Monday, July 26, 2021

New ramp meter alleviates traffic congestion, improves safety at SR 167 to northbound I-405

By Jordan Longacre

A recently installed ramp meter on State Route 167 where drivers merge onto northbound Interstate 405 in Renton will go live for the first time on Tuesday, July 27. Anyone who has merged onto northbound I-405 from SR 167 has likely been caught in heavy traffic or even experienced a collision at this location. The SR 167 ramp meter will help alleviate congestion and incidents and prevent free-flowing vehicles from hitting a dead-stop at the I-405 merge point, improving efficiency and safety for drivers.

The new ramp meter will regulate traffic during the peak morning commute from 6 a.m. to noon and intermittently during the afternoon in response to heavier traffic. This traffic change is part of an adaptive freeway metering system that automatically activates and adjusts each ramp meter based on current conditions. Additionally, our traffic engineers will monitor the meter timing and adjust as needed to ensure the best traffic flow.

Why do we meter?
Without ramp meters, vehicles entering the freeway merge together in tightly packed groups, which can cause drivers on the highway to slow down or even stop as they merge. This results in slower speeds, both on the freeway and on the ramp, quickly contributing stop-and-go conditions. By pacing the vehicles evenly at a controlled rate, the merge is much smoother.

In the case of SR 167 to I-405, vehicles currently go from traveling at 60 mph to a dead-stop near the merge point as they enter I-405. The meter prevents tightly spaced groups of cars from merging onto the freeway at once, which will keep I-405 flowing smoother during those times. The largest benefit of the new ramp meter will be at the beginning and the end of the peak commute times. By metering at the beginning of the commute, free flow on I-405 continues longer. Metering at the end of the commute ensures free flow returns faster, improving travel for all motorists.

How will a ramp meter be effective and efficient here?
Based on recent data collected along SR 167 and I-405, traffic along SR 167 is now exceeding 2017-2019 pre-pandemic averages and volumes along I-405 are within 10 percent of 2017-2019 pre-pandemic averages. With traffic on I-405 likely to continue increasing, the ramp meter will allow us to better manage the high traffic volumes entering I-405. If the meter can manage SR 167 now, as our analysis shows, it can manage pre-COVID volumes due to the similarity to the 2017-2019 midweek average.
  • Ramp meters automatically respond to changing traffic conditions. If traffic is flowing well, then the meter is not activated. During periods when traffic flow is beginning to slow down or conditions have become congested, ramp meters are in operation and automatically adjust to move vehicles more efficiently.
  • Ramp meters really show their effectiveness when it comes to managing traffic following a crash on the freeway, helping traffic recover quicker.
  • The ramp meter can help delay and/or prevent congestion from extending past the SR 167/I-405 merge point.
  • The SR 167 ramp meter can help alleviate and prevent free-flowing vehicles from hitting a dead-stop at the I-405 merge point.
  • A portion of the ramp shoulder area will serve as an additional lane during metering periods, preventing ramp metering backups onto SR 167.
  • Ramp meters are designed to help evenly pace vehicles merging onto the freeway, providing consistent gaps between vehicles, rather than multiple vehicles flooding onto the highway at once.
  • Ramp meters create a steadier flow of traffic onto the highway and reduce travel times.
A look at the direct connector HOV ramp that connects SR 167 to northbound I-405 in Renton.

How does this improve safety?
Ramp meters are an effective tool used to operate state highways safely. More than half of the collisions over the past five years have occurred where SR 167 merges onto northbound I-405.
  • Ramp meters improve safety by allowing one vehicle at a time to merge onto the interstate, reducing the severity and number of collisions due to merging traffic.
  • Gaps between merging vehicles will make the merge easier for drivers and reduce the risk of collisions.
What should I expect as a driver?
For drivers who normally use the SR 167 to I-405 ramp, one notable change will be the addition of a 1,250-foot shoulder lane that will also be metered. The ramp meter will have two signals that will alternate green lights to cycle vehicles through at an even pace. Signs are in place indicating both lanes are available when the ramp is metered.
  • Our traffic studies have shown drivers currently spend about 3 to 8 minutes on the SR 167 ramp to I-405. With the operation of the ramp meter, we expect morning commuters to experience similar delays on the ramp, while some evening commuters may experience a slight increase in ramp delays, but with the added benefit of safely merging into traffic flow on northbound I-405.
  • More consistent delays on the ramp for drivers will help provide better merging conditions, reducing overall congestion in the area.
The shoulder of the SR 167/I-405 ramp will be converted to a 1,250-foot storage lane (here on the far right) to be used for peak travel times to help keep traffic moving.

Will HOV and transit be able to use the ramp meter?
Carpools, vanpools and transit traffic will be able to use the I-405 Direct Connector HOV flyover ramp that connects SR 167 to I-405 via the leftmost travel lane but can also use the metered general-purpose ramp if they choose.
  • Metering the exit to I-405 would likely encourage eligible motorists to use the Direct Connector HOV flyover ramp.
  • The Direct Connector HOV flyover ramp adds additional capacity (HOV, transit, emergency vehicles) and reduces traffic volume that would have been using the normal ramp in previous conditions, again alleviating traffic congestion.
  • The general purpose and HOV lanes on northbound SR 167 just north of the South 180th Street interchange are excluded from the toll algorithm as the High Occupancy Toll Lane ends in this location.
  • We will be monitoring traffic on the Direct Connector before and after metering begins and will make recommendations regarding enforcement.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Multiple wildfires likely to keep stretch of SR 20 closed through at least July

By Mike Allende

As you may be aware, the Varden, Delancy and Cedar Creek fires have been burning in Okanogan County for most of July. This has led to the closure of a stretch of the SR 20 North Cascades Highway, currently now stretching from mileposts 165 to 185, west of Mazama in the Methow Valley. Emergency responders requested the closure for safety and to allow them to stage equipment to battle the fires. The closure also is helping evacuations in the area.

Despite the incredible efforts of the firefighters, the fires continue to expand and emergency personnel now advise us that the highway closure will likely be in place at least through July and potentially longer.

