Thursday, April 29, 2021

Planning for the unexpected: When it comes to work zone safety, that’s just part of the job

By Victoria Miller

When you work on one of the largest highway construction projects in the state, both in terms of dollars and project area, you learn to plan for the unexpected.

Chris Cooper is a construction manager on our I-405 Renton to Bellevue Widening and Express Toll Lanes Project. The Tacoma native worked in construction in the South Pacific and Canada before moving back to the Seattle area about four years ago.

Chris has worked as a construction manager for Flatiron West, Inc., for almost five years. He’s worked on projects all across the state, including the State Route 520 West Approach Bridge North, the Lander Street Project in downtown Seattle and seismic retrofitting on I-5 in Tacoma.
Chris Cooper, a construction manager on our I-405 Renton to Bellevue project, has seen more than his fair share of dangerous work zone incidents while working on our highways.

With all his experience, Chris knows it’s important to expect the unexpected. Planning for the unexpected may sound almost impossible, but when safety is your number one priority, it is a necessity. 

“When you have vehicles moving so fast so close to the work zone, you stretch yourself to think about all aspects of the situation,” Chris said. “How can you go that extra mile to make sure you have a system to protect the public and your employees?”

Close calls that cause your heart to skip a beat

Close calls and injuries are an unfortunate fact of life for many highway workers. The one that stands out in Chris’s mind was a near miss that happened during a project on SR 520. 

A driver followed a dump truck into a ramp closure area and sped up to more than 60 mph, causing the vehicle to hit the median barrier. Four nearby workers could have been injured, or even killed. Just before almost hitting the workers, the driver’s vehicle glanced off an empty work trailer crews had parked next to the work zone. This caused the vehicle to careen by the workers instead of through them. Had the trailer not been parked where it was, the incident could have ended fatally. As a result, Chris’s crew now parks equipment directly between live traffic and the active work zone.

“When you’re working with live traffic, there’s an incredible amount of interactions with the public that are close calls, or incidents that cause your heart to skip a beat,” he said. “It’s crazy how some of these incidents can be. … You try to plan for every contingency.”
Away from work, Chris likes spending time outdoors with his family, including a 2018 hike at Mt. Catherine near Snoqualmie Pass.

Do your part

Almost 95 percent of people injured in work zone crashes on Washington highways are drivers, their passengers or pedestrians, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to be safe and alert in and around work zones.

We ask all drivers 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; 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.
Making it home each night

Chris has many reasons to make it home safely at the end of each day.

The most important is spending time with his wife of 16 years, Deah, and his two sons, Ben (age 14) and Gavin (9). He also enjoys riding his snowmobile and fly-fishing.

In his free time, Chris also gives back to his community by coaching the Cascade Orienteering Club, which is competitive navigation using a map and compass outdoors. He coaches elementary, middle and high school orienteering club teams in the Tahoma area.
Going home to his family safely each night so they can enjoy time together – like this 2019 trip to Disneyland – is priority No. 1 for Chris.

He also loves his job, even with the risks.

“We love working for the public and producing something that you’re proud to walk home from at the end of the day,” he said.

Next time you’re driving near a work zone, please think about the people behind the barriers like Chris. Remember that they are trying to protect you as well as their employees and that they want everyone to make it home safely at the end of each day.

The Renton to Bellevue project construction will continue to ramp up this summer. Ongoing work will be focused in the Renton area of I-405 and work, overall, will continue for the next few years, with the project anticipated to open to traffic in 2024. Stay up to date on closures and upcoming night work on our I-405 construction updates webpage and our Renton to Bellevue project webpage.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Permanent change coming to southbound I-5 exit to JBLM Madigan Gate, Berkeley Street

Update: June 9, 2021
The contractor will install final striping tonight, June 9, to open the new southbound I-5 shared exit to Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane, and open the new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5. By early Thursday morning, June 10, both of these new ramps will be open to the public. Check the WSDOT App for real time highway conditions.

