Thursday, August 19, 2021

Plan ahead for three big Seattle projects weekend of Sept. 11-12

Update: September 9, 2021

  • The Montlake Bridge closure will now begin at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10.
  • One sidewalk over the SR 513 Montlake Bridge will remain open on the weekend of Sept. 10-13 for pedestrian and bicycle access.
  • SR 520 Montlake Project construction will close Montlake Boulevard between Lake Washington Boulevard and the Montlake Bridge, as well as all SR 520 ramps at the interchange.

By Tom Pearce

Summer is always a busy construction time, but as we move toward the end of the season, we have a doozy of a weekend coming up on Sept. 11-12. Three major closures in Seattle are scheduled from Friday night through early Monday:

  • Southbound I-5 – All traffic will funnel through the collector/distributor as we start replacing expansion joints.
  • Northbound I-5 – The express lanes will be closed all weekend so we can replace broken concrete panels.
  • State Route 513 – Montlake Bridge will be closed all weekend for mechanical work.

Yep, that's a lot for one weekend, but we can't work on Labor Day weekend and we have more work on other weekends in September and need to get this done while the weather is warm and dry. Each of these projects will create traffic issues but with some planning people still should be able to get to where they need to go.

We try to avoid major events when we schedule work like this, but we can't always. For example, the Mariners have a weekend homestand, including a Saturday afternoon game, and the Sounders have a match Saturday night. The Huskies football team is out of town, so that clears the way for the Montlake Bridge work.

The biggest backups of the first weekend of work on southbound I-5
this summer reached the University District.

It's all about planning
Games in SODO require coordination with the two I-5 projects to be sure people can get to and from the events. With the collector/distributor handling all the traffic, you'll be able to get to the stadiums, but you'll need to plan ahead and allow extra time. After the games, we'll have the ramps from I-90 to southbound I-5 open to help you get home.

We frequently see southbound I-5 backups between the University District and Mercer Street, but it usually starts to open up south of there. The last time we moved all traffic through the collector/distributor, during the late afternoon we saw a continuous backup to the University District, about 4 to 4½ miles of slow-moving vehicles.

For those using northbound I-5, you usually get a little break when we open the express lanes between 1 and 2 in the afternoon, but then traffic builds up again. Given our closure, you won't see that relief the weekend of the Sept. 11-12.

Getting around Montlake
Though the current closure of the Montlake Bridge wraps up Sept. 3, the second phase of work begins the weekend of Sept. 11-12. It will be the first of five weekend bridge closures – from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday – to all traffic, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

Crews finished installing the scaffolding and containment system for the Montlake Bridge this week.

We've seen delays on city streets around the bridge this month as travelers find another route. In particular, folks have experienced backups on and around the University Bridge and routes to I-5, like Northeast 45th Street. With southbound I-5 backups that could reach beyond the University District during peak periods, it will be tough to get to and from the interstate. We will continue to monitor and adjust on-ramp metering, and coordinate with the Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro to keep people moving.

You can still get there
It all comes down to planning ahead. You need to allow more time or think of different ways to get to activities in Seattle or the surrounding area.

  • Allow extra travel time – leave early for that game, wedding or whatever you have planned.
  • Use transit – this reduces the number of vehicles on the road and reduces your stress because a professional is handling the driving
  • Adjust your schedule – if you're coming to town for a game, make a day of it. Plan to spend some extra time downtown, on the waterfront or enjoy a meal somewhere. If you can travel earlier or later in the day, that will reduce congestion. And if your trip is purely optional, consider rescheduling it.
  • Stay on top of traffic – use the WSDOT traffic app and follow us on Twitter: @WSDOT_traffic

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Shields not needed to armor this beach

By Bryn Vander Stoep

When we think of beaches, we might think of sand, swimming and marine life. Armor isn't usually the first thing that comes to mind, but it's an important word to remember as we work to create safe environments for those who use our shorelines.

Take our restoration project happening now near the Tahlequah Ferry Terminal at the southern end of Vashon Island. A team of engineers and contractors are restoring 700 feet of shoreline, which will allow for fish passage to nearly 5,000 feet of stream through Tahlequah Creek and more habitat for forage fish. Forage fish feed salmon which in turn feed our endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

No, we're not using shields and swords to armor the beach. Our process is a little more modern.

A look at Tahlequah Beach in winter 2019, before restoration work began

Bulkheads along the shoreline protect the ferry terminal and nearby properties but are aging, eroding and don't align with our environmental efforts so they need to be replaced. With the help of local experts from the Vashon Nature Conservancy and specialists from King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, our team is stabilizing the shoreline in an environmentally friendly way to keep the environment safe for everyone.

But where does the armor come in? Good question.

Our crews are also removing creosote-coated timber and concrete bulkheads from the beach, placing new rock, and are planning to restore native vegetation that will protect and enhance the upper beach habitat. What's this process called? You guessed it: Soft-shore armoring. And as you can see, armoring our beaches throughout Puget Sound will impact generations of beach and shoreline users.

Creosote pilings being removed from the beach as part of restoration work

This work is being done as part of our 2021-2023 Washington State Ferries Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) (PDF 2MB). The plan includes goals related to reducing emissions with hybrid electric technology, incorporating the most current environmental practices into our terminal and vessel maintenance, and promoting biodiversity.