We know road closures are frustrating and we don’t close them unless it’s necessary for safety. In this case, the requests of those tackling these dangerous conditions along with the related evacuations – including Okanogan Fire District and the National Forest Service – make clear that this closure is needed for the safety of everyone.

Three large wildfires burning in Okanogan County forced the closure of a stretch of the SR 20 North Cascades Highway west of Mazama.

We also recognize that the North Cascades Highway is a popular destination this time of year for travel between the beautiful Skagit and Methow valleys. The good news is, some of the most popular sites are still accessible, it just may take a little longer to get there.

OK, how do I get there?

This time of year, many people travel from the west side to Winthrop, Twisp Mazama and other areas that are easily reached once the SR 20 North Cascades Highway reopens from its winter closure in the spring. And while that highway does provide a convenient link between west and east, it’s not the only way to reach the Methow.

Typically, it takes about three hours or so to go from Seattle to Winthrop using SR 20. Getting there with that highway closed will add about 1½ hours to your trip. The most common way is:

·         I-90 eastbound for about 82 miles to exit 85

·         Take US 970 northbound toward Wenatchee

·         Continue on US 970/SR 10 for about 10 miles. This turns into US 97, which you’ll stay on for about 35 miles northbound

·         Merge onto eastbound US 2/northbound US 97 and US 97 north will take you into Twisp/Winthrop.

Alternatively, you could take US 2 over Stevens Pass through Leavenworth:

·         Take I-5 northbound to Exit 194/eastbound US 2 in Everett

·         Continue on US 2 for 107 miles, over Stevens Pass and through Leavenworth to Wenatchee

·         Take the US 2/US 97 north ramp to junction of US 2/97 and SR 28 in East Wenatchee and go left onto US 2/US 97 toward Orondo/Okanogan

·         Continue 57 miles toward junction of US 97/SR 153 south of Pateros and take a left onto SR 153 west to Winthrop. Continue for 40 miles to Winthrop.

Be sure to consult your favorite mapping app as it will help guide you where you need to go.

What’s open on SR 20?

The most popular destinations on SR 20 tend to be Diablo Lake and the Washington Pass overlook. They are truly beautiful locations with amazing views. The good news is that both are still open and accessible as they are west of the closure. You just won’t be able to go much further east than Washington Pass, including down into the Methow Valley. Also note that the North Cascades Highway is extremely popular and like most of the most popular recreation destinations in our state, it can get very crowded. Be sure to have backup plans if your preferred spot is full and never park illegally on the sides of the highway.

Remember that services are limited as you head into the mountains.  Gas stations, public rest areas, cell service and turn around points become increasingly limited heading east into Rainy Pass and Washington Pass.  Running out of gas or otherwise becoming stranded will make for a much longer, more stressful trip.

A look at where the road closure is compared to Washington Pass and Diablo Lake. Note that the unpredictability of fire means the closure points can move with little notice.

But is it safe?

If a highway isn’t safe, we would close it until it was. That said, there are fires burning east of Washington Pass and fires can be unpredictable. They can also lead to fast-changing conditions, road closures and delays. We encourage anyone traveling to areas where there is active fire activity to check with local emergency responders to see what the threat level is and also encourage people to research what the air condition is before they head to their destination.

You can also download our app for road updates, call the 511 travel information number and check our travel alerts page for more information.

Be prepared

Wherever you’re heading this time of year – but especially if you’re headed to areas with active fires – be sure you and your vehicle are prepared. As we mentioned, fires are unpredictable so road closures and delays can happen with little warning. Be sure you have plenty of gas, water, food, cell phone charger and other items you might need in an emergency. And be sure your vehicle is well maintained.

Those who are traveling in the area of active fires should be prepared for potential road closures or delays as they can happen quickly.

Closed means closed

It still amazes us that this happens, but we continue to get reports from those staffing the road closures that people are attempting to go around the closures. So to be clear:

·         There are no nearby alternate routes around the closure. There are no Forest Service roads or other side roads open that allow access. It’s closed. Closed.  You can’t go through. Closed.

·         Trying to get through a closed road puts you and others in the area at risk. There are literally fires burning nearby. You should be avoiding that, not driving into it.

·         If you go through a closure and get stuck, emergency responders including firefighters have to go save you. That puts them at even more risk and also takes them away from what they should be doing, which is fighting the fires that led to the closure.

We understand that there’s never a good time to close a road, especially a very popular summertime route like SR 20. We would love to have this route open, but safety of those responding to the fires and for the public is always No. 1. So until we get the all clear from the emergency responders battling to keep us all safe, the road must remain closed and we appreciate your understanding and cooperation.

With most paving complete, Revive I-5 shifts to expansion joints

UPDATE Thursday, July 22: The next scheduled Revive I-5 weekend closure - July 30 to Aug. 2 - has been canceled. Be sure to check the project website linked below for updates on the schedule.

By Tom Pearce

This past weekend our contractor finished most grinding and paving portions of our Revive I-5 project on the southbound freeway between I-90 and Spokane Street in Seattle. Crews began by grinding I-5 to smooth the surface during overnight shifts. During two weekends when lanes were reduced, they repaved a thin layer of polyester concrete, which is more durable than regular concrete.

We have repaved about 1¼ miles of all lanes of this section of southbound I-5, which has anywhere from three to five lanes. With the paving mostly finished, now we’ll turn our attention to expansion joints in the same section of freeway. 

No easy task replacing 56 expansion joints

This part of the freeway is built on piers like a bridge, so it has 40 expansion joints that allow it to expand and contract with weather changes. If you drive this section very often, you know the joints need to be replaced. In addition to the occasional bump or metallic clunking sound you may encounter, we’ve had several break in the past few months, requiring emergency repairs on weekday mornings or afternoons. That creates unplanned backups and delays.

When an expansion joint breaks, we have to repair it right away regardless of traffic and time of day.

In addition to those on the main section of the highway, we have 16 other expansion joints to replace on ramps that serve this part of the freeway. Replacing just half of a joint takes an entire weekend. We’ll do several halves during each closure, but it’s going to take at least 14 more weekends between now and summer 2022 to replace all of them.

