Thursday, December 29, 2022

Cold, snow and ice aren't very nice for the I-5 express lanes

By Sean Quinn

Winter weather, with its bitterly cold temperatures, snowy skies and icy roads, is both a blessing and a curse. Although it may lead to some fun snow days for the kids and cute pictures of pets, it also creates frustrating and challenging situations for both commuters and our workers alike. It leads to increased collisions and spinouts, challenges our highway maintenance teams and significantly alters travel plans. Freezing weather can also affect the Interstate 5 express lanes in Seattle, disrupting the commute in our state’s largest city.

As we saw with the deep freeze that hit our state just before Christmas, extreme winter conditions mean we have to make adjustments to the operations of the express lanes. This has been our practice for years, though it always seems to catch people by surprise. And the main question is always "Why?" Fair question. To answer, it helps to start at the beginning.

Express Lanes 101

A map of the I-5 express lanes and its on and off-ramps in Seattle.
A map of the I-5 express lanes and its on and off-ramps in Seattle

It is important to know how the express lanes function before you know how weather affects them. The I-5 express lanes are a set of reversible highway lanes that operate either northbound or southbound, changing direction based on traffic volume twice daily. They are designed to offer a faster commute option for drivers by having fewer exits/entrances compared to the mainline lanes of I-5. The lanes are operated on a typical daily schedule that allows for changes on weekends and occasionally for major scheduled events.

To complete the typical reversal process from one direction to another, it takes multiple crews.

  • Our Signals team handles the signs, the gates that close the express lanes to the direction in which they aren’t operating and a safety net that adds an extra bit of security to keep cars from entering in the wrong direction.
  • Our Incident Response Team drives up and down the lanes clearing them of vehicles and debris before the switch is made.
  • Our Transportation Management Center oversees the operation, using traffic cameras to verify that signs are correct and there is no traffic in the lanes.

During a typical weekday, the express lanes operate southbound from 5-11 a.m., northbound from 11:15 a.m.-11 p.m. and are closed to all traffic from 11 p.m.-5 a.m. On weekends, they are open southbound from 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m., northbound from 1:45-11 p.m. and closed from 11 p.m.-8 a.m.

Weather challenges

Snow and ice along the Mercer Street ramp to the I-5 express lanes.
Snow and ice along the Mercer Street ramp to the I-5 express lanes

Sometimes, because of construction, special events, or extreme weather, the schedule changes. The weather forecast plays a big role in determining whether our crews can safely reverse the express lanes and keep the roadway and ramps safe for the public.

It takes a serious weather situation to affect the express lanes. Rain is not a problem, and wind would have an effect only if it led to power outages disrupting our ability to operate the gates, signs, etc. Snow and ice, though, is a different story.

We monitor weather forecasts regularly, but there is a cutoff time hours before each switching of direction to make the call to reverse or not because of a variety of factors:

  • Traffic volume: The closer we get to when the peak afternoon commute starts, the more challenging and potentially dangerous it gets for our crews in the field to be able to safely reverse the lanes, especially in snowy/icy conditions.
  • Temperatures at the time of the reversal
  • Time to address issues that may arise during the switch

It takes about 40 minutes for the process to switch the express lanes, with a 15-minute period where no vehicles are on the road. In snowy, freezing conditions, we need vehicles on pavement to keep roads clear. Keeping traffic moving on a highway helps prevent snow and ice building up on lanes and ramps, which is especially important overnight. It can keep the lanes from freezing over, allowing our maintenance crews to more safely plow and treat the road and keep it open for the morning commute. This is one of the reasons we keep them southbound rather than northbound, as it assures lanes will be open during the busy AM into downtown Seattle.

Stay informed

A screenshot of the I-5 express lanes schedule webpage
A screenshot of the I-5 express lanes schedule webpage

We recognize the daily change of the express lanes schedule can be frustrating. We make these changes for the safety of our crews and the public and a lot of thought goes into the decision. As winter weather continues to come in waves for the next few months, we will continue to provide daily updates on the schedule. You can always find our express lanes schedule here. The schedule remains subject to change. Drivers will also be informed of any changes to the schedule in our mobile app, our Twitter account, and our real-time travel map.

Friday, December 16, 2022

One fish, two fish, three fish passages

 By Adrienne Hatmaker

The 2022 construction season in western Washington was really busy. And sorry to say, 2023 will be even busier.

Because our region’s rainy weather typically leads to a short construction season of just six or so months – if we’re lucky – we look to adjust where we can.

For example, we took three separate fish passage projects from across King County and grouped them together under one contract, the Interstate 90 West Fish Passage bundle. This saves time and money in the long run, as one contractor and WSDOT project office can work together at multiple sites to complete the project. Construction is scheduled to start in 2023 and continue through 2026.

I-90 Sunset Creek

In spring 2023, our contractor Atkinson Construction will start work on four new bridges on I-90 and local roads in Bellevue to remove a long culvert and restore natural stream conditions for Sunset Creek. Before major construction begins, crews will do geotechnical drilling which will require some overnight lane closures starting the week of Dec. 18.

Interior view of the Sunset Creek culvert under I-90.

Situated just east of the I-405 interchange, this upcoming fish passage for Sunset Creek presents several challenges, including the depth that crews will have to drill down. It’s nearly 100 feet under I-90 where the existing culvert crosses. That’s the main reason this project will take several years.

During the span of this project, we will shift lanes on I-90 and close lanes on local roads so crews can dig down, remove the existing culverts, create a new streambed, and install two new bridges on I-90, one on Southeast Eastgate Way and one on Southeast 36th Street in Bellevue. This project is part of our efforts to remove fish passage barriers and restore access to fish habitat as part of a federal court ruling protecting treaty rights for local tribes.