Update: June 4, 2021
Due to the weather this weekend, the contractor will only shift the travel lanes of southbound I-5 on Saturday night. This means the new shared exit to Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane and the new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 will not open this weekend. The contractor hopes to finish the lane striping the weekend of June 11, which will then allow the new shared exit and on-ramp to open. Thanks for your patience.

Update: May 21, 2021
Weather pending, the contractor will open the new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 and the new shared southbound I-5 exit to Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane on Sunday morning, June 6. The contractor estimates it will take two nights of work to restripe this section of I-5. Work will take place overnight Friday, June 4 and Saturday, June 5.

Update: May 18, 2021
Construction crews are now targeting Saturday, June 5 as the opening date for the Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 and the new shared southbound I-5 exit to Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane. Work is weather dependent.
By Cara Mitchell

Attention users of the southbound Interstate 5 exit to Berkeley Street and the Madigan Army Medical Center: A permanent change to the exit is coming, and it may happen before Memorial Day. While these are some big improvements, it's time to stay plugged in for upcoming changes, so you won't miss your exit.

New shared exit to Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane
If the weather allows, in late May a new shared exit on southbound I-5 will open to travelers going to Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street. Anyone traveling to Madigan Army Medical Center, Camp Murray, JBLM's Logistic Gate or Lakewood's Tillicum and Woodbrook neighborhoods will be using this new shared exit. The new shared exit on southbound I-5 is barrier-separated from I-5 travel lanes. This highway design feature can prevent excessive weaving and merging vehicles, which both often cause collisions.
A look at the new exit location and how traffic will flow at the new Thorne Lane interchange.

The map below shows the location of the existing exit to Berkeley Street, and the new location once the new shared exit opens.

New Exit numbers
The exit numbers are also changing. The new shared exit will be marked as Exit 122A and Exit 122B.

Exit 122A takes travelers to:
  • Berkeley Street
  • Jackson Avenue
  • JBLM's Madigan Gate.
  • Tillicum neighborhood
  • Camp Murray

Exit 122B takes travelers to:

  • Thorne Lane
  • Murray Road
  • Woodbrook neighborhood
  • Tillicum neighborhood
  • JBLM's Logistic Gate
  • Camp Murray
This change is only happening for those exiting to Berkeley Street or Thorne Lane from southbound I-5. Drivers using northbound I-5 exits to Berkeley Street or Thorne Lane will see a change in the exit numbers, but not a change in the physical location of the exits.

New Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5
We have even more news to share. Around the same time the new shared exit opens, a new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5 will open to travelers from the east side of the interstate. The new on-ramp is only accessible from the Murray Road roundabout using the Thorne Lane “low bridge.” Drivers will no longer be crossing the railroad to access southbound I-5 at Thorne Lane.

We created a video that shows how the two newly rebuilt interchanges work together, including the new shared exit and the new Thorne Lane on-ramp to southbound I-5.
Finishing the project
Before everyone can jump for joy with excitement that the project is almost finished, travelers will need to be on the lookout for lane and ramp closures that are necessary to finish. Much of the work involves paving and striping, which is weather sensitive work. Any rain or cold temperatures can easily delay the timing. Here is the latest schedule from the contractor:
  • Weekend ramp closure of the northbound I-5 exit to Thorne Lane – happening as early as April 30 to May 3.
  • Overnight lane and ramp closures for final paving and striping throughout entire project starting late April
  • Overnight closure to fully open the Thorne Lane roundabout connection on the west side of the overpass in early July.
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.

Knowing potential dangers first hand gives dad of road worker an even greater fear

By Barbara LaBoe

It's every parent's worst nightmare: your child has been hurt and you don't know if they're okay. And even if that child is an adult, the fear remains the same.

For Jim Andersen, who works in our Maintenance Operations office, there was an added element back in October 2019. Jim worked on road crews for 20 years and knew exactly the type of dangers his son Tyler faced when he joined the agency three years ago. He was in a morning meeting when he heard a truck had been hit and remembers sharing a worried look with a co-worker who also had a child out on the roads. Minutes later he got the notification it had been Tyler's vehicle.  

