotch Broom, but it will grow just fine on the "dry side" of the state if you give it a chance. It's just highly regulated and controlled in eastern Washington due to the potential damage it could do to agricultural crops. If you see a Scotch Broom plant east of the Cascades, be sure and report it to the local county noxious weed control board, and pull it out of the ground if you can!

Throughout the month of May, the Washington Invasive Species Council has been conducting the Great Scotch Broom Census of 2020 across the state, and they have received overwhelming response, including many reports of roadside sightings. There's still a couple of days to take part.

You also can learn more about this plant and other fascinating (some scary!) non-native threatening species that threaten our state's environment and economy by visiting the WISC website. They also have online tools – including an app that lists where invasive species are known to be present and ways to report any you spot – as well as a wealth of information on all types of invasive species and their impacts.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The superheroes of the highway hit the road with new ways to protect the public, themselves during the pandemic

By DiAngelea Millar

It wasn't that long ago that I accompanied Josh Stuckey and later Ken Buretta, two of our Incident Response Team drivers, on ride alongs — you know, back when you could do things like be in the same car with someone else.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, things look very different as I work in the Traffic Management Center and see our IRT drivers on camera, even from just a few months ago.
Ken Burett, an IRT lead in the Seattle area, shows off one of the
new flashcards our team is using to communicate with the public.

As the state turns the dial and reopens in phases, our IRT drivers across the state are taking extra precautions as more people return to our roads and traffic picks up. It's mind boggling to think how their jobs have changed in the wake of COVID-19, including donning additional protective gear such as cloth masks, face shields, gloves and goggles.

All that gear is heavy, making it more challenging to move, thus taking longer to clear some incidents. The gear traps heat too, so on warm days our IRT drivers are out keeping everyone safe with a heavy gleam of sweat. That's added another degree of difficulty to an already tough job, but the IRT team's mission remains the same: helping stranded travelers safely get back on their way.
Richard Ostrander wears his personal protective equipment while
assisting a driver on I-5 in Tacoma.

Beyond additional gear, IRT drivers have also added several other COVID-19 safety procedures – including special flashcards that allow travelers to stay in their vehicles while still communicating with our drivers.

The laminated flashcards were inspired by our partners at the Oregon Department of Transportation, and allow our drivers to approach from the passenger side of the vehicle to better maintain six feet of distance. The flashcards ask drivers if they are ok, provide the IRT member's cell phone number to call and ask if a translator is needed. This allows people to still get flat tires changed, a little gas to get moving or other assistance without ever stepping out of their vehicle or even rolling down a window. In other cases, IRT drivers also use bullhorns to communicate while keeping a safe distance.
All IRT workers are wearing tags that ask people to keep six feet
 of separation during interactions.

To ensure their own safety and that of anyone they come in contact with, all IRT employees also have bleach wipes to disinfect their vehicles before, during and after a shift. New tags on their uniform also ask that people keep six feet of separation to follow CDC guidelines.

With so many changes, one important fact remains the same — our workers need space.

We highlighted National Work Zone Awareness Week in April, providing information about the dangers our employees often face while working on the roads. Recently, one of our IRT drivers was hit while clearing a collision on I-5 in Seattle.

While the number of vehicles on the road is still less than average, it's still important to be safe if you do need to travel. Please follow speed limits, keep an eye out for first responders and move over to give crews room to work so each person can go home safely at the end of the day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A construction reset: Six feet of separation

By Cara Mitchell

In support of Governor Inslee's Stay Home, Stay Healthy order issued March 25, we suspended most of our construction and field maintenance work.

During the suspension, we joined with other agencies and industry partners in a Governor's Roundtable to develop a 30-point COVID-19 safety plan (pdf 138 kb) to resume low-risk work.  Now, with safety plans in place, some work is starting back up and our work zones look a lot different than they did before COVID-19.
Safety banners are on display at every job site to remind workers the importance of standing six feet apart.

All activities require everyone to maintain a distance of six feet from one another. Each worksite has more personal protection equipment like masks, gloves and eye protection. There's additional sanitation on site, and new systems in place for health screening. Each construction project coordinator must produce a safety plan on how they'll comply with all the new requirements and have it approved before work can begin again. A monitor must also be on site each day to ensure the safety standards are being met.
New wash stations like this on the I-5 project in Lakewood provide crews with easy access for more frequent hand washing.

