Thursday, May 19, 2022

When mariners should – and shouldn’t - request Hood Canal Bridge openings

By Doug Adamson

People who cross the SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge know the feeling all too well. We’re talking delays associated with the bridge closed to vehicle traffic for boats.

It might happen once a day. Sometimes several times a day. That’s especially true in summer. And they can leave people stuck for up to an hour each time.

Why? We are required by federal law to close the bridge for marine traffic. Boats get the right of way.

While we’re required by federal law to open bridges to marine traffic, unnecessary SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge openings lead to delays for drivers including freight traffic as each one can take up to an hour.

But not all boats are the same and not all need the bridge to open. In those cases, the regulations require mariners to navigate under the truss spans of the bridge whenever possible. Mariners should not request draw span passage if their vertical clearance is enough to use elevated areas of the bridge.

But how do you know if you can fit? Great question. All vessel operators must know their mast height.

A look at the elevation portion of the Hood Canal Bridge on the Jefferson County side during high tide.

Truss heights (smallest vertical clearances at Mean High Water) clearances vary based on tides and wave activity.

  • Jefferson County (west) measures 31 feet 
  • Kitsap County (east) measures 50 feet

Requesting an unneeded draw span opening is a reportable offense to the United States Coast Guard and needlessly jams up traffic across the bridge.

Why don’t we police marine traffic?

Well we do. …kind of. While we are not a law enforcement agency, we can record vessel numbers and report violations to the United States Coast Guard. But we’d rather have mariners follow the regulations so we’re using a variety of resources to remind mariners of the federal requirements.

We have a new procedure when mariners call us for a draw span opening through the bridge. They will first hear a message citing the requirement for vessels to use the elevated portions of the bridge if possible.

The elevated portion of the Hood Canal Bridge on the Kitsap County side during high tide.

Why don’t you just build a suspension bridge over Hood Canal?

It would not be practical. The current bridge is about 7,000 feet long. A Hood Canal suspension bridge would be much larger than the 2007 Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which collects tolls. A new suspension bridge that wouldn’t require a draw span would likely be the longest in the world. The total cost? Think several billion dollars and years of construction.

Speaking of being practical, our crews are balancing lots of work to keep existing roads and bridges in good working order. Reducing unnecessary draw span openings also means less wear on the bridge’s moveable parts.

Both ends of the Hood Canal Bridge have elevated sections where boats can travel under.

Going forward

We’re dedicated to keeping people moving. Closures to traffic have a tremendous effect on people who are stuck waiting to get to medical appointments, work, making deliveries and any other reason they might be out and about.

While we’re encouraging boaters to not request openings when they aren’t necessary, the reality is some openings will always be needed. Use our app or HoodCanalBridge.com to check the bridge’s status and know before you go.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Once more, we plan lane reductions on southbound I-5 in Seattle

By Tom Pearce

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – we’re planning to reduce lanes on southbound I-5 from I-90 to Spokane Street this weekend to replace old expansion joints. Lane reductions will start at about 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20; all lanes will reopen by 5 a.m. Monday, May 23.

No, it’s not Groundhog Day. It’s just that we need dry weather to replace 45 expansion joints this year, so we need to work every weekend possible to complete the work. That means scheduling this weather-dependent work earlier in the year than we might in other circumstances, during a time when the weather is more iffy.

It takes about 55 hours to chip away old concrete, remove then replace the joint,
then pour new concrete and allow it to cure.

I know it can be frustrating when we announce lane reductions, then postpone them. Sometimes I feel like the boy who cried wolf. The difference is, we’re not just doing this to see if people are paying attention. We must share our plans ahead of time so people can prepare, even when we realize we may have to postpone due to weather.

Throughout the week we must go forward as though we are working, regardless of the forecast. Imagine the confusion and problems it would cause if we simply said, “Aw, It’s going to rain, we probably won’t work,” and did no preparation, only to have the weather clear up and the lane reductions start.

Why can’t we work in the rain? No, our contractors aren’t afraid of a little weather. The polyester concrete we’re using is more durable than typical concrete – important for our busiest highway in the state. But it’s also more susceptible to moisture and needs dry weather to set properly. So this long-lasting wet spring has been frustrating.