"I had sort of put some of that personal fear behind me when I got the office job," Jim remembered. "That was always a concern for me and my crew when you're out there...and it never fully goes away – but when it's your son, it's an even greater fear."
This family photo shows Tyler (left) and Jim Andersen, who are part of three generations of the Andersen family that have worked for our agency – and know the dangers of work zones all too well.

We work hard to provide training and equipment to keep our crews and everyone on the roadway safe. But the work still carries risk, something we highlight throughout the year and especially this week as part of National Work Zone Awareness Week.

Just a few seconds warning
For Tyler the night of the crash started like many others. He works the night crew and was dispatched to make emergency repairs to State Route 512 near Tacoma. Tyler was in one of our truck-mounted attenuators, a truck with a giant accordion-like apparatus on the back to absorb the impact if anything were to hit it. The TMA is there to protect workers out on the roadway ahead by literally taking the hit for them.

They were waiting for the repaired pavement to cure when Tyler heard a call from another truck that a semi was headed straight toward him in the closed lane. He had just enough time to look in his rear-view mirror and see the semi coming before his TMA was hit. The semi driver tried to swerve back out of the closed lane, but both the tractor and then the trailer hit the back of the TMA – pushing the heavy vehicle forward and injuring Tyler.

"It happened really quick," Tyler said. "I didn't feel it when the tractor clipped the back of the TMA, but I felt the second one."
Tyler Andersen stands with a truck-mounted attenuator vehicle, which is credited with keeping his injuries from being worse when it was struck twice by a semi-truck in 2019.

Tyler was the only one hurt – thankfully, he'd had the rest of the crew move off the roadway while they waited for the pavement to cure – and he was taken to the hospital after the crash. His back and neck were injured, but he was able to return to work a week later – though he had months of physical therapy ahead of him and still has occasional pain.

Still, Tyler said he knew even that night that he'd be back at work. He likes working outdoors and fixing things like he did growing up on the farm. The four 10-hour days shift is also attractive, allowing him to spend more time in the outdoors that he loves.

He's the third generation of his family to work for us, so he was well aware of the dangers of the work. But the crash has given him a new awareness when he's out on the roads.

"We talk about it every day and do our daily pre-activity safety plans, but it really brings it into perspective when you do get hit," Tyler said. "It really jacks up your nerves a little more, because you keep expecting it to happen."

Tyler was already in the habit of calling Jim each morning as the night crew's work was done. Now those calls are even more important.

"It kind of changes things and re-prioritizes things," Jim said. "It's always nice to hear his voice at the end of his shift."

'Lives are at stake'
There have been many advances in highway safety since Jim first started working, including the TMA, which he credits for keeping Tyler and his crew safe from further injury – or worse.

"If this had happened in some of the equipment we used to use, it would have been a lot different," Jim said.

But we still also need the public's help in keeping everyone on the road safe. We average more than 1,500 work zone collisions in our state each year and even one is too many. 

"We see people that wait til the last minute to move over for a closed lane, or get impatient and try to zip back into it too soon," Tyler said. "We need them to be patient and move over for us. The 30 seconds they save being in a hurry isn't worth the impact of striking one of us, or our equipment."

We ask everyone in or near work zones to follow these four steps to keep themselves and our workers safe:
  • 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
After all, every worker out there is someone's child, spouse, parent, sibling or friend. And they all want to come home safe at the end of their shift.

"Just take a step back and take a deep breath whenever you're out on the roadways," Jim said. "Safety is far more important than any delay. Lives are at stake."

Friday, April 23, 2021

Coming this summer: A new and improved Mill Plain Boulevard in downtown Vancouver

By Tamara Greenwell 

Travel and safety improvements are coming this summer for people who travel along Mill Plain Boulevard (State Route 501) and East 15th Street between Fort Vancouver Way, just west of Interstate 5, and West 26th Avenue near the Port of Vancouver. With increased growth and development in downtown Vancouver, we're seeing more people than ever using this busy stretch of roadway.

