Monday, August 29, 2022

Left side expansion joints replaced in south Seattle, but more work remains

By Tom Pearce

It's been a long summer of weekends as we've replaced expansion joints on southbound I-5 in Seattle, but this past weekend we reached a major milestone. We finished replacing expansion joints on the left half of the freeway between I-90 and Spokane Street.

That means if you drive in the left lanes, no more “ka-klunk” as you go over the 35 expansion joints on that section of I-5. We also have finished repaving a section at the south end of the project where three expansion joints were about a half-inch higher than the road surface. Now the road is flush with those joints, eliminating that bump.

Contractor crews prepare an expansion joint on the left side of southbound I-5 in Seattle for new parts during a weekend-long lane reduction earlier this year

We still have to replace the right half of several expansion joints in this area as well as joints on ramps to and from southbound I-5 in this area. That work continues and we plan to finish by early October.

West Seattle Bridge reopening

We've been working with the Seattle Department of Transportation to coordinate our project schedule with theirs to reopen the West Seattle Bridge. With an announced opening date of Sunday, Sept. 18, our contractor's schedule will have the off-ramps to the West Seattle Bridge open that weekend. Instead of working on I-5, they'll replace expansion joints on the eastbound and westbound I-90 ramps to southbound I-5.

A little history

By the time we finish the Revive I-5 work, we will have replaced 56 expansion joints on southbound I-5 between I-90 and Spokane Street and on several of the ramps that serve this part of I-5. Many of those joints were part of the original I-5 construction in the early 1960s. We also repaved more than 1.25 miles of the freeway last year as part of this project.

In 2021 our contractor repaved 1.25 miles of southbound I-5 between I-90 and Spokane Street.

A lot of northbound and southbound I-5 in Seattle is still from of the original construction. With our Revive I-5 effort, we are rehabilitating the freeway – replacing expansion joints, repaving sections, completely replacing the pavement in others and doing seismic work to strengthen bridges against earthquakes.

And in the future...

Starting in late 2023, we will begin an ambitious project to rehabilitate more than eight miles of the freeway between Yesler Way in downtown Seattle to Northgate in the north end of town. This multi-year project will involve a lot of the work mentioned above – expansion joints, repaving, replacing some pavement all the way down to dirt.

We're still sorting out the details of how the work will be done, but you can expect major lane reductions during construction season as well as some of the now-familiar weekend-long lane reductions.

In addition to this I-5 work, we'll have several other projects on I-5, I-405, I-90, SR 520 and other highways.

It all adds up to a lot of lane closures in the coming years. Just like our current project on southbound I-5, we'll work to wrap them up as soon as possible. In the meantime, thanks for your continued patience.

Friday, August 26, 2022

I-5 HOV construction in Tacoma is really done. …no really. …it is!

By Cara Mitchell

Fade in scene:

Marty and Doc from back to the future, with text overlay that says Marty, I just got back from 2022 and they're done with I-5 construction in Tacoma

Yes Doc, it’s true. We’re wrapping up major construction on I-5 in Tacoma.

This morning, Friday, Aug. 26, we opened a new section of the southbound HOV lane on I-5 from the Port of Tacoma Road, connecting to the westbound SR 16 HOV lane. Tonight, crews will remove temporary barrier on northbound I-5 and open the northbound HOV lane from the SR 16 interchange, across the Puyallup River into King County.

This weekend, crews will restripe southbound I-5 from the King County line to the Port of Tacoma Road to finish opening the new southbound HOV lane. The work is scheduled for Saturday night. Striping is weather sensitive work and could be rescheduled if it rains.

Nighttime drivers will see lane closures on I-5. Please pay attention in work zones and don’t drive distracted or speed. Keeping crews safe is our top priority, and that involves all of us. We need everyone’s help getting this 22-year effort wrapped up. Opening the HOV lanes is a huge milestone. Like you, we are glad that construction is wrapping up.

Treat yourself like I-5 and never stop working on yourself no matter how inconvenient it is for everyone else

We know, it took a long time. Transportation engineers knew years ago that the Puget Sound HOV Program had to expand south into Pierce County. To build HOV lanes on I-5, SR 16 and SR 167 meant we had to widen those highways without shutting them down.

