Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Rise in work zone crashes a concern for everyone

By Jordan Longacre

Flying glass, spinning lights and the crushing weight of a 4,000-pound vehicle slamming into roadside crews and a vehicle pulled to the shoulder. It’s a scene we see far too often in clearly marked work and emergency zones along the highway, and lately it’s only gotten worse.

“It’s a hostile environment working out on the highways,” Josh Stuckey, one of our Incident Response Team drivers, said. “We are standing right next to traffic flying by us at 50, 60 even 70 miles per hour. I can’t stress enough how important it is that drivers pay attention. We are out there protecting your loved ones, but remember, we are someone’s loved one too.”

Just in the past few months we have seen a flagger killed, an off-duty Seattle Police officer killed while helping a stranded driver, a Washington State Patrol officer hit by a driver in a stolen car, a tow truck operator who lost a leg in a work zone crash and another tow driver was killed along with two people he was assisting.  

In May, one of our Incident Response Team drivers was seriously hurt on I-405 in Bothell when a driver struck his truck in a lane closed to traffic. Police say the driver was impaired. This same IRT worker has been hit three times since 2016 while responding to drivers needing help on the highway.

Recently one of our Incident Response Team workers was seriously injured when a vehicle crashed into his truck as he assisted at the site of another collision.

“The people who work on our roadways, ferry docks and bridges are giving their best to make things safer for the traveling public,” Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste said.  “They shouldn’t have to be giving up their safety, and in some cases their very lives, as well.”

It seems a daily occurrence we receive reports of another close call or worse with road crews and emergency response workers. We take each new report personally as these are not just our co-workers but also our friends. We need you to do the same.

Many of our workers have encountered close calls, suffered serious injuries or even died in our work zones. We average more than 100 vehicles or workers struck by third-party drivers every year and it’s hard to find any of our road workers who hasn’t had an injury or numerous close calls.

“We’re seeing far too many dangerous situations on our roadways,” Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar said. “Each of these are tragedies that affect roadway crews, their co-workers, families and friends. This can’t continue.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports Washington state had 557 highway traffic fatalities in 2020, a 3 percent increase from 2019 even with drastically reduced traffic due to the pandemic.

Crews work within feet or even inches of fast-moving traffic, trying to keep everyone safe. We focus on their safety by planning and equipping them to do their job, but we need the public’s help. Driving safely is everybody’s responsibility.

The aftermath of a work zone collision where one of our Incident Response Team workers was seriously hurt in Bothell.

So, what can you do? We ask all drivers in and 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
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone’s life

“Traffic whizzing by hardly fazes me anymore,” Stuckey said. “But I do notice when someone slows down or moves over, and I have to say we really appreciate it. We need that buffer between us assisting someone on the highway and the traffic going by.”

Incident Response Team worker Josh Stuckey speaks at a recent press conference about work zone safety, where he recounted close-calls he’s had in his decade working as an IRT.

By the numbers

Despite a significant decrease in vehicles and work zones on the road for several months in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of collisions in work zones remained high, and that has continued into 2021. And while roadway workers are at risk in work zone crashes, they’re not the only ones: 94.4 percent of Washington roadway work zone fatalities and injuries were to drivers, their passengers or people in other passing vehicles.

It’s not just workers who are injured in work zone crashes. In fact, in almost 95 percent of the cases, it’s the other driver, their passenger or people in passing vehicles who are hurt.

Impaired and distracted driving in work zones

One of the most significant factors we have seen in recent work zone collisions are drivers who are impaired or driving under the influence. A recent study by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports that 50 percent of roadway fatalities are due to impaired driving and on average 149 people die each summer due to these types of collisions.

Another contributing factor to work zone collisions on our highways is distracted driving.

According to the Traffic Safety Commission’s 2020 Distracted Driving Observation Survey, the statewide distracted driver rate increased from 6.8 percent in 2019 to 9.4 percent last year. The increases included all types of driver distraction, not just hand-held cell phone use.

Distracted or inattentive driving is one of the top three leading causes of work zone crashes on state highways. Our crews say they regularly see drivers looking at phones or other devices and blowing past signs about slowing down or stopping – which puts everyone on the road at risk.

Attenuators have been life-savers in protecting our crews, though we wish they weren’t needed. On the right is an intact attenuator, on the left is one crushed in a work zone crash while protecting workers.

Chief Batiste urges drivers to take responsibility on the road. “Safe roads are everybody’s business,” he said. “Slow down, never drive impaired and pay attention to the road in front of you.”

