Friday, April 29, 2022

Seven days on SR 512 in Pierce County yields 24,480 pounds of litter

By Cara Mitchell

If you were caught in the backups on State Route 512 around Puyallup these past two weeks, thanks for your patience. Closing lanes during the day on a state highway that sees average daily traffic volumes well over 100,000 vehicles is never an easy decision for us. We know it creates big challenges for drivers. With that in mind, know the reason why we closed the lane was for safety, and we got some really great work done in the process.

We dislike seeing litter along our highways just as much as you do. Our challenge is we do not have regular, dedicated litter crews, nor the funding to create them.  To help address roadside litter, we maintain the Adopt-a-Highway program and partner with the Department of Ecology, Department of Corrections and local communities. The median of SR 512 is a challenge to keep litter free because its design, size, and the use of cable barrier along much it. The only way to safely allow access to it is by closing the left lanes. Anyone who drives SR 512 knows what happens when a lane is closed for a collision or emergency repairs – huge backups occur.

For two weeks in April, right around Earth Day, we decided the backups were worth enduring while we combined forces with Ecology on SR 512. We closed the left lane during the morning and early afternoon so Ecology crews had a larger work zone to safely pick up as much trash as they could. When you have 100,000 vehicles a day flying past you at 60 mph, it’s really important to create a large work zone for added protection.

Over two weeks on SR 512, our crews and Department of Ecology crews
 teamed up to collect and dispose of 24,480 pounds of litter.

Some of you may wonder why this work wasn’t performed at night. Daylight provides greater visibility for safety and removing larger amounts of litter. With the exception of interchanges, much of SR 512 does not have overhead lighting.

At the end of the first week, we disposed of 10,000 pounds of garbage at the landfill. Another 14,480 pounds were disposed of at the end of week 2 for a total of 24,480 pounds, which is great news for everyone.

During the SR 512 cleanup, our crews provided traffic control to create a safe space while Department of Ecology crews picked up litter in the median.

Safety first, always

We were quickly reminded why we close lanes when anyone is working in the median of SR 512. Two hours after our crews and Ecology had finished for the day, on Wednesday, April 20, a vehicle crashed into the cable barrier – in the same location where crews were working just hours earlier. Our maintenance crews went out that night to make the repairs.

Our nighttime maintenance teams made repairs to cable barrier on SR 512.

Then on Thursday, April 21, our crews were performing a mobile left lane closure to remove larger pieces of debris – such as an old desk – from the center concrete wall on both directions of SR 512. Ecology crews were not scheduled to join us that day. This was work we try to take care of when time allows. Crews had just finished the westbound direction and were starting eastbound near Lakewood when they saw a pickup truck speeding toward them. The pickup struck our truck mounted attenuator (a buffer vehicle to protect crews ahead), spun out and then took off. We were very lucky that no employees were injured, and the TMA barely had a scratch on it. We’ve seen these situations end much, much worse.

On Thursday, April 21, our truck mounted attenuator survived a hit and run collision on eastbound SR 512 while crews were picking up large debris from the center concrete wall of the highway.

Safety is always our top priority, and during the month of April, we push that messaging out using a bull horn. When incidents like these happen, it can be frustrating for all of us. After all, we are out there cleaning up litter that really shouldn’t be there in the first place. That’s why we are asking all of you to help us prevent litter on our state highways and keep our crews safe. We take pride in our state, just like you. All of us need to work together to address this issue.

Our maintenance crews fix safety-related issues, including performing guardrail and cable barrier repairs, that are often damaged from a collision. They are also cutting back brush to improve sight distance, refreshing lane lines on the highways, filling potholes and maintaining drainage systems. We do the best we can to get to as many of those safety related needs as possible. On Wednesday, April 27, in additional to collecting 480 bags of litter, we took advantage of the left lane closure to repair guard rail and removed some vegetation in the median to improve sight distance.

As part of the work on SR 512 our crews also repaired guardrail.

How can you help?