We required contractors to keep three lanes open during peak commute hours, throughout construction. This helped commuters get to work, school or make that important doctor visit. That meant a lot of work happened at night when traffic volumes were lower. Here are some quick milestones to keep in mind:

  • The first project that expanded I-5 for HOV lanes finished in 2001 at the I-5 and South 38th Street interchange.
  • In 2007 the first HOV lanes opened on SR 16.
  • Three years later, we opened the first HOV lane on I-5 in Pierce County in Fife.

After those milestones were accomplished, we rebuilt the I-5/SR 16 Nalley Valley interchange in three projects, expanded I-5 across I-705 and rebuilt both spans of the Puyallup River Bridge in three projects. Every one of those projects had very little room for crews to stage construction in. Drivers started to see endless shifted lanes and temporary new configurations. Have you ever tried remodeling the kitchen while cooking Thanksgiving dinner? It gets interesting with the sink, oven and microwave relocated to the living room. Yet dinner is finally ready.

Each phase of construction set the stage for the next. In addition to building HOV lanes, we also rebuilt bridges to meet current seismic standards, helped the environment by improving storm water treatment ponds and drainage systems, replaced the original asphalt and concrete roadway on I-5, updated new electronic traffic devices and added new travel cameras.

To recap this massive lift, we created a video that captures the history of I-5 in Tacoma and Fife, and the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program.

New East L Street Bridge opens

On Aug. 19, following a 3-year closure, we were delighted to open the new East L Street bridge in Tacoma. The new 363-foot-long bridge was built to current seismic standards and has 11-foot-wide lanes. We included a six-foot-wide multipurpose lane for people who walk and roll. The original East L Street bridge was built in 1963.

Throughout the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program, seven overpasses were removed and six were rebuilt, to accommodate HOV lanes on I-5 through Tacoma. The list of overpasses rebuilt include:

  • South 38th Street
  • South Yakima Avenue
  • Delin Street
  • Pacific Avenue
  • East McKinley Way
  • East L Street

All of these structures were built to current seismic standards and provide full width roadways and sidewalks.

The one overpass not rebuilt was Tacoma Avenue. Its proximity to Delin Street allowed us to combine the two streets into one overpass that was constructed from 2007 to 2008.

The evolution of the Puyallup River bridge, with the original in 2007. The center picture shows the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge and on the right is the new northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

So HOV Lanes are open. Now what?

Opening HOV lanes on I-5 in Tacoma really signals the end of major construction on the interstate. Our contractor still has a few things to finish before we can toss the hard hats in the air. This includes:

  • Levee fortification along the Puyallup River
  • Removing old bridge piers from the old I-5 bridges
  • Completing the public art installation on East 28th Street
  • Work to add dedicated left turn lanes on Portland Avenue under I-5
  • Landscaping and river habitat restoration
  • Rebuild the SR 167 on-ramp to southbound I-5

As we’ve done before, we will keep you posted on all this work via the project website. The project is expected to reach substantial completion this fall.

Safety, always a priority

We said this earlier, but it is worth repeating. On any state highway in our state, we ask that you keep our crews safe when you’re driving through a work zone. Please pay attention to the road in front of you and don’t drive distracted. We want all our road crews to go home safely at the end of their shifts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Feeling the traffic pinch in Issaquah: westbound I-90 to reduce to one lane in September

By Tom Pearce

We have a saying around the office: "There's no such thing as a simple paver." That's a reminder to us that even though a project may seem pretty basic, the effects on travelers may not be so easy to navigate.

Beginning Sunday night, Sept. 11, we'll begin a project that no one ever considered a simple paver – we'll reduce a three-lane section of westbound I-90 just east of Issaquah to one lane for three consecutive days and four nights. Around-the-clock work will begin at 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, and continue through 5 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, while we replace the concrete panels on the left side of I-90. The lane reduction provides a safe work area for the people repairing I-90.

The following week, from 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18 to 5 a.m. Friday, Sept. 23, we'll reduce westbound I-90 to one lane again as crews replace pavement on the right side.

When paving asphalt on soil, it takes a few layers to create the designed thickness.