By building four new fish passages under I-90, Southeast Eastgate Way and Southeast 36th Street, we can return Sunset Creek to its natural stream conditions and open important spawning habitat to help several species recover.

The other fish passage projects included in this bundle are on SR 161 and SR 202 and 203. Because there are multiple locations, our contractor will spread the work over several construction seasons between now and 2026. We will continue to report important project updates on our social media channels and in our weekly traffic news email as the project progresses.

What I-90 travelers and users of local roads can expect

  • Long-term lane reductions and lane shifts for both directions of I-90.
  • A single lane of alternating traffic on Southeast 36th Street for up to 1½ years.
  • A six-month full closure of Southeast Eastgate Way.
Exterior view of the Sunset Creek culvert under I-90 near Bellevue.

What travelers on SR 161 near Federal Way and Milton can expect

  • A reduction of lanes to one in each direction of SR 161 around-the-clock for up to six months. Traffic will be shifted to one side of the highway to build the first half and then shifted again to finish the other half of the new structure.
  • Up to four weekends of full highway closures.
  • Intermittent nightly lane closures.
A map showing the locations of three culverts that will be replaced under SR 161 to Hylebos Creek near Federal Way, Wash.

What East King County travelers on SR 202/203 can expect

  • SR 202 culverts at Skunk Creek: The highway reduced to one lane of alternating traffic for up to eight months or building a short-term bypass route by using Southeast Fish Hatchery Road. We're still determining which will work best for the community.
  • SR 203 culverts: One weekend closure at Northeast Carnation Farm Road; a long duration closure with one lane of alternating traffic at 324th Way Northeast.
This map shows the locations on SR 202 and 203 near Fall City and Carnation where fish passage work will occur.

New fish passages

Replacing these culverts and rebuilding the streams will provide new habitat for the Coho, resident trout, steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat that use these waterways and nearby wetlands. Each culvert has a potential habitat gain ranging from 1,066 to more than 1,300 meters. These improvements and habitat gains will help restore fish runs and increase the population of these species.

When complete, this project will benefit commercial seafood operations, recreational fishers, and provide more food for our declining orca population.

Public outreach

During the design phase for all three fish passage locations, we held a series of briefings to a wide range of stakeholders, including essential services, area school districts, city councils, and members of the public who attended online meetings. As plans and schedules get firmed up, the construction project team will continue outreach efforts and schedule a variety of in-person and virtual briefings.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

What’s the latest on the new SR 3 highway in Belfair?

By Mark Krulish

Residents and commuters alike know about the traffic challenges we have in downtown Belfair on State Route 3. Rush hour traffic clogs up the roadway. Drivers making turns on and off the highway slow down the flow of vehicles. The jams can also affect emergency response times.

We have been working on a project for a few years that will be a great benefit to Belfair – a new freight corridor through the area intended to ease traffic on the main route through the area.

In fact, the SR 3 freight corridor is among only a handful of new roadways that are planned in the entire state.

We understand this idea for a new highway around Belfair has been around for a long time. We also know many folks are wondering when the road will finally be built. We expect construction to begin in 2026 – roughly two years later than first announced – with the road opening in 2028.

A look at the proposed new highway in Belfair

Reason for later than expected start date

As part of the Move Ahead Washington funding package, the project will include two more roundabouts. The connections on these roundabouts will allow for new local roads to be built in the future by Mason County. Adding these improvements to the project means we need more time to work on the design and environmental compliance, to ensure the project looks at Complete Streets.

We fully understand some will be disappointed by this news. Please know that building a new state route is a methodical process with many requirements that need to be met. The addition of two roundabouts requires work that will extend the process.

Although these new improvements represent a later than expected timeline, the good news is the Move Ahead Washington and Connecting Washington funding coming from the state legislature ensures the lion’s share of this project, including some new improvements, is funded.

Two new roundabouts at the end of the new Belfair highway will
connect to SR 302 and reconnect to SR 3.

The main elements of the project have not changed. We plan to build a new 6-mile, two-lane alternate route parallel to SR 3. A roundabout connects the new road at the north end with Southwest Lake Flora Road in Kitsap County. At the southern end, two roundabouts will be built near North Mason High School. One connects the new roadway with SR 302 and the other brings the road back to SR 3. The single-lane roundabouts are built to accommodate vehicles of all sizes with a low, drivable curb on the center island.

The new highway will allow travelers to have a quicker ride through Belfair. There are few intersections, which shortens travel time and reduces slowing or stopping traffic.

This is a complex project with many moving parts. We know regular users of SR 3 through Belfair are hoping for relief from the daily congestion. We’re thankful for your patience as we work to bring this project to life.

If you haven’t done so, please consider signing up for email updates on state highways in Mason County including the Belfair Freight Corridor.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Please plan ahead for 10-week detour starting Dec. 1 in Grays Harbor County for SR 109 Grass Creek Bridge repairs

By Angela Cochran

After months of a lane closure and delays on the State Route 109 Grass Creek Bridge in Grays Harbor County, there's some good news to share with the coastal community and travelers: work to repair the bridge is about to start.

Our emergency contractor, Rognlin's, Inc., is expected to begin work to fix the bridge on Thursday, Dec. 1. This also means closing the bridge to all traffic for up to 10 weeks. A detour will be provided. We know this is an inconvenience, so crews will work as quickly as is safely possible to restore the bridge's load capacity. The good news, though, is the sooner the work begins, the sooner the bridge – and traffic – will be back to full capacity.