  • Properly cover and tie down all loads, trash and debris on all trips so it doesn’t fall or fly out of vehicles
  • Dispose of all trash in a vehicle litter bag or in a bin at a destination
  • Share litter prevention messages with family and friends. Visit and for litter prevention tips
  • If able, consider creating an Adopt-a-Highway group to join the valuable volunteers who help clear roadsides and other rights of way
  • Stay alert for road crews, move over when you can and always slow down. They’re counting on you

We are working on plans to remove litter from the median on SR 410 in Sumner this spring. Drivers will see similar left lane closures that will be scheduled around commute hours. We will share that information on our statewide travel map and app once the dates are finalized.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Work Zone Awareness Month is ending but need for safety continues year-round

By Celeste Dimichina

Throughout the year and especially through the month of April, which is Work Zone Awareness Month, we spend a significant amount of time reminding the public about the importance of work zone safety. And while that month is ending, the need for drivers to continue to help keep road workers safe is a year-round effort.

If you follow us on any of our social media platforms, it’s not hard to see why we do this. Rarely a week goes by when we don’t post about an incident when someone has crashed into one of our work zones. And so, we want to continually bring attention to the issue, in hopes that it will make a difference in even one person’s driving behavior and choices.

While our attenuator trucks provide a valuable piece of protection for work crews, it’s also not unusual for
our workers in the truck to suffer injuries when they are crashed into.

One area where we have seen a significant increase in the number of close calls and crashes in our work zones in the past year is Clark County. In 2021 there were 28 crashes in work zones or backups around work zones in the county. And, when looking at crashes specifically into our vehicles or crews, just between May 2021 and March 2022 alone, there were five incidents where a driver crashed into our road crews, their work vehicles or work equipment. Thankfully, our crews were able to walk away from these crashes, but they still suffered minor injuries in some cases and endured the trauma of being in a situation that should never happen. And, tragically, others involved in the incidents had much dire outcomes.

  • On May 12, 2021 a vehicle crashed into our sweeper truck working in the left lane along westbound SR 500 in Vancouver. The driver tried to swerve around our sweeper but crashed into it. Fortunately, no one was injured.
  • On Aug. 12, 2021 a car crashed into our truck mounted attenuator truck (a buffer vehicle) which was protecting crews up ahead who were sweeping the left lane along southbound I-5 in Vancouver. The driver merged from the right lane, crossed all four lanes of the highway into the left lane and struck the rear right bumper of the attenuator. Tragically the driver whose car struck our truck was killed, as was one of three children also in the car..
  • On Aug. 16, 2021 a vehicle crashed into our attenuator truck which was parked in the left lane of the off-ramp from Mill Plain to northbound I-205 in Vancouver, protecting crews who were inspecting an overhead sign bridge.
  • On Feb. 2, 2022 our attenuator truck was parked in the left lane of southbound I-5 in Vancouver protecting crews doing guardrail repair when a vehicle crashed into the rear end of it. The Washington State Patrol determined the driver was under the influence.
  • On March 30, 2022 – Our crews were on the right shoulder of southbound I-5 in Vancouver repairing the irrigation system for the “Welcome to Washington” sign when a vehicle tried to merge around our crews but swerved when another vehicle was also merging and crashed into our work trailer. While luckily our crews weren’t hurt, the driver who crashed went to the hospital with minor injuries.
While Work Zone Awareness Month is about keeping road crews safe, we want everyone safe out there – 93 percent of work zone injuries are to the other driver, their passenger or nearby pedestrians.

These are just a few of the incidents this particular area has seen over the past year. Almost all of our road workers can talk about near-misses or worse that they’ve experienced. One worker spent several weeks recovering from a work zone crash only to be involved in another on his first day back. As you can imagine, being involved in multiple incidents over a long period of time can have a lasting impact on our workers’ health and wellbeing.

So why does this keep happening? There’s no one reason, really. According to the Washington State Patrol, the five that happened in Clark County were caused by varying factors including drivers being under the influence to simply not paying close enough attention while behind the wheel.

The one thing that ties all of the causes together is they are all preventable. Whether it’s speed, distraction or driving while inebriated, those are all choices drivers make, all of which put everyone at risk. It’s vital that drivers remember that road crews are real people working to improve the roadway and keep others safe while doing their jobs just inches away from live traffic. They are someone’s family and friend and depend on drivers to do their part to help keep everyone safe.

