Tuesday, March 30, 2021

High School to Highways program gives young adults a path to public service

 By Angie Millar

Spring break is here for many students, and those graduating from high school – or recently graduated – may be wondering what comes next. It’s a question many of us dealt with and we know it can be daunting.

Might we suggest our High School to Highways program?

It’s a program designed for graduating seniors and recent grads to give them an opportunity to join our maintenance team. We started it in 2020 to help us fill open maintenance jobs in several areas of the state while offering a foot in the door to those looking to start a career.

How the program works

Any graduating senior or recent high school grads between the ages of 18-22 can apply. Top applicants will be selected and interviewed and from that group a handful will be selected for various roles in a variety of locations around the state. They go through our maintenance academy and orientation, learning how to use equipment and perform repairs such as guardrail and pothole work.

Students in the program are assigned a mentor for the first two years, gaining hands-on experience working on our highways. The agency also covers the cost to obtain a commercial driver’s license, which our maintenance workers need to operate construction vehicles and heavy machinery.

These are not internships. Those picked for the program are full-fledged employees of our agency.

Applications for the program are now open through May 18 on our jobs web page.
Those chosen for our High School to Highways program are paired up with
 experienced members of our maintenance team to learn a variety of skills
to help keep our roads safe.

Why we are doing it

Like many organizations, we have an aging work force, leaving holes to fill across our agency, including the always-important maintenance department.

By partnering with Career Technology Education programs at local high schools, community colleges, tribal and community organizations throughout the state, we’re able to connect interested students with a possible career path while helping us develop a sustainable, skilled, diverse workforce. Maintaining a robust workforce helps us keep goods and people moving across our state, ultimately benefitting all residents.

“We want to establish this pipeline so that every year recent grads know this is a standing program,” Human Resources Manager Joelle Davis said. “There are students that need an opportunity like this.”

Looking to the future

Two years ago, four people participated in the High School to Highways Program strictly filling jobs in King and Snohomish counties. This year we are expanding it to include Skagit, Whatcom, Pierce and Thurston counties as well as the Olympic Peninsula and Wenatchee.

It’s a program we’re really excited to see grow, helping us fill critical maintenance positions while giving young people a path to a rewarding career.

Monday, March 29, 2021

WSDOT searching for missing plane in rural Clark County

Update Monday, March 29, 2021 at 10:25 p.m.

Pilot and passenger rescued after small plane crashed near Yacolt Monday afternoon

YACOLT – A Navy helicopter rescued two people Monday night after their small plane crashed near Yacolt earlier that afternoon.

The search crew out of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station found the pilot and passenger near Jack Mountain. The single-engine plane was unable to maintain altitude while flying from Bend, Oregon to the Tacoma Narrows Airport near Gig Harbor Monday afternoon. The plane is registered out of Vashon Island but names and other details of the pilot and passenger were not immediately available Monday night.

The pilot was speaking to air traffic control in Portland and alerted them when the plane’s engine started running rough and the aircraft was losing altitude. Voice and radar signals were eventually lost, but the last-known signal gave search crews a good target for which to search.

The Navy crew found the Piper around 9:30 p.m. and were able to load them into their helicopter and fly them to the Yacolt Primary School parking lot for medical examination. Their medical conditions were not available Monday evening but they were not believed to be seriously injured and were able to walk to the clearing where the helicopter picked them up.

The Navy helicopter searched by air while the Clark County Sheriff’s Office initiated a ground search. The search was coordinated by the Washington State Department of Transportation, which under state law is charged with the coordination and management of aerial search and rescue within the state.

Media questions about any investigation of cause in this matter can be directed to the National Transportation Safety Board.


Monday, March 29, 2021 at 8 p.m.

OLYMPIA - The Washington State Department of Transportation is searching for a missing plane near the town of Yacolt in Clark County.

The single engine plane was headed from Bend, Oregon, to the Tacoma Narrows Airport near Gig Harbor, Washington on Monday afternoon, March 29. The pilot was talking to air traffic control in Portland and then announced the engine was running rough and they were unable to maintain altitude and were descending through the clouds. The plane’s last radar and voice contact was at 3:47 p.m. in forest land near the town of Yacolt. Yacolt is a small town located northeast of Vancouver and south of Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington.