So, here we go again. We plan to close the left lanes of southbound I-5 south of I-90 to near Spokane Street starting at about 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20. We’ll reduce the freeway to one lane near Spokane Street, where we’re replacing the expansion joints. We’ll reopen all lanes by 5 a.m. Monday, May 23. We say it every week, so I’ll say it again – this work is weather dependent. Here’s hoping it’s good enough to work.

If weather allows, we’ll close the left lanes of southbound I-5 south of I-90.

One thing I can tell you for sure: We won’t work the weekend of May 28-29. That’s Memorial Day weekend and we don’t work holiday weekends when we know people will be traveling. We also will not work the weekend of June 11-12 due to the University of Washington’s graduation ceremonies or Juneteenth weekend, June 18-19.

We are planning to work just about every other weekend this summer – we’ll break for the Independence Day and Labor Day weekends, which always see lots of traffic. In the meantime, keep planning ahead for lane reductions – hopefully starting this weekend.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Bike Everywhere Month Rolls in May

By Barb Chamberlain

It’s that time of year: More people start getting out using pedal power during National Bike Month in May and beyond. This also makes it a great time to celebrate Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation of Bike Month in Washington and to share a few reminders about traffic safety.

As the proclamation notes, the bicycle is a healthy, convenient, affordable, enjoyable and environmentally sound form of transportation. Bicycles also serve as essential transportation for many who do not or cannot drive, allowing them to access jobs, education, essential goods and services, transit, and community life.

If challenges or friendly competition are what turn your cranks, you can thank the advocacy groups that organize and promote the statewide #BikeEverywhere Challenge, one of the local/regional challenges, and the National Bike Challenge that are rolling now. You can find #BikeThere and #BikeEverywhere hashtags all over your favorite social media feeds.

And now for those tips that apply year round, not just in May.

A neighborhood greenway sign in Spokane reminds all of Washington state law.

Ride and Drive SMART

Many people who ride a bike in Washington also drive. The same skills will serve you well whether you’re operating on two wheels, three (if you happen to have an adult three-wheeler), or four.

When you ride or drive SMART you:

STAY alert and check your speed. Watch for other people walking, biking, driving, or getting on/off transit. The faster you go, the harder it is to see others in time to stop.

On the bike: Pay attention to the road surface and potential hazards.

Drivers: As the operator of the larger, heavier and faster vehicle you make decisions that have the biggest effect on the outcome for everyone. That one second you hold back to be sure it’s safe to pass or turn can make all the difference. Slow down for kids on bikes; they may not be able to ride as predictably.

MAINTAIN space. When you leave room in front of you, you’re giving yourself time to avoid other riders, drivers, pedestrians and hazards in the road.

On the bike: Ride outside the door zone. If you’re riding in a place where it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, yield to pedestrians and roll at a walking pace.

Drivers, remember the Safe Passing Law. Move over an entire lane if possible; leave at least three feet of space between you and the bicyclist (or wait to pass) if there isn’t room in the other lane.

ACT predictably and safely. Don’t make abrupt lane changes or turns without making sure it’s safe for everyone and you know what other traffic is on the road.

On the bike: Position yourself to be visible — if there’s no bike lane this means riding in the vehicle travel lane, usually in the right-hand tire track. Ride in a straight line. Use bike lanes and trails when they are safe for your use. Make sure your helmet fits properly and is secured on your head. Have a working headlight and rear reflector or tail light.

Drivers: Don’t honk your horn. Use eye contact and courteous driving to communicate that you see the bicyclist. Use the “Dutch Reach” to open your door when getting out of a parked car on a street. Reach across your body with your right hand for the door handle. This causes you to rotate your body a bit, which serves as a reminder to look behind you and ensure the lane is clear of all traffic before opening. This handy tip that’s included in the Washington driver’s manual will help prevent you from an illegal door maneuver.

Gov. Inslee this year proclaimed May to be Bike Everywhere Month.

RESPECT the rules of the road. Obey traffic laws, signs, signals and pavement markings. Signal lane changes, turns and stops. Yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and riders.