It’s vital that drivers stay alert for road crews, slow down and move over. Even attenuator
trucks can’t provide 100 percent protection.

So, what can you do to help?

  • SLOW DOWN! Reduce your speeds and obey the posted speed limit signs! Seriously!
  • STAY ALERT & MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS. When you’re behind the wheel, dedicate your full attention to the roadway; avoid using your cell phone, playing with the radio or anything else that’s distracting your concentration.
  • FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS FROM FLAGGERS. Flaggers are directing traffic through work zones – they know when it’s safe for you to proceed, please follow their instructions.
  • INCREASE FOLLOWING DISTANACES. Keep a safe distance between yourself, road crews and equipment.
  • EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. Work crews, work vehicles and equipment may enter your lane without warning, and other vehicles may slow down, stop or change lanes unexpectedly.
  • PAY ATTENTION TO ROAD SIGNS/FLASHING LIGHTS. Read and follow road signs, watch for brake lights on vehicles ahead of you and flashing lights on equipment.
  • KNOW BEFORE YOU GO. Ahead of your trip and before you get behind the wheel, check online resources like our website or mobile app to see what might be going on along your route. Knowing what to expect can help reduce frustration when you encounter traffic delays.

Lastly, please have patience and stay calm when you encounter work zones or see road crews working along roads and highways. After all, road crews are working to improve the road and make your trips safer and smoother. Do your part to ensure everyone makes it home safely at the end of the day.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Moving ahead on Earth Day

By Ahmer Nizam

An old friend who is a retired National Marine Fisheries Service biologist recently recalled to me that when WSDOT began its fish barrier removal program in the 90s, it didn’t do so because of a court order but because WSDOT believed it was the right thing to do. Our decades-long commitment to sustainability is the reason why, today, the agency is a national leader among state DOTs in areas such as habitat connectivity, cultural resources protection, watershed management and climate change mitigation.

Earth Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate our successes, but more importantly, it challenges us to consider what more we can do to be even better stewards of our environment. Many of our answers are found and funded by the Move Ahead Washington transportation funding package. Through the new appropriations, we will dramatically expand efforts to reduce agency-specific and transportation sector carbon emissions by shifting modes and decarbonizing our fleets, restore habitat, aid in salmon recovery, treat highway stormwater runoff, reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, and incorporate environmental justice principals into our agency processes.

Correcting fish passages that run underneath highways across the state is one of the
 many ways our agency is working to create a healthier ecosystem.

Invest in Our Planet

This year’s Earth Day theme is “Invest in Our Planet” and the goal is to act boldly, innovate broadly and implement equitably. That’s something our agency continues to work to do.

For example, the Move Ahead Washington package provides funding for hybrid-electric ferries, zero emission buses, electric vehicle infrastructure, transit and active transportation including projects to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. It also champions equity in transportation funding with resources allocated to underfunded communities.

Investing in our planet isn’t something new for us. Some of the steps we’ve taken include:

  • Offering flexible work scheduled to help reduce roadway congestion and air pollution
  • Reducing emissions on Washington State Ferries and Amtrak Cascades fleets with new fuel-efficient or converted equipment
  • Improving fish passage in streams and waterways under state highways
  • Creating wildlife crossings to assist with safe passage of wildlife near our roadways, cutting down on possible wildlife-vehicle crashes
This group of elk are safely crossing I-90 using the wildlife overcrossing near Snoqualmie Pass. The crossings make travel safer for humans and animals alike, and there are 14 undercrossings and one overcrossing on the way on I-90.

Doing your part

One of the biggest environmental challenges our agency faces is the ever-increasing amount of litter on our state highways and medians. Each year we spend more than $4 million of our maintenance budget on litter cleanup and disposal, and yet the problem continues to grow, frustrating everyone including our crews.

We coordinate cleanups with the Department of Ecology, Department of Corrections as well as our own Adopt-a-Highway program. For example, we recently teamed with the Department of Ecology on a cleanup effort on SR 512 in Puyallup, where crews collected and disposed of more than 10,000 pounds of litter in three days.