The southbound lane of the bridge was closed before Memorial Day after an inspection revealed the piles could no longer support that lane. That led to alternating traffic, a reduced speed limit and extra travel time. We'll need travelers to be patient a bit longer during the repairs and detour, but we're glad that once the work is done the bridge can fully reopen.

From the top, this bridge, which was built in 1956, looks fine. Underneath is a different story. Several timber piles have various degrees of deterioration that cannot be repaired and need new steel piles added to the bridge. The early December work will have crews installing steel piles and support beams at three of the pier locations for additional support under the southbound lane.

Some timber piles have signs of corrosion so extra support will be added during repairs.

13-mile detour during closure

During the closure, travelers heading to the coast will use US 101, Ocean Beach Road, and Powell Road. The detour will be the same but in reverse for travelers heading to Hoquiam from the coast. People who live off SR 109 will still be able to access their homes on either side of the bridge. Holiday travelers will want to plan ahead for the 13-mile detour.

Travelers heading to and from the Ocean Shores area should follow the detour route via
US 101, Ocean Beach Road and Powell Road. 

While weather is usually one of the main concerns for a big construction project, our project engineers believe this work is not likely to be delayed due to the weather or the rise and fall of the tide. The crews will use a floating platform for storage of materials and smaller accessory equipment necessary for driving the new piles and installing the new beams. They can do all of this during high or low tides, in the rain, and even if it snows.

Thank you for your continued patience and planning ahead

We recognize that there is never a good time to close a bridge and appreciate the community's patience while crews work to keep this route safely open.

Once the repairs are made, the reduced speed limit will end and all lanes will reopen.

If your holiday plans include a trip to the coast, be sure to download the WSDOT app and check our statewide travel map for real-time travel conditions.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Workforce development key to ferry service restoration

By Justin Fujioka

To address our ferry crewing situation, we must focus on workforce development. That includes hiring new employees, training existing ones and making the maritime industry attractive to the next generation as we look ahead to long-term stability.

These 16 new deck employees, seen here with a few of their trainers, completed orientation and training
at the Seattle Maritime Academy on Nov. 2.

While it remains important to continue hiring new crewmembers, our biggest short-term constraint continues to be a lack of licensed deck officers (captains and mates), who require significant training time.

These 14 new terminal employees began working for us on Nov. 8 after finishing orientation and training.

Earlier this year, we created two new programs that encourage our current employees to take the necessary courses and exams to obtain a mates’ credential. We expect more than 40 to graduate these programs between April 2023 and April 2024, which is great for future system stability. We’re seeking to make these programs permanent.

Twelve of our able-bodied sailors recently completed mate training at our local
Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies.

Our latest Service Restoration Plan (PDF 794KB) Progress Report (PDF 631KB) shows that we’re now on track to confidently restore full service on our Edmonds/Kingston route early next year. Around the same time, we expect to begin trialing a full, three-boat schedule on our Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth run. The timing of full restoration on our Seattle/Bremerton and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes is dependent on the number of new mates who complete training in April 2023. We do not anticipate being able to restore Sidney, British Columbia service any sooner than summer 2023.

Sea Potential program students along with their chaperones and Relief Chie Mate Brett Wheeler
aboard the Walla Walla.

Looking far down the road, we must be sure that we will be able to sustain service for many years to come once we are fully restored. We are already looking for potential future crewmembers to fill this void.

For the second time this year, we hosted seven BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) youth aboard one of our ferries in early November. The middle schoolers, part of the Sea Potential program that helps attract diverse students to maritime jobs, toured the wheelhouse and engine room of Walla Walla.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Taking steps to improve stretch of I-5 through Nisqually River Valley

By Mark Krulish

Over the next couple of years, we’re taking a closer look at a critical section on Interstate 5.

I-5 through Thurston and Pierce Counties moves goods, people and the US military. It passes directly through the Nisqually River Valley, the traditional home of the Nisqually Tribe, and it is a habitat for threatened salmon and steelhead fish.

Two bridges take I-5 over the Nisqually River – northbound was built in 1937, and southbound in 1967. A lot has changed since then. The population of the South Sound has grown by leaps and bounds and that is expected to continue, which will bring more people traveling throughout the region.

Just as our world has changed, so has our approach to how we build highways. If the Nisqually River Bridges were built today, they would be built in a much different manner. Over the decades, we’ve moved to a mindset where we must also be good stewards of the environment. The work done in 1968 would probably not meet the current environmental regulations passed from the National Environmental Policy Act or the Washington State Shoreline master program. While the roadway is structurally and seismically sound, we now recognize they are not the best structures for the environment. Removal of the fill in the Nisqually Delta requires the replacement of the I-5 Nisqually bridges.

The Nisqually River bridges carry I-5 through the Nisqually River Valley but current environmental
standards mean the bridges must be replaced.

We want to be sure the highway system is ready for any man-made or natural disaster and the environmental impacts on the river and fish, and that starts with a federal Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study.

This phase of the study focuses on I-5 from Marvin Road to Mounts Road (Exits 111 to 116 in Thurston and Pierce counties), with a Focused PEL to consider additional technical analyses and stakeholder input.

The state legislature has set aside $75 million to start working on a project on I-5 through the Nisqually River Delta. This funding allows us to look at ways to improve mobility between Marvin Road and Mounts Road for all types of travelers. We’ll explore a preliminary design for a new bridge and look at any parcel of land we might need to acquire to address flood risk.

This stretch of I-5 through the Nisqually River Valley is being studied as we look to make environmental
 and mobility improvements to the area.

Part of that funding also goes towards three roundabouts on State Route 507, which will be a vital alternative route in the event of a disaster affecting I-5.