There's nothing simple about repaving a 1,550-foot section of I-90, particularly when we need to reduce a three-lane section of freeway to one lane. In this case, we're not just paving over the top of existing concrete, we're removing all of the concrete panels all the way down to the dirt, then repaving with asphalt. The amount of work necessary means we cannot do this only during overnight shifts.

We need to do this because the nearly 45-year-old concrete is cracked to the point where repaving is not an option. This section of I-90 is located near an old coal mine that was sealed up before the freeway was built. Through the years, water collected in the mine and began seeping under the westbound I-90 lanes. This softened the soil, which eventually led the concrete panels to crack.

Water that has collected in an old mine now seeps under westbound I-90 east of Issaquah.

In addition to the paving work, this project includes drainage improvements to reduce the amount of water that goes under I-90.

This section of westbound I-90 carries about 29,000 vehicles a day. When all three lanes are open, it's generally a free-flowing stretch. Forcing all traffic into one lane is going to create backups, particularly at peak hours. You may be able to help reduce the number of vehicles on the road by:

  • Using transit
  • Carpooling
  • Working from a remote location
  • Avoiding westbound I-90 during morning commute hours

We understand these solutions won't work for everyone, but people who can choose one of these options will spend a bit less time sitting in traffic. If enough people do something different, we can limit backups for everyone.

More work on westbound I-90 planned

This repaving work is only part of the project. We will have additional multi-day closures to repave a bridge and replace the approach to another bridge west of Preston. Each of these projects will require us to reduce I-90 to a single lane. When we have dates for this work, we'll let you know.

Repaving the Highlands Drive on-ramp

It's part of a separate project, but we expect to complete the paving in the next week on the Highlands Drive Northeast on-ramp to westbound I-90.

While our crews and contractors can make the work look easy, it's never simple. We appreciate your understanding as we finish this work as safely and quickly as possible.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

A summer full of fish and chips on our highways

By Stefanie Randolph and Jamison Murphy

Did you know that Washington is the true home of fish and chips? If you travel on state highways this summer, there is a good chance you will come across a fish passage barrier removal or chip seal project. Like crispy fried fish and chips, both types of projects are better when it's hot. We talk more about fish barrier removal in other blog posts so let's focus here on chip seal. You'll keep seeing these projects on our roads through the end of summer, and then they'll be back again next year. Here's why you see these projects during popular travel months, and what it means for how you drive.

What is chip seal and why is it important?

These chips aren't delicious, but they do make our road surfaces a little more fresh. Chip seal applies a special protective surface to existing pavement. Basically, we lay down a sticky surface on the road and cover it with small chips of rock. Not only does it preserve road surfaces, it even improves traveler safety. The protective coat restores traction to prevent skidding, particularly on wet roads. It maximizes visibility by providing an anti-glare surface during wet weather and an increased reflective surface for night travel.

During chip seals crews lay down a sticky surface and then cover it with small rock chips.

While my doctor advises against chips every day, it turns out that chip seal is great for roadways. It minimizes wear from aging by making the road more durable and preventing water from penetrating the road. Without chip seal, we would see more potholes during the winter.

Chip seal is the best way to preserve roadways and extend their lifespans. It's very effective and low cost – 15 to 20 percent of the cost of pavement overlays. We use chip seal to make the most out of our maintenance and preservation budgets.

The protective coat restores traction to prevent skidding on wet roads and maximized visibility by providing an anti-glare surface in wet weather.

What does this mean for travelers?

Unlike a basket of fried food, chip seal work takes some time. Crews must shut down lanes to perform the work. Typically, only one lane will be available for traffic in both directions, which means one side of the highway is let through the zone at a time. This traffic flow is guided by a pilot car and flaggers who will lead you through the zone in a manner safe for travelers and the crew.

The speed limit is typically reduced to 35 mph around the clock until a project is complete. The slower travel is not only safer for the people working on the road, it reduces the chance of damage to vehicles. Expect delays of at least 15 minutes, go slow and travel really early or late if you can.

During chip seal jobs crews typically need to alternate traffic through an open lane, leading to delays so people who can should travel early or late.