These new safety plans require all of us to re-think how we all do our jobs. Every task, such as cutting lumber for building bridge forms, or installing signs, is broken down step-by-step to keep six feet of separation between workers.

Sometimes, the work can easily be completed. Crews can socially distance for activities like driving piles, bridge formwork, grading, and some electrical work.

Other times, the work is more challenging. For instance, asphalt or concrete paving may get delayed until new guidelines for higher risk construction activities become available.

Our maintenance crews are also donning additional safety gear and adhering to six-foot physical distancing rules as they respond to both planned maintenance and emergency issues such as potholes opening up on bridge decks along Interstate 5. In some rare cases an emergency repair requires workers to be closer than six feet and can't be delayed due to the public safety risk. In those instances, our crews use additional special equipment, such as a Powered Air Purifying Respirator, which provides filtered air and offers additional protection for workers.
Entrance and exit signs plus directional arrows show workers the flow of pedestrian traffic at our I-5 project in Tacoma.

Worksite by worksite

Every job site is going to look different as low-risk work activity resumes. Some job sites are able to find multiple low-risk activities that can be safely completed. Other job sites may only have higher risk construction needs that can't be safely performed right now.

Bottom line – the health and safety of our crews is our top priority. We are all working very hard to roll out this new phase of low-risk construction and maintenance work correctly. If we find something isn't going to work, we pause and rethink the task.
Left: Emergency work on the I-5 bridge over the North Fort Lewis River. Right: Crews doing earth work in eastern Washington wearing new protective safety gear.

Patience goes a long way for all of us

Humans are creatures of habit. It is easy for all of us to slip into old habits. This is why work is starting slowly, applying the new safety measures one activity at a time. Once crews have mastered one work activity, they will add another in.

Transitioning to this new normal of physical distancing takes time and patience. We continue to work with our partners in the labor and construction industries and the Governor's Office to develop guidelines for the next phase of construction. Medium-risk construction would include activities that require workers to be closer than six feet for short durations and thus require additional protections and safeguards.

Drivers play a role in keeping crews safe

While there are fewer cars on the road right now due to Stay Home, Stay Healthy orders, we still see vehicles traveling too fast near work zones. We need drivers to stay alert as low-risk construction and maintenance activity picks up. Remember, most work zone collisions are preventable.

When you are out for essential travel, obey the speed limits, avoid distracted driving and don't follow too closely. We want our coworkers – as well as everyone on the roads – to go home safely to their families at the end of each shift. By working together, we can all make that happen.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Where was WSDOT when Mount St. Helens erupted?

By Summer Derrey

On May 18, 1980 Mount St. Helens erupted, closing 1,100 miles of state highways, destroying 27 miles of SR 504, 10 miles of county roads, 25 bridges and many miles of logging roads. This is the story of some of our employees who are part of history in the response, recovery and restoration work. Forty years ago, they rescued stranded motorists, cleared ash from the highways, designed a new highway and oversaw construction of a new SR 504 Spirit Lake Memorial Highway.

Winter operations in the spring

By late afternoon on May 18, spring ash reverted our maintenance crews back to winter operations and plows were remounted on trucks.

In Colfax, Maintenance Operator Phil Riedner had been on the job for a couple years. He was home when he started getting calls that ash clouds were moving into the area.
Phil Riedner spent days working with his crew getting ash off the highways in eastern Washington.




“When the eruption happened, you’d watch it roll in and think it’ll pass over fast, but it was blacker than black, he said.

Knowing road maintenance would play a big role in the situation, Phil began helping design a plan. They tried a power broom truck but all that did was kick up dust and put the truck and driver in the middle of the ash cloud, leaving a big mess.

“Oddly enough, we went through masks back then similar to everything happening in the world now,” he said.

The work of our maintenance crews drew the praise of V.W. Korf, the Deputy Secretary of Transportation. In a speech to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials maintenance subcommittee in November 1980, he said the anxiety and frustration our maintenance crews experienced was devastating.
On May 19, 1980, Tom Welch led a convoy of more than 100 drivers through the ash on SR 195.
“But like the troopers they are,” he said, “they bit their ash-coated lips and continued working.”