We may adopt the Purpose and Need – a statement that describes why the project is necessary – and identified alternative(s), which are determined during this process, into the National Environmental Policy Act environmental review. Doing this work now will help speed up the NEPA process.

We expect to learn a lot more about how people use this corridor through this study, and we’ll share updates as we have them. Keep up to date with the latest news on our project page.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Emergency repairs will require SR 28 bypass closure in East Wenatchee starting Thursday

By Lauren Loebsack

Regular commuters of SR 28 through East Wenatchee have probably noticed the bump on the eastbound SR 28 bypass near Fred Meyer and know this isn't the first time there's been settlement on this section of road. Maintenance crews have been out to repave at this location which smoothed out the bump for a time.

Since then, we've been investigating what caused the bump and have determined the problem is related to a failed subsurface stormwater pipe. That means water has been leaking under the road for some time and eroding away the fill. This has caused voids underneath the roadway that settle.

Signs of settling and strucural issues at the Apple Capital trail underpass on the SR 28 eastbound bypass in East Wenatchee

Increased runoff from winter weather is likely to make this issue worse, leading to bigger problems for the roadway and retaining wall. Because of the urgency of these repairs, we've hired Pipkin Construction for an emergency project that will begin on Thursday, Nov. 10.

The project will include excavating an 80 ft. long trench on the bypass to replace the damaged length of pipe, fill in the voids caused by water infiltration, and rebuild and repave the road. To accomplish this safely and efficiently, the contractor will close the eastbound bypass beginning Thursday at 6 a.m. This means travelers headed east on SR 28 towards Rock Island and Quincy will be detoured over the George Sellar Bridge to reconnected to SR 28 eastbound. The Fifth St. NE westbound access from Valley Mall Parkway will also be closed to the roundabout to help maintain traffic flow. This also means access to Fred Meyer from the ramps will be closed. For everyone needing to shop there, you'll need to use the right turn at the intersection of SR 28 and Grant Rd. The Apple Capital Loop trail will also be closed at the underpass.

The eastbound detour for SR 28 will be over the SR 2185 George Sellar Bridge to turn around
and access SR 28 at in the Grant Rd. intersection
  • In order to accommodate all vehicles, including trucks and larger vehicles, travelers that are eastbound from SR 28 on Sunset Highway heading to Rock Island and Quincy will be detoured over the George Sellar Bridge to turn around and access SR 28 at the intersection of Grant Rd.
  • Travelers that are eastbound from Wenatchee who want to travel north to 9th St., Valley Mall Parkway or Sunset Highway towards the junction of US 2/97 will still be able to use the underpass.
  • Westbound access to the George Sellar Bridge on 5th St. NE from Valley Mall Parkway will be closed to maintain detour traffic flow.

The bypass must remain closed through the entirety of project, which could take up to 10 days. The exact timeline is still unknown because the extent of the damage and needed repairs won't be fully known until the roadway is opened up. It's expected that this will cause some heavy traffic and longer travel times around the George Sellar Bridge and Grant Rd. intersections, so it'll be important to add some time to your travel plans or consider alternative routes depending on your destination.

Monday, November 7, 2022

A metal detector, waders and a robot named Elvis: a culvert inspection story

By Joe Calabro

When you’re on a state highway, it’s easy to see certain hazards like potholes or debris. Things get complicated when an issue lies below the road’s surface in one of the thousands of culverts that carry water, and sometimes fish, beneath a highway.

That’s where Chau and Elvis come in.

Chau Nguyen joined our agency in 2021 as an intern with a degree in Environmental Engineering. She enjoyed working with an experienced team and eventually accepted a job as a stormwater and drainage engineer.

Chau Nguyen (right) tests Elvis the robot before sending it in for a culvert inspection

She now leads the culvert inspection program in our King/Snohomish/Skagit/Whatcom area, assessing maintenance work and identifying how to avoid emergency failures of the roughly 14,000 culverts in that area. How does Chau do it? With a robot.

Elvis is her robot’s nickname. The remote-controlled vehicle allows Chau to explore drainage infrastructure that would otherwise be inaccessible.

“Roadway drainage is like a tucked-away underground world that people aren’t aware of – it keeps the traveling public safe,” she said.

Elvis the robot is outfitted with a camera in the front and two headlights to illuminate any obstructions. The corded connection is more reliable than wireless and allows Elvis to be retrieved if inactive.

These inspections pay huge dividends. Rust, corrosion or leaks can lead to culvert failures. A collapsed culvert can require immediate lane closures , and costly reconstruction that can be inconvenient for travelers and freight movement. Moreover, fish migration and other environmental impacts can occur.

In the field

On a recent inspection below State Route 99 in Lynnwood, the purpose of the mission was two-fold: inspect the condition of the culvert and obtain measurements for a new fish passage to be designed in the coming years.

Ryan, a member of our maintenance team in the area, donned his waders and climbed about 10 feet down into the catch basin where he was greeted by knee-high water. Elvis, weighing about 75 pounds, was lowered down to him. Our maintenance teams do regular culvert inspections, looking for obvious blockages or collapsed areas. If they notice an issue, they flag it for Chau (and Elvis) to do an in-depth inspection.

Chau drove the robot through the 36-inch diameter culvert. The feed transmitted back to her is always well-lit and clear thanks to its headlights.

A crew on the other side of the road located a catch basin hidden by gravel. Using old plan sets, they set to work with a metal detector, shovel and broom. They dug up the utility cover in minutes and bragged about their discovery from across the road as any good treasure hunter should.

Chau uses Elvis’ mounted camera and headlight to maneuver the robot through the culvert (left).
A still image from the inspection recording (right).