We recently teamed with the Washington State Department of Ecology on litter cleanup on SR 512 in Puyallup where crews collected and disposed of more than 10,000 pounds
of litter in just three days.

But we need your help. We aren’t funded to have dedicated cleanup crews so our maintenance crews balance everything from road repairs, cleanup and traffic control at crashes, guardrail fixes and, yes, litter cleanup. With only so much time, staff and funding, we do the best we can to prioritize work based on safety needs. While joining the Adopt-a-Highway program is a great option for some, the best thing the public can do to help is stopping litter from ending up on the roads in the first place. Dispose of trash properly, secure loads so they don’t fly out of or off of your vehicle. And encourage your friends and family to do the same.

We are proud to be a partner in ensuring that our state’s environment will be sustainable and resilient for all citizens for generations to come. As excited as we are about our work under Move Ahead Washington, we should not lose sight that some of the greatest environmental benefits come about through our individual choices and actions. This Earth Day, I hope you will join us in reflecting on the state of our environment and ways that we can make a difference. I recall a “corrected” sign on a former teacher’s door that read, “One Person Can Only Do So Much.”

You can learn more about what we are doing to protect our environment on our website.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Using northbound I-5 in Seattle late weeknights? Plan ahead for some changes through early May

By Tom Pearce

We’re making progress on our northbound I-5 Seneca Street to SR 520 project, but progress always seems to bring change. For people who use the freeway northbound in downtown Seattle overnight for the next couple weeks, we’ll have several changes.

Regular nighttime travelers are used to being shifted into the collector/distributor for our project to improve traffic through downtown Seattle. Starting at 9 p.m. Monday, April 25, we’re adding three ramp closures:

  • The Dearborn Street on-ramp to the collector/distributor
  • The James Street off-ramp
  • The Olive Way off-ramp

We’ll have everything open by 5 a.m. for the morning commute.

The nightly closures are scheduled to continue through Friday morning, April 28, then we’ll do it all again the following week from Monday night, May 2 to Thursday morning, May 5.

In addition to these multi-night closures, the on-ramp from University Street to northbound I-5 will be closed from 9 p.m. Monday, April 25 to 5 a.m. Tuesday, April 26 only.

These closures mean changes for people going into downtown Seattle or onto I-5 on these nights:

  • Going into downtown Seattle, people will need to use the off-ramps to either Dearborn Street or Madison Street.
  • I-5, people will need to use Fourth Avenue and the northbound I-5 on-ramp from eastbound I-90 or the Cherry Street on-ramp.

The big picture

All this work is part of a project to create a third through-lane on northbound I-5 near Seneca Street. Currently the northbound freeway has just two through-lanes in this area, which frequently creates a bottleneck. Right now our contractor is moving concrete barrier, which will allow us to turn the current exit-only to Seneca Street into a third through-lane with an optional exit to Seneca.

We also will add ramp meters and peak-hour auxiliary lanes to the I-5 on-ramps from the collector/distributor and Cherry Street to help smooth the traffic flow through downtown.

All this work will be complete in 2023 as we continue to make progress to improve travel throughout the region.

Great things happening for active transportation in Washington

By Barb Chamberlain

If you walk or roll – and remember, everyone does at least some of the time – then 2022 should be the start of even better days ahead. After decades of steady investment and policies supporting active transportation, we believe this is the year we’ll look back on as the launching point for even greater achievements.

New programs and expanded funding provided in the 2022 legislative session bring several opportunities to improve connections, safety and accessibility for people walking and rolling to their destinations. Those investments and policy changes also make it possible to begin implementing elements of our active transportation plan published in December 2021. The plan’s rigorous self-assessment of state highways has just been highlighted by the League of American Bicyclists as a model other states should follow as part of their latest rankings of Bicycle Friendly States (more about that below).

A rider pulling a bike trailer in the buffered bike lane on SR 20 in Port Townsend. With Complete Streets requirements and expanded investments in Move Ahead Washington, more and more people will have access to comfortable connections for walking and rolling.