Keep an eye out for loose chips of gravel on the road until the end of the project. Rollers start to embed them in the chip seal oil that will hold them place. Even with the high-pressure rolling, some gravel will not become embedded in the asphalt. Your tires will help to move the rocks around and fill the small gaps in the new surface. Make sure you drive slowly to keep the aggregate on the ground until it can be swept off the road.

Drivers should stay alert for signs of chip seal jobs happening, then slow down and give crews as much room as possible.

Why do we chip seal during popular travel times?

You know how sometimes your fries come out a little soggy, or not cooked all the way through? That's because the temperature wasn't just right. We must chip seal within certain moisture and temperature ranges, too. It has to happen during the day and during the time of year we have the least rain. So if the weather's nice, we're probably somewhere taking advantage of the weather window and laying down a brand new chip seal on a highway.

We're mindful of inconveniences caused by delays, and we hope travelers will consider the long-term benefits of protecting the roads for smoother travel and longer lifespan. Until the work is complete, you can help prevent delays by traveling early in the areas we're doing chip seal, using alternate routes and consolidating trips. You can check for work on your route to the nearest fish and chips stand with our Real Time Travel Map.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Night groovin’ with accordions on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge

By Jamison Murphy

When you think of the word accordion, you might think of your favorite polka hit, or maybe even the brilliance of Weird Al Yankovic. And while those things are great, when I hear accordion, I think of bridges.

Say what?

No, we don’t regularly have accordion concerts on our bridges. Instead, our bridges rely on a type of expansion joint called accordion joints to be safe and functioning.

What are accordion joints? They are special devices that allow bridges to expand and contract with weather changes and seismic activity. The series of joints open and close in a similar fashion as their namesake accordion. They are vital to keeping the bridge operating safely.

We used vactor trucks to essentially vacuum up debris from the accordion joints to clean them up.

And that means it’s vital for our bridge crews to maintain those joints. Keeping these joints clean means they will function properly when they are needed and prolong the bridge’s lifespan.

Tuning the accordions at night

Our crews recently worked on maintaining accordion joints on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.To minimize traffic interference, they took to the nightshift for the cleaning and inspection, first closing two right lanes and then closing two left lanes to at least keep some traffic moving.

Besides the larger attachment on the vactor truck, our crews used other attachments to get into tighter spaces on the accordion joints.

A vactor truck – a truck with a giant vacuum attached – with two different attachments was used. One attachment had a wide cone-style opening to suck up larger debris. The other divides into two smaller hoses so two people can vacuum finer debris in separate spots at the same time.

In the end, we wound up with some very clean accordion joints and overall, a very clean Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

A look at a nice, newly cleaned up accordion joint.

Well, while we’re out here...

Taking advantage of the lane closures, the crew did some additional work that is much easier without traffic.

They did some deck patching of the old bridge and removed debris that had gathered in the towers and between guardrail posts. On another night, they returned to paint the towers on the north strut.

By working at night, our crews were able to minimize the traffic disruption on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

In all, it was great work by our team safely bunching up several pieces of work into a couple overnights when traffic was lighter. Thanks to all our workers and to drivers for being safe and alert around our crews. Getting projects done – especially at night – can be a challenge so whenever things go smoothly and safely, it’s (accordion) music to my ears.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Revive I-5 work this weekend includes paving to remove the south end bumps

By Tom Pearce

This weekend's work on southbound I-5 in Seattle will be a bit different than what we've been doing this summer. In addition to replacing expansion joints, our Revive I-5 contractor will repave part of the freeway to start to eliminate those infamous bumps near Spokane Street. It's going to take several weeks to complete all that paving, but this will be a start.

The first weekend with pavement work will begin at about 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, and will continue through 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 15. We'll work on the left lanes, which means:

  • All traffic will use the collector/distributor
  • The I-90 ramps to southbound I-5 will be closed, except for two hours after stadium events
  • The express lanes also will remain northbound all weekend, because the southbound merge point is inside the work zone
The old expansion joints on I-5 are cut to remove them before being replaced by new ones.

While drivers became used to the "ka-klunk" along the section where the old expansion joints were about three-quarters of an inch below the new road surface, the final three joints in the series we replaced earlier this year created a bump. We've been working on a solution ever since and now we're ready to start.

