Wednesday, June 24, 2020

How COVID-19 is affecting our state ferries

By Bryn Vander Stoep

It is an understatement to say that COVID-19 has greatly affected "normal life." From canceled plans to wearing masks at the grocery store, everything seems to be operating in a world of constant change.

Our ferries division is not immune to COVID-19. In late March, our total ridership bottomed off at the lowest levels we've seen since the 1960s, down more than 75% from 2019.

In response to the decreased demand, we reduced service and extended our winter sailing schedules indefinitely. We continue to encourage riders to take essential trips only, to stay in their vehicles if possible, and to physically distance from others on our ferries and at our terminals to keep everyone safe.

Now we're seeing an uptick in ridership. Ferries are a popular way to travel in the summer. But this is not a normal summer season, as we are still operating under our COVID Response Service Plan and cannot operate full "normal" service.
Like most things, COVID-19 has had a significant affect on our ferry service
as we work to adjust to new normal.

Current service levels depend on the following constraints:
  • Crew availability: More than 100 of our crewmembers are considered "high-risk" for COVID-19 and are working remotely for health and safety reasons. Before a new employee can serve as a crewmember on one of our vessels, they must go through weeks of intensive training, which includes firefighting, personal safety and survival, classroom time and job duty familiarization out in our fleet. Due to COVID-19, we were unable to conduct any of these face-to-face new deck employee orientations until June. Without enough crew to fill all the Coast Guard-mandated slots on our vessels, maintaining our current level of service has become a significant challenge.
  • Ridership: Ridership remains at historic lows and while the Governor's "Safe Start" plan is still in place, demand for transit service remains low. As more restrictions are lifted, we anticipate more riders will come back to the ferries. It is a little difficult to predict at what rate they will return, but we know that there will be more demand for service as we move through the Governor's four-phased reopening plan.
  • Vessels: The number of boats that are available also dictate our ability to provide service. Our maintenance facility was required to suspend activity for several weeks because of the Governor's "Stay Home" directive; as a result, crews were unable to conduct important maintenance on the vessels and there is now a backlog of work that needs to be completed. So without a full fleet due to a combination of planned and unplanned maintenance, we cannot operate a full schedule.
  • Funding: We cannot increase our level of service without the funding to operate that service. With decreased ridership, fare revenues have also decreased. All transportation revenue streams continue to experience significant declines as a result of the global pandemic. We're still learning how our budget will be affected in the short- and long-term.
As countless others have done, we've adjusted our way of doing business to keep people safe and healthy during this pandemic. Through it all, ferry crew members work the front line, implementing disease-prevention protocols and making sure our neighbors can safely travel across the Salish Sea each day for work, school, medical appointments and other essential trips. We know these adjustments aren't easy, and we appreciate your patience and grace as we navigate keeping travelers and staff safe.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

SR 530 east of Arlington shifts to bypass so we can replace culvert for Trafton Creek

By Tom Pearce

Next week we'll shift State Route 530 traffic east of Arlington for the second part of our Schoolyard and Trafton Creek fish passage project. On Thursday, June 25, our contractor, Kiewit, will move both directions of traffic onto a single-lane bypass between Arnot Road and Kroeze Road.

People who travel this section of SR 530 during the next few months will find temporary traffic signals controlling the single-lane bypass. You'll want to allow an extra 5-10 minutes if you're traveling through the area.

This work is similar to a bypass we put in at Schoolyard Creek last summer. That bypass was shorter and allowed us to replace an old, narrow culvert under the highway. The new culvert makes it much easier for resident and migratory fish to travel up and downstream.
The new Schoolyard Creek culvert under SR 530 provides a natural creek bed, which allows
migratory and resident fish to continue farther upstream.

Trafton Creek
The bypass will be in place much longer this year because Trafton Creek is more than 40 feet below SR 530. That's a lot of material to dig up before we remove the existing culvert and replace it with a new one that's 26 feet wide.
Now Trafton Creek comes out of a pipe culvert. Fast-moving water prevents fish from traveling upstream. A new large box culvert will allow fish to get to an additional 3½ miles of habitat.

There's a big drop from the existing culvert and water travels too quickly, preventing fish from traveling upstream. With the new culvert, we will add a more natural creek bed, which will allow coho salmon, steelhead, bull and sea-run cutthroat trout to travel an additional 3½ miles of spawning and rearing areas upstream.

Importance of improving fish passage
Increasing habitat for salmon and other fish is important to the commercial and recreational fishing industries, as well as for marine life, like orcas that depend on them for food.

Improving fish passage is also something we need to do following a 2013 U.S. District Court ruling that requires us to remove culverts under state highways that are a barrier to fish passage. This ruling affects almost 1,000 culverts in western Washington. We've already done hundreds of these projects, but we need to make significant progress toward this goal during the next 10 years.