Why so long?

Yes, that makes for a long project, but there are several factors. First is events in Seattle. When a weekend sporting event or concert brings an additional 35,000 to 65,000 people to the area, it’s very difficult to schedule work.

Then there’s the material – when we replace these expansion joints, we’ll use the more durable polyester concrete. But that limits working conditions – it needs to be more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and completely dry to pave this type of concrete.

Polyester concrete is more durable but it requires dry weather and moderate temperatures.

We also need to plan ahead for this work to be sure we can get the materials we need and let you know we’re going to work. The weather, materials and notification time pretty much eliminate working during the winter as well as much of the spring and fall.

Stay looped in to the project schedule by checking the website. You can find info about the next weekend closure – July 30 to Aug. 2 – on the project page.

I’m always looking for a silver lining. For this project, while we’ll be working a lot of weekends, we’re going to wrap up most of the weeknight work by early August. A lot of people think the freeway is empty at night. I can guarantee you it is not – when night work creates backups, I hear from people who drive then. Besides, it’s not practical to replace expansion joints during overnight shifts – it would take much longer and final product would not be as strong.

We know that weekend lane reductions are hard on a lot of people. At least this way, you can plan around the work, unlike when a joint suddenly breaks and we need to do an emergency repair. Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Buckle up: Construction starts this summer on the SR 520/I-5 Express Lanes Connection Project

By Amanda Christopher

Despite all the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, our largest county, King, still added 34,000 new residents in 2020. By 2050, the central Puget Sound region is predicted to add 1.8 million more people and another 1.2 million jobs, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council's VISION 2050 report.

The region's population and employment boom has been especially pronounced in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. At the same time, the Eastside's technology-driven cities continue to grow steadily. This ongoing growth underscores the importance of a safe, reliable transit/HOV link between Seattle and the Eastside via State Route 520.

To that end, we're beginning construction of a new project this summer in Seattle – the SR 520/I-5 Express Lanes Connection Project. This project will connect SR 520's new transit/HOV system to the I-5 express lanes, creating a direct bus and carpool connection between the Eastside, South Lake Union and downtown Seattle.

The work is part of our overall "Rest of the West" program – a series of safety and mobility enhancements along the SR 520 corridor in Seattle. Construction on the SR 520/I-5 Connection project is slated to begin soon and take about three years to complete. The Legislature's 2015 Connecting Washington transportation legislation provides the project's funding.

This project will deliver several key benefits to improve travel speed and reliability:
  1. A new ramp between SR 520 and the I-5 express lanes for buses and carpools.
  2. A new, reversible transit/HOV lane along the I-5 express lanes, running between I-5's interchanges with SR 520 and Mercer Street. (Traffic moves southbound in these lanes during the weekday morning commute, and northbound during the afternoon/evening commute.)
  3. A reconfigured Mercer Street on-/off-ramp to and from the I-5 express lanes for buses and carpools.
A look at the key features of the I-5/SR 520 connections project

Building for the future

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant decrease in traffic volumes and transit ridership throughout the state – including on SR 520 and I-5 – we're building for the future. The improvements from this project will serve the region for at least the next 75 years as our population and economy continue to grow. Already we're beginning to see traffic and transit volumes rebound as businesses reopen and workers begin returning to the office.

Overall, the $4.5 billion SR 520 Program is reconstructing the highway from I-405 in Bellevue to I-5 in Seattle. When our remaining SR 520 improvements in Seattle are complete, we expect about a 30-minute reduction in peak-period travel time for buses and carpools between the Eastside and South Lake Union. We also expect to see an increase in additional daily transit trips/riders. We're working closely with our transit agency partners at Sound Transit and King County Metro, as well as the city of Seattle, to confirm future bus service and routes on the highway and into South Lake Union.

A couple other important notes:
  • The new direct-access ramp and reversible express lane initially will open to buses only; carpools won't be able to use the new ramp until the completion of the Portage Bay Bridge and Roanoke Lid Project. This phased approach will help provide safer merges for buses while the Portage Bay Bridge replacement is under construction.
  • While the SR 520/I-5 connection will improve travel for buses and carpools, this project does not address the "Mercer Weave" for motorists crossing several general-purpose lanes of traffic when merging from SR 520 onto southbound I-5 and then exiting at Mercer Street.
    • Untangling the "Mercer Weave" would require a separate, legislatively directed I-5 project in the future that is not currently planned or funded.
An aerial view of the SR 520/I-5 interchange looking southwest toward Lake Union and downtown Seattle. The future SR 520/I-5 express lanes ramp's location is in orange

What to expect during construction
As with any major construction project, while we're excited for the end result, we know the work will present some challenges and trade-offs for the community. Nearby neighbors may experience increased noise, truck traffic and nighttime lighting. And travelers may see delays, detours and temporary road closures as crews work to safely and quickly build this new connection.

Because this project is taking place right in the middle of two major highways – I-5 and SR 520 – much of the work must occur at night. This is for a few key reasons:
  • Working at night with less traffic will provide a safer work environment both for the contractor and for the traveling public.
  • Night work will avoid disruptions to daytime traffic on SR 520 and I-5, two vital routes for weekday commuters.
  • Working at night allows us to shorten the overall project duration, which reduces the length of time we're affecting the surrounding communities and reduces construction costs to taxpayers.
We recognize that working at night can be especially disruptive for neighborhoods closest to the work zone. As part of this project, we were granted a project-long nighttime noise variance from the city of Seattle. The variance lays out specific measures our contractor must and will take to mitigate effects on nearby residents, including advanced notice of noisy work, limiting impact work (such as jackhammering and pile driving) at night, and other adjustments such as not using compression brakes or letting equipment idle. You can read more about the variance by visiting the Seattle Services Portal, project number 6733975-NV.

In addition to this noise variance, we developed a Community Construction Management Plan that details the actions our contractor crews will follow to limit the effects of construction on nearby neighbors and travelers. This is a living document that can be updated periodically based on community feedback.
The SR 520/I-5 project will add a new connection between two of the Puget Sound area's busiest highways.

