Friday, February 26, 2021

Thanking Deputy Secretary Keith Metcalf for his dedicated service

By Roger Millar

For the past five years, I've had the privilege of working with one of our agency's finest. Now I'm taking this opportunity to publicly thank Deputy Secretary of Transportation Keith Metcalf for his dedicated public service and to congratulate him on his upcoming retirement. 

With nearly 43 years of service to the people of Washington under his belt, Keith can retire knowing he made our agency and the many communities he touched better for his leadership and contributions. Most recently, Keith's focus has been on developing and executing the agency's Strategic Plan and ensuring our goals of Inclusion, Workforce Development and Practical Solutions are part of everything we do. Never have those efforts been more important as during this time when we need to address a public health emergency, racial inequality and budget uncertainty.
Deputy Secretary of Transportation Keith Metcalf retired from our agency in late February after a 43-year career here.

Among his contributions, Keith has been a steadfast supporter of the National Highway System's purpose to provide a transportation network that moves interstate freight and regional trips efficiently. He demonstrated that support through his leadership in the delivery of the first stages of the North Spokane Corridor, and by protecting the public investments made in the US 195 corridor. Keith was also instrumental in bringing the new Keller Ferry to a reality, ensuring the communities that depend on this important Columbia River crossing would continue to have reliable transportation connections.
Keith Metcalf had a hand in almost every part of our agency over his 43-year career, culminating in his role as Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

Keith helped me to reorganize the department to better serve our multimodal mission. We created the office of Urban Mobility and Access and the office of Multimodal Development and Delivery, realigning our team to focus on these missions under the leadership of their own assistant secretaries. We created our Active Transportation Division, an organization committed to improving our active transportation infrastructure and maintaining our leadership as this country's most bicycle friendly state. 

Keith has also been a leader and strong advocate in our efforts to improve the department's results in the area of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. He led our efforts to expand the activities of our Office of Equal Opportunity and served actively on the Governor's Sub-Cabinet on Business Diversity.
Deputy Secretary of Transportation Keith Metcalf, who retired this week, snaps a picture during construction of the SR 99 tunnel in Seattle.

Equally important, Keith is a people person. He has shown his care and support for the people of his community and fellow workers time and time again. From being a strong advocate for the annual food drives, to supporting Public Service Recognition Week, to encouraging physical activity by leading agency wellness walks and participating in the Bloomsday Run, to attending staff functions, Keith's down-to-earth manner made him an approachable part of the team.

Keith started here fresh out of Washington State University and throughout his career went on to gain experience across multiple regions and functional areas like construction, design, program management, maintenance, and others. His calm demeanor, counsel, and dedication proved invaluable to me and many others both inside and outside our agency. Keith represented our work to many organizations and forums across the state and nationally.

We are grateful to Keith for his leadership and dedication to transportation for all Washingtonians in this state. Please join me in wishing him a long, healthy and enjoyable journey in the next stage of his life!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Nisqually earthquake 20 years later: We’ve made seismic improvements but there’s more work ahead

Our most visible response, the Alaskan Way Viaduct project, improved safety and helped transform Seattle's waterfront

By Mike Allende
After the Nisqually earthquake, the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle was closed for inspections and repairs, and later strengthened to keep it safe for daily use. In 2019 the viaduct was replaced with the SR 99 tunnel.

It's been 20 years since the magnitude 6.8 Nisqually earthquake shook the Puget Sound region and we're still seeing its effects today.

On Feb. 28, 2001, hundreds of buildings were damaged and an estimated 400 people injured as the ground shook and rolled for 40 seconds. While bridges across the region by and large withstood the earthquake well, one of the most visible impacts was several columns supporting the Alaskan Way Viaduct in downtown Seattle cracked and sank, but did not collapse.

Seismic bridge retrofit, lifelines and greater resilience planning

Seismic retrofit work was already underway on our bridges and other infrastructure before 2001, but since then it's increased dramatically, including:
  • We've spent $144 million in bridge seismic retrofitting, completely retrofitting 323 bridges and partially retrofitting another 114, which still need some work. 
  • Working with state emergency managers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), we prioritized our seismic retrofit efforts along a "lifeline" designed to ensure emergency response and supplies can flow into the Puget Sound from the north, south and east. This lifeline identified and prioritized the most vital routes and bridges needed for transport during major emergencies. We are working on delivering a $171 million seismic retrofitting program that should complete lifeline retrofitting over the next 10 years.
  • New projects have replaced aging bridges with updated structures built to modern-day standards. Examples include:
    • The new SR 520 bridge, which opened in 2016
    • In Pierce County, 18 new seismically-updated bridges or overpass structures have been built as part of the I-5/SR 16 Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program and the I-5 Lakewood to Joint Base Lewis McChord projects.
    • Two new bridges over the Puyallup River (SR 162 & SR 167)
The new and more seismically-resilient Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal opened in December and work continues on Colman Dock in downtown Seattle to build a new, seismically improved multimodal terminal. Going forward, terminal repairs/upgrades are included in Washington State Ferries' long-range plans (pdf 11.7 mb).