Replacing these culverts at School Yard and Trafton creeks are two significant pieces of that work.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

I-405 construction resumes in June with Eastrail paving

By Victoria Miller

The I-405 Renton to Bellevue Widening and Express Toll Lanes project team has been busy preparing to start construction during the past few months. Crews will kick-off work with paving 2½ miles of the King County Eastrail, formerly the Eastside Rail Corridor, along Lake Washington between Ripley Lane North in Renton and Coal Creek Parkway Southeast in Bellevue. We expect work to wrap up by the end of this year.

More space and safer crossings coming
The new paved trail will be the widest in the region at 12 feet, with a two-foot gravel shoulder on one side, and six feet of gravel on the other side. That means that people who run, walk, and bike on the trail will have more space from others and a choice of surfaces, currently gravel only on this stretch. Crews will also install lighting at each road crossing to help protect trail-users from car traffic.

Tree removal and replanting along the trail
Widening the trail will require some tree removal. Our landscape specialists will walk the project area to identify which trees to remove and which to keep, with a goal to preserve as many trees as possible, especially the older more established trees. Our contractor then reconfirms the trees flagged for removal before work begins. We will not remove trees at the request of homeowners or others for reasons not associated with the project.

We have a robust tree-replanting policy to expand our native tree canopy while we make investments in our transportation system. We calculate the number of trees to replant based on the diameters of the existing trees' trunks, and replace trees with trunks greater than four inches in diameter with multiple trees, specifically one tree for every inch of diameter. For example, we would replace a tree with an 8-inch diameter with eight one-gallon plantings. For smaller trees, with trunks less than four inches across, we replant one tree for each tree we remove.

What to expect during construction
Starting Monday, June 29, Eastrail users will detour to the parallel Lake Washington Loop Trail between Ripley Lane North and 106th Avenue Southeast (shown in the map below). To create space for the detour, crews will narrow a 300-foot stretch of Ripley Lane North in Renton, between the Virginia Mason Athletic Center and the Lake Washington Loop Trail, to one-lane.

Most work will occur within the trail right of way during daytime shifts from Monday to Saturday each week. Trucks and equipment will enter the trail work zones via Ripley Lane North, 106th Avenue Southeast, and Lake Washington Boulevard Southeast. We plan to start construction between 106th Avenue Southeast and Newcastle Beach Park in the fall. The new trail sections will reopen in stages, with all work completed by 2020 or early 2021.

To ensure the health and safety of our crews and the community, all construction activities will follow Governor Inslee's safety guidelines for work during COVID-19.

For more information on the Eastrail construction, please visit our online open house. To stay up to date on the latest construction closure information for the project, please visit the I-405 Construction Updates webpage and the King County Construction Updates webpage.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Diverging diamond interchange: How they work

By Doug Adamson

We’ve been talking about the Marvin Road diverging diamond interchange in Lacey for quite a while but now it’s time to really get serious. The new layout is scheduled to open up this year and it’s definitely time to prepare.

While a diverging diamond interchange is intuitive for travelers, we also want everyone to get a better idea of how it works. At first glance, it may appear complicated, but  there’s nothing new to learn. You come to a stoplight and you stop. Then you follow traffic signals, signs, and lines through the interchange. Carefully designed roadway striping, arrows, and signs direct travelers. A concrete barrier in the middle of the overpass will provide access for pedestrians and bicyclists.
A key feature of this new layout is increased efficiency. Drivers make a free left turn onto the highway on-ramps without stopping at a traffic signal.

A diverging diamond interchange removes what are called conflict points. A conflict point is an area of roadway where vehicles cross, merge, or diverge. The enhanced Marvin Road interchange in Lacey will reduce the conflict points from the existing 26 to 14. This helps to improve the safety at this busy interchange.

Get additional information at I5exit111.com where you can find virtual walk-through and drive-through videos, as well as project updates.

Monday, June 15, 2020

I-90 construction from North Bend to Vantage is underway

By Summer Derrey and Meagan Lott

After a bit of nail-biting anticipation of what this year's I-90 construction season would look like due to COVID-19, we now have a much clearer picture. Crews have resumed work with procedures in place to protect everyone on the worksite from the spread of the coronavirus. This includes personal protective equipment like masks, eyewear, gloves and physical distancing. While we have noticed lower volumes of traffic across I-90 over the past few months because of Governor Inslee's Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, we are still making sure we are minimizing delays for you due to construction.