We've worked closely with the City of Vancouver and the Port of Vancouver to develop these improvements and help maximize our existing infrastructure. We thank everyone who provided input during our public engagement efforts for helping to develop these improvements, which will benefit travelers of all abilities for years to come. 
A look at the layout of improvements coming to East Mill Plain Boulevard.

Highlights 
Within downtown Vancouver, improvements will include:
  • Upgraded pedestrian crossing signals, which provide visual and audio cues notifying people when it is safe to cross. These include directional flashing arrows and countdown timers so people know how much time they have to cross the road safely. 
  • New curb ramps that meet current ADA standards. Curb ramps help people of all abilities safely transition from a roadway to a curbed sidewalk and vice versa.
  • Upgraded traffic lights on East Mill Plain Boulevard at Columbia Street, Main Street, and Broadway Street that will allow for better clearance by freight traffic.
  • A new pedestrian-activated rectangular rapid-flashing beacon at the southbound I-5 off ramp to East Mill Plain Boulevard.
The layout of what bicycle improvements are coming to East 15th Street.

Parking-protected bike lanes
To provide improved protection for people riding bikes from people driving cars, bike lanes will move to the curb-side of the parking lanes. Bike lanes will also widen from 4 feet to 5½ feet with a 2-foot buffer. Additionally, to raise drivers' awareness to cyclists along the roadway, bike lanes will be painted green at intersections, as a continuous reminder to drivers of the possibility of the presence of bicyclists as they merge or change lanes.
Tree root damaged the sidewalk along East Mill Plain Boulevard.

A creative solution for removed trees
Other pedestrian improvements include the rebuilding of several sections of sidewalk. Crews working for the City of Vancouver will replace about 30 trees causing damage to the roadway and sidewalks along East Mill Plain Boulevard and East 15th Street with new smaller root system trees. We're working with the city to donate the removed trees to a local non-profit that will recycle the wood and give it new life as locally made goods. 
Mill Plain Boulevard as it currently looks.

Improving freight mobility 
To help improve freight mobility, crews will also reconstruct the intersections of East Mill Plain Boulevard at Washington Street and Main Street. Currently, trucks hauling oversized loads from the Port of Vancouver heading to I-5 often use local city streets to navigate around sections of East Mill Plain Boulevard because of existing high points in the roadway and low-hanging traffic lights, which often result in long loads bottoming out. This work will address these issues, helping to improve travel and safety for all users. 

What to expect during construction 
  • Intersection improvements are scheduled to begin Monday, May 3, and paving work is scheduled to begin on Monday, July 26. 
  • Construction work will require a full weekend closure of the Washington Street and Main Street intersections with Mill Plain Boulevard scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. Friday July 9 and reopen no later than 4 a.m. Monday July 12. 
  • We are coordinating this construction work in close coordination with the City of Vancouver which also has construction happening downtown. 
To help you know before you go this summer, we encourage you to sign up to receive email updates or text alerts and download our mobile app.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Celebrating Earth Day in a renewable way

By Ann Briggs

It's no secret that transportation is one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions in our state. It's responsible for almost 45 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the ways we're working to reduce emissions is through state investments in hybrid-electric ferries, electric vehicle charging stations, electric and alternative fuel vehicle fleets, and changes in the way we operate, such as no-idle and reduced mowing policies.

Another way we're reducing our carbon footprint is through changes in how we power our buildings, terminals and highway lights. Thanks to work by the Governor's State Efficiency and Environmental Performance program, we're one of several large state agencies partnering with Puget Sound Energy to purchase renewable wind and solar energy.
We've partnered with Puget Sound Energy to purchase renewable wind and solar energy,
which can help us reduce carbon pollution.