First, some of the Move Ahead Washington highlights that our Active Transportation Division will be leading:

  • More local projects. Safe Routes to School and Pedestrian/Bicyclist Program funding was tripled per biennium over the next 16 years through the combination of existing and future funding.  This supports projects to help improve safety across the state, with funding going out to communities starting in July 2023.
  • Reconnecting neighborhoods. A new five-year $50 million Connecting Communities pilot program will restore networks and connections (such as trails, bike lanes, and places to cross) where legacy state transportation facilities severed them. The program can support any phase from community-based planning through construction.
  • Bigger, better bike education: A new, much larger school-based bicycle safety education program will reach students from elementary grades through high school and provide bicycles to students and their families, with an emphasis on serving schools in overburdened communities.
  • Timeline for community pedestrian/bicyclist projects: 43 projects to be funded over the life of the Move Ahead Washington package will be prioritized so we schedule the most needed improvements as early as possible.
  • Complete Streets on state routes: The Active Transportation Division is coordinating efforts across our divisions and regions to implement the Complete Streets design directive that will affect all projects of $500,000 or more going into design after July 1 of this year.

We’ll have annual status reports on all of this work starting Dec. 1 and thereafter through the 16 years of investments in this transportation package.

Other active transportation highlights include:

  • Studies that will come out in 2023 will help increase our understanding of the needs of nondrivers; opportunities for micromobility lending libraries; transit service benchmarks; and how to grow walk-on ridership on our ferries.
  • We’ll review State Route 99 in both north Seattle and the South Park area to learn how to improve multimodal safety and accessibility along the corridor.
  • The Complete Streets grant program administered by the state’s Transportation Improvement Board will have more funding to award.
  • The Legislature expanded potential use of traffic safety cameras by more cities in locations such as hospital zones, park zones, and school walk areas.
  • Legislators also expanded the Safe Speeds “20 Is Plenty” Law to allow us and counties to lower speed limits without a traffic engineering study.
Expanded investments in Move Ahead Washington will allow for more safe facilities for walking and rolling like the Scott Pierson trail on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Washington named one of top three bicycle friendly states

Also in 2022, we’ve been named in the top three of the Bicycle Friendly States rankings. The League of American Bicyclists 2021 rankings were announced Tuesday, April 19, with Washington in the No. 3 spot, including “A” grades for education and encouragement, traffic laws and practices, and evaluation and planning.

Washington held the No. 1 spot from 2008-2019 (there was no 2020 list released) but even this slight change in rankings is still good news for bicyclists overall. We improved in several categories which means other states really stepped up their game as well – which benefits everyone.

And, while it’s nice to be No. 1, we also know that many of this year’s accomplishments took place after we’d submitted details for state rankings. A change in how the rankings were made for the 2021 list, including a greater emphasis on federal investments, also affected where state fell this year.

We remain very proud of our state’s dedication to and future investment in programs and projects that make us more bike-friendly and walk-friendly with each year. If you want to keep up with our news, you can subscribe online to our Walk + Roll E-News that comes out once or twice a month.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

It's been a bumpy ride on southbound I-5 in Seattle

UPDATE May 6, 2022: Work on the Revive I-5 project scheduled for the weekend of May 6-9 has been postponed due to wet weather. We will announce a new date when that is determined.

By Amy Moreno

There’s a rhythm to the drive on southbound Interstate 5 in Seattle. It comes from a series of unpleasant bumps on the section between I-90 and Spokane Street. The familiar cacophony reverberates as tires bump the original expansion joints along this stretch.

Last year we started with new concrete, grinding down the roadway and putting down fresh pavement. This spring and summer the crew is back for the joints.

This year we plan to break up the beat of the old joints and smooth your ride, starting the weekend of May 7-8. That’s when we’ll begin the first of many weekend-long lane reductions to replace 35 expansion joints on southbound I-5. Forget the summer of love, this will be the summer of lane closures.

It’s more than the noisy bumps

The expansion joints are road-worn and ready to retire. On April 1, one of the joints proved how deeply this work is needed by popping loose. It was just one day before our maintenance crews had planned to do some temporary repair work on that joint.