So let's take a closer look at what we have planned this summer, starting with work on the Vantage Bridge on I-90 over the Columbia River.
As summer construction season gets into full swing, our crews have increased their personal protective equipment to safely work, like this crew member on the Vantage Bridge repair job.

Vantage Bridge
At 58 years old, the Vantage Bridge is an old bridge and in need of some repairs. It's been about 40 years since the entire bridge deck was replaced and we have spent the past four years patching approximately 600 square feet of roadway across the bridge.
So it's great news that our bridge crews will be making more of a long-term fix along sections of the bridge starting Monday, June 15. This work will be taking place in the eastbound lanes during the day and will require a lane closure. If your plans take you across the Vantage Bridge over the next  6-to-8  weeks you will see some minor delays due to lane closures.

This work requires removing old patched sections of the bridge, pouring new concrete and letting it cure for about 48 hours. This project is scheduled to be complete in late July or early August.

Meanwhile, in Ellensburg
In Ellensburg, we will be building a second roundabout and drivers will soon be able to ease on and off the eastbound ramps at I-82 at Canyon Road with fewer delays. This project is scheduled to start this fall. We are planning an online open house in July to provide additional project details. Make sure to visit our What's Happening on I-90 webpage to find out the exact dates of the open house.

Moving to the west
As we head west, crews are midway through a project to repair bridge decks crossing the Yakima River at Cle Elum and Ellensburg. Both bridges in the westbound direction are complete and we are now working on the bridge decks in the eastbound direction. Drivers can expect minor slowdowns through a detour at both locations during the day and at night Monday through Friday.
Travelers on the I-90 corridor this summer should expect lane closures like this on the Vantage Bridge as several jobs
across the state will be going on to improve safety and travel on this busy highway.

Up to Snoqualmie Pass
We are excited to start the next phase of the major improvement project to add new lanes continuing east of the Snoqualmie Pass summit. Starting in July, crews will be working on the detour for the project, which requires widening the westbound shoulder near Easton, and shifting eastbound traffic onto the westbound lanes. This detour will allow our crews to start work on building the new, wider roadway. We may blast some rock in order to make room for these new lanes, which will require us to close I-90. These rock blasting closures will be similar to the closures we did a couple of years ago, which will close I-90 an hour before sunset and we will notify you several days in advance of the closures. Make sure to check our What's Happening on I-90 webpage before heading out this summer.

Repairs in Roslyn
Near Roslyn, we are wrapping up the second and final season of work to replace sections of roadway, repair bridge decks and paint bridges. We are also replacing about a mile of the westbound lanes on the east side of the Cle Elum River Bridge. Traffic will be detoured onto the median with two lanes open at all times. Minimal delays are expected and work should be complete this fall.

Now to North Bend
Crews have been hard at work replacing the concrete panels between North Bend and the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. We are on the final stretch of the project and just need to make repairs to the shoulder, place drainage and put down some stripes in the westbound lanes. Work is taking place at night so you won't experience major delays and we should be finished by this fall.

Stay in the loop
As always, we have a number of ways to get information about possible delays and closures across I-90 this summer:
  • Visit the Snoqualmie Mountain Pass webpage for real-time travel information and to view traffic cameras
  • Download our free smartphone app to check statewide travel information
  • Receive text message alerts about closures and delays by texting the number 468311 with the words "WSDOT Snoqualmie"
  • Tune in to the Highway Advisory Radio at 1610 AM and 530 AM
  • Call 5-1-1 from your hands-free device
  • Sign up for email updates
  • Follow us on Twitter @SnoqualmiePass
  • For freight-related restrictions, please visit the Commercial Vehicle Services Road Restrictions website

Friday, June 5, 2020

Raising Interstate 5 at Berkeley Street

By Cara Mitchell

Construction on the project that widens Interstate 5 past Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Lakewood will soon reach new heights.

This summer, both directions of I-5 will be raised almost 14 feet at the Berkeley Street interchange. As explained in a previous blog, this design change will eliminate the need of a 1950s-era water pump at this location. Currently, the existing interstate sits below the water table and the old pump keeps water off the lanes of I-5. The new design installs modern drainage systems, eliminating the need for a pump.

This work was scheduled to begin in April, but when construction work was paused due to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, we had to adjust the timeline. Now that construction is being allowed to move forward, the project is kicking back into gear.

Here is a quick recap of work completed in early March, which set the stage for what is to come:
  • March 2: The new Berkeley Street overpass partially opened to travelers.
  • March 6-7: Crews removed the old Berkeley Street overpass, allowing this section of I-5 to be widened.


  • March 14-16: The Berkeley Street on-ramp to northbound I-5 opens from Tillicum.

Traffic shift – what to expect
So how does one raise the elevation of a major interstate that carries on average 140,000 travelers a day? In short, by stages. When the old Berkeley Street overpass was removed, construction crews began widening northbound I-5 at Berkeley Street.