From Alaskan Way Viaduct to SR 99 tunnel

In perhaps the most visible response, that powerful earthquake also jolted our agency to accelerate existing conversations about how to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, the double-deck concrete highway that carried 100,000 vehicles a day along Seattle's waterfront via SR 99. A parallel conversation also began about the deteriorating 70-year-old seawall that protected the waterfront's loose fill soils from Elliott Bay.

Twenty years later, those conversations have utterly transformed central Seattle's waterfront. Traffic on SR 99 now travels beneath the ground in the 2-mile SR 99 tunnel,  built to withstand strong earthquakes.

The last visible trace of the looming concrete fence that once separated Seattle from Elliott Bay was removed in November 2019. Seattle's new seawall opened in 2017, built to modern seismic and environmental standards and atop that seawall, the city of Seattle is building a new waterfront street flanked by new public space and multimodal transportation facilities.

Today, the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program is almost complete. The Battery Street Tunnel that once linked to the viaduct's northern end is gone, and the chasm it cut through neighborhoods near the Space Needle is replaced by a surface street. The final project of the program is set to begin construction later this year, which includes a new pedestrian plaza connecting Seattle's sports stadiums to the waterfront.

Looking back but planning for the future

Timelines have been hard to gauge during the COVID-19 pandemic, when weeks blend and a month can feel like a year. But the 20th anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake is a good time to pause and take stock of all that has been accomplished.

We still have more work to do, but in the 20 years since the ground shook from Olympia to British Columbia, we've made major safety improvements across the state to help us all have safer, more resilient infrastructure across the state.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Winter storm February 2021

Last updated: Feb. 15, 2021 at 7:45 a.m.

Clark and Skamania counties:

  • SR 14 - Both directions of SR 14 are again closed between Evergreen Blvd east of Washougal and the Hood River Bridge near White Salmon due to hazardous weather conditions. There is no estimate for reopening.

Lewis County:

  • SR 6 - Closures at MP 34.0 and MP 46.0 have both been cleared.

Yakima county

  • Cleared: SR 241 has reopened near Sunnyside due to blowing snow and poor visibility

For the full list of real-time storm related road closures head to our travel alerts website.

With a first round of snow on the ground and more expected going into this weekend, we're setting up a place to communicate with you what you need to know about closures and conditions across Western Washington.

Check back here for updates on any closure or other weather condition news.

Agency Twitter accounts:

  • @wsdot - Statewide updates
  • @wsdot_traffic - Traffic and construction reports for King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties
  • @wsdot_sw - Traffic reports for Vancouver and southwest Washington
  • @wsdot_passes - Mountain pass reports
  • @wsdot_tacoma - Traffic and construction reports for Pierce, Thurston, Mason and Kitsap counties
  • @goodtogowsdot - Good To Go! tolling information
  • @snoqualmiepass - I-90 Construction updates
  • @wsferries - Ferry alerts and updates
  • @wsdot_east - Traffic and highway news and information east of the Cascade Mountains
  • @wsdot_jobs - Current job openings
  • @wsdot_north - Highway traffic info for Whatcom, Skagit and Island Counties
  • @wsdot_520 - SR 520 traffic info and construction updates
  • @Amtrak_Cascades - Information and updates regarding travel aboard Amtrak Cascades

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Construction work progresses thanks to crew vigilance

By Hannah Britt

It's been almost a year since our state started experiencing the first effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic. This meant some adjustments at our construction sites and we are seeing the results of implementing successful safety protocols on all our highway construction projects.