Move Over, Slow Down law

While many work zones are scheduled ahead of time and have pre-planned traffic control in place, we also have emergency work that requires crews to be on highway shoulders or lanes next to active traffic.  State law requires motorists to move over one lane if possible whenever passing emergency crews on highway shoulders. If moving over isn’t possible, then drivers must slow to 10 mph below the posted speed limit.

The Move Over, Slow Down law applies to more than just law enforcement or fire trucks, it also includes our Incident Response Trucks as well as highway maintenance vehicles, tow trucks and solid waste trucks and utility trucks – as long as they’re displaying flashing lights.

So, the next time you’re out on the road and you see the flashing lights of a patrol car or one of our own IRT trucks, take a moment to move over or slow down. You might just save a life; it could even be your own. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Revive I-5 finishes first weekend of paving southbound in Seattle

By Tom Pearce

We were able to make a lot of progress on our southbound Revive I-5 project this weekend despite the record-breaking heatwave. Our contractor crews from CA Carey paved almost 10,000 linear feet of new polyester concrete on parts of three lanes between I-90 and Spokane Street in Seattle.

The heat did limit how much they could do. While the polyester concrete is more durable, it’s also a little more sensitive to heat. If the road surface temperatures are 90 degrees or above, we can’t apply it. That means we couldn’t pave until after 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday nights when it dropped below 90 degrees.

Camera screenshot of crews paving on southbound I5

Crews were paving on southbound I-5 until about 8 a.m. Sunday before the worst of the heat started.

Crews were able to finish paving all lanes of the three-lane section near I-90 and where the collector distributor rejoins southbound I-5. Farther south near Forest Street, though, only the left lane is paved. That means we’ll need to close more lanes down there to finish paving.

Thanks for your concern

We heard from many people during the weekend concerned about the crews working out in the extreme heat. It’s nice to know there are so many good-hearted people out there.

The contractor did a good job of taking care of their workers all weekend. They briefed them on the signs of heat-related illness, provided plenty of fluids, allowed frequent breaks as needed and opportunities to get out of the heat. Some of the work was also shifted to evening and overnight. If conditions had become too severe, they were ready to pull crews off the road.

The record heat did mean adjusting when some work like paving could be done, so crews did other tasks like saw cutting pavement during the day.
We want to thank all the workers who braved the heat to help us Revive I-5 this weekend. We still have a long way to go, but their efforts will complete major vital work on I-5 for the first time since it was built in the 1960s.

More to come

We still have another weekend of paving coming up July 17-18. For that we’re going to need to close the collector/distributor ramp to southbound I-5. People will still be able to use the collector-distributor to get to the SODO area but they won’t be able to get on southbound I-5. From the collector-distributor drivers will need to exit to:

  • I-90
  • Dearborn Street
  • 4th Avenue
  • Airport Way

It also means the eastbound and westbound I-90 ramps to southbound I-5 will again be closed for the weekend.

Once the paving is complete, we’ll launch into expansion joint replacement. That’s going to require about 14 summer weekends between now and fall 2022. We have 40 joints to replace on southbound I-5, plus about 16 more on ramps in the area.

This is a massive undertaking, but it’s just part of the work we’ll be doing on I-5 in the Seattle/King County area. We have more than two dozen projects in the queue, including several through downtown Seattle and on the Ship Canal Bridge. It will require a lot of planning to finish them all and we’re going to need a lot of help from you, but together we can Revive I-5 for another generation.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Sneak Peek: New Good To Go! coming soon

By Chris Foster

You may have heard that Good To Go! will be offline for two weeks beginning Friday, July 2, while we transition to a new system.

On Monday, July 19, we'll launch the new Good To Go! system, which will improve the customer experience by offering new payment options, new ways to manage accounts, more self-service features, improved notifications and a new MyGoodToGo.com

We've talked about some of the new features customers can expect, and how to best prepare for the closure. Now that we're getting closer, we want to give you a peek of the new website.