In addition to noise and other effects such as dust and added lighting, we know that a major project like this will bring delays and highway closures for drivers in the area. This may include temporary off-ramp detours, closing the I-5 express lanes earlier in the evening, and opening the express lanes later in the morning. As with any major traffic effect, we'll be sure to communicate these closures in advance so drivers can make alternate plans.

Staying informed
There are a number of ways to stay informed during SR 520 construction:
  • Call our 24-hour construction hotline (206-316-2559) with pressing questions or concerns.
  • Email SR 520 staff with your questions about the project or construction activities.
  • Visit the SR 520 Construction Corner for the most up-to-date information on closures and construction effects.
  • Visit the SR 520/I-5 Express Lanes Connection Project website to find general project information.
  • Follow us on Twitter @wsdot_520 to get key news and updates about the SR 520 program.
  • Get weekly updates via email by visiting our email updates page, enter your email address, and under "Construction Reports" select "SR 520 Rest of the West News"

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Much-needed southbound I-5 work resumes weekend of July 17-18

By Tom Pearce

As we move into the peak of summer, you're going to see more weekend work that affects I-5 and highways around the Puget Sound area. We need good weather for a lot of the work we do and as the old saying goes, you've gotta make hay while the sun shines.

One of the biggest projects we have is on southbound I-5 between I-90 and Spokane Street, part of our Revive I-5 effort. The weekend of July 17-18, we'll reduce southbound I-5 to two lanes on Saturday and only one lane on Sunday. In addition, we'll close the collector-distributor ramp to southbound I-5. You'll still be able to get into the collector-distributor, but you'll have to exit to Dearborn, I-90, Fourth Avenue South or Airport Way.

Finally, the mainline I-5 off-ramps to Forest Street/Sixth Avenue and Spokane Street/Columbian Way will also be closed.
The off-ramps from the I-5 collector-distributor to SODO will be open during the weekend work, but the I-90 and collector-distributor ramps to southbound I-5 will be closed.

We try to schedule these weekends to avoid events that will draw huge crowds, but we can't avoid everything. For example, Seattle is marking the end of COVID restrictions with a "Welcome Back" celebration in the Chinatown International District July 17-18. We may be working on I-5, but you'll still be able to get to this event and others in the city.

There are all kinds of public transportation options in Seattle. Cycling is very popular and the city has many miles of bike lanes. If you feel the need to drive, consider carpooling and allow extra time.

Why so many closures?
This Revive I-5 project will require at least 16 weekend-long lane reductions between now and fall 2022 to finish the needed work. On July 17-18 our contractor, CA Carey, will finish the major paving work on a 1¼-mile section of I-5 between I-90 and Spokane Street.

During the rest of the closures, we'll replace 40 expansion joints on the freeway as well as 16 others on the ramps that serve I-5 in this area.
In the past few months our crews have had to make several emergency expansion
joint repairs in the middle of the day on I-5.

If you drive this area frequently, you've probably seen our maintenance crews out doing emergency repairs on broken expansion joints. We've had to repair about seven of these since the start of spring. And they seem to break at the most inconvenient times – the middle of the day, or in the case of the most recent one, during peak afternoon traffic.

Repairing these joints during scheduled closures can be tough on people who need to travel, but scheduling them allows many people to adjust their travel plans and reduces the number of vehicles on that section of highway.

Thanks for your patience. We have a lot of work to do on I-5. With good planning, we'll finish it and you'll get to your destination.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Rise in work zone crashes a concern for everyone

By Jordan Longacre

Flying glass, spinning lights and the crushing weight of a 4,000-pound vehicle slamming into roadside crews and a vehicle pulled to the shoulder. It’s a scene we see far too often in clearly marked work and emergency zones along the highway, and lately it’s only gotten worse.

“It’s a hostile environment working out on the highways,” Josh Stuckey, one of our Incident Response Team drivers, said. “We are standing right next to traffic flying by us at 50, 60 even 70 miles per hour. I can’t stress enough how important it is that drivers pay attention. We are out there protecting your loved ones, but remember, we are someone’s loved one too.”

Just in the past few months we have seen a flagger killed, an off-duty Seattle Police officer killed while helping a stranded driver, a Washington State Patrol officer hit by a driver in a stolen car, a tow truck operator who lost a leg in a work zone crash and another tow driver was killed along with two people he was assisting.  

In May, one of our Incident Response Team drivers was seriously hurt on I-405 in Bothell when a driver struck his truck in a lane closed to traffic. Police say the driver was impaired. This same IRT worker has been hit three times since 2016 while responding to drivers needing help on the highway.

Recently one of our Incident Response Team workers was seriously injured when a vehicle crashed into his truck as he assisted at the site of another collision.

“The people who work on our roadways, ferry docks and bridges are giving their best to make things safer for the traveling public,” Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste said.  “They shouldn’t have to be giving up their safety, and in some cases their very lives, as well.”

It seems a daily occurrence we receive reports of another close call or worse with road crews and emergency response workers. We take each new report personally as these are not just our co-workers but also our friends. We need you to do the same.

Many of our workers have encountered close calls, suffered serious injuries or even died in our work zones. We average more than 100 vehicles or workers struck by third-party drivers every year and it’s hard to find any of our road workers who hasn’t had an injury or numerous close calls.

“We’re seeing far too many dangerous situations on our roadways,” Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar said. “Each of these are tragedies that affect roadway crews, their co-workers, families and friends. This can’t continue.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports Washington state had 557 highway traffic fatalities in 2020, a 3 percent increase from 2019 even with drastically reduced traffic due to the pandemic.

Crews work within feet or even inches of fast-moving traffic, trying to keep everyone safe. We focus on their safety by planning and equipping them to do their job, but we need the public’s help. Driving safely is everybody’s responsibility.

The aftermath of a work zone collision where one of our Incident Response Team workers was seriously hurt in Bothell.