Initially, construction projects across the state were paused when Governor Inslee issued the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. That meant a temporary work stoppage on 65 of our construction sites. Crews used that time to develop and implement new COVID safety protocols so they could safely restart work and move forward. Today, the rate of COVID-positive tests on our construction projects is considerably lower than the statewide average, and all cases are believed to be from exposure off the job.  
The SR 520 Montlake project in Seattle sat empty in March and April 2020 until statewide COVID-19 safety guidelines were adopted and new procedures enacted to allow construction to resume safely.

Scaling down while keeping fish moving 
During the initial construction pause, work continued on fish passage projects so they could stay on track to meet the deadline of the federal court order. Our Construction and Safety offices followed state and federal recommendations to keep those workers safe while protocols were developed for all construction projects.
The Minter Creek fish passage project on SR 302 in Pierce County was one of the projects that remained active in the months of the pandemic.

All in the details – resuming construction 
Our staff joined other agencies and the Governor's office to develop the safety protocols needed to safely resume construction projects statewide. They had to consider the best ways to resume work while learning about COVID-19 risks and how to mitigate them, all while the world was still learning about the spread of this new virus. 

A limited amount of low-risk activities resumed in Phase 1 in May 2020, and the rest of construction activities resumed in Phase 2 later that month. We worked with our contractors and sub-contractors to implement the Governor's new safety protocols (pdf 213 kb) on each site. Where would the hand washing stations go? How would each employee check their temperature? Who would ensure the protocols were being followed? In some cases, it was like trying to learn how to ride a bike all over again, with pedals six feet apart. The staff on each project worked out the details before crews reported – again – for their first day on site. 

Construction site changes - PPE 
Job sites look and operate a little differently with new safety measures. Crews must take their temperature before reporting for work, wear COVID-19 personal protective equipment and stay six feet apart. If a task requires that crews be within six feet, they must wear even more PPE. All crews are required to attend a COVID-19 training to learn about site-specific protocols to follow the statewide guidelines.
Crews on the SR 520 Montlake project must stop at the temperature check station each day before beginning work.

Making progress while keeping safety first 
These safety precautions are working! If a crew member is exposed to COVID-19, they must quarantine to keep their fellow employees safe. As of Dec. 31, 2020, there were 30 confirmed COVID cases on our construction projects, an infection rate of .006 (six people per 1,000). The statewide rate, as of Jan. 4, 2021, is .034 or 34.2 people per 1,000. We're still sorting out how the pandemic effected many project schedules, but we're proud of both our construction staff and partners who keep projects moving along safely!

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Rockslide and unstable slope to keep US 2 Pine Canyon closed

Emergency work could keep highway closed into March

Update: Feb. 18, 2021
Recent winter storms have covered the US 2 Pine Canyon slope in a layer of snow, which created safety concerns as the contractor can't determine where the cracks are located on the slope. Work is on hold as we wait for the snow to melt off but warmer weather and rain is in the forecast starting Monday, Feb. 22 so it appears the contractor can get back out there to scale off the boulder, repair netting and clear debris.

While the weather delay has cost a few days work, our contractor is experienced and expects to wrap up work the last week of March, assuming conditions remain safe. Reminder that the highway is closed until that time.
By Lauren Loebsack

We've seen a lot of debris slides so far this year in the wake of heavy precipitation, and the most recent one came early Tuesday morning, Feb. 2, when the upper section of a rock slope above US 2 about four miles east of Orondo in Douglas County fell, covering most of the roadway at milepost 143.7. The slide pulled the cable netting into the slide area and sheared off one of the cable anchors that attach the netting to the hillside.
A drone's-eye-view of the slide shows where the netting was pulled into the slide area and the newly
exposed boulder above the netting at the crest of the slope.

The rockslide dropped about 300 yards of debris including very large rocks, leaving the highway closed. Just as concerning, it left a boulder the size of a truck that is now hanging out above the highway. There is a tension crack behind the boulder that indicates it is at risk of falling and must be removed manually. The netting will also need to be extended and re-secured to the slope before the debris on the highway can be cleared. This will require a contractor that specializes in this type of work.
A close-up look at the cable net anchor that has been sheared

Fortunately, no one was hurt but the road will remain closed for some time. How long? Hard to say. We're moving forward with an emergency contract to get started as soon as possible but we estimate it could take about six weeks, reopening sometime in March. Until the road is reopened, please avoid the area. Never go around road closed signs as they are there for everyone's safety.

