Thursday, April 15, 2021

The return of Revive I-5 means lots of work in Seattle this summer

By Tom Pearce

Revive I-5 in Seattle is back this year. After a summer off in 2020, we have two big rehabilitation projects – one northbound and one southbound – to help preserve our region's main travel artery. Each project will take about a year and a half to complete.

The northbound project will improve traffic flow between Seneca Street and the Washington State Convention Center. The southbound project will replace a lot of expansion joints and resurface a section between I-90 and Spokane Street. Here's how we're going to do it.

Northbound I-5
In early May our contractor, MidMountain Construction, will start work to alleviate a pinch point on northbound I-5. Currently, the exit-only lane for Seneca Street reduces the freeway from three lanes to two. 

When complete, we'll eliminate the exit-only requirement at Seneca and have three through lanes
The current lane configuration on I-5 near Seneca Street (above)
compared to the lanes when work is complete (below).
These animations are not to scale.


To make this work, we'll widen I-5 slightly for about 1,500 feet and shift the lanes to the right a little. This will reduce merges and help traffic move through the area more smoothly.

Another thing we're doing to help improve traffic in this same area is adding a second lane to the I-90 collector/distributor on-ramp to northbound I-5 and install ramp meters for both lanes. This will increase capacity in the C/D and help smooth the flow of vehicles onto I-5. We'll also add a ramp meter to the Cherry Street on-ramp.

The third portion of this project will install an Active Traffic and Demand Management system, which allows us to adjust for speed limits based on the amount of traffic and warn of lane closures. This is the same system we have on northbound I-5 between Boeing Field and I-90. 

Installing ATDM will have the biggest effect on traffic during construction. While all the work is being done at night, when we're installing the ATDM over the freeway, we need to have about 10 to 12 full closures of the northbound lanes of I-5 between midnight and 4 a.m. This means detours via city streets, or for through traffic and trucks via I-405 or SR 99.

All of these improvements will help keep traffic moving through downtown Seattle, but there is only so much space for vehicles on I-5. There will still be times when drivers experience congestion. 

Southbound I-5
In late May, our contractor crews from CA Carey will begin work to resurface about 1.2 miles of the southbound freeway between I-90 and Spokane Street as well as replace 23 expansion joints. If you remember similar Revive I-5 projects from the past, you know what this means – weekend lane reductions. 
Reducing northbound I-5 to two lanes lets us repave large sections of the freeway south of Seattle, similar to the work we did on northbound I-5 in 2019.

This project is a doozy – it will require 16 weekends of lane reductions on southbound I-5. This is a big reason we're spreading it out over two years. Between the weather and major events in the city such as Seafair, pro sports and concerts, it would be extremely difficult to do all of this in a single year. We're still working with our contractor to schedule this year's weekend work; as soon as we know, we'll share it through social and traditional media.

In the meantime, start thinking about alternatives – taking I-405 or SR 99, adjusting your travel schedule to avoid the area between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., or using buses or light rail to get around.

The big picture
I-5 in the Seattle area was built in the 1960s. The original designers expected it to last about 25 years before needing major rehabilitation, but it held up for more than 50 years and now these projects are necessary. 

This year's work represents just two of dozens of Revive I-5 projects we have planned for King County in the coming decade. Some projects are in the draft design phase while others are not funded at this time. These projects include pavement repair, improvements to reduce damage to I-5 in the event of a major earthquake, expansion joint replacement like we are doing this summer and bridge work.

It's a big task and we're going to need your help to be successful. As these projects come up, please plan ahead when you need to travel. We're out there in the traffic too, so we know it can be a challenge. We appreciate your patience!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Spokane: Home of the Zags and five new ramp meters

By Beth Bousley

Spring is a special time in Eastern Washington, not just because of March Madness and our beloved Zags but because of the wonderful climate. As more people head out to enjoy the sun they’ll notice smoother travel through Spokane thanks to the activation of five more ramp meters along Interstate 90.

By managing the flow of traffic onto a highway, ramp meters reduce congestion and improve safety. In fact, there have been 69% fewer collisions at US 195 and I-90 since Spokane’s first ramp meter was activated at that location in 2019.

Together, these six ramp meters will work as one system to manage and balance the flow of traffic in a more flexible, responsive way along I-90 and throughout the Spokane region’s local roads.