So, what can you do? We ask all drivers in and near work zones to:

  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they’re there for your safety
  • Be Kind – our workers are helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone’s life

“Traffic whizzing by hardly fazes me anymore,” Stuckey said. “But I do notice when someone slows down or moves over, and I have to say we really appreciate it. We need that buffer between us assisting someone on the highway and the traffic going by.”

Incident Response Team worker Josh Stuckey speaks at a recent press conference about work zone safety, where he recounted close-calls he’s had in his decade working as an IRT.

By the numbers

Despite a significant decrease in vehicles and work zones on the road for several months in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of collisions in work zones remained high, and that has continued into 2021. And while roadway workers are at risk in work zone crashes, they’re not the only ones: 94.4 percent of Washington roadway work zone fatalities and injuries were to drivers, their passengers or people in other passing vehicles.

It’s not just workers who are injured in work zone crashes. In fact, in almost 95 percent of the cases, it’s the other driver, their passenger or people in passing vehicles who are hurt.

Impaired and distracted driving in work zones

One of the most significant factors we have seen in recent work zone collisions are drivers who are impaired or driving under the influence. A recent study by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports that 50 percent of roadway fatalities are due to impaired driving and on average 149 people die each summer due to these types of collisions.

Another contributing factor to work zone collisions on our highways is distracted driving.

According to the Traffic Safety Commission’s 2020 Distracted Driving Observation Survey, the statewide distracted driver rate increased from 6.8 percent in 2019 to 9.4 percent last year. The increases included all types of driver distraction, not just hand-held cell phone use.

Distracted or inattentive driving is one of the top three leading causes of work zone crashes on state highways. Our crews say they regularly see drivers looking at phones or other devices and blowing past signs about slowing down or stopping – which puts everyone on the road at risk.

Attenuators have been life-savers in protecting our crews, though we wish they weren’t needed. On the right is an intact attenuator, on the left is one crushed in a work zone crash while protecting workers.

Chief Batiste urges drivers to take responsibility on the road. “Safe roads are everybody’s business,” he said. “Slow down, never drive impaired and pay attention to the road in front of you.”

Move Over, Slow Down law

While many work zones are scheduled ahead of time and have pre-planned traffic control in place, we also have emergency work that requires crews to be on highway shoulders or lanes next to active traffic.  State law requires motorists to move over one lane if possible whenever passing emergency crews on highway shoulders. If moving over isn’t possible, then drivers must slow to 10 mph below the posted speed limit.

The Move Over, Slow Down law applies to more than just law enforcement or fire trucks, it also includes our Incident Response Trucks as well as highway maintenance vehicles, tow trucks and solid waste trucks and utility trucks – as long as they’re displaying flashing lights.

So, the next time you’re out on the road and you see the flashing lights of a patrol car or one of our own IRT trucks, take a moment to move over or slow down. You might just save a life; it could even be your own. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Revive I-5 finishes first weekend of paving southbound in Seattle

By Tom Pearce

We were able to make a lot of progress on our southbound Revive I-5 project this weekend despite the record-breaking heatwave. Our contractor crews from CA Carey paved almost 10,000 linear feet of new polyester concrete on parts of three lanes between I-90 and Spokane Street in Seattle.

The heat did limit how much they could do. While the polyester concrete is more durable, it’s also a little more sensitive to heat. If the road surface temperatures are 90 degrees or above, we can’t apply it. That means we couldn’t pave until after 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday nights when it dropped below 90 degrees.

Camera screenshot of crews paving on southbound I5

Crews were paving on southbound I-5 until about 8 a.m. Sunday before the worst of the heat started.

Crews were able to finish paving all lanes of the three-lane section near I-90 and where the collector distributor rejoins southbound I-5. Farther south near Forest Street, though, only the left lane is paved. That means we’ll need to close more lanes down there to finish paving.

Thanks for your concern

We heard from many people during the weekend concerned about the crews working out in the extreme heat. It’s nice to know there are so many good-hearted people out there.

The contractor did a good job of taking care of their workers all weekend. They briefed them on the signs of heat-related illness, provided plenty of fluids, allowed frequent breaks as needed and opportunities to get out of the heat. Some of the work was also shifted to evening and overnight. If conditions had become too severe, they were ready to pull crews off the road.

The record heat did mean adjusting when some work like paving could be done, so crews did other tasks like saw cutting pavement during the day.
We want to thank all the workers who braved the heat to help us Revive I-5 this weekend. We still have a long way to go, but their efforts will complete major vital work on I-5 for the first time since it was built in the 1960s.

More to come

We still have another weekend of paving coming up July 17-18. For that we’re going to need to close the collector/distributor ramp to southbound I-5. People will still be able to use the collector-distributor to get to the SODO area but they won’t be able to get on southbound I-5. From the collector-distributor drivers will need to exit to:

  • I-90
  • Dearborn Street
  • 4th Avenue
  • Airport Way

It also means the eastbound and westbound I-90 ramps to southbound I-5 will again be closed for the weekend.

Once the paving is complete, we’ll launch into expansion joint replacement. That’s going to require about 14 summer weekends between now and fall 2022. We have 40 joints to replace on southbound I-5, plus about 16 more on ramps in the area.

This is a massive undertaking, but it’s just part of the work we’ll be doing on I-5 in the Seattle/King County area. We have more than two dozen projects in the queue, including several through downtown Seattle and on the Ship Canal Bridge. It will require a lot of planning to finish them all and we’re going to need a lot of help from you, but together we can Revive I-5 for another generation.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Sneak Peek: New Good To Go! coming soon

By Chris Foster

You may have heard that Good To Go! will be offline for two weeks beginning Friday, July 2, while we transition to a new system.

On Monday, July 19, we'll launch the new Good To Go! system, which will improve the customer experience by offering new payment options, new ways to manage accounts, more self-service features, improved notifications and a new MyGoodToGo.com

We've talked about some of the new features customers can expect, and how to best prepare for the closure. Now that we're getting closer, we want to give you a peek of the new website.