But I thought there was a net?
When we install netting and anchors on a hillside, they are designed both to stop smaller rocks from bouncing onto the highway and to stop catastrophic failures of a slope. IAn this case, it did. The slide could've been much worse. But this slope is undergoing a natural process called calving. You may have seen this happen on TV shows about glaciers when ice shears off and breaks away. Same thing with hillsides. Essentially rocks are breaking away from the hillside. The netting does all it can to prevent massive amounts of the slope to come down, but there's only so much they are designed to handle.
The newly-exposed rock at the crest of the slope (red dashed). Note that the east end of the cable net has been pulled from its original location (red arrows). Also note the newly exposed rock block at the top of the slope (yellow dashed).

OK, so what's next?
We know this closure is challenging for people who regularly travel through this area. There are really no great ways around the closure and there is no set detour. We encourage people to consult local maps to determine the best route to get where you're going.
About 300 yards of rock has fallen across both lanes of US 2

Once a contractor has been secured, we'll have a clearer picture of the timeline. We'll update this blog when we know more. You can also follow us on Twitter or sign up for our email/text alerts for updates.
The newly exposed rock must be removed from the slope prior to resecuring and extending the netting (yellow dashed).

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Maintaining our vital marine highway while keeping riders and employees safe

By Justin Fujioka

Safely operating a ferry system with a fleet of 21 auto-passenger vessels and 20 terminals on 10 routes is no easy feat. And for our 2,000 employees in our ferries division, that task is even harder with COVID-19.

Our vessel crews and terminal staff are braving the frontlines so we can continue to provide an important marine transportation link. But riders often don't see the support staff helping to keep people and goods moving across the Salish Sea during the pandemic. In particular, the men and women who keep our ferries and terminals in safe, working order.

We have more than 100 employees at our Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility on Bainbridge Island. The complex has 10 different trade shops: electric, pipefitter, machine, sheet metal, weld, lock, radio, carpenter, insulation and shore maintenance.
Our Eagle Harbor maintenance facility on Bainbridge Island

Like most construction sites, the facility was shut down for six weeks from late March through early May because of the coronavirus. Although the maintenance facility was closed, the ferries kept sailing and some staff members were still dispatched for critical work on our ferries and terminals.

One essential job was to install Plexiglas sneeze guards on our terminal toll booths to protect customers and ticket sellers. They built and customized each sneeze guard and installed them in late April through early May.
Ticket seller Lawrence Grohall behind a customized Plexiglas sneeze guard built and installed by our Eagle Harbor staff. Our information technology team designed and implemented the self-swipe credit card reader attached to a selfie stick, which is now used at all our ferry toolbooths.

Once Eagle Harbor was able to reopen, the facility's staff was still not allowed to work on anything that did not meet the six-foot separation requirement. Combined with the closure, this caused a backlog of maintenance work that they're still trying to catch up on.
Members of Eagle Harbor’s shore gang team weld bridge plates during a recent repair job at our Southworth ferry terminal.

In total, the staff at our Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility has completed hundreds of projects since the pandemic began, including emergency overhauls of vessels and urgent repairs at terminals. Again, that's tough to begin with, but COVID-19 has made their work even more technical and strategic.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Plans to reopen SR 112 in Clallam County moving forward

Update: Feb. 18, 2021
The soil beneath milepost 36.9 continues to shift. The roadway at this site has settled more than 13 feet. Environmental services crews will be on site next week to evaluate potential effects of construction on area species. Results from the environmental review will inform our next steps on this repair. We will continue to update this blog as we know more.
By Tina Werner

If you look up the definition of "wet," it reads: "Moistened, soaked or covered with water." It's the quintessential definition of a Pacific Northwest winter, and we aren't just talking about puddle jumping. This infamous winter weather has done a number on State Route 112 in Clallam County, resulting in more than a month-long closure due to slides.

Our recent challenges on SR 112 began on the first day of winter, Dec. 21, 2020. In one day, high temperatures, heavy rains, snow, and seasonal tides, resulted in our crews closing a section of the highway near the Pysht River. When crews inspected the roadway for potential reopening, they found roadway settlement in three separate locations.

Since the initial closure coupled with increasing rains, five total slide sites have been discovered. Our engineering geologists surveyed the locations using lidar imagery and collected pavement samples to make recommendations for reopening the highway.

As we wrap up January, here's where we are at:
  • Eight miles of SR 112 in Clallam County remain closed from mileposts 31-39
  • Five slide sites need repairs
  • A signed detour remains in place using SR 113 and US 101
  • Temporary repairs require an emergency contract
Five different areas of SR 112 saw mudslides that have kept the highway closed for more than a month.