An expansion joint popped on southbound I-5 in Seattle just after 1 a.m. on April 1.

After that incident we met with contractors and decided to adjust our construction schedule and start with the joints in that area.

Lane reductions start Friday night, May 6

Our contractor, CA Carey, plans to start weekend-long lane reductions at 8 p.m. Friday, May 6, finishing by 5 a.m. Monday, May 9. All traffic will shift through the collector/distributor for the whole weekend. There are Mariners games that weekend, along with other events in downtown Seattle. And of course, it’s Mother’s Day weekend. Yes, this might affect some of your travel plans, but you can still get there if you allow extra time and use alternate transportation.

  • Take a Sound Transit bus or light rail
  • Ride Metro Transit
  • Carpool – it’s always more fun to go with others
  • If you can, travel early (before 8 a.m.) or late (after 8 p.m.)
  • If you can put off the trip, consider rescheduling it
  • If you’re feeling active, there are scooter and bike rentals in Seattle
To maintain a safe work zone for the people replacing the expansion joints, all traffic will go through the collector/distributor during the weekend-long lane reductions.

What’s next?

This is the first of about 16 weekends of lane reductions that will continue through the summer.  We will keep I-5 open for people and businesses, but we need to reduce the number of lanes to do this. We plan to work every weekend except:

  • Memorial Day, May 28-30
  • University of Washington commencement, June 11-12
  • Independence Day, July 2-4
  • Labor Day, Sept. 3-5
A worker welds anchor rods for expansion joints on I-5 in Seattle in 2021.

The work is weather dependent, so rain could mean delays or postponed weekends. Keep an eye on our social channels like Twitter and our travel information for the latest on closures.

Hopefully the work this summer will mean we roll to an easy rhythm by fall. Then we can enjoy the bumps from our car stereo instead of the roadway.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Coming soon: Two-week closure of South Spokane Street/West Seattle Bridge on-ramp to northbound SR 99

By Sean Quinn

Drivers who use South Spokane Street to get to northbound State Route 99 in Seattle should prepare for a two-week closure starting at 6 a.m. Monday, April 18. The on-ramp from South Spokane Street and the West Seattle Bridge to northbound SR 99 in Seattle will fully close for repairs, so drivers should plan to use alternate routes for two weeks.

A hole in the ramp from the West Seattle Bridge to SR 99 will require a 2-week closure for repairs.

What happened?

On every elevated structure we have, be it a ramp, bridge or overpass that is off the ground, the surface of each structure of roadway is called a deck. This past January, the South Spokane Street and West Seattle Bridge on-ramp to northbound SR 99 had a hole open up on the roadway and will need to be repaired to maintain structural integrity.

A plate over the hole on the ramp has allowed traffic to remain open while repairs were designed.

The hole was covered by a steel plate and is safe to drive over as we are monitoring it daily. But in order to make permanent repairs, we’ll need to remove the plate and repair the deck beneath.

The rebar will need to be repaired as part of the work on the ramp.

What we’re doing

We are going to break up and remove the concrete around the hole all the way through to the girders underneath the surface to expose the rebar. The rebar strengthens the concrete under the tension of vehicles driving over it. Once we chip the concrete, we will repair the rebar and then pour concrete to fill the void where the hole in the deck used to be. That process will take about a week. To finish, we’ll need an additional week while the ramp remains closed for the concrete to cure. We need dry weather in order for the concrete to cure properly so the schedule may change depending on the weather.   

A look at where the ramp work will take place.

Stay in the loop

Be sure to follow @wsdot_traffic on Twitter for updates on the maintenance work, including closure/reopening dates and times. As always, please keep our crews, yourself, and others safe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know detour routes can take getting used to, so give yourself extra time to reach your destination and stay aware so our crews can get this work done safely.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Shining a light on those who work on our roads and ferry terminals

By Elizabeth Guevara

Through the challenges of the COVD pandemic, wildly changing weather and an increase in major crashes, our maintenance crews and ferry employees continue to head to the office to try to keep everyone moving safely. Only, many of their offices are on our highways and ferry terminals.