A new look for desktop and mobile
Besides a new look, customers will notice several new features when logging into their account the first time once the new Good To Go! system is available:
  • Alerts at the top of accounts will tell you when there is something happening on your account that you should know about, such as your credit card is expired, your account balance is low, your check was returned and more. You'll be able to sign up to receive these as text alerts too.
  • You'll see the status of your payment information at the top, including for pre-paid customers the point at which the account will replenish and the amount it will refill for.
  • If you prefer, you'll be able to switch your payment method to Pay As You Go, which doesn't require pre-paid tolls. Once your account balance runs out, tolls will be charged to your credit card twice a month.
  • If your account runs out of funds for any reason, you'll continue to see tolls posted on your account. We'll get into how this works closer to opening.
  • We've also got a new tool to help enter your license plate correctly when adding new vehicles, new ways to contact Good To Go! and track the status of your inquiry.
Take a virtual tour around your new Good To Go! account
Change is always tough, and we know at first the new system might be confusing for some. To help introduce you to the new Good To Go!, we created a series of videos showing you how to do these tasks on our new website. You can also always drop us a line on social media.

Please be patient
We've worked hard to test our new system to ensure it's working as intended, but large software projects are complex, and this work entails much more than a typical software update.

We must migrate the information for almost 2 million customers, verify that the information is accurate and test the system to ensure it's working correctly. If we encounter significant issues during the transition, it's possible that Good To Go! may be offline for longer. That said, we know it is inconvenient to have Good To Go! unavailable and our goal is to reopen as soon as we can.

Once we reopen, we will be operating with an entirely new system, and we know there will be issues that arise. We ask for your patience as we work through these issues.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Approaching the finish line on I-5 in Lakewood

By Cara Mitchell

It's hard to believe that in October 2018, we started widening I-5 for new HOV lanes and rebuilding the Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane interchanges in Lakewood. Fast forward 2½ years and a pandemic later, we are near the finish line.
Before and after images of I-5 at Berkeley Street (top) and at Thorne Lane (bottom)

Living through large construction projects like this takes patience. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We've had to endure some long ramp closures, speed limit reductions, and a few snowstorms while raising the interstate 14-feet, demolishing old overpasses and building new ones. While we're not quite done yet with the work zones, we do want to thank residents, businesses, and travelers for their patience.
To recap a few of the improvements made so far:
  • New overpasses at Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street removed potential conflicts between high-speed trains and vehicles, and those who walk or ride. The new overpasses also created room for an additional HOV lane in each direction of I-5.
  • Raising I-5 at Berkeley Street 14-feet to eliminate an ongoing maintenance expense. When I-5 was originally built in the 1950s, the highway at Berkeley Street sat below the water-table. Custom water pumps were installed to manage this issue, and as the pumps aged, maintenance became expensive.  
  • Resurfacing both directions of I-5 and all ramps provides a smoother ride, extends the life of the highway and reduces the need for costly emergency maintenance repairs and unexpected closures.
HOV Lanes
The biggest improvement is something travelers can't use – just yet. Adding a new HOV lane in each direction of I-5 is a monstrous accomplishment. We can't just go out and toss in a new lane. It requires coordination and partnerships with surrounding communities.

The extra wide shoulder you see on the left side of the highway will be where the HOV lane opens later this summer. First, crews are finishing final paving and striping. Drivers will continue to see multiple lanes and ramps closed at night for this work

The sign structures that mark the HOV lanes are expected to be installed in August. Once the signage is in place and final striping is complete, we will open the HOV lanes.
Crews close lanes and ramps at night on I-5 through Lakewood as they layer new asphalt across each lane.
This work will continue through July.

While the temporary speed limit reduction is no longer in place, drivers need to remember that fines are doubled in work zones. Watch your speed and don't look at your phone. Give crews a brake.

I-5 barrier and drainage work
Crews have temporary work zones in place on southbound I-5 near the old Berkeley Street exit and between Gravelly Lake Drive and Thorne Lane to finish barrier and install drainage. We hope to have this work finished in late August.

Thorne Lane and Union Avenue roundabout
The new roundabout connection at Union Avenue and the top of the Thorne Lane overpass should finish and open in late July. Crews are still paving, building sidewalks and adding curbs. While it's starting to look more like a finished road, we ask people to please stay out of the work zone. The road closure signs are still in place to keep both travelers and crews safe.
The roundabout at Thorne Lane and Union Avenue is under construction.

Utility work near Murray Road
Crews continue to finish connecting water and sewer lines near the Thorne Lane and Murray Road roundabout. Drivers in the area will see occasional lane closures throughout the summer as work wraps up.
Crews work to connect water and sewer lines near the Murray Road roundabout.

Landscaping for pollinators
For two springs, we've witnessed a beautiful array of wildflowers blooming along the corridor, which has really brightened the Pacific Northwest gray days. The flowers are part of a pollinator seed mix that we required as part of the landscaping on the project. The plants have different bloom times, so the look of the flowers will change throughout the year. Crews will finish installing final landscaping on the project later this fall.
A contractor reviews landscaping specifications.

But wait...there's more
We started brainstorming ways to bring congestion relief to this vital corridor in 2010. Funding for this project was approved by the state legislature in 2015. And now, six years later, we are wrapping up phase 2 of the overall project.

Phase 3 construction of this overall project will take place at the I-5/Steilacoom-DuPont Road interchange in DuPont. Residents, businesses, and travelers can anticipate construction to begin in 2023.

Safety first
We ask that drivers continue to avoid driving distracted through work zones and pay attention to road closed signs and orange cones. We will continue to share the weekly overnight lane and ramp closures that accompany this work on our Travel Planner web page.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

New southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opening to one lane of traffic soon!

By Cara Mitchell

Believe it. It's really happening. This month, as part of an upcoming traffic shift, we will open one brand spanking new travel lane on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

Why is one lane important? It means we're just a couple months away from shifting all southbound lanes on to the new seismically upgraded bridge. It also means the 20-plus years of widening I-5 and SR 16 to build and connect HOV lanes is almost over. Yes, we know that's a long time. Building new bridges to widen I-5 while keeping lanes open during peak commute hours is kind of like remodeling your kitchen while trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner for three football teams, all at the same time.