There is no emergency beacon signal being picked up, but the last known radar contact gives crews a target search location. The search is being conducted by air with a helicopter out of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and on the ground by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Two people were in the plane, which is registered in Washington. Further details about the plane and occupants are not being released at this time due to the ongoing search and investigation. Updates on the search will be posted on this blog. Email updates are available online via the >Air Search and Rescue listserve

WSDOT, by statute (RCW 47.68.380), is charged with the coordination and management of aerial search and rescue within the state. The agency works in conjunction with volunteer search and rescue groups, law enforcement and other agencies, such as the Navy, in carrying out such searches.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Seattle’s Montlake Bridge getting some serious work this summer

By Joe Calabro

When I first crossed the historic Montlake Bridge in Seattle, I was maybe eight years old, on my way to watch the University of Washington men's basketball team play. I noticed two things: a tall sailboat meandering down the Montlake Cut and the great big towers on either end of the bridge, straight out of a Magic Tree House book.    

Fast forward to today, regular users of the bridge might tell you they notice a couple other things: lots of unplanned maintenance and a jolting drive. 

This summer we'll begin a two-phase project to bring some love to this iconic structure, as we work to extend its life and return some of its former glory. But be forewarned: it comes with major closures.
The Montlake Bridge was originally built in 1924,
but it hasn't had major repairs since 1998.
Why now? 

In 2020, maintenance crews had to weld patches on the metal grid deck nine different times. That's a lot of upkeep and a lot of disruptions for the 60,000 vehicles that use the Montlake Bridge each day. Though this bridge is still safe for travel, our crews simply can't keep up with these maintenance needs. We maintain about 3,500 bridges around the state, many of which were built decades ago and are in need of preservation work. 

There's also an opportunity to collaborate with nearby construction. By coordinating the grid deck replacement to coincide with work that the SR 520 Montlake Project plans to do on Montlake Boulevard, we can limit effects to the community. If we were to postpone this work, we wouldn't get the same benefit.

Phase 1 means a month-long closure in August

Phase 1 of this project will replace all 84 panels of the bridge's metal grid deck, work that was last done more than 20 years ago. Construction crews will also replace two expansion joints. 

Here's the rub: to tackle this level of work, we need a month-long, around-the-clock closure of the bridge to vehicle traffic in August. We're targeting a timeframe of Aug. 9 to Sept. 3, fitting this closure between the end of Seafair and the start of the Labor Day weekend. The pedestrian pathways will stay open and boat traffic will be maintained. For the safety of workers and travelers, vehicles will be prohibited. Yes, I know — it's far from ideal, but this work can't wait any longer. 
One of several repairs that maintenance crews made
to the bridge deck in the last year.
Phase 2: Mechanical rehabilitation

Once the deck is replaced, crews will begin rehabilitating the bridge's mechanical systems. The Montlake Bridge is a bascule bridge; each end opens for boat traffic as needed. Key components need to be replaced to ensure the bridge opens and closes as it's supposed to. Replacing the worn 25-year-old center lock will keep each side of the bridge in alignment, making for a smooth ride and minimizing stress on the movable spans. This work will take up to five weekends this fall. During those weekends, the bridge will be in the raised position, restricting access to anyone walking, rolling or driving.

Here's what you can expect, however you travel:

Walking or rolling: If you typically spend sunny days walking or rolling over the Montlake Cut, your August plans don't need to change. The pedestrian pathways on the east and west sides will stay open as crews replace the grid deck. In the fall, the pathways will be closed for as many as five weekends during the mechanical rehabilitation work. 
Approximately 60,000 vehicles and hundreds of pedestrians
and bicyclists use the Montlake Bridge each day.
Driving or using transit: Vehicle traffic will be prohibited during both phases of work on the Montlake Bridge. Drivers will be detoured to State Route 520 and Interstate 5. Transit will use the same detour or the University Bridge, depending on the route. King County Metro's trip planner and service advisory page will help you get around. 