The team confirmed the culvert’s alignment, material and length and didn’t find anything of major concern. Measurements were taken at each catch basin and the process was repeated at the culvert’s outlet. The robot’s recorded footage can be used for future reference.

The length of a culvert on SR 99 in Lynnwood was measured by marking the length of cable used by Elvis.

This season’s rain and snow will send water flowing through our culverts. Monitoring their conditions will ensure infrastructure is appropriately maintained and safe for travel

Job opportunities

Four different work groups were represented at the culvert inspection on SR 99: Maintenance, Environmental, Fish Passage Design Engineering, and Communications. It’s a small slice of the different fields and career opportunities we have to offer. Check on job openings at our careers webpage and learn more about the benefits that come with working with us.   

Thursday, November 3, 2022

State Active Transportation Plan receives multiple awards

By Barb Chamberlain

If you were one of the voters who responded to our many reminders, thank you — it worked! Washington state's Active Transportation Plan has been named the winner of the People's Choice Award in the national 2022 America's Transportation Awards. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsor the annual contest. This represents the first time ever in the competition's 15-year history that an active transportation plan has won the honor.

All 12 finalists in America's Transportation Awards were eligible to win the People's Choice Award, which is based on total votes received through online voting. The totals are weighted by the state populations so bigger states don't have an unfair advantage over smaller states. State departments of transportation encouraged voting through a variety of means, from internal reminders to staff to playful messages on social media like this tweet.

AASHTO Executive Director Jim Tymon (left) and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Sec. Shawn Wilson (right) present WSDOT Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar with the AASHTO People's Choice Award and a check to be distributed among several charities.

The award brings with it a $10,000 check for the charities of our choice. We're splitting it three ways. One-third goes to our own WSDOT Memorial Foundation that preserves the memory of our workers who died on the job and provides assistance to active and retired employees and their families in times of need. The other two recipients are statewide nonprofits that participated in the plan's stakeholder steering committee, promoted involvement in the plan's outreach phase, and serve on the Cooper Jones Active Transportation Safety Council: Cascade Bicycle Club and Disability Rights Washington.

The ATP became eligible for the finalist round when the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials named it as a regional winner in June, which moved it on to the national competition. As the People's Choice Awards voting was under way, the Washington state chapter of the American Planning Association also recognized it with an award for transportation planning at their annual conference.

Besides being the first active transportation plan to win the national award, the ATP is also the first-ever analysis of our state highways that looks at how well they work for people who need to walk, bike, or roll along or across them. It's the first effort to really quantify the features of the roadway, traffic volume, and traffic speed that tell us we'll make it better and easier to use active transportation if we make some changes. And it's the first time the state plan has been named in legislation as a resource to identify where improvements will make a difference, in the Move Ahead Washington transportation investment package passed in 2022.

Our State Active Transportation Plan continues to look for ways to improve
infrastructure for all modes of travel, like the SR 520 trail.

We're very proud of the work and the recognition it received. None of this would have been possible without the insights and efforts of advocates and professionals across the state as the plan came together. And we're not resting on our laurels! We're already reporting out performance metrics in the Gray Notebook, using the analytical tools in our decision-making around Complete Streets designs, and talking about which of the topics on the "Future Watch" list in Chapter 6 we should dig into next.

Speaking of the future, have an opinion on that? Here's the list from Chapter 6 (which gives you a brief description of how each of these relates to active transportation.

  • Technology and innovation
  • Electric bikes and e-mobility
  • Aging in place and human services transportation
  • Sharing economy
  • Urban freight mobility
  • Curb management
  • System resilience and disaster recovery
  • Education, encouragement, incentives
  • Land use, housing costs, and displacement
  • Funding

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

A heroic survey crew gives new meaning to roadside assistance

By Angela Cochran

When friends talk about putting out fires at work, usually they mean metaphorically. For one of our survey crews this past month, it was very much in the literal sense.

Just before 11 a.m. on Oct. 12, Jeff Karnes and Garth Gavette were doing routine survey work on State Route 507 in Yelm when they suddenly found themselves in the middle of a brush fire. Jeff was operating the survey equipment and Garth was recording the information few hundred feet away from him. Jeff looked down to type a code into his data collector machine and when he looked back up, he thought Garth was moving a little strangely.

"I saw Garth kind of stomping and looking like he was dancing around, and then I saw the flames," Jeff said.

Jeff Karnes and Garth Gavette were doing survey work in Yelm when brush fires broke out around them, and they took action to rescue livestock and prevent the fire from spreading to a nearby residence.

He grabbed the fire extinguisher and started spraying. That's when they noticed three or four more fires breaking out all around them and they called the fire department. The dry conditions made it easy for the fire to quickly spread towards the neighboring property and some cows. Jeff's first thought was to notify the property owner but no one was home.

They jumped into action again and herded the cows into an adjoining field away from the fire. At the same time, they noticed the fire was also moving toward a horse shed. They found a garden hose and soaked the shed and surrounding grass to keep the fire away. Then firefighters arrived to take over for them.

One of the brush fires that broke out in Yelm as two of our surveyors were working near the highway. Their actions helped save livestock and a nearby residence.

The cause of the fire is unknown. Sometimes they can be caused by something as simple as ashes from a stray cigarette or sparks from chains dragging behind a passing vehicle.

This amazing story reminds us just how tied to the community our roadworkers are. Many of them live in the same communities they work and are deeply committed to helping keep those areas safe, as Jeff and Garth's actions show. We are so grateful that they sprang into action to help a neighbor. They don't do this kind of work for recognition, but the best way to say thanks to them or any of our road workers is by being alert, slowing down, being patient and giving them room to do their job. Help get them home safely.