Beginning in March, we started receiving renewable power through a 10-year contract. We've committed to purchase 35.6 million kWh, almost a quarter of our energy use, through PSE's Green Direct. This PSE program works with commercial and government entities to help us reach Washington state's goal to reduce carbon pollution. Through Green Direct, we'll reduce our agency's emission by 7,000 metric tons annually for each year of our 10-year contract.

A similar program is offered on the east side of the state through Avista's Solar Select program. Under this program, our Spokane-area region office has committed to purchase 650,000 kWh of renewable solar power annually.
Wind power is part of our state’s clean energy grid and purchasing wind energy helps us reduce our carbon footprint.

Benefits of using renewable energy
  • Supports local companies: Green energy options reduce carbon emissions and support the local development of renewable energy resources. Green Direct customers receive renewable power generated from the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project in Lewis and Thurston counties and from Lund Hill Solar in Klickitat County. Avista's Solar Select Program generates solar energy from more than 80,000 panels in Adams County.
  • Potential cost savings: Using a 10-year agreement, we know what our energy costs will be for the agency's nearly 900 PSE accounts that are participating in the program. We anticipate a cost savings over the 10-year period because our rates are locked in and not subject to typical rate adjustments. The state estimates each of the participating agencies could see annual savings of $15,000 per year on their electric bills.
  • Part of a broader solution: Purchasing renewable power shows that state agencies are committed to reducing emissions and working toward environmentally-responsible operations. These renewable energy partnerships help us fight climate change, create clean energy jobs and save taxpayers thousands of dollars annually in energy costs.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Adopt-a-Highway volunteers are returning to the roads

Please help keep them safe and also do your part to prevent litter along our highways

By Barbara LaBoe

After more than a year of being suspended due to the pandemic our volunteer Adopt-a-Highway groups are heading back out to help clear roadway trash and litter.

Starting Saturday, May 1, the groups can resume their important work helping keep our highways clean. And they'll find plenty of work.

During the pandemic shut downs and suspension of programs, the trash on our roadways has unfortunately increased. Our agency doesn't have dedicated cleaning crews – nor the funding to create them – and we've shared the public's dismay at this development. (It's also affecting our partner agencies, who likewise have had to cut back or suspend work). We've been working hard to re-start our volunteer program, but we needed to be sure we could do so in a way that kept the volunteers and our employees safe.
Adopt-a-Highway volunteers hard at work cleaning up our roadsides. (Photo taken pre-pandemic).

Now, in addition to the regular safety training our volunteers undergo, they'll also be following additional COVID-19 protocols. That includes wearing the correct mask, maintaining physical distancing and health screenings. Safety equipment loaned to each group will also be sanitized before and after each cleaning.

Please keep an extra eye out for these dedicated volunteers as they return to our roadsides and other areas. And please move over a lane if possible, or slow down as you pass them at work. They're working to improve our roadways for everyone.

We need everyone's help to prevent trash on our roadways
We're thrilled to bring our volunteer groups back, but we do want to note that trash along roadsides was a growing issue even before the pandemic. Our volunteers do wonderful work, but they can't "solve" the roadside trash problem on their own.

That's where you come in. What's more effective is keeping trash from ever reaching the highways in the first place. We're asking everyone to lend a hand, being sure you secure all loads and properly dispose of refuse. This is much easier and cheaper than clearing trash from roadways.

Here is the average estimated breakdown of the various groups that collect and dispose of litter on the state highway system in an average year:
  • 40% - Adopt-a-Highway Volunteers – Pick up and bag litter.
  • 25% - Ecology Youth Corps (EYC) – Pick up and bag litter.
  • 15% - WSDOT Maintenance Personnel – Pick up and dispose of bags filled with litter by others. Also removal and disposal of large debris (i.e. mattresses, tire carcasses) and roadkill. 
  • 10% - Local Government Corrections Crews – Pick up and bag litter.
  • 10% - State Department of Corrections Crews – Pick up and bag litter .
Become involved
Want to become even more involved in keeping our state beautiful? Consider forming your own Adopt-a-Highway group.
We provide road signs, safety equipment and
training to Adopt-a-Highway volunteer groups,
and also pick up and dispose of the bags
 of trash they collect. (Photo taken pre-pandemic).