Boating through the Montlake Cut: Since crews and equipment will be stationed on the bridge during the grid deck replacement in August, opening the bridge for tall boat traffic will work differently. We're working with boaters and the United States Coast Guard to work out details that will keep boats moving throughout the August work. Mariners won't be affected during the fall weekends since the bridge will be in the raised (upright) position. 
We're working with the Coast Guard and boating groups to
work out bridge opening procedures during the work.
Let's keep Montlake moving

We're working closely with the Seattle Department of Transportation, transit partners, emergency services, the University of Washington and others in Montlake to ensure traffic flows as efficiently as possible. But it won't be easy. 

To help us keep Montlake moving, stay engaged and start planning as early as you can. We will have more details to share in the coming weeks and months, so check for updates often: 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Coming soon: 3-month closure of Thorne Lane ramp to southbound I-5

Update: Mar. 11, 2021
The ramp closure is now scheduled to begin Wednesday, March 17, weather permitting. The contractor needs additional time to finish preparational work before shifting the travel lanes. We will provide updates as they become available from the from the contractor.
By Cara Mitchell

Yes, it's true. Knock on wood, the project that rebuilds the Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane interchanges so we can widen Interstate 5 in Lakewood will wrap up this year.

The work, which adds auxiliary and HOV lanes to I-5, will require a significant ramp closure starting the night of Friday, March 12, weather permitting.

Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5
Since November 2020, access to southbound I-5 from Thorne Lane has only been available from the Tillicum neighborhood via Thorne Lane. Travelers coming from Murray Road, JBLM Logistics Gate or the Woodbrook neighborhood are following a detour on northbound I-5 to Gravelly Lake Drive to southbound I-5.

As early as March 13, construction crews will permanently close the Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 from the Tillicum neighborhood. This important ramp connection will reopen in its final configuration, from the new overpass, three months after the closure begins.

This map shows the detour route for travelers coming from Murray Road SW.

During the temporary three-month closure:
  • Travelers coming from Murray Road, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Logistics Gate or the Woodbrook neighborhood will continue to detour on northbound I-5 to Gravelly Lake Drive, then onto southbound I-5.
  • Tillicum travelers will use the Berkeley Street interchange to reach southbound I-5, or use the new Thorne Lane overpass and follow the same detour as travelers coming from Murray Road.
Signal timing at Berkeley Street
You have told us about backups at Berkeley Street getting to I-5, and we've seen it ourselves. More travelers coming from Murray Road are detouring through Tillicum and using Berkeley Street instead of detouring to Gravelly Lake Drive. We will continue to monitor and adjust the signal timing at Berkeley Street, but we need travelers coming from the Woodbrook area, especially freight haulers, to use the Gravelly Lake Drive detour.  

Why a three-month closure of the ramp?
Closing this connection creates work zones for the contractor to do the following:
  • Finish the roundabout connection from Union Avenue and to the new Thorne Lane high bridge.  Once finished, this will officially remove the railroad crossing at Thorne Lane. Travelers will instead cross the railroad using the new overpass. 
  • Complete the collector-distributor lane barrier that will guide travelers from a shared exit on southbound I-5 to Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street.
  • Build a new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 from the new overpass.


Permanent change to southbound I-5 exits
In three months, a new shared exit on southbound I-5 will open to travelers going to Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street. The barrier that is being built will eventually separate mainline I-5 traffic from those taking the exit. Studies show that using barrier in this way can prevent excessive weaving and merging that can often cause collisions.

Anyone traveling to Madigan Army Medical Center, Camp Murray, JBLM's Logistic Gate or Lakewood's Tillicum and Woodbrook neighborhoods will be using this shared exit. It's a permanent change coming that drivers will need to take note of.

New on-ramp
After the three-month closure, a new on-ramp to southbound I-5 will open to travelers from the east side of the interstate. We've previously referenced this new on-ramp as the Thorne Lane "low ramp", and it's only accessible from the Murray Road roundabout. Here is the important part: travelers will no longer cross the railroad before heading to southbound I-5. Instead, drivers will turn left from the new overpass at a signalized intersection and continue south to the collector/distributor lane to Berkeley Street. From there, drivers will merge on to southbound I-5.

This video shows how the new interchange will operate once all the I-5 widening is finished.
We will continue to share the weekly overnight lane and ramp closures that accompany this work on our Travel Planner web page.

As a reminder, the reduced speed limit is still in place on I-5 while crews finish the work. Thank you for your continued patience and support.