Before we can honk horns and toss hard hats into the air in celebration, there's work to be done and traffic shifts to pay attention to. Here's what's coming up that travelers need to know about.

June traffic shift

Since June 2019, southbound I-5 drivers using exit 135 to Portland Avenue, Bay Street or northbound SR 167 have used what we call a temporary collector-distributor lane. This temporary lane was operating on the old southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge so we could provide access from the Port of Tacoma Road to southbound I-5 and access to exit 135 while the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge was being built.

This coming weekend, June 18-20 – weather permitting - crews will close ramps and shift this temporary collector-distributor lane on to the new southbound I-5 bridge.

From 11:59 p.m. Friday, June 18 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, June 20, the following will close around-the-clock:
  • Southbound I-5 exit 135 to Portland Avenue, northbound SR 167 and Bay Street
  • Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5
  • Southbound I-5 temporary collector-distributor lane

A look at how the temporary collector-distributor lane will shift onto
the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

During the around-the-clock closure, crews will reconfigure and rebuild both ramps so that they are accessible from the lane now coming across the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. Once the two ramps and collector-distributor lane reopen, drivers will be on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
The new temporary configuration for southbound I-5 exit 135 along with the temporary
collector-distributor lane rejoining mainline I-5.

Detour for southbound I-5 exit 135

Detour routes will be clearly signed during the weekend closure. With the collector-distributor lane closed, drivers exiting to Portland Avenue or SR 167 will use southbound I-5 to northbound I-705 to SR 509, and return back to southbound I-705 to northbound I-5 and exit at Portland Avenue. Drivers using the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 will detour to northbound I-5 to exit 137 for SR 99 North, and 54th Avenue East and back to southbound I-5.
Here are the detour routes for the upcoming weekend closure of southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge ramps and lane.

Why are we doing this?

Crews are shifting the temporary lane onto the new bridge to prepare for work demolishing the old southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
A Beam Moving System is being assembled to help remove the old girders from above the
Puyallup River on the old I-5 Puyallup River Bridges.

There is still work taking place on the new Puyallup River Bridge such as drainage, electrical and final pavement markings. The travel lane will be set up to provide crews the room they need to put the final touches on the bridge. We did something similar in 2018 when the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opened to traffic in stages as final work was completed.

What happens next?

Earlier we mentioned we were almost done with the project, and we really are. Here is a snapshot of the "honey-do" list to finish our kitchen remodel:
  • Remove the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge structures
  • In August, crews will finish realigning the Port of Tacoma on-ramp to the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. This work may require a 15-day closure of the ramp.
  • Finish the median barrier on I-5, south of the Puyallup River Bridge. This also ties into advancing work on the East L Street Bridge.
  • Later this year, all southbound I-5 travel lanes will move permanently from the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge onto the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. We will need to restripe northbound lanes across the bridge to bring everything into final configuration.
  • The icing on the cake will be getting new HOV lanes open. That will involve new striping on I-5 from the Fife curve to the Yakima Street overpass in Tacoma. That is scheduled for fall 2021.
About the new bridge...

We thought you might enjoy seeing some footage taken while crews built the bridge deck on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. The numbers that make up the size of this bridge are impressive – 84 girders, 1.3 million pounds of reinforced steel, and lots of concrete.
Stay aware

As always, please keep our crews, yourself, anfe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know these traffic shifts can take a little getting used to at first, so stay aware and make sure you give construction crews plenty of room soA they can get this work done safely.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

On the lookout for "murder hornets" along state roadways

Update Thursday, June 17: The Washington State Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have confirmed the first report of an Asian giant hornet for 2021. A resident in Marysville reported the deceased hornet on June 4.

By RB McKeon


While our maintenance crews are always on the lookout for noxious weeds along our highways, for the past year or so there's been another type of pest that has gotten our attention and probably yours. And while Japanese knotwood and Scotch broom may strike fear into some, it's nothing compared to hearing about the infamous "murder hornets!"

That's right, we're talking about the old Vespa mandarinia, AKA Asian giant hornets or, yes, murder hornets. And our crews have been taking an active role in helping prevent this new pest from spreading.
A close-up look at an Asian giant hornet
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

What's a murder hornet?

This invasive species of hornet from Asia was found last year in Whatcom County. While native hornet species are a natural part of the state's eco-system, these non-native hornets can dominate local species and pose a serious threat to Washington honeybees – thus earning the nickname murder hornets. Although these insects are not typically aggressive towards humans, their stings are extremely painful and can leave permanent scars. And if you want to see these murder hornets murdering, you can watch this video shared by our friends over at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Why do we care?

As managers of more than 100,000 acres of public land across the state, our agency plays an important role in identifying, managing and mitigating invasive species. Most of the time this work, in partnership with the County Noxious Weed Control Boards and the Washington state departments of Agriculture and Ecology, is focused on combatting a host of noxious weeds found along highways. This work is vital in being stewards of our public lands, including protecting crops that support economic health and preserving native vegetation that is necessary for a healthy eco-system.

Watching for and trapping suspect hornets may not seem like one of our agency's duties, but it's all part of our commitment and responsibility to protect the environment. We live here too, and don't want our crews to be stung by these hornets or see native species harmed in our communities.

"As stewards of state lands, we have a responsibility to minimize any harm that our transportation system has on the environment and the economy," said Ray Willard, our roadside maintenance program manager. "When something like invasive hornets threaten our state, our crews are always willing to go the extra mile, learn new protocols and support our state partners."
Our crews will be putting out and monitoring traps like these in search of Asian giant hornets.
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

OK, so what's the plan?

This year, we will again help track these hornets. Beginning in July, our crews will set hornet traps in Northwest Washington along the highway right of way and monitor them throughout the season. This is part of the Department of Agriculture's overall focus on trapping in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan, Jefferson and Clallam counties. The plan is to have at least 1,200 traps in place across the state between all agencies and citizen scientists, along with working with cross-border agencies in British Columbia to track the hornets.