Great job Jeff and Garth, we're incredibly proud of you and your actions!

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Weekend work on northbound I-5 in Everett finished for 2022

 By Tom Pearce

Our last weekend-long lane reduction this year for northbound I-5 in Everett finished Sunday afternoon, Oct. 30. Our contractor, Acme Concrete Paving, was able to replace about 100 old broken concrete panels during two weekends of work last month.

Acme originally planned three weekends with lane closures but were able to do enough during the first two that they only have a small number left, which can be done during overnight shifts. That will mean several overnight lane reductions in the next few weeks before work shuts down for the winter.

Replacing dozens of concrete panels on a busy highway requires weekends to complete. There isn’t enough time to get it all done overnight.

“We’re really pleased that Acme could finish this much work in just two weekends. We have several sections where we needed to replace multiple panels, so it was much more cost-effective to do that during a weekend,” said project engineer Shawn Wendt.

In addition to replacing several more individual panels, the contractor crews will grind the freeway to eliminate ruts caused by decades of wear. Grinding down the high spots outside the wheel ruts will create a smoother surface and reduce puddling when it rains.

Expansion joints on deck for 2023

There will be several more weekend-long lane reductions in Everett next summer as we replace four expansion joints between 41st Street and US 2. To keep lanes open, we have to replace the left or right half one weekend, then the other half during another. We usually replace more than one joint during a weekend.

In 2023 we’ll replace expansion joints at the dots – north of 41st Street, Hewitt and Pacific avenues and US 2.

These joints are more than 50 years old. It takes an entire weekend to replace them because our contractors need to chip out the old joint, make any necessary steel repairs, install the new joint steel, then pour concrete and allow it to cure.

Replacing these joints during scheduled weekends will allow people to make plans to use alternate routes or perhaps delay a trip. It also will help avoid emergency closures if one of these old joints were to break. We’ve had that happen several times in other areas, creating unexpected backups during peak traffic times.

We appreciate your patience as we complete these necessary repairs. I-5 has served all of us well since the 1960s. This work will keep it in good shape for many more decades.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Aviation Commission recommends two potential paths to add aviation capacity in Washington

By Christina Crea

With demand increasing for commercial passenger, air cargo, and other services, the need for aviation capacity is rapidly outgrowing existing airports like Paine Field and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. You can learn more about the growing demand for aviation on our website (PDF 1.4MB) .

In 2019 the State Legislature (PDF 76KB) created the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) to think about how to meet the growing demand for aviation services, while also looking at options to reduce the noise and environmental impact associated with airports.

While the CACC is made up of representatives from the aviation industry, the public, airport communities, freight industry, state and local agencies and elected officials, our agency provides the CACC technical assistance and staff support from our Aviation Division.

In February 2022, the CACC recommended six preliminary airport sites (PDF 396KB) that have the potential to meet both short and long-term aviation needs. After months gathering public feedback and reviewing technical analyses, the CACC recently submitted its top two recommendations (PDF 974KB) to the Washington State Legislature.

Click to view full infographic (PDF 974KB)

Option 1 would add capacity to Paine Field and assumes that Sea-Tac executes its Sustainable Airport Master Plan. It includes a recommendation to assist other airports interested in providing regional commercial service.

Option 2 would continue to explore construction of a new, two-runway airport at one of three locations in Pierce or Thurston counties. Any consideration of a new airport would include additional technical analysis and community engagement.

"This is an opportunity for the state to consider how to meet capacity limits while also planning for an airport of the future," said David Fleckenstein, WSDOT Aviation Director and chairman of the commission. "Increasing the use of sustainable aviation fuels could significantly reduce harmful emissions. Emerging aeronautics technology could also reduce noise from airplanes while also providing additional commercial air service options to more airports around the state."

The CACC is looking at environmental effects, economic and technical criteria, and public feedback and opinion as it develops recommendations to improve Washington's air transportation capacity.

What's next

The best way to stay informed about the CACC is by signing up for our listserv and visiting our website as we continually add important updates and documents.

In the coming months, we will offer additional opportunities for public input – including another online open house early next year – and continue studying technical data about each option still being considered. The CACC will submit a final recommendation to the Legislature by June 15, 2023. After that it will be up to the Legislature and potential airport sponsors to act to increase Washington's aviation capacity.

Media links

Members of the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission sat down with TVW for an interview to talk about the CACC's work and the state's aviation capacity, opportunities and challenges. See the interview here:

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Keeping people moving while building a new SR 3 bridge for Chico Creek

By Doug Adamson

How do you build a bridge while vehicles drive across it? It seems impossible – but contractor crews for the SR 3 Chico Creek Fish Barrier Removal project are making it reality.

Our contractor, Guy F. Atkinson Construction, has been making steady progress to remove barriers to fish at Chico Creek by constructing new bridges on Chico Way and State Route 3. These bridges will create more space for Chico Creek to flow underneath the highway and improve fish passage and access to spawning habitat for native fish species.

Video via Guy F. Atkinson

Crews are building the bridge in phases to avoid major traffic disruptions on SR 3 near Bremerton. At the start of the project in fall 2021, they shifted northbound and southbound traffic to the outside lane and shoulders of SR 3 to create a work zone in the median. This allowed them to construct the center portion of the new SR 3 bridge.

What to expect

As soon as early November, traffic will shift onto the newly built center portion of the bridge and move the work zones to the outside lane and shoulders of northbound and southbound SR 3.