A new look for desktop and mobile
Besides a new look, customers will notice several new features when logging into their account the first time once the new Good To Go! system is available:
  • Alerts at the top of accounts will tell you when there is something happening on your account that you should know about, such as your credit card is expired, your account balance is low, your check was returned and more. You'll be able to sign up to receive these as text alerts too.
  • You'll see the status of your payment information at the top, including for pre-paid customers the point at which the account will replenish and the amount it will refill for.
  • If you prefer, you'll be able to switch your payment method to Pay As You Go, which doesn't require pre-paid tolls. Once your account balance runs out, tolls will be charged to your credit card twice a month.
  • If your account runs out of funds for any reason, you'll continue to see tolls posted on your account. We'll get into how this works closer to opening.
  • We've also got a new tool to help enter your license plate correctly when adding new vehicles, new ways to contact Good To Go! and track the status of your inquiry.
Take a virtual tour around your new Good To Go! account
Change is always tough, and we know at first the new system might be confusing for some. To help introduce you to the new Good To Go!, we created a series of videos showing you how to do these tasks on our new website. You can also always drop us a line on social media.

Please be patient
We've worked hard to test our new system to ensure it's working as intended, but large software projects are complex, and this work entails much more than a typical software update.

We must migrate the information for almost 2 million customers, verify that the information is accurate and test the system to ensure it's working correctly. If we encounter significant issues during the transition, it's possible that Good To Go! may be offline for longer. That said, we know it is inconvenient to have Good To Go! unavailable and our goal is to reopen as soon as we can.

Once we reopen, we will be operating with an entirely new system, and we know there will be issues that arise. We ask for your patience as we work through these issues.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Approaching the finish line on I-5 in Lakewood

By Cara Mitchell

It's hard to believe that in October 2018, we started widening I-5 for new HOV lanes and rebuilding the Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane interchanges in Lakewood. Fast forward 2½ years and a pandemic later, we are near the finish line.
Before and after images of I-5 at Berkeley Street (top) and at Thorne Lane (bottom)

Living through large construction projects like this takes patience. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We've had to endure some long ramp closures, speed limit reductions, and a few snowstorms while raising the interstate 14-feet, demolishing old overpasses and building new ones. While we're not quite done yet with the work zones, we do want to thank residents, businesses, and travelers for their patience.
To recap a few of the improvements made so far:
  • New overpasses at Thorne Lane and Berkeley Street removed potential conflicts between high-speed trains and vehicles, and those who walk or ride. The new overpasses also created room for an additional HOV lane in each direction of I-5.
  • Raising I-5 at Berkeley Street 14-feet to eliminate an ongoing maintenance expense. When I-5 was originally built in the 1950s, the highway at Berkeley Street sat below the water-table. Custom water pumps were installed to manage this issue, and as the pumps aged, maintenance became expensive.  
  • Resurfacing both directions of I-5 and all ramps provides a smoother ride, extends the life of the highway and reduces the need for costly emergency maintenance repairs and unexpected closures.
HOV Lanes
The biggest improvement is something travelers can't use – just yet. Adding a new HOV lane in each direction of I-5 is a monstrous accomplishment. We can't just go out and toss in a new lane. It requires coordination and partnerships with surrounding communities.

The extra wide shoulder you see on the left side of the highway will be where the HOV lane opens later this summer. First, crews are finishing final paving and striping. Drivers will continue to see multiple lanes and ramps closed at night for this work

The sign structures that mark the HOV lanes are expected to be installed in August. Once the signage is in place and final striping is complete, we will open the HOV lanes.
Crews close lanes and ramps at night on I-5 through Lakewood as they layer new asphalt across each lane.
This work will continue through July.

While the temporary speed limit reduction is no longer in place, drivers need to remember that fines are doubled in work zones. Watch your speed and don't look at your phone. Give crews a brake.

I-5 barrier and drainage work
Crews have temporary work zones in place on southbound I-5 near the old Berkeley Street exit and between Gravelly Lake Drive and Thorne Lane to finish barrier and install drainage. We hope to have this work finished in late August.

Thorne Lane and Union Avenue roundabout
The new roundabout connection at Union Avenue and the top of the Thorne Lane overpass should finish and open in late July. Crews are still paving, building sidewalks and adding curbs. While it's starting to look more like a finished road, we ask people to please stay out of the work zone. The road closure signs are still in place to keep both travelers and crews safe.
The roundabout at Thorne Lane and Union Avenue is under construction.

Utility work near Murray Road
Crews continue to finish connecting water and sewer lines near the Thorne Lane and Murray Road roundabout. Drivers in the area will see occasional lane closures throughout the summer as work wraps up.
Crews work to connect water and sewer lines near the Murray Road roundabout.

