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.