It's taken this long because we needed to secure funding and our contractor had to find a subcontractor to do the work. This is the peak of construction season, so many contractors already have other work. The labor market is very tight right now, so finding people to do the work also was a challenge. But we now have a schedule to eliminate these bumps while we do expansion joint replacement.

We’ll start repaving the section of southbound I-5 near Spokane Street this coming weekend.

During about four weekends when we're replacing expansion joints, we'll extend our lane reductions to include part of this area and we'll repave this section. The longer lane reductions shouldn't increase traffic backups. Those are created by people merging as we reduce the number of lanes available. We've found that once people are in the final configuration, they go at a steady speed, then accelerate when all lanes are open.

As always people will want to plan ahead for weekend travel. People have been taking this message to heart. During the many weeks we have been working on this, we've seen a decline in the length of backups. We still have them and no one likes to sit in traffic, especially on a hot summer day.

So remember, you can still get to your events, but consider using alternative routes, light rail, transit or carpool to your events. And thanks for your patience as we complete this important preservation work.

Help us plan for the six-day closure of the Lewis and Clark Bridge in 2023

By Kelly Hanahan

In 2023 the Lewis and Clark Bridge (also known as the Rainier Bridge) on State Route 433 between Longview, Washington and Rainier, Oregon will fully close for six days for repairs and preservation work.

Crews will replace two bridge expansion joints, one joint on the north end of the bridge and one on the south and the full closure is needed to safely conduct this work.

We know a full bridge closure is disruptive, especially in an area without other nearby routes across the Columbia River. So, before we close the bridge, we want to hear from those who may be affected most by this work to ask a few questions about how you travel through this area. Your answers will help us determine how to best minimize travel effects as we plan for the closure.

Please fill out the survey and share your thoughts, comments and questions with us by Aug. 15 at:

What's happening

Steel expansion joints allow the bridge to expand and contract with daily temperature variations. These two expansion joints have deteriorated and need to be replaced.

When considering the construction options, we evaluated the safety of the traveling public and construction crews; the overall traffic effect to businesses, freight and the general public; and the quality and lifespan of the repair.

The Lewis and Clark bridge between Washington and Oregon on SR 433 will close for six days in 2023.

We determined a full bridge closure of up to six days was the best strategy to deliver this critical preservation work quickly and safely.

A full six-day closure of the bridge allows the concrete next to the new expansion joints to cure fully, ensuring a high-quality repair. This will reduce the likelihood of the bridge needing unscheduled, emergency closures and repairs in the future.

During the closure, all traffic crossing the Columbia River will detour to either the Astoria-Megler Bridge between Astoria, Oregon and Megler, Washington (south of Illwaco and Long Beach), or the Interstate 5 Bridge between Vancouver and Portland.

While construction won't happen until 2023, we are proactively planning to reduce effects to business, commuters and freight haulers as much as possible.

Drivers should start planning now for the 6-day closure of the Lewis and Clark Bridge coming in 2023.

What to expect

While the heaviest effects to drivers will occur during the full closure of the bridge, people should prepare for up two months of traffic disruption.

During construction, expect longer delays and congestion whether you commute over the bridge or travel in the project area. The work zone will have reduced speed limits for the safety of drivers and the construction crew. Pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair/motorized scooter users and emergency vehicles will have access across the bridge during the full closure.

There are no great detours for the SR 433 bridge closure, but here’s a look at what drivers can do.

Throughout the entirety of the project – the times before and after the full closure – there will be nighttime, single-lane closures in place. Drivers will take turns moving through the single lane, as the other direction waits. (See graphic to the right.) Occasional daytime single-lane closures may be needed but will be minimal to reduce possible congestion throughout the region.

Bike and pedestrian travel

People walking, biking or rolling can cross the bridge during the full closure. Flaggers will guide those on foot, on bike or using a wheelchair/motorized scooter across the bridge to ensure safety in the work zone.

Ferry service

During the full bridge closure, the Wahkiakum County Ferry between Cathlamet, Washington and Westport, Oregon will run twice an hour all day, and be free of charge for travelers bypassing/detouring around the bridge closure. Find more information about the Wahkiakum County Ferry here.