Landscaping for pollinators
For two springs, we've witnessed a beautiful array of wildflowers blooming along the corridor, which has really brightened the Pacific Northwest gray days. The flowers are part of a pollinator seed mix that we required as part of the landscaping on the project. The plants have different bloom times, so the look of the flowers will change throughout the year. Crews will finish installing final landscaping on the project later this fall.
A contractor reviews landscaping specifications.

But wait...there's more
We started brainstorming ways to bring congestion relief to this vital corridor in 2010. Funding for this project was approved by the state legislature in 2015. And now, six years later, we are wrapping up phase 2 of the overall project.

Phase 3 construction of this overall project will take place at the I-5/Steilacoom-DuPont Road interchange in DuPont. Residents, businesses, and travelers can anticipate construction to begin in 2023.

Safety first
We ask that drivers continue to avoid driving distracted through work zones and pay attention to road closed signs and orange cones. We will continue to share the weekly overnight lane and ramp closures that accompany this work on our Travel Planner web page.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

New southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opening to one lane of traffic soon!

By Cara Mitchell

Believe it. It's really happening. This month, as part of an upcoming traffic shift, we will open one brand spanking new travel lane on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

Why is one lane important? It means we're just a couple months away from shifting all southbound lanes on to the new seismically upgraded bridge. It also means the 20-plus years of widening I-5 and SR 16 to build and connect HOV lanes is almost over. Yes, we know that's a long time. Building new bridges to widen I-5 while keeping lanes open during peak commute hours is kind of like remodeling your kitchen while trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner for three football teams, all at the same time.

Before we can honk horns and toss hard hats into the air in celebration, there's work to be done and traffic shifts to pay attention to. Here's what's coming up that travelers need to know about.

June traffic shift

Since June 2019, southbound I-5 drivers using exit 135 to Portland Avenue, Bay Street or northbound SR 167 have used what we call a temporary collector-distributor lane. This temporary lane was operating on the old southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge so we could provide access from the Port of Tacoma Road to southbound I-5 and access to exit 135 while the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge was being built.

This coming weekend, June 18-20 – weather permitting - crews will close ramps and shift this temporary collector-distributor lane on to the new southbound I-5 bridge.

From 11:59 p.m. Friday, June 18 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, June 20, the following will close around-the-clock:
  • Southbound I-5 exit 135 to Portland Avenue, northbound SR 167 and Bay Street
  • Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5
  • Southbound I-5 temporary collector-distributor lane

A look at how the temporary collector-distributor lane will shift onto
the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

During the around-the-clock closure, crews will reconfigure and rebuild both ramps so that they are accessible from the lane now coming across the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. Once the two ramps and collector-distributor lane reopen, drivers will be on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
The new temporary configuration for southbound I-5 exit 135 along with the temporary
collector-distributor lane rejoining mainline I-5.

Detour for southbound I-5 exit 135

Detour routes will be clearly signed during the weekend closure. With the collector-distributor lane closed, drivers exiting to Portland Avenue or SR 167 will use southbound I-5 to northbound I-705 to SR 509, and return back to southbound I-705 to northbound I-5 and exit at Portland Avenue. Drivers using the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 will detour to northbound I-5 to exit 137 for SR 99 North, and 54th Avenue East and back to southbound I-5.
Here are the detour routes for the upcoming weekend closure of southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge ramps and lane.

Why are we doing this?

Crews are shifting the temporary lane onto the new bridge to prepare for work demolishing the old southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
A Beam Moving System is being assembled to help remove the old girders from above the
Puyallup River on the old I-5 Puyallup River Bridges.

There is still work taking place on the new Puyallup River Bridge such as drainage, electrical and final pavement markings. The travel lane will be set up to provide crews the room they need to put the final touches on the bridge. We did something similar in 2018 when the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opened to traffic in stages as final work was completed.

What happens next?

Earlier we mentioned we were almost done with the project, and we really are. Here is a snapshot of the "honey-do" list to finish our kitchen remodel:
  • Remove the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge structures
  • In August, crews will finish realigning the Port of Tacoma on-ramp to the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. This work may require a 15-day closure of the ramp.
  • Finish the median barrier on I-5, south of the Puyallup River Bridge. This also ties into advancing work on the East L Street Bridge.
  • Later this year, all southbound I-5 travel lanes will move permanently from the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge onto the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. We will need to restripe northbound lanes across the bridge to bring everything into final configuration.
  • The icing on the cake will be getting new HOV lanes open. That will involve new striping on I-5 from the Fife curve to the Yakima Street overpass in Tacoma. That is scheduled for fall 2021.
About the new bridge...