While tedious, wetting the ash and plowing it off the highway proved the most effective. Not all of our areas had water trucks so employees made makeshift water wagons by hay-wiring a five-gallon oil can that was slotted around the bottom of borrowed fertilizer tanks.

Plowing priorities were established to facilitate rescuing stranded motorists and to evacuate small, isolated communities.
Harvey Herman was one of our maintenance techs shown here working on
 an ash-covered highway. He’s now 96 and lives near Colfax!
(photo courtesy Lewiston Tribune)
Tom Welch, maintenance operator in Colfax, was called into work to lead a convoy of 100 or more vehicles stranded on US 195 from Colfax to Pullman to the state line at Lewiston.

“I set the pace at about 20 miles per hour in a crew cab with flashing lights and the cars were spaced,” he said. “You had to drive with your headlights on and the cops had all the intersections shut down.”

The Seattle Times reported that people stranded along I-90 at Moses Lake, Sprague and George were able to travel after US 2 and connecting highways were reopened from Spokane to Seattle. Travel was restricted to reduced speeds, and vehicles were metered at intervals so dust from the vehicle ahead had a chance to settle. There were approximately 5,663 stranded travelers throughout the state, most in eastern Washington.
A look at the mudflow covering SR 504.


When Tom returned from the convoy he relieved a Washington State Patrol trooper at the SR 270 closure into Pullman as travel out of the city was restricted. Tom worked all night, then headed back to Colfax and thought it was eerie because he was the only one on the road.

A week or two later, Tom recalls doing a maintenance process called ‘pulling shoulders.’ Crews would dig dirt out of highway shoulders and mix it with ash to make the light powder heavier and not blow everywhere.

“We did miles of SR 195 like that, trying to bury it bit by bit,” he said.

Meanwhile, in central Washington

In central Washington, Matt Hanshew was in for a surprise on May 19. He was just barely starting his second year in our East Selah maintenance shop. At 22, he was one of the youngest people on the crew. He arrived at 6 a.m. and headed out along US 12 near Naches.
The destruction of SR 504 in the wake of the Mount St. Helens eruption.
“A water truck went ahead of us to get the ash to stick to the road a little better, then we plowed it,” he said. The further east you went, the dustier it got. It was a weird deal. Everyone was wearing masks.”

Air filters on our plows were checked every 40 or 50 miles. Oil was changed every 200 to 300 miles.

“I remember driving into Othello a few days later and the ash-covered sign read ‘Welcome to hell,’” Matt said.

An article in the Tacoma News Tribune reported poor visibility in the Yakima/Ellensburg region and said the State DOT warned motorists to stay away from eastern Washington. Those who had to travel across the state were advised to use SR 20/North Cascades or SR 14 along the Columbia River.
The eruption of Mount St. Helens (photo courtesy of Washington State Archives)


Remarkably, by noon on May 20, just 50 hours after the blast, more than half of the closed highways reopened. SR 410/Chinook Pass reopened a few days ahead of the typical Memorial Day weekend schedule to alleviate cross state travel. I-90, which traveled through the heart of the fallout zone, reopened one week after the eruption.

Emergency repair work completed the section of SR 504 from the Toutle community to Maple Flat by November 1980.

SR 504 Spirit Lake Memorial Highway

Prior to the eruption, SR 504 was originally constructed on the level valley floor along the north fork of the Toutle River which was the fastest route to Mount St. Helens. After the eruption, there was concern about future eruptions, flooding, and public safety. By the mid-‘80s, a decision was made to relocate the new Spirit Lake Memorial Highway at a much higher elevation to avoid the reach of future volcanic mudflows and minimize impacts to the environment.

Design on the project started in 1985, which is when Rick Keniston started his career as a designer in our Vancouver office. That office was tasked with designing 23 miles of a brand new SR 504 through forest to the future Johnston Ridge Observatory. “All we had were paper contour maps and we drew lines on them for a new highway alignment,” he said. “A survey crew would go up and stake those lines on the ground.”
A plow truck removes ash off of I-90 in eastern Washington.