New meters active on April 13

The first of the new I-90 meters will be activated on April 13 with the others going live over the subsequent week:
  • April 13 - Walnut Street/Monroe Street eastbound onramp
  • April 14 - Browne Street/Division Street eastbound onramp
  • April 15 - Hamilton Street eastbound onramp
  • April 21 - Browne Street/Division Street westbound onramp

How ramp meters work

Ramp meters are traffic signals that operate according to real-time conditions on the highway and ramp. The signals provide consistent gaps between vehicles so that multiple vehicles don’t enter the highway at once. Devices beneath the pavement track information like timing and speed of vehicles and adjust the signal timing as needed.
The driver will see a sign flashing “Ramp Metered Ahead When Flashing.” When flashing, drivers form one or two lanes leading up to the ramp meter, stopping at the white line or stop bar to trigger the meter. From there it works like any traffic light: Red means stop, green means go. The ramp meter will only allow one vehicle per green light.



Time to adjust

Any time we make changes to highway operations it takes time to adjust and we know this will be no different. Ramp meters have been proven to improve safety and highway flow and we’re confident that will be the case with these new ramp meters. We will be monitoring them closely and making adjustments as needed. We appreciate everyone’s patience and teamwork as drivers get used to the new signals.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Online open house explains SR 164 90-day closure at Pussyfoot Creek east of Auburn

By Tom Pearce

This summer will mean detours for people who travel SR 164 between Auburn and Enumclaw as we replace a culvert that blocks fish passage in Pussyfoot Creek under the highway. To accomplish this work, we're going to close SR 164 for 90 days starting in July. During the closure, we will build a bridge over the creek and ravine to open up 9.3 miles of additional habitat for migratory and native fish.

This section of SR 164 is on Muckleshoot Indian tribal land, so we've worked closely with the tribe over the years to plan for this work and the necessary detours. Right now, we have an online open house available where you can learn more about the project and ask questions. Please have a look. We'd like to hear from you.

Partnering for success
Whenever we do a project one of our goals is to be sensitive to tribal and local concerns. While the highway closure is in July, we're going to start work on this project in early June. Our June work will involve clearing a section of the ravine where crews will work to prepare for the bridge-building. This work takes place off of SR 164 and should not cause traffic delays.
Pussyfoot Creek is at the bottom of a ravine under SR 164.

Throughout this project, we will have a Muckleshoot representative on hand in case our contractor crews from Rodarte Inc. come across sensitive areas. It is important to us to be sure the tribe approves of the way we treat their land.

Live Nation, which operates the White River Amphitheater, is another key stakeholder. The amphitheater is about a half-mile from the work zone. Because of COVID-19, we don't yet know what events or crowds will look like this summer; but we are working with Live Nation and have committed to provide access to the site for any events that are scheduled. We also won't do noisy work that could interfere with their events.
Trucks will use SR 169 and Southeast 400th Street to bypass the work zone.

Detours
Then of course there is the everyday traffic. We established separate detours for big trucks and passenger vehicles. A lot of roads in this area are very narrow with no shoulder. These roads have enough room for cars, vans and motorcycles, but a couple of 18-wheelers crossing paths on them could be a serious test of driver skills.

It's always a challenge to close a main highway for an extended period. We understand detours can be an inconvenience. We appreciate your patience as we undertake this important work that will expand habitat for coho salmon, steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout. More habitat will hopefully lead to more fish for commercial and sport fishers. It also can improve the broader ecosystem. This may sound like it is just more road construction, but it will help improve local waterways and the Salish Sea. We hope you will agree, that is worth a little inconvenience.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Rinse and repeat: Tacoma traffic shift, demolition, paving

Update: Apr. 8, 2021
Due to weather, Atkinson Construction will now close the Portland Avenue on-ramp to southbound I-5 starting at 7 p.m., Saturday, April 10. The ramp will remain closed until 6 a.m. Monday, April 12.
By Cara Mitchell

If it seems like we've done this before, we have. The art of replacing the 1960s era roadway surface on Interstate 5 in Tacoma involves a few key ingredients: 
  1. Move travel lanes to another section of the highway so a new work zone is created 
  2. Tear out the old roadway
  3. Rebuild the roadway so it matches the new alignment with new drainage and newly installed foundations for new signs 
  4. Install the new roadway surface
  5. Move travelers onto the newly resurfaced highway
In February we shared a blog about how our contractor, Atkinson Construction, had to shift the southbound I-5 exit 133 to Tacoma's city center two miles away from where travelers normally would take the exit. We promised this was a temporary change and we're sticking to that promise.

Over the weekend of April 9-12, the contractor will again shift traffic to accommodate a new work zone on the outside shoulder of southbound I-5 between the Portland Avenue on-ramp and the Tacoma Dome. Following a weekend ramp closure, the southbound I-5 exit 133 to Tacoma's city center will move back to its original location near the Tacoma Dome. 

Opening this new work zone gives crews the space to replace another section of the existing aging roadway, drill foundations for overhead sign structures, and install drainage and barrier. 