Our crews will keep people moving through the area by keeping two lanes of traffic in each direction. They will install a permanent barrier to divide the northbound and southbound lanes. Once the shift is in place, people will notice they are driving on the center of the roadway. The reduced speed limit through the work zone will remain at 45 miles per hour.

During Stage 2 construction, traffic will shift to the inside lanes of SR 3, close the Chico Way Northwest on-ramp to southbound SR 3, and realign the stream that flows under Chico Way Northwest.

What’s next

Project construction will continue through winter 2023.Once completed, travelers will use the new on-ramp and exit locations for SR 3 at Chico Way Northwest to access the two new bridges. This will create more space for Chico Creek and the unnamed tributary and eliminate the need for culverts.

Once the project is completed in winter 2023, fish will have access to 21 miles of potential habitat and an improved connection to Chico Creek and Chico Bay.

Chico Way work

In addition to SR 3, crews also have worked to remove barrier to fish on Chico Way at the interchange. This has included building a new bridge that carries Chico Way over an unnamed tributary to Chico Creek. In this instance, we built a new path for the tributary which will feed into Chico Creek. Logs and root wads were added along the water. The wood provides a dual purpose. It helps stabilize the hillside while providing habitat for fish. The design is intended to benefit fish at every lifecycle.

A new and improved path for small unnamed creek which feeds into Chico Creek

Heads up, phone down

Please keep our crews, yourself, and others safe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know traffic shifts can take a little getting used to at first, so slow down and stay aware so our crews can get this work done safely. Visit the project website for more information and to sign up for email updates.

The bridge being built on SR 3 near Bremerton. The span will eventually carry the highway over a rerouted portion of Chico Creek.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Increase in work zone crashes leads to safety adjustments to protect workers, drivers

By Mark Krulish

Just after midnight on Oct. 7, our maintenance crews were sweeping the shoulders on southbound I-5 near 56th Street in Tacoma when a driver hit our truck mounted attenuator (TMA) that was in place protecting our workers. Soon after, another TMA we moved into place to protect the collision scene was also hit. A third vehicle then tried to cut through the scene to take the 56th street ramp and hit one of the cars involved in the first crash.

We are fortunate that neither of the workers inside the TMAs were seriously hurt and that none of our other workers were hit. Road workers have families, they have friends and they deserve to get home safely each and every night. One of the trucks did sustain significant damage while the other had minor damage. And this type of incident has become more common lately.

A rise in nighttime work zone crashes – like this one recently on I-5 in Tacoma – means we’re making some safety adjustments to help keep our workers and drivers safe.

Our highway maintenance crews are on the road just about every weekday of the year, both day and night. The vast majority of collisions in our work zones happen at night, with lower visibility once the sun sets combined with a rise in inebriated and drowsy drivers putting road workers at greater risk.

This is one of the reasons you may see our workers around more than usual during the daytime. While we recognize that this may affect traffic, nothing is more important than the safety of our workers and the traveling public, and we need to take steps to help protect them.

While our busy construction season is coming to an end, we do a lot of maintenance work in the winter, including road and guardrail repair, clearing debris from drainage systems and removing tree limbs so they don’t interfere with power lines during winter storms. In the past we’ve done some of that work at night. More will be happening in daylight now as drivers are generally more alert, and our crews and work zone signage are easier to see.

Drivers may see more roadwork during the day when it is typically safer for both workers and drivers.

That doesn’t mean we’re eliminating nighttime work altogether, but we need to adjust how we do things to increase safety.

This may include:

  • Reducing the number of times our crews are exposed to traffic. This includes bundling various repairs into one job. For example, if we have to fix a guardrail, we may also do work like crack sealing and litter or graffiti removal at the same time to avoid having a second work zone.
  • Closing more lanes or creating a longer work zone area to create a larger buffer for crews
  • Using additional safety equipment on the roads, such as temporary portable rumble strips and zipper barriers

A good example of this is the repair job we’ve had on I-5 in southern Thurston County over the past couple weeks. Crews have been repairing cracks and restriping between lanes on the highway. We’ve had two lanes closed on short sections between Maytown and the Thurston/Lewis county line. We’re doing this during the day because of the increase in dangerous driver behavior, particularly on I-5 at night. Crews will return to the southbound side of I-5 next week from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17. This may mean more congestion around work zones and longer delays – but we simply must take steps to improve worker and traveler safety.

And as you are driving through, please slow down and keep an eye out for our workers and work zones. Please make sure you give them enough room, don’t drink and drive and be sure you’re alert and focused. You play a part in their safety, and we need your help.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Revive I-5 pavement replacement is first of many projects coming to Everett area

By Tom Pearce

Revive I-5 comes to Everett this weekend, which means people traveling north through the city on the freeway need to plan around the traffic effects it will have. While Revive I-5 has mostly been in Seattle so far, other sections of I-5 around the region – including this one – need preservation work.

Starting at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, northbound I-5 will be reduced to two lanes from Lowell Road – about two miles north of SR 526 – to Everett Avenue. The closure will last until 5 a.m. Monday, Oct. 17.

During the closure, the regular off-ramps to Broadway and 41st Street will be closed, but the HOV ramp to Broadway, with access to 41st, will be open to all drivers.

This lane reduction will create a safe work zone for our contractor crews while they replace many broken concrete panels.

This section of I-5 opened in the late 1960s. The original designers expected it to last about 25 years before needing major work. While it's lasted twice that long, this section of the freeway is showing its age. Numerous concrete panels are broken. We need weekend-long lane reductions to replace those panels.

Replacing a section of panels, which was done here as part of an earlier
Revive I-5 project, can be more cost-efficient.

