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.