Putting the traffic shift in place will require a weekend closure of the Portland Avenue on-ramp to southbound I-5 from 10 p.m. Friday, April 9 to 5 a.m. Monday, April 12. This weekend ramp closure is necessary to connect the on-ramp to the new pavement on southbound I-5. This work is weather dependent so the dates could change.

If all goes as planned, Tacoma commuters will see three things Monday morning:
  • The Portland Avenue on-ramp to southbound I-5 reopened
  • The southbound I-5 exit 133 to I-705 and State Route 7 will be back in its original location near the Tacoma Dome
  • Drivers headed to southbound I-5 from Port of Tacoma Road or SR 167/Bay Street will merge with the mainline at a new location. 
This traffic shift will be in place until mid-June.


What happens next?

We may sound like a broken record at this point, but around mid-June, another traffic shift will occur to move the work zone to the center median of I-5. This new work zone gives crews room to finish the median barrier, drill foundations for overhead sign structures, and set the last set of columns in the middle of I-5 for the new East L Street bridge. 

There will also be a long-term ramp closure we want to give you fair warning about. 

The Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 will close for up to 15 days in August. This closure is needed so crews can realign the ramp to match the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. We will share more information on the specific timing of this ramp closure and the detour that will be in place on the project web page and on TacomaTraffic.com in the weeks ahead. 

Stay safe

We know these shifts can take a little getting used to. We'd like to ask you to please continue to watch your speed in work zones to give construction crews the room they need to get this work done. Keeping your eyes on the road and slowing down helps keep you, our crews, and other drivers safe.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Work Zone Awareness: This month, and every month, please help us keep our workers and our roadways safe

By Barbara LaBoe

Many of us spent part of 2020 working from home offices – or makeshift dining rooms – as much of our world shut down. But that wasn't the case for our frontline workers who were still on roadways, ferries and work zones.

They stayed on the job to keep essential travelers and freight haulers safe but, alarmingly, even a massive drop in travel didn't eliminate the work zone dangers our crews faced.

In pre-pandemic 2019 there were 1,672 collisions within work zones or backups caused by work zones. In 2020 – even with far fewer vehicles on roadways and many construction projects paused – there were still 1,128 work zone crashes, including several fatal crashes. Crews also reported vehicles going well above speed limits – in excess of 100 mph – as they passed dangerously close to people working on roadway shoulders.

That's why we're spending the month of April reminding everyone why we need their help keeping our workers – and everyone on the road – safe in work zones. National Work Zone Awareness Week takes place April 26-30 but this is such a crucial issue we'll spend the entire month highlighting the issue – as well as periodic reminders throughout the year.
Our crews work just feet from active traffic to repair or improve travel – please help us keep them safe by
slowing down and staying alert near any work zone.
Sobering statistics

Our workers are out there making travel safe for everyone in the state, but far too often they're injured or have dangerous near misses while just trying to do their job. It's hard to find a highway maintenance worker who hasn't been injured or had to jump out of the way to avoid being struck by a vehicle. Some injuries can take months or even years to recover from and some prevent workers from ever returning to these assignments.

Even worse are the workers who don't survive. Since 1950, 60 of our workers have been killed on the job, the vast majority in a roadway work zone. Even one death is too many and every one of our fallen workers left behind family, friends and co-workers who miss them to this day.

They also bear the brunt of travelers frustrated with construction or work zone delays and have been cursed at and had things thrown at them. Please be patient with roadwork delays and remember that the workers are just there to keep everyone safe.

We need your help
The most tragic part about work zone crashes is that they're preventable. The top three causes of Washington work zone collisions, for example, are following too closely, excessive speed and distracted/inattentive driving.

And it's not just the workers in danger in a work zone. The vast majority of people injured in work zone crashes – 94.4 percent in 2020 – are motorists, their passengers or passing pedestrians. So it's in everyone's interest to ensure work zones are safe. 

Anytime you're in or approaching a work zone please remember to:
  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety
  • Be Kind – our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic; put down your phone when behind the wheel
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life
Planned work zones often include closed lanes and traffic control, but please also be aware of emergency work on roadway shoulders. Under the state's Move Over law, travelers must move over a lane, if possible, whenever passing crews on the shoulder with flashing lights – that includes law enforcement and fire, highway incident response and maintenance crews, tow trucks, and solid waste and utility crews. If you can't move over, the law requires vehicles to slow down to 10 miles below the posted speed limit as they pass.

Every worker out there is someone's parent, child, spouse, sibling or friend. Their job is to improve your traveling options and keep everyone safe while doing it – and they deserve to return home to their families at the end of each shift. Please help us keep them, you and everyone on our roadways safe.