We approach disaster repairs like these on a case-by-case basis. Some emergency repairs involve extensive debris removal and roadway cleanup, while others need significant highway engineering and hydraulic considerations before construction can even begin.
While SR 112 is closed, a signed detour is in place using SR 113 and US 101.

History of slide activity
SR 112, located on the Olympic Peninsula alongside the Salish Sea, sits on an active slide zone.  Our engineering geologists have documented significant slide activity every 10-20 years beginning in 1954 after the highway was reappropriated from Clallam County to WSDOT in the 1930s. The last major slide event was in 2009. The topographical and geological challenges along SR 112 require a calculated approach to address ongoing drainage, stability, and debris concerns.
Engineering geologists design unique solutions for each slide based on drainage concerns, debris and roadway settlement.

Getting SR 112 reopened
While all five slides created significant damage to the highway, the most serious and challenging repair is the fifth slide site at milepost 36.9. Portions of the roadway have dropped almost 13 feet and continue to move.
A look at one of the slides on SR 112 at milepost 36.9 where the roadway dropped almost 13 feet.

Our priority is getting the highway open as quickly and safely as possible but it's no easy task. It will take coordination, planning, and lots of elbow grease to get the job done. We're reviewing design solutions that will enable us to reopen SR 112. An example of the work ahead includes installing new culverts and repairing adjacent slopes along the highway. Some sections of SR 112 may reopen as temporary gravel surfaces. An emergency contract will be needed to repair the slide sites, with the intention of reopening the highway as soon as possible. This work will start as soon as the slides are stable enough for crews to safely begin work.

Once we know more, we will share updates on this blog, social media and via email.

We know many are anxious for SR 112 to reopen, and so are we. Recent storm damage to US 101 near Lake Crescent, our detour route, has created a challenge we are simultaneously addressing. We want you to know crews are working nonstop on both locations.

Hopefully, the storm clouds will ease in the coming weeks. Thank you for your continued patience.

Keeping our eye on the prize - finishing construction of the Puyallup River Bridge

By Cara Mitchell

On the night of Wednesday, Jan. 20, contractor Guy F. Atkinson Construction finished installing the final 30 bridge girders that now complete the backbone of the new southbound Interstate 5 Puyallup River Bridge in Tacoma.

In case you missed it, one of the thirty girders installed holds the record as the longest prestressed concrete girder manufactured in the United States, right here at Concrete Technology Corporation in Tacoma, WA.
The longest prestressed concrete girder ever manufactured in the United States was installed
on the new I-5 Puyallup River Bridge in early January.

We shared a video of this record-breaking girder being installed during the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 9.
Crossing this milestone means construction crews are now finishing building the bridge deck and advancing work to replace the original roadway surface on I-5 just between the new bridge and the Tacoma Dome.

Change to Exit 133 creates new work zone

In an effort to shorten up the construction timeline, we're moving forward with a temporary change to the location of southbound I-5 exit 133 to Tacoma's city center.

Weather permitting, as early as Wednesday, Feb. 3, travelers will begin seeing new signs on southbound I-5 in Fife alerting drivers of a new decision point for exiting to I-705 and State Route 7.

Crews will move the location for southbound I-5 exit 133 north to the vicinity of the Port of Tacoma Road overpass. This means travelers will need to stay alert and change lanes early enough to not miss the new exit. Travelers headed to I-705 and SR 7 will use the same exit and temporary collector/distributor lane as travelers exiting to Portland Avenue and Bay Street.

Should you miss the exit...

The new decision point is two miles before the actual exit. If you happen to miss it, follow southbound I-5 to exit 130 at South 56th Street and use the cloverleaf ramps to safely merge back to northbound I-5. From there you can access northbound I-5 exit 133 to I-705 and SR 7. While we know this change will take some getting used to, it is temporary.

By moving the exit location, the contractor will open up a work zone next to the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. This change has the potential of moving travelers onto the new bridge by late summer instead of later this fall. The contractor is hopeful that the southbound I-5 exit 133 will return to its original location in a couple months, weather permitting.

The end result

Understandably, changing the location of exits for drivers can be frustrating. The payoff for doing this is the contractor is working towards having all mainline and HOV lanes on I-5 in Tacoma and Fife opened by late summer or at least the end of this September. We know from experience that things happen in our world that may change that outcome. Fingers crossed though, we can meet this goal and bring capacity for all I-5 travelers sooner than anticipated.

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