Our Adopt-a-Highway volunteer program began in 1990 and several counties and cities have similar programs. In addition to roads, trails and beaches also have been adopted by volunteer groups. Here are some details about the program:
  • Individuals or groups can "adopt" a section of state highway by agreeing to take care of it for a two-year period. Volunteer groups may be clubs, employees of a business, or concerned citizens. All participants must be at least 15 years of age and in good health.
  • Typically, an assigned section includes between two and four miles of roadside.
  • We install signs, giving recognition to the individual or group that has adopted the highway.
  • We also provide traffic control equipment, safety equipment, safety training and  litter bags, and we pick up and dispose of filled bags for the volunteers.
If you'd like to learn more about the Adopt-a-Highway programs in your area, please visit our website (https://wsdot.wa.gov/business/signs-programs/adopt-a-highway/getting-started) for details and regional coordinator contact information.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Traveler and worker safety is vital on our marine highways

By Diane Rhodes

As our agency’s maritime sibling, our ferries division presents a different set of construction – and work zone safety – challenges on its marine highways and terminals.

At our flagship ferry terminal at Seattle’s Colman Dock, the 55-year-old passenger building has been torn down and its replacement is being built, in phases, even as it continues to serve two ferry routes – Bainbridge Island and Bremerton – carrying almost nine million passengers a year combined (in pre-COVID times). The project is our ferries group’s biggest and includes replacing the timber portion of the dock with a concrete and steel trestle, constructing a new overhead loading structure at the dock’s north end and replacing the passenger-only facility operated by King County.

Keeping travelers and workers safe under these conditions is a big undertaking – and a key concern for everyone involved. Throughout April we’re focusing on all types of work zone safety in our agency, and the ways the public can help us keep everyone on the roadway, or marine highway, safe.
Only the portion of the Colman Dock passenger building at far left is open to the public. The remainder
is roofed in, but under construction. Photo courtesy of Hoffman Pacific.

A different type of work zone
While it’s challenging to be both an active ferry terminal and an active construction site, it’s made easier by the staged progression of the work. The first third of the new passenger building was built and opened in September 2019 and then the old one was torn down. The remaining two-thirds is underway now. The new passenger building will be roughly the same size, but will have a different footprint, fully facing the water, when complete in 2023.

“We can keep a fence between the construction and the ferry riders,” Colman project engineer Carl Vogt said. “We’re working near a public space, yet we have solid barriers between us and the public.”

This physical separation is easy to see. Chain link fences line a long stretch of the sidewalk along Alaskan Way. Passersby peer through openings in the black cloth as crews on the other side work to finish the passenger building, lanes leading to the north trestle and construct an entry building and elevated walkway connecting walk-on passengers to a promenade on Alaskan Way.
Looking from the pedestrian overpass toward the passenger building under construction and the exit lanes from the north trestle at Colman Dock. While undergoing major construction, the dock still serves two busy ferry routes.

The contractor, Hoffman Pacific, has a stringent safety program that includes a weekly safety walk with our ferry staff and subcontractors. “We look for good delineation between the work and the public,” Vogt said. “And we do a lot of work in off-peak hours. Like deliveries.”

Worker safety is a focus of these walks. For example, they’re on the lookout for tripping hazards. Any rebar that sticks up must be capped because of its sharp edges. Because they’re working on or near the water, life vests and life rings must be at hand.

We need your help keeping everyone safe
Even with all these measures in place, we also need the public’s help. Travelers should stay alert and  follow all detour and other signs when driving or walking to the terminal. Along with being a bustling construction site, the area is a busy part of downtown Seattle that, even in COVID times, is seeing an uptick in tourists. These work zone safety rules apply at ferry terminals, too:

When 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 – allow ample time and expect changes to traffic flows into the terminal at times.

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.