Carla Chute was on the survey crew out of the Kelso office following along with the designs Rick and the team drew. Every day she was up to her knees in ash, climbing ridges and over logs to set up points. The ash was so rough that she went through numerous work boots and once had to duct tape the sole just to hike off the mountain.

“I remember thinking, ‘How are they going to put a road here?’” she said.

Rick recalls designing along rough terrain. He said there were many stream valleys that he either had to design around or design over with bridges. Driving up to job sites on logging roads was no easy task, and he said at one point there was a threat of Legionnaires’ disease near Coldwater Lake so the crew wore masks and drove across the bridge as fast as they safely could.

“One time, we pulled over for a huge dump truck and our suburban sunk off to the side of the dirt road,” he said. “The dump truck got a chain and pulled us out.
The St. Helens bridge on SR 504 was carried more than a quarter-mile downstream and partially buried.


Construction gets going

Constructing the new SR 504 started in 1988 and involved the help of the US Forest Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, Weyerhaeuser Corp. and the Federal Highway Administration. In particular, Rick said the US Forest Service was key as they had extensive environmental knowledge. For this project, we built some of the first wetland mitigation sites for the southwest part of our state.

“The volcanic blowdown areas looked substantially different between the time when we designed it to when the highway was opened to the public,” he said “The alder trees grew really fast and there are lots of elk up there. It’s fun to show my kids and family the new highway. I’m real proud of that.”

Mary Hummel has worked her entire career in the construction office in Kelso and started in 1988 with inspection on the first bridge of the SR 504 project, the Toutle River Bridge.

“It was so beautiful up there – no traffic, just elk were the only thing you had to drive around,” she said. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
A look at the Toutle River Bridge on SR 504 in the aftermath of the eruption.


Like Rick, Mary said they had to drive a lot of the logging roads that didn’t follow the new alignment to the project area. She clocked about four hours of drive time every work day.

“These areas would wash away, especially in the winter,” she said. “We just rebuilt them or found a new way up.”

Her career started with bridge inspection, then transferred to the survey crew and inspection. Contract by contract, she followed the project all the way up the new Spirit Lake Memorial Highway to completion at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. She said the engineering of the project was phenomenal. She remembers watching the Hoffstadt Creek Bridge being built simultaneously from each side of the valley and joined in the middle.

“I just loved being a part of the building of several of these bridges and being an inspector - telling the contractor to move their forms just a little bit to the left so the girder would rest perfectly on the pier cap,” she said.

Safety requirements have certainly changed over the years. Mary said they weren’t required to wear full harnesses on bridges. They wore belts and would be lifted in boxes 200 feet up and clipped onto exposed rebar of the structure.

“Once a crane lost its brakes that had earlier placed my supervisor and I up on the pier cap,” she said. “The driver luckily jumped out of the crane cab in time, but we had to sit up there for several hours until another crane was available. No one was hurt – not at that time. We were actually pretty fortunate.”

Mary lives off Spirit Lake Highway to this day and goes up there often, which always brings back memories.

“I remember being so much in awe of nature,” she said. “Not much was growing out there, there was solitude. It was eerie and peaceful in the same breath.”

Currently, SR 504 near Coldwater Lake is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. Until the highway reopens, people interested in exploring the mountain and its history can do so virtually by visiting the Mount St. Helens Institute. And if you do, take a moment to remember all of those workers who banded together to help the state recover from the eruption. It was an incredible task and we’re so grateful to everyone who worked so hard during and in the years after the event.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Rock fall leads to emergency closure on US 97A near Chelan

UPDATE:

June 3, 2020
Granite Construction, LLC has been selected as the contractor for the emergency repair project above the Knapps Hill Tunnel. Work will begin on June 15 inside the current closure between mileposts 223-230 and is scheduled for 20 working days, weather permitting. This section of the highway will remain fully closed until this work is complete.

By Lauren Loebseck and Mike Allende

It's no secret that rocks falling onto US 97A south of Lake Chelan has been an ongoing issue. And while a project is scheduled to begin on May 20 to improve safety in that area, an increase in the frequency and severity of rockfalls at Knapps Hill Tunnel has made it necessary to close that section of road from milepost 223-230 to all traffic until mitigation can be made to the slope above the tunnel.
Rocks that have fallen onto US 97A. These rocks have exposed larger boulders higher up
the cliff that present significant hazards to traffic.