A look at shoreline armoring at Tahlequah Beach. Adding material to the beach will also protect Southwest Tahlequah Road

In fact, we've installed an underwater livestream marine camera at our Tahlequah terminal for scientists and volunteers to monitor the effects of this project.

As we look toward the future, we are committed to finding the greenest route for our ferries service. We will continue to implement the actions outlined in the sustainability plan and keep our customers updated on how we plan to remain the nation's most sustainable ferry system.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Final months of I-5 construction in Tacoma: Temporary changes needed for Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 starting Aug. 23

Update: Sept. 21, 2021
With dry weather in the forecast, construction crews will shift all lanes of southbound Interstate 5 near Portland Avenue in Tacoma into a new, temporary location overnight Thursday, Sept. 23. Drivers are advised to plan for extra travel time as multiple lanes and ramps on southbound I-5 will be closed starting as early as 9 p.m. Thursday until 5 a.m. Friday, Sept. 24. Visit for a list of ramp and lane closures.

Update: September 16, 2021
The traffic shift scheduled for overnight Friday, Sept. 17 is postponed due to rain in forecast. The traffic shift will be rescheduled at a later date.

Update: September 15, 2021
The late summer traffic shift on southbound I-5 near Portland Avenue in Tacoma is scheduled to occur, weather permitting, overnight Friday, Sept. 17. To shift the lanes, the contractor will need to close several ramps and lanes overnight. Once the lanes reopen Saturday morning, Sept. 18, drivers near Portland Avenue will see southbound lanes shifted towards the right shoulder of the interstate. If weather delays this work on Friday night, the traffic shift will be rescheduled for the next available dry weather day.

By Cara Mitchell

"Are you done yet?"

That is the million-dollar question we've been answering this summer about construction on I-5 in Tacoma to create HOV lanes. It's very similar to the "are we there yet" question from the backseat of the car on family road trips.

Simply put, "no, we're not there yet."  But we are close.

While the "to do" list on this project is getting shorter, starting Monday, Aug. 23, we have a 15-day closure for the Port of Tacoma Road ramp to southbound I-5 that drivers will want to plan for.

In June, we had a weekend closure of the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp that allowed us to move one lane of southbound traffic to the new Puyallup River Bridge and temporarily realigned the ramps to connect with the new bridge. This month, crews are finalizing the Port of Tacoma on-ramp to southbound I-5 to ensure it smoothly connects to the new bridge.

Crews installing pipe as part of a storm drainage system at the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5. The temporary on-ramp will close for 15 days in mid- to late-August for final work.

Prep work for an extended ramp closure
In the days leading up to the closure, crews are installing about 300 feet of pipe along the Port of Tacoma on-ramp as part of a storm drainage system. They're also building a new wall that will be part of the final on-ramp. This wall is made from lightweight natural volcanic material that is less dense and because of utilities under the roadway, necessary at this ramp. This will better help distribute weight across the soft, squishy dirt in the area.  

Once this work is complete, the 15-day ramp closure can start.

Lava rock being used in part of the new Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5

August 23: Port of Tacoma on-ramp to southbound I-5 closure begins
At 12:01 a.m. Monday, Aug. 23, crews will close the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 for up to 15 days. This around-the-clock closure allows us to replace the temporary on-ramp with a wider, paved ramp. Crews will also install barriers and electronic systems that allow us to monitor traffic flow along the ramp, which is heavily used by the freight industry. If the closure date changes, we will let you know via our email updates for state highway construction in Pierce County.

Detour route
During the closure, drivers who normally use 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. Signs will mark the detour route.

When the closure is complete, travelers will have a smoother transition on a wider ramp from the Port of Tacoma Road to southbound I-5. The new on-ramp will have two general purpose lanes and one shoulder lane that can be used as an HOV bypass lane when the project is complete.

Late summer traffic shift south of the new Puyallup River Bridge
One more important thing to be aware of in the coming weeks: another traffic shift. This upcoming traffic shift is needed before southbound traffic is permanently moved onto the new, more seismically sound and wider southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. We don't have a specific date yet but expect this shift to take place in early September. We will announce dates when we have them.

During the shift, workers plan to move all southbound I-5 lanes of traffic south of the Puyallup River Bridge towards the right shoulder. This will let us re-establish a work zone between southbound and northbound I-5. This shift is expected to be in place through fall.

Why do we need this shift?
Moving travel lanes to the right shoulder of southbound I-5 opens up a work zone to resume construction on the East L Street Bridge. We will build the center bridge pier, then place the backbone of the new bridge, called girders, on top of the piers. There are still several steps to finalize, but the new bridge could open by the end of this year.

With travel lanes moved away from the median, crews will also build a new permanent median barrier. Our contractor, Atkinson Construction, will use an updated high-performance design, making the new barrier taller and sturdier than previous ones. Crews will embed 20-foot-long sections of barrier beneath the roadway, making the new median barrier less likely to be pushed into oncoming traffic after being hit during a vehicle collision.