It's much more cost-efficient and will result in a better final product to do this work during a weekend lane reduction. Our contractor crews from Acme Concrete Paving need to dig out the panels, make sure the soil underneath is in good condition to support the new panels, then pour the concrete and let it cure.

After more than 50 years of use, the freeway also has tire ruts, worn by the roughly 80,000 vehicles that use this portion of road daily. To fix these, our contractor will grind off the high spots outside the ruts to provide a more level driving surface. This will reduce puddling when it rains, improving safety.

Before they can take out broken panels, crews cut them so they can break them and remove them.

Plenty more work on I-5 and SR 529 corridor

This project is the first of several occurring in the Everett/Marysville area. In addition to the current work to replace broken concrete panels, starting in 2023 several other preservation projects are planned, including:

  • Replacing four bridge expansion joints on I-5 between 41st Street and US 2 in Everett
  • Four projects to repair and/or repaint SR 529 bridges between Everett and Marysville
  • A new northbound HOV lane as well as an interchange at I-5 and SR 529 to improve access to and from Marysville
  • Replacing a damaged girder at the 12th Street Northeast overpass over I-5 in north Everett

While we have these separated into several projects, we understand that as local travelers all you'll see is a lot of work. That's why we're already planning to coordinate the work schedules as these projects come online. The goal is to limit the number of lane closures occurring at any one time.

We realize these closures on I-5 and SR 529 are going to have a major effect on everyone traveling between Everett and Marysville. However, preservation work is critical for aging infrastructure. That's a huge part of what we do every day, but we'll also continue to make sure you can get to your destinations.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Washington's Encampment Resolution Program addressing homeless encampments on state roadways, property

Updated Feb. 21 with new total numbers through December 2023

By WSDOT staff

In spring 2022 work began on the state's Right of Way Safety Initiative – now called the Encampment Resolution Program – a new partnership of state and local partners to find solutions for people living homeless on state highway rights of way.

This initiative is led by three state agencies – the state departments of Commerce and Transportation and the Washington State Patrol. It's a result of Gov. Jay Inslee's request to the Legislature earlier to address increasing safety issues along state highways. Our agencies do this work in partnership with numerous local governments and non-profit partners.

While homelessness isn't new on state lands, funding provided by Legislature this past session allows for new approaches and opportunities to augment city resources to provide shelter and housing options. Commerce has $143 million for a variety of services and types of housing, including $45 million from the initial legislative proviso.

The work has started in five counties: King, Pierce, Thurston, Snohomish and Spokane. Initial efforts are centered along some of our largest interstate corridors, but the ultimate goal is to expand these efforts as more funding and resources allow.

Early successes

This outreach and housing approach has been visible in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Thurston and Spokane counties this year, where we've had some early successes stabilizing and/or clearing some sites – some stretching over many sections of an interchange.

Since starting this work in June 2022, 33 sites total have been closed and cleared within the five counties as of Dec. 31, 2023, with outreach underway at several more while waiting for housing to become available. That includes work at one large site at Dearborn and I-5 in Seattle, on-going work at Spokane's Camp Hope and several other sites within the five counties. While not everyone living on an identified right of way site moves into the housing offered to them, those who do have had good outcomes. Of the more than 1,000 people who have accepted housing through the end of 2023, 78 percent of them remained housed as of Dec. 31.

Safety, partnerships and roles

The Right of Way Safety Initiative focuses on state highway rights of way because of the inherent safety risk these sites pose to anyone on them. Vehicles pass these locations at 70 mph or higher, regular inspections and access are needed, emergency and planned construction takes place, etc.

These areas are not safe places for anyone to be living, and the encampments make these areas unsafe for crews working on these sites, for passing motorists who can be distracted and the neighbors of these areas.

Our efforts are very much a partnership between the state agencies as well as local partners and that is vital because there are several steps that need to happen to clear an encampment and help people find shelter or housing. Those steps and the agencies who work on them are:

  1. Identify and offer shelter and services to people living at a site (local jurisdiction & service/outreach providers; funding offered by Commerce)
  2. Provide secure storage of their belongings (local jurisdiction & service/outreach providers)
  3. Ensure safety and security for people on site and work crews (local law enforcement & WSP)
  4. Restore and clean up the property (WSDOT)

Stopping the cycle is labor-intensive work

Homelessness is a challenging issue. We hear from people who are frustrated and want fast solutions, but we've found during recent years that connections to services and housing are necessary for stopping the cycle of displacement and encampment. This process takes time and work from skilled outreach teams.

Without this type of outreach, clearing an encampment merely displaces people to some other area of the community. Forcing people to move to another site is a quick, temporary action that is neither sustainable nor humane.

The state's Right of Way Safety Initiative allows for a new approach. The funding requires that housing be offered to the people living on any site we address, including outreach to individuals so we can find the best possible solution for them. This involves strong partnerships with local government and a wide swath of non-profit groups who can do that critical outreach work. This work starts long before a site is posted with a deadline for people to leave the site – and is already underway in various degrees in all five counties.

This type of work takes time, but it also allows us to make meaningful progress and put people on the path of long-term, permanent housing.

Moving forward

Each site and community are different, which is why it's so important to have meaningful, productive partnerships with local governments and outreach groups. In some cases, such as Spokane, that may mean fencing an area (for the security of those within the camp and the local neighborhood) while outreach takes place, in others it's identifying hotels or other sites that can be turned into long-term housing. It's usually a variety of approaches.

The local governments and outreach partners play key roles because they're able to identify their local needs as well as have the connections with area providers who can help meet those needs on the ground.

This work doesn't happen overnight, but we are looking forward to making more progress in the coming months which will help bring people inside as well as remove the safety risks from encampments on rights of way.