Inspection work by our crew determined that ongoing rockfalls has exposed and undermined larger boulders that are now at risk of falling onto the roadway, making it potentially too hazardous for travelers. We don't have a date yet on when this stretch of road will reopen.

Work on a rock slope scaling project to improve safety on that route was scheduled to begin on April 1, but the Stay Home, Stay Healthy proclamation paused most construction and maintenance work. That work is now ready to begin and crews will begin flagging traffic through the area during the day on May 20 and 21, with delays expected to last up to 20 minutes. Starting May 26, day-long closures of the highway will be in place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through June 15.
Left: A drone’s-eye look at the cliff high above Knapps Hill Tunnel where large rocks that could come down from the cliff have forced a closure of the highway. Right: The path that rocks are falling off the cliff into US 97A
near Knapps Hill Tunnel, leading the highway to be closed.

Repair of the Knapps Hill Tunnel area was not part of the rock slope scaling project and instead was a separate project scheduled to begin in August or September of this year. But with the emergency closure now in place, we are working to expedite that project as soon as possible, though we don't have a schedule yet.

This situation is developing, and details will become clear as we work through moving the emergency work to construction. Updates will be provided via travel advisories and social media. We know this creates logistical challenges for many, and we are eager to safely reopen the tunnel once it is safe to do so.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

No Memorial Day weekend travel charts this year as part of the ongoing effects of the coronavirus

By Barbara LaBoe

Memorial Day is usually signified by warmer temperatures, the end of school and, for us here at WSDOT, the holiday weekend travel charts.

We know these travel charts are quite popular and are a staple of planning for the long weekend for many travelers. So we wanted to let you know now that we won’t have charts for this Memorial Day weekend.

Why? As with much this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is altering our regular routines.
Our highway sign messages are reminding travelers about the Stay Home order and how it still applies to discretionary travel – even on holiday weekends.
Nothing is normal this year, including traffic. We’ve tracked an overall decrease in traffic during the pandemic, but adding that into historical data holiday travel is still a bit tricky at this point. In addition, vacation and discretionary travel are still not permitted under the state’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, so there shouldn’t be the traditional glut of holiday weekend travel to navigate.

Yes, there still will be some essential travel on our roads during the holiday weekend. But without the traditional holiday congestion, those essential travelers shouldn’t need the charts to find off-peak travel times.

The Memorial Day weekend can still signal the unofficial start to summer, of course, but this year it will do so without traditional road trips. And no matter how you spend your Memorial Day weekend this year, please remember to follow posted speed limits when you do need to travel. We want everyone to have a safe holiday weekend.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Fluffy ducklings rescued just in time for Mother’s Day

By Cara Mitchell

It’s a mom’s worst nightmare. Your brood decided to go exploring along a busy highway and gets stuck in a storm drain. That’s what happened to one momma duck on Thursday along State Route 16 and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Teamwork between our Tacoma Narrows Bridge worker and
two State Patrol troopers led to a duckling rescue this week.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Bloomfield and Trooper Rogers noticed that a duck was repeatedly flying low in to traffic, risking being hit by passing vehicles. They pulled over and heard ducklings calling out from a nearby drain on the bridge.
Mama duck is reunited with her ducklings in a pond near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

That is when our bridge maintenance specialist Jerry England, who works at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, was called into action. Together with England, they removed the drain cover and modified a bucket that had the bottom cut out and replaced the bottom with netting. They lowered the bucket into the drain so it sat under the water surface.
The duck rescue team modified a bucket to scoop out the trapped duckings.
One by one, the ducklings were scooped up out of the drain and placed temporarily into a cardboard box. England also consulted with the Department of Fish and Wildlife on where to take the ducklings. Hoping that momma duck was still in the neighborhood, they went to a nearby pond and released one duckling into the water. It immediately started chirping and instantly momma duck swooped in to retrieve fluffy yellow baby. We are happy to report that momma duck and all her ducklings were reunited, just in time for Mother’s Day. Great job, team!
A State Patrol trooper lowers a modified bucket into a drain to scoop out stranding ducklings.