Project timeline

This project is scheduled to go out for competitive bidding in spring 2023 with construction scheduled for summer. Once a contractor is selected, we will know the construction schedule and bridge closure dates and will share this information well in advance of construction beginning.

A look at what the work zone will be like for the SR 433 bridge closure

Get updates and stay informed

Following the online bridge survey, we will hold an in-person open house from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 at the Cowlitz County Events Center (1900 7th Ave. Longview, WA 98632). Come learn more about the bridge repair and closure, meet the project team and see the results of the survey.

As construction approaches, we will continue to provide project updates and hold broad community conversations to help keep everyone informed while we work to make this project as successful and smooth as possible. To receive email/text updates on this project and projects in the surrounding area, please visit:

Friday, August 5, 2022

Seafair, Revive I-5 and multiple sporting events makes for a busy weekend ahead

By Sean Quinn and Tom Pearce

Seafair weekend is always one of the busiest times of the year on our roadways in the Seattle and Mercer Island area. This year, though, it’s just one of several events that will make weekend travel through the area a bit tricky – and it’s why we need the public’s help to keep everyone moving.

So, what’s so special about this weekend? Whether it’s going to a park or beach along Lake Washington to watch the air show, heading to see Sue Bird in her last regular season game in her illustrious career or taking a boat out to a nearby marina, there will be much heavier traffic compared to typical weekends.

And this isn’t just any Seafair: the sunny, warm forecast and the return of the popular Blue Angels after a three-year hiatus means this year’s event will look a lot more like the ones from before the COVID-19 pandemic. That means very large crowds expected all along the lakeshore, and lots of folks driving to nearby parks and boat launches – and longer travel times.

And we have construction on I-5 that needs to continue this weekend as well to ensure it’s completed before the fall.

So, it’s going to be a challenging travel weekend. And that’s why we are telling everyone heading out to plan ahead and adjust travel plans if they can. That may include taking public transit, setting up carpools or planning to leave earlier than normal if you absolutely must travel.

The Blue Angels perform during the 2019 Seafair Air Show

I-90 floating bridge open all weekend

It’s the question that gets asked every year around Seafair weekend: Will the I-90 floating bridge between Seattle and Mercer Island be closed in both directions during the Boeing Seafair Air Show Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon?

Good news for drivers, it will not be closed. Like the summer of 2019, the I-90 floating bridge will be open in both directions all day, every day this Friday, Aug. 5 through Sunday, Aug. 7. The flight path for the Blue Angels, F35 Lightning II and Growler has changed and does not require a bridge closure. The bike and pedestrian path on the north side of the bridge will also remain open.

Seafair festivities

In addition to the Blue Angels, there are other Seafair festivities around the Seattle area that will increase the number of vehicles using all directions on SR 99, I-5, and I-90 this weekend. They include:

  • Umoja Fest in Judkins Park in Seattle, on Friday, Aug. 5 through Sunday, Aug. 7 from noon to 7 p.m. daily
  • Fleet Week on the Seattle Waterfront, on Monday, Aug. 1 through Sunday, Aug. 7 from noon to 5 p.m. daily
  • Lake City Summer Festival and Parade in Seattle, on Northeast 125th Street just west of SR 522/Lake City Way Northeast, on Saturday, Aug. 6 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • The Museum of Flight’s Jet Blast Bash in Seattle, on Saturday, Aug. 6 through Sunday, Aug. 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
  • Hydroplane races, a beach party, BMX stunt show, car show, and family fun zone in Genesee Park in Seattle, on Friday, Aug. 5 through Sunday, Aug. 7 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Seattle sports events

Most of Seattle’s professional sports teams also have events at stadiums in downtown Seattle that will bring large numbers of passionate fans with their vehicles to the streets this weekend.

  • The Seattle Mariners have four games at T-Mobile Park against the Los Angeles Angels. Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6 at 1:10 p.m. and 7:10 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 7 at 1:10 p.m.
  • Sue Bird’s final regular season game in her legendary WNBA career will be at the forefront of the sold-out Seattle Storm game against the Las Vegas Aces at Climate Pledge Arena on Sunday, Aug. 7 at noon.
  • The Seattle Seahawks have a training camp mock-game at Lumen Field on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 2:30 p.m. at Lumen Field.
  • Megan Rapinoe and the OL Reign have a home match against the Houston Dash on Sunday, Aug. 7 at 3 p.m.