Once that work is finished, the existing three lanes of northbound I-5 will move on to this new section of highway. When that happens, lanes of northbound I-5 will actually sit higher than the southbound direction.
Once finished, all three northbound I-5 lanes will shift to the right, on to new asphalt
approaching the Berkeley Street overpass.

Lanes of southbound I-5 just past the Thorne Lane interchange will also move. There will be approximately 3 weeks in between each directional traffic shift. Once in place, both directions of I-5 will be temporarily placed next to each other with narrowed lanes and shoulders as they pass under the new overpass. We will keep people moving by maintaining three lanes of traffic in both directions during construction. The graphic below shows what the temporary lane configuration will look like:

As widening work advances, the northbound lanes will remain in the same place, while southbound lanes will shift to the right. At that point, crews will complete widening in a median work zone, located under the Berkeley Street overpass.

Safety first
Recognizing this is going to be a new experience for travelers through this area, we, with the support of the Washington State Patrol, temporarily lowered the speed limit from 60 mph to 50 mph through this work zone. It is a necessary and prudent step to keep travelers and construction crews safe during this work. In addition to raising the profile of I-5, there will be on-going traffic shifts as work progresses at the new Berkeley Street interchange.

The temporary speed limit reduction will be in place through December 2020. Please continue to watch your speed in work zones and give construction crews the room they need to finish this project safely.

When will this work begin?
Unfortunately, our magic 8 ball hasn’t been necessarily accurate these days. Tentatively, this traffic shift is scheduled as early as mid-June. Factors playing into the timing of the northbound I-5 traffic shift include:
  • Pierce County moving to Phase 2 "Safe Start" plan
  • A new safety plan for "medium risk" work has to be submitted by the contractor and approved by us before the work can proceed
  • Shifting travel lanes is weather sensitive work
Once a firm date is known, we will share it with you at www.TacomaTraffic.com.

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

Thursday, June 4, 2020

I-5 reducing to one lane southbound near Ferndale starting June 15

By Tom Pearce

When we schedule projects we look at a number of factors, including when doing work can cause even the smallest effect on traffic. Often though, our schedules are dictated by the nature of the job.

On Monday, June 15, we will reduce southbound Interstate 5 to one lane for six days and nights near milepost 268, between Birch Bay-Lynden Road and State Route 548/Grandview Road in Whatcom County. This will allow our contractor crews from Kiewit to build a new culvert under the southbound lanes. It’s a critical first step to improve fish passage and it must be done now when migratory fish aren’t in California Creek.

This is the first of four major lane reductions and closures north of Ferndale to replace culverts planned this summer in the I-5 and SR 548 area. The others are:
  • Northbound I-5, starting in late June
  • Zell Road north of Willeys Lane Road, starting in July
  • The SR 548/Grandview Road and Portal Way intersection, starting in August
While we’re using a bypass on I-5, during the Zell Road and SR 548/Portal Way closures, we’ll have signed detours.

Building a bypass
For the past couple of weeks, our contractor has been building a bypass lane between I-5’s southbound and northbound lanes. When complete, this will allow us to divert traffic and safely build a new, larger culvert under the freeway to improve fish passage. The next phase will direct southbound traffic to the regular lanes and the crews will shift northbound I-5 onto the bypass and build a new culvert there.
Crews from Kiewit are building a bypass lane between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-5 near milepost 268 in Whatcom County. They removed trees and are leveling the ground. When work is complete they will restore the site.

Traffic is much less than usual
While there’s never a good time to cut a highway’s capacity in half, sometimes fate plays a role. COVID-19 led to a two-month Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. In addition, the U.S./Canadian border remains closed to all but essential travel. These events have cut traffic by more than 50 percent on I-5 near the Custer Safety Rest Areas, which are close to this project, as this chart shows:
Average daily trips on I-5 near the Custer Safety rest areas are down more than 50 percent between late March and mid-May this year compared to the same period in 2019.

In 2019, sharp weekend increases were the rule. This year, weekend traffic plummets. Even the midweek high points are barely half of a usual day, one year ago.

Improving fish passage in California Creek
This project is building four larger culverts with natural streambeds to replace old, narrow culverts that block fish passage. During spawning times, swift water through the old culverts kept migratory fish like salmon and steelhead from continuing upstream. The new culverts will open an additional 6½ miles of habitat for spawning salmon. It also will make it easier for resident fish to travel up and downstream.

Since gaining legislative support in 1991 for the fish passage improvement program, we have replaced hundreds of culverts that restricted or blocked access to historic spawning and rearing waters for salmon, trout and other species.