On the bike: Call out or ring a bell before passing someone walking or biking. Ride in the same direction as motor vehicles when you’re in the lane or on the shoulder.

Drivers: Look and look again before turning. Don’t overtake a rider and then turn in front of them (a “right hook”), or fail to look for them in oncoming traffic and hit them as you turn left (the “left cross”).

THINK ahead. Scan ahead to give yourself time to see and adjust to a change in traffic flow or someone who’s making a turn or changing lanes.

On the bike: Allow time to adjust your line of travel so you can ride around that pothole or broken glass or cross those railroad tracks at a right angle.

Bicycle traffic signals over separated bike lanes support safer traffic operations.

Drivers: When passing make sure you know what path the bicyclist is taking. Are they planning a turn? Before deciding to pass make sure there is no traffic coming in the opposite direction—the Ann Weatherill Safe Passing Law of 2005 prohibits passing when cyclists, pedestrians, or farm equipment are in view and approaching from opposite direction. Check your mirrors and look before moving back into the lane just as you do when overtaking another motor vehicle; the bicyclist may be traveling faster than you realize.

Enjoy the journey and ride SMART!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Golden Jubilee of the North Cascades Highway

By Lauren Loebsack and RB McKeon

On Tuesday, May 10, the gates swung open and the State Route 20 North Cascades Highway opened for the season, as it does every year. A group of loyal SR 20 fans gathered to celebrate the opening with our hard-working crews. But this year was a little more special.

Washington Pass celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year – that’s 50 years of providing recreationalists, families, drivers, adventure seekers and tourists with connection between the east side and the west side of the state across SR 20 North Cascades Highway.

So what makes this highway so special that people gather each year to watch the closure gate open, sharing stories, legendary treats and memories? Let’s take a look.

Where it started

Talk of building an east-west route across the Cascades took place well before Washington was even a state. But the history of Washington Pass is rooted in the late 1800s when many came to the area along what is now SR 20 with the hope of mining gold and other precious metals. Several locations were considered but given the unique terrain across the Cascade Mountains, each possible route came with its own insurmountable odds.

This picture was included in the Sept. 1972 official opening ceremonies program for SR 20 North Cascades Highway.

Originally called the North Cross-State Highway, work began on a 5.3-mile stretch from Diablo to Thunder Arm in 1959. A rough dirt road was finished in 1968. When the highway that is today’s North Cascades Highway was complete, it looked nothing like any of the original routes. The official opening of the North Cascades Highway took place on September 2, 1972, with Governor Dan Evans presiding over three ceremonies in Winthrop, Newhalem and Sedro-Woolley.

A Seattle PI picture shows Governor Dan Evans and Lee Holloway of Twisp cutting the ribbon to officially open the North Cascades Highway on Sept. 2, 1972.

A beautiful trip

Today, the North Cascades Highways is beloved by many who prefer a more scenic alternative to Interstate 90 for travel across the state. It also serves as the most direct link between the Skagit and Methow valleys and provides an essential link for timber freight. Road-trippers drive through miles of old growth forest in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Motorcyclists enjoy a twisty road with sweeping corners, complete with many pull outs and overlooks to take in some of the best views of the Cascades. Recreationalists and outdoor enthusiasts plan annual trips and take advantage of the magic of North Cascades National Park including an abundance of wildlife, camping and hiking opportunities.

People traveling over the SR 20 North Cascades Highway see some of the most spectacular views our state has to offer.

Battling the weather

Few things are as consistent as Mother Nature and for all 50 years, weather has played an important role in the activities along SR 20, whether it is snow and avalanche danger in the winter or wildfires in the summer.

Each year usually around mid-November, our maintenance crews close the highway for the winter as heavy snow and avalanche danger threaten the safety of drivers and workers. Hikers, skiers, snowmobilers and other recreationalists access the closed portion of the highway during the winter season at their own risk. Once the weather warms, our maintenance and avalanche control crews begin clearing from both the west and the east side, meeting in the middle. This includes working with the U.S. Forest Service to safely remove trees that potentially could be hazardous to drivers. It can take as few as four weeks or as many as 10 weeks to fully clear the highway and reopen it to the public.