Revive I-5 southbound lane reductions

Even with all the events this weekend, we still need to do Revive I-5 work on the southbound freeway near the I-90 interchange.

We know. Summer construction is frustrating and even more so on a big event weekend. But this work is important for safety and long-term life of the interstate and can only be done during warm, dry summer months. So far, 24 expansion joints have already been replaced, but we’re only about halfway done when it comes to the number of weekends we need to finish the work – so we can’t delay the work, even with all the events bringing people to town.

Three right lanes of I-5 south will close where the collector/distributor rejoins mainline I-5 from 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5 through 5 a.m. Monday, Aug 8. This will require several changes:

  • The collector/distributor ramp to southbound I-5 will be closed. People will be able to enter the collector/distributor, but must use one of the exits, which include I-90, Dearborn Street, Fourth Avenue South and Airport Way.
  • People will be able to use the on-ramp from James Street into the collector/distributor, but they will have to use one of the exits.
  • The Forest Street off-ramp will be closed.
  • The Spring Street on-ramp will be closed.
  • The eastbound and westbound I-90 ramps to southbound I-5 will remain open all weekend.
  • The express lanes will operate on their regular weekend schedule.

While we couldn’t cancel the work, with all the Seafair events, Mariners games and Seahawks event at Lumen Field, we did work with our contractor to find a way to keep the eastbound and westbound I-90 off-ramps to southbound I-5 open all weekend to help keep traffic flowing.

You can read more about the project on our I-5 - SB S Spokane St to I-90 W-S Ramp - Deck Overlay & Expansion Joints project page.

Before we go…

With all the above events happening throughout the weekend, travelers should plan on congestion for any weekend travel – even if you’re just running errands and avoiding the major events. That includes increased travel times on both directions of I-90 between Seattle and Mercer Island, and SR 99 and I-5 in Seattle.

The WSDOT real-time travel map can help plan your travels – or adjustments

Don’t forget to follow our WSDOT Traffic Twitter account for updates on any major traffic disruptions, and either visit our real-time travel map on our website or download our app to let you know which roads are most congested and alert you of any disruptions that may impede your progress.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Taking care of the environment vital to any highway work

By Doug Adamson

Trees are vital to our state. We aren’t called the Evergreen State for nothing, after all. Not only are they lovely to look at, but they’re an incredibly important part of our ecosystem. But there are times when we do need to make changes to work on our state infrastructure.

So how do we balance the importance of trees with the need to get this work done?

Great question.

Protecting the ecosystem

We start projects with an eye to help protect the entire ecosystem, including the surrounding trees. We look over every tree, and we keep every one we can. Before construction, a team identifies and marks each tree. This ensures that only trees that pose an obstruction will be removed.

For those that have to be removed, we create an aggressive tree replacement program. We plant more than twice the number of trees than are removed. We replace any removed trees with Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Cascara Buckthorns. They’re much more than aesthetic. They enhance air and water quality.

A look at plantings during a fish passage project in May 2020 and the same site with plants flourishing in June 2022

An example

Let’s take a look at our upcoming fish culvert project to improve Murden Creek under State Route 305 on Bainbridge Island. Our goal is to restore the creek to a more natural state, remove barriers for fish to help salmon recovery and enhance the local ecosystem.

The fish barrier under Murden Creek will be replaced and the area replanted.

But first, the painful part of clearing the way for this work, including removing trees, needs to happen. Besides replacing those that go away, we also will plant 3,000 shrubs. These include Western Sword Fern, Salmonberry, and Evergreen Huckleberry and other native plants.

So the short-term work will lead to long-term gain for future generations.

The plan for replanting around the Murden Creek fish passage project

The project kicks off on Monday, Aug. 8 with occasional night one-way alternating traffic and a reduced speed limit so please be aware, stay safe around road crews and know that when it’s done, we’ll have a wonderful new culvert surrounded by thriving foliage to enjoy. Work will be complete fall 2023.

What’s going on under the I-90 bridges across Lake Washington?