We thought you might enjoy seeing some footage taken while crews built the bridge deck on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. The numbers that make up the size of this bridge are impressive – 84 girders, 1.3 million pounds of reinforced steel, and lots of concrete.
Stay aware

As always, please keep our crews, yourself, anfe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know these traffic shifts can take a little getting used to at first, so stay aware and make sure you give construction crews plenty of room soA they can get this work done safely.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

On the lookout for "murder hornets" along state roadways

Update Thursday, June 17: The Washington State Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have confirmed the first report of an Asian giant hornet for 2021. A resident in Marysville reported the deceased hornet on June 4.

By RB McKeon


While our maintenance crews are always on the lookout for noxious weeds along our highways, for the past year or so there's been another type of pest that has gotten our attention and probably yours. And while Japanese knotwood and Scotch broom may strike fear into some, it's nothing compared to hearing about the infamous "murder hornets!"

That's right, we're talking about the old Vespa mandarinia, AKA Asian giant hornets or, yes, murder hornets. And our crews have been taking an active role in helping prevent this new pest from spreading.
A close-up look at an Asian giant hornet
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

What's a murder hornet?

This invasive species of hornet from Asia was found last year in Whatcom County. While native hornet species are a natural part of the state's eco-system, these non-native hornets can dominate local species and pose a serious threat to Washington honeybees – thus earning the nickname murder hornets. Although these insects are not typically aggressive towards humans, their stings are extremely painful and can leave permanent scars. And if you want to see these murder hornets murdering, you can watch this video shared by our friends over at the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Why do we care?

As managers of more than 100,000 acres of public land across the state, our agency plays an important role in identifying, managing and mitigating invasive species. Most of the time this work, in partnership with the County Noxious Weed Control Boards and the Washington state departments of Agriculture and Ecology, is focused on combatting a host of noxious weeds found along highways. This work is vital in being stewards of our public lands, including protecting crops that support economic health and preserving native vegetation that is necessary for a healthy eco-system.

Watching for and trapping suspect hornets may not seem like one of our agency's duties, but it's all part of our commitment and responsibility to protect the environment. We live here too, and don't want our crews to be stung by these hornets or see native species harmed in our communities.

"As stewards of state lands, we have a responsibility to minimize any harm that our transportation system has on the environment and the economy," said Ray Willard, our roadside maintenance program manager. "When something like invasive hornets threaten our state, our crews are always willing to go the extra mile, learn new protocols and support our state partners."
Our crews will be putting out and monitoring traps like these in search of Asian giant hornets.
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

OK, so what's the plan?

This year, we will again help track these hornets. Beginning in July, our crews will set hornet traps in Northwest Washington along the highway right of way and monitor them throughout the season. This is part of the Department of Agriculture's overall focus on trapping in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan, Jefferson and Clallam counties. The plan is to have at least 1,200 traps in place across the state between all agencies and citizen scientists, along with working with cross-border agencies in British Columbia to track the hornets.

Traps are relatively simple to make, requiring a plastic bottle and simple ingredients like orange juice, rice wine or brown sugar. Traps are placed at least 6 feet high on trees near forest edges. As our crews are out doing regular maintenance, preservation and construction work they are able to check traps weekly for any captures and turn anything of note over to the Department of Agriculture for further analysis. If you are interested in participating in trapping as a citizen scientist, WSDA has details on its website.
This Asian giant hornet was found with a nest during a 2020 tree removal.
Courtesy Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture

How can I tell if it's a murder hornet?

But how do our maintenance crews (or you) know what to look for? What's the difference between a murder hornet and any old regular hornet? The Department of Agriculture created a short training video for workers, highlighting the risks these hornets pose and what to do if we come across them. Asian giant hornets are:
  • Usually 1½ -2 inches in length
  • Have a large orange head with prominent eyes
  • Have a black and orange/yellow striped abdomen
  • From large colonies that usually nests in the ground
If you see a suspect hornet

If you see or think you've seen one of these hornets, please report it online at agr.wa.gov/hornets or via email hornets@agr.wa.gov. If it's safe to do so, photograph it and send the photo to the contact above and put the specimen in a jar or baggie in the freezer until you hear back. These hornets are not typically aggressive toward humans, but they will still sting people who attempt to handle them. They will also sting while defending their nest or defending a beehive they are attacking. Please don't swat at or otherwise disturb the hornets and just focus on reporting the sighting or specimen. The Washington State Department of Health has information about what to do if you are stung.