Crews from the east and west sides of the pass work to clear the roadway in the spring, eventually meeting
in the middle. Here they are meeting just a couple weeks ago.

Tootsie

For many, the spring opening has become a yearly tradition. For years, the reopening of the highway was marked by Tootsie Clark, a.k.a. The Cinnamon Roll Lady, who would faithfully make her famous cinnamon rolls with whiskey sauce and pass them out to crews and drivers waiting for the pass to open. Tootie’s husband was part of the original highway crew that worked to build Washington Pass. Over the years, the number of cinnamon rolls Tootie brought to the opening grew from a dozen to hundreds. Sadly, Tootsie passed away before the 2018 reopening, but her family continues her tradition of attending the reopening of the pass.

Tootsie Clark was a regular at the North Cascades Highway openings since 1972 until her passing four years ago. She was famous for her incredible cinnamon rolls.

Getting it open

Maintenance superintendent Don Becker has been a part of the spring clearing work in some way for 28 years. For several years he worked out of the Brewster maintenance shed and came up to help the core spring clearing crew as needed. Later, as the lead tech at the Twisp shed, the job of clearing fell to him. He admits he was pretty green and was called to the region office in Wenatchee in late winter before the spring opening to meet with his boss, Don Senn. Senn’s advice on having a successful spring clearing? “Open as safely and economically as possible. Use your team’s expertise.”

Becker took that advice and over the years the crews have adjusted tactics and incorporated different equipment into the mix.

The crew has also supported some special requests, including filming crews for commercials and television. Becker shared a memory of working with the “Ice Road Truckers” production just one day before a spring opening. The production crew wanted to film a truck losing control eastbound on Washington Pass. To accomplish the shot, Becker’s crew added snow back on the road and assisted the production team with a catapult they used to film the truck “tumbling” over the guardrail into a ravine. However, the snow was still so thick that when the truck was launched, it simply stuck in the snow and the crews were never able to get the shot. “Keep that in mind when you watch the show.”

This spring reopening was Don Becker’s last, as he plans to retire later this year. He admitted feeling a little bit of nostalgia as his family gathered with him and he connected with Tootsie’s family and other opening regulars one last time. “They thought I was retiring last year so they made a cake. I decided to keep it in the freezer and we had it this year.”

Don says he will miss doing “the last sweep” (he has been the crew member to drive through the cleared road to open the gate for over 20 years), because now it feels like a tradition.

Maintenance superintendent Don Becker poses with his family in front of the west side closure gate this year,
celebrating is final North Cascades opening.

Help us celebrate

With 50 years of history, there are certainly more stories of traveling the North Cascades Highway to share. We hope that you will share your best memories from the past 50 years with us on Twitter @wsdot_east using the hashtag #NCH50 or share them on our Facebook page. Share your pictures, memories, favorite things to see and do on SR 20 North Cascades Highway, we’d love to hear from you!

Lauren Loebsack, our communicator out of our Wenatchee office, poses with her brother Isaac on a family trip
over the North Cascades to Anacortes in the summer of 1986.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Rain washes out Revive I-5 weekend, but plenty more coming

UPDATE 7:37 a.m. Friday, May 13: Rain in the forecast means we have to postpone this work once again. Fingers crossed for dry weather soon. We will get word out when we know the next scheduled weekend of work.


By Tom Pearce

We didn’t get to Revive I-5 southbound near Spokane Street last weekend because of the rainy weather, but we’ll be back this weekend hoping for better conditions.

We’re planning to replace several joints near Spokane Street starting at about 7:30 p.m. Friday night, May 13. We’ve also adjusted our traffic plan a bit – the mainline of southbound I-5 will remain open, but we’ll begin to reduce the number of lanes south of I-90, eventually narrowing to a single lane.

Replacing expansion joints required a lot of work, including cutting old concrete.


Once the lanes are closed our contractor, C.A. Carey, will replace the left side of the expansion joints near Spokane Street. Southbound I-5 in this area will be down to a single lane all day Saturday, May 14, and Sunday, May 15, before all lanes reopen by 5 a.m. Monday, May 16.