And while most of us who work in an office are generally pretty safe, their offices can be hazardous places to get work done.

There is nothing that is more important to us than the safety of our workers, and that's why every April we turn a spotlight on it with our Work Zone Awareness campaign. That spotlight is even brighter this week as it is National Work Zone Awareness week. During this campaign we put an even greater emphasis than usual on reminding drivers to slow down, stay focused and move over while approaching and passing through work zones.

One of our engineers narrowly escaped tragedy when his work truck – this is what’s left of it – was hit by a semi in March 2019 – causing him to roll down an embankment to escape the crash.

Daunting statistics

While overall driving was down since 2020 when many people began working from home during COVID, the number of collisions in work zones remains high. There were 1,128 collisions within work zones or backups related to work zones in 2020. In 2021, there were 1,232 work zone collisions, including several fatal crashes.

While we want our workers to be safe, we want you to be safe too. Statistics show that 94 percent of the people who are hurt in work zone crashes are the driver, their passenger or nearby pedestrians, rather than workers. But that doesn't make it less dangerous for the road crews.

Much of our work takes place at night, creating an extra level of potential
hazards despite working to establish safe work zones.

It is almost impossible to find a highway maintenance worker or ferry terminal employee who hasn't had a close call by having to run out of the way or jump over a guardrail or, worse, been injured in a work zone incident. Some injuries can take months or even years to recover from and some prevent workers from ever returning to these assignments.

Even worse are the workers who don't survive. Since 1950, we have had 60 workers killed on the job – the vast majority in marked roadway work zones. Even one death is too high a cost to pay and every one of our fallen workers left behind family, friends and co-workers who miss them to this day.

Nationally, there's a work zone crash every 5.4 minutes and each year 670 people are killed in roadway work zones. Our state alone averages 626 roadway work zone injuries a year.

The busy construction season also brings a lot of frustration from the traveling public about roadwork delays and often take it out on our work zone workers. Please be patient and remember that the workers are just there to keep everyone, including themselves and their fellow workers, safe.

Road workers equip themselves with protective gear but it’s important to remember that they are still regular people under the hard hat and reflective clothes, and we ask drivers to be alert, slow down and give them room.

How you can help

Most work zone crashes are preventable. For example, the top three causes of Washington work zone collisions are excessive speed, distracted/inattentive driving, and following too closely.

We work hard to keep our workers safe with equipment and training, but we also need the traveling public's help in keeping everyone on the road safe.

Road workers want to go home safely to their family and friends so please follow their directions, slow down, be patient, give them room and stay alert.

Anytime you're in or approaching a work zone please remember to:

  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they're there for your safety
  • Be Kind – our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic; put down your phone when behind the wheel
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life
Planned work zones often include closed lanes and traffic control, but please also be aware of emergency work on roadway shoulders. Under the state's Move Over law, travelers must move over a lane, if possible, whenever passing crews on the shoulder with flashing lights – that includes law enforcement and fire, highway incident response and maintenance crews, tow trucks, and solid waste and utility crews. If you can't move over, the law requires vehicles to slow down to 10 miles below the posted speed limit as they pass.

Our employees in work zones are spouses, parents, children, siblings and friends – and they all deserve to go home safe at the end of their shift. Please help us keep them, you and everyone on our roadways safe.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Work Zone Awareness Month kicks off following extremely challenging crash-filled March

By Mike Allende

This was a tough blog to write. We started working on it the second week of March, when it became clear we were seeing a significant rise in major collisions all over the state. We wanted to call more attention to it, ask people to help do their part to keep everyone safe. In short, drive responsibly.

But they just kept happening. Each time we felt the blog was done, several more large crashes happened, leading to more editing. With March over and major collisions continuing to happen regularly, we knew we needed to get this out now.

April is Work Zone Awareness Month at WSDOT and while not all of March’s crashes involved work zones, several did, including one on I-5 in Tacoma that left two of our contractors severely injured. Nationally, Work Zone Awareness Week will be observed April 11-15 this year. So there’s really no better time than now to ask drivers to do their part to keep themselves and everyone else safe.