Traps are relatively simple to make, requiring a plastic bottle and simple ingredients like orange juice, rice wine or brown sugar. Traps are placed at least 6 feet high on trees near forest edges. As our crews are out doing regular maintenance, preservation and construction work they are able to check traps weekly for any captures and turn anything of note over to the Department of Agriculture for further analysis. If you are interested in participating in trapping as a citizen scientist, WSDA has details on its website.
This Asian giant hornet was found with a nest during a 2020 tree removal.
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

How can I tell if it's a murder hornet?

But how do our maintenance crews (or you) know what to look for? What's the difference between a murder hornet and any old regular hornet? The Department of Agriculture created a short training video for workers, highlighting the risks these hornets pose and what to do if we come across them. Asian giant hornets are:
  • Usually 1½ -2 inches in length
  • Have a large orange head with prominent eyes
  • Have a black and orange/yellow striped abdomen
  • From large colonies that usually nests in the ground
If you see a suspect hornet

If you see or think you've seen one of these hornets, please report it online at agr.wa.gov/hornets or via email hornets@agr.wa.gov. If it's safe to do so, photograph it and send the photo to the contact above and put the specimen in a jar or baggie in the freezer until you hear back. These hornets are not typically aggressive toward humans, but they will still sting people who attempt to handle them. They will also sting while defending their nest or defending a beehive they are attacking. Please don't swat at or otherwise disturb the hornets and just focus on reporting the sighting or specimen. The Washington State Department of Health has information about what to do if you are stung.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The next generation of Good To Go!

Update: July 12, 2021
Good To Go! is back online and customers can now check out the new features.

Update: June 14, 2021
Good To Go! customers now have more time to prepare as we will be delaying the transition to our new system by two weeks.

The call center and website will now be available to customers until Friday, July 2, and passes can be purchased until Monday, June 28.
By Chris Foster

As part of our work to improve Good To Go! for our customers, we will soon transition to a new Good To Go! system and new call center. Before we can do that, we need to take our current Good To Go! system offline for about two weeks. 

The Good To Go! website, phone line, and customer service center will be closed for about two weeks beginning Friday, June 18 while we transition to a more modern, user-friendly system. We are still completing final testing of the system, so if there are significant issues we encounter before June 18, there's a chance that date may change.

During the two-week closure, you'll be unable to access your account, pay tolls, or reach customer service. Check our website to learn how you can prepare for the two-week closure.
For about two weeks starting in mid-June, our Good to Go! website, phone line and customer service center will be closed while we switch to a new system.

We've been hard at work making our system better

Our current system is more than 10 years old and hasn't kept pace with technological advancements or customer needs so we're excited to introduce new features as part of the update. Many of the new features are the result of feedback we've heard from customers throughout the years. The new system makes it easier to save money on tolls and has more tools to help yourself online without having to call customer service.

Changes Good To Go! customers will notice
  • New Pay As You Go option – In our new system, you can open a Good To Go! account without pre-paying $30 in tolls. This will give another way for people to save money with a Good To Go! account. With Pay As You Go, tolls are charged to your credit card twice a month. 
    • How is this different from our current system?
      Our current system requires customers to pre-pay $30 in tolls to pay a lower toll rate. Many customers prefer not to pre-pay their tolls, especially those who only use express toll lanes toll-free as a carpooler.

  • Toll bills tied to Good To Go! accounts – If your Good To Go! account balance becomes negative for any reason, you'll still be able to manage all toll trips through your account. 
    • How is this different from our current system? Currently if your balance is negative and you drive on a toll road, the system is unable to apply the toll to your account. Instead, the customer receives a toll bill in the mail that they must resolve separately.
  • More self-service options – New tools will give you greater control over your account, including the ability to reset your password, dispute tolls online through your Good To Go! account, and more. 
    • How is this different from our current system?
      In the current system, to reset your password, change payment methods or dispute tolls from your account, you must contact customer service. 
Changes Pay By Mail customers will notice
  • Easier for Pay By Mail customers to save money by opening an account – If you Pay By Mail you'll be able to open an account as you pay your bill online and save money.
    • How is this different from our current system?
      Today, customers who Pay By Mail, which is $2 more per trip than the Good To Go! rate, must call customer service if they want to lower their bill by opening a Good To Go! account.

  • Toll bills will include all outstanding unpaid tolls, even those from prior billing cycles – Your bill will show you all unpaid tolls tied to your vehicle from the past 30 days, 60 days and longer. It will also reflect any civil penalties which have been issued.
    • How is this different from our current system?
      In the current system, customers only see unpaid tolls from their last bill and civil penalties are billed separately. This can cause confusion about the total amount due for some customers.
What else is new?
  • Customer call back option – Instead of waiting on hold to speak to a representative, you can request a call back.

  • Track the status of your inquiry – If you need to contact customer service, you can open a case, submit a message, and upload files. You'll then receive a link to track the status of your case.

  • Text notifications – You'll have the option to receive important account alerts directly to your phone via SMS messaging. So if your credit card has expired or a payment failed, you'll know right away.
We're excited to offer you these new features – but it may be challenging in the short term.

Large-scale software projects are complex and challenging. We know issues will arise once we reopen and we ask for patience as we work through them. 

When Good To Go! reopens, we expect very long wait times at our customer call center. These long wait times could last for months as we settle into a new normal, so make sure you're prepared ahead of time. 

We've been working on this new system for several years, and we know many of you have been awaiting its launch. While we hoped to launch the system sooner, our priorities are the safety and security of your information, as well as your experience with our system in the long run. 

We're taking the extra steps to make sure that our handling of customer information throughout the process follows the strict guidelines of the industry's security protocols. We are also ensuring that the system offers a better user-experience.

These steps take time. We know that in the end, we'll be able to offer a new system and an improved user-experience for our nearly two million customers.

Questions?

If you have questions about the new system, or the upcoming two-week closure of Good To Go!, please reach out to us by calling 1-866-936-8246, or sending an email to GoodToGoTolling@wsdot.wa.gov.