What happens next?
While our checklist is shrinking, there are still a few final pieces needed to complete this puzzle.

  • Finish removal of the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge structures
  • Move all southbound I-5 travel lanes from the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge onto the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
  • Excavation to rebuild natural habitat
  • And the grand finale – opening the new HOV lanes on both directions of I-5! That will involve new striping on I-5 from the Fife curve to the Yakima Street overpass in Tacoma, scheduled for late 2021. This means you'll be able to use the HOV lane from Gig Harbor on SR 16 all the way to King County without merging.

Stay aware
Summertime means lots of construction activities along the I-5 corridor and throughout the region. As always, please keep our crews, yourself and others safe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know detour routes and traffic shifts can take a little getting used to at first, so slow down, stay aware, and make sure you give construction crews plenty of room so they can get this work done safely.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Weekend closure: Make alternate plans for Aug. 20-23 if you use northbound SR 167 between Sumner and Pacific

By Cara Mitchell

Have you heard about the time we closed almost four miles of northbound SR 167 over a weekend and didn't see major travel delays? Me neither. But we want this to become a true story! To make it happen, we need your help.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, August 20, to 4 a.m. Monday morning, August 23, we are going to close all lanes of northbound SR 167 from the SR 410 interchange in Sumner to 8th Street East in Pacific for work to help build a high occupancy vehicle lane. During the closure, we'll use a mix of city and county streets as a detour. None of them were built to handle the volume of SR 167 and that's where you come in. We'll all have to work together during this closure.

Northbound SR 167 at the eastbound SR 410 exit in Sumner. This will be the start of the detour route over the weekend of Aug. 20 for anyone traveling north on SR 167.

Short-term pain for long-term gain
Anyone who drives northbound SR 167 from Puyallup to Auburn knows how congested it is. It's why we are building a northbound HOV lane.

There are no times when it's convenient to close northbound SR 167. We're closing the roadway over the weekend because crews need to work where people ordinarily would drive and there's less traffic on the weekend. During the weekend closure, construction crews will make changes to bridge drainage systems and add additional roadway surface to the existing bridge decks.

HOV lanes maximize the movement of people and improve trip reliability, especially for those who share the ride. Ultimately, when all the HOV work is completed, it will benefit everyone using the highway.

How many people use SR 167?  (Or why we need everyone to consider other options)
Approximately 50,000 vehicles a day use northbound SR 167 between Puyallup and Auburn.

With traffic volumes like that, we certainly don't take closing one direction of this highway lightly, and we need your help. We need about 25,000 vehicles or more to avoid heading north that weekend. To give you a sense of perspective, 25,000 is a little less than the combined population of Bonney Lake and Sumner (about 30,000 for both).

Our traffic models show that even with a 50 percent reduction of traffic heading north, we will still see 10-mile backups during the weekend closure. So, we're going to need those who can't avoid heading north to know what to expect and be patient.

One of the work zones in the Algona area where crews are widening northbound SR 167 to add an HOV lane.

Detour routes
We don't have another state highway nearby that can absorb an extra 50,000 vehicles without feeling it. Over the past six months, we worked closely with the cities of Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Pacific and Algona to create the detour routes. There are two of them – one for passenger vehicles, and one for semi-trucks. We can't stress enough that these are local streets. We truly need a lot of people to simply not go through this area during the weekend closure.

Here is the passenger vehicle detour route during the weekend closure:

Here is the truck detour route during the weekend closure:

As you can imagine, a closure like this will trigger tremendous backups on local roads. We are going to need your help so we all can get through this weekend closure.

How can you help?

  • Delay your trip
  • Only travel if it's necessary and avoid discretionary trips
  • Travel earlier in the day or later in the evening when traffic volumes are lower.
  • Use transit, carpool, vanpool or work from home or remote office locations if possible.
  • Follow the speed limit on local roads, don't block driveways and watch for the detour signs.

For those who can't take advantage of these options, it will mean there's the potential for long delays. We encourage travelers to add at least 90 minutes of travel time if you must go through the detour route.

Congestion on nearby state highways
We've seen it happen during emergencies – when a major state highway shuts down, the other highways get very congested. Don't be surprised if you see more people using northbound I-5 through Tacoma and Fife that weekend. We anticipate that nearby state highways such as SR 161 and SR 169 and even SR 99 will have a few more people on them as well. Pack your patience and apply the same advice we listed above.

  • Always check the state-wide Travel Alerts webpage for real time highway conditions.
  • If you're traveling over Chinook Pass expecting to go north on SR 167, please use I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass instead.
  • Coming up from Vancouver or Olympia to Seattle for a Seattle Seahawks pre-season game on Saturday, Aug. 21? Northbound I-5 through Tacoma and Fife will be slow going that weekend.
  • Be aware of nearby construction projects such as the 90-day closure of SR 164 east of Auburn.

Could this work get delayed?
Yes, it could get rescheduled because of weather. It could also get delayed due to unforeseen product availability or staffing issues. We're working with the contractor to try to avoid these issues as best we can. If the schedule changes, we will share the latest information once it becomes available via our email updates and project web page.

Stay safe
Please watch your speed on the detour routes and in work zones. Always 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.