The truth is, most drivers do drive safely. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad decision to lead to tragedy.

While providing traffic control for a disabled vehicle and tow truck on westbound I-90 near Easton, our attenuator truck was struck from behind. Fortunately there were no major injuries. The Washington State Patrol took the driver of the vehicle that struck our truck into custody for possible DUI.

Noticeable, but not necessarily new

While March seemed to have a spike in serious collisions, it continued a trend we’ve seen since the COVID pandemic began in early 2020. Since that time, while the total number of crashes dropped, the seriousness of them increased, and it’s a worrying trend as we head into warmer months when we expect more people to be on the roads. And that doesn’t mean just people in cars. More pedestrians and people on bicycles and motorcycles will be out to enjoy our beautiful Pacific Northwest spring and summer. More roadworkers will be out with drier, more favorable weather.

And we want them all to be safe.

That’s why we’re again asking the traveling public to help us curb this trend – we need everyone, every day to be looking out for themselves and others around them.  Because from a statewide view, the past month has been truly alarming.

After a truck lost this mattress on I-5 in Mountlake Terrace, a car swerved to avoid it and ran into a semi. The driver of the car was tragically killed. (Photo courtesy Washington State Patrol)

What are the causes?

The thing about this past month (and the past two years) is, there hasn’t been just one cause.

We’ve seen speeding, like when a motorcyclist was killed when he crashed into a disabled tow truck on the side of I-5 in Federal Way.

We’ve seen negligent driving, like when a driver struck a barrier on I-90 near Liberty Lake, then hit another vehicle which got pinned underneath a semitruck, sending one person to the hospital.

We’ve seen impaired driving, like when a driver struck two bicyclists on SR 28 in Douglas County, sending both of them to the hospital with serious injuries.

We’ve seen a failure to secure loads, like when a truck lost a mattress on I-5 in Mountlake Terrace, causing a vehicle to swerve to avoid it and crashing into a semi. The driver of the vehicle swerving was killed.

And we’ve seen a combination, like two vehicles reportedly going more than 100 mph that crashed into our I-5 Tacoma work zone, seriously injuring two contractors. The crash was so bad that crews on the scene initially feared at last one injured worker wouldn’t survive. The State Patrol said that impaired driving may also have been involved.

Two vehicles speeding at a very high rate of speed entered our I-5 Puyallup River Bridge work zone and collided with each other, sending one of them into our contractor’s truck and severely injuring two workers. The Washington State Patrol believes DUI played a role in the crash and one driver was arrested for investigation of vehicular assault.

These are just a few of the larger incidents. There have been many others, and even more if you take into account city streets and county roads. All of these incidents are tragic, and our hearts go out to those who were hurt or killed as well as their friends and families.

But while there are a number of causes, one thing is common among them: they are also all preventable. Speed. Impairment. Distracted driving. Carelessness securing loads. These are all decisions that drivers make either behind the wheel or before they get into vehicles. All of these decisions put themselves, other travelers and highway workers in danger. And they all lead to terrible results.

At best, highway infrastructure is damaged and 100s if not 1,000s of other travelers are delayed. While frustrating, those can be fixed. It’s the lives changed by these actions that can’t be repaired.

This car struck two bicycle riders on SR 28 in Douglas County, sending both bicyclists to the hospital with serious injuries. The driver was arrested for DUI and vehicular assault. (Photo courtesy Washington State Patrol)

Please do your part

As we head into the warmer months, the temptation to drive faster on dry, clear roads will be there. We’ll see more people strapping items to their vehicles, either to move or for road trips. There will be no shortage of potential distractions.

We need drivers to remember that their highest priority when behind the wheel is safety. Safety for themselves, and safety for others. Everyone out there – whether in a car, on foot, on a bike or otherwise – has friends, family and a life. We need everyone to respect and be aware of that.

Driving a vehicle is a big responsibility. One second of distraction, one decision to drink and drive or simply going too fast and being reckless, can have lasting effects on many others. So please do your part to slow the trend of serious crashes by always staying focused and alert, slowing down, securing your loads and respecting the lives of everyone else out on the roads.