By Tony Black

If you’ve been driving over the I-90 floating bridges across Lake Washington these last couple months you’ve likely seen a big ‘ol crane sitting in the water. Well, technically it’s a crane sitting on a large barge, but it sounds more fascinating to keep it simple.

That crane is part of some interesting work to maintain the safety and integrity of the bridges. Between Mercer Island and Seattle, contractor crews are working on replacing more than 30 steel anchor cables which help keep the bridges stable and floating. But you may not see them doing the work. That’s because most of it happens underwater. So you’ll probably see the crane and barge (eyes on the road by the way!) but important work is happening below.

Why this work needs to be done

On average the work happens every 25 to 30 years as the cables endure years of pressure and stress from wind, waves, currents, and traffic loads. There are 108 cables total holding the bridges in place against those forces of wind and waves and over time, the cables corrode, rust and fray. The picture below is one of the first cables crews replaced when the project began in late April.

An old anchor cable pulled out from under Lake Washington. The cables that help hold the I-90 bridges up need to be replaced every 25-30 years.

What they’re doing

So, what are they actually doing under there? Well, I know I’m not putting on scuba gear and diving into Lake Washington so the next best way to find out was from the project’s chief inspector.

The crane sitting on top of a large barge in Lake Washington is how crews tighten the new cables and remove the old ones. It takes about two days for each cable to be replaced.

He told me the crane is used to help tighten the anchor cables as they’re installed. Each anchor cable takes about two days to remove and replace and once the process starts it is continuous until the new cable is re-tightened.

Lake Washington is no small lake – it’s more than 200 feet deep in some places and its sludge bottom is home to many items of history’s past including the old floating bridge which sank over Thanksgiving weekend in 1990. In fact, some of these anchor cables crews are working on are still connected to the old bridge.

That makes it pretty tough to see what’s going on down there (check out this video from a 2010 anchor cable replacement to get an idea.) Divers have a camera attached to their helmets so crews up top can use monitors as a guide and to see the divers’ movements. Divers are the critical element in replacing the cables as they locate the anchors on the bottom of the lake where the cables are attached, disconnect the old cables, and attach the new ones.

Divers have cameras on top of their gear to allow crews above water to monitor where the divers are going. They can talk with them in real-time to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Once the divers have the cables in place, the crane gets to work. The cables can weigh several tons, so the cranes are used to help lift and position the cables so divers can work with them. Now while I haven’t jumped in Lake Washington, I have gone inside the pontoons that support the bridges and that’s the next critical step after the cables are in place.

Crews inside the floating pontoons under the I-90 bridges help secure the new cables to the pontoons
to keep them firmly in place.

Crews inside the pontoon position the cable for tightening along with the crane. This is how the cables stay in place once they’re set. The pontoons are watertight, and crews can safely complete their tasks without the need for oxygen tanks or scuba gear.

A closer look at how the anchor cables are secured to the pontoons

Before we go…

A question we get a lot is about the divers and just how intense the work is they are doing. The answer is: It’s not easy by any means.

The work requires divers to work at depths of 180 feet for up to two hours at a time. Only one diver goes in with another on standby on the barge in case anything happens. Divers resurface in a cage which allows the dive team on board to carefully control their ascent.

A diver prepared to enter Lake Washington as part of the I-90 anchor cables replacement job. Divers go in one at a time and can be as deep as 180 feet for up to two hours.

After resurfacing, the divers are taken to a decompression chamber as fast as possible. The diver is not in distress but using the decompression chamber is a standard part of the work to ensure the diver’s health and safety.

One of the new anchor cables preparing to be connected to pontoons under I-90

What’s next?

Since April, crews have replaced 18 steel cables – about half of the total they plan to do. Work should wrap up in September. These new cables will have a shelf life of 25 to 30 years, but remember there are 108 cables holding the bridges in place, so this won’t be the last time you see the crane and barge out on Lake Washington. At least now, you know what’s going on.

Monday, August 1, 2022

I-5 HOV lanes through Tacoma opening in August

By Cara Mitchell

This is it. The moment we've all been waiting for. The opening of the HOV lanes on Interstate 5 through Tacoma will happen in late August. It's a surreal moment for us too.

Over the past three years you've