Work planned almost every weekend this summer

We still need about 16 weekends to replace 35 expansion joints on I-5, in addition to 10 others on the ramps that connect to the freeway. We can replace several joints on either the right lanes or left lanes in the same weekend, but the sheer number requires a lot of weekends that will stretch into early fall.

The left lanes will be closed all weekend south of I-90 to the Spokane Street area.

We plan to work every weekend except Memorial Day, UW graduation June 11-12, Juneteenth June 18-19, Independence Day and Labor Day. We originally planned to work the weekend of June 18-19, but with I-405 closing for that weekend in Bellevue to remove the old Main Street overpass, we need to keep all lanes of I-5 open. 

As we saw last weekend, this work is weather-dependent. We use a polyester concrete to hold the joints in place. This is more durable that regular concrete, but it needs dry conditions to cure properly.

You can still get there

Reducing lanes on I-5 is never enjoyable, but you can still get to your spring and summer fun. It may take some extra time, but if you plan ahead you can still get to everything from games to family events:
  • Allow plenty of travel time.
  • Use alternative routes like I-405 or SR 99 (remember the toll)
  • Consider light rail or buses
  • Travel early (before 8 a.m.) or late (after 8 p.m.)
We appreciate your patience as we continue our work to Revive I-5. After nearly 60 years, our region’s main freeway has earned it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Tunnel work begins for Overlake access ramp in Redmond

By Adrienne Hatmaker

I don’t think it’s a secret that Redmond and surrounding cities east of Lake Washington are among the fastest growing in this state. And if you frequent the Overlake area, you know how congested it gets heading to southbound 148th Avenue Northeast from the eastbound State Route 520 off-ramp. With new residential and retail development and the future Sound Transit Link light rail station, the area and traffic within Overlake will continue to grow.

Good news: The new Overlake ramp will help ease that congestion, and tunnel excavation for the new ramp begins in early May!

Crews have prepared the tunnel work zone on the east side of 148th adjacent to SR 520 ramps in Redmond. A temporary traffic signal and traffic shift will be used in early May and be in place for about four months.

As you might guess, building the tunnel and new ramp has a few stages involved and this is the first. Our contractor crews from Granite Construction will begin tunnel excavation on the east side of 148th so traffic flow will need to change.

The sidewalk on the east side of 148th, adjacent to the SR 520 ramps, has been removed for tunnel work. Pedestrians have access to the west side of 148th during this part of the project.

What you can expect

The speed limit in the work zone will be lowered to 30 miles per hour, lanes approaching the interchange will narrow and shift to the west side of 148th. We’ll add a temporary traffic signal system to guide travelers through the interchange and pedestrian access will be on the west side of 148th only. This phase of the project will take about four months to complete.

In this four-month phase of work, traffic lanes will narrow and shift west along 148th to give crews room for tunnel excavation on the east side of the road. Pedestrians can access the sidewalks on the west side.

The next phase of the project will have the Granite crews excavating the tunnel from the west side of 148th before building the new ramp. That will mean flipping traffic to the east side with a lower speed limit and more narrow lanes. When complete in summer 2023, drivers will have easier access from eastbound SR 520 to residences, businesses and the future light rail station.

Making it easier to get around

This project will bring many benefits to people who travel in the Overlake area, including:

  • Improved mobility. The existing eastbound off-ramp to 148th Avenue Northeast will be realigned and a second off-ramp added that will cross under 148th Avenue Northeast. This will provide a new eastbound exit option from SR 520.
  • Direct access. The new off-ramp will provide direct access to the Overlake Village retail area.
  • Improved safety. The new routes from SR 520 will reduce off-ramp backups and weaving traffic on 148th Avenue Northeast, decreasing the potential for crashes.
  • Improved street connections. We will coordinate with the city of Redmond on new city street connections, providing travelers timely access to the Overlake Village Link light rail station and 152nd Avenue Northeast.

This $68 million project is funded through the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package, which provides a $16 billion investment in the statewide transportation system.

We understand that during the next year or so this work will create challenges for people traveling in the Overlake area. In the end though, this new ramp and tunnel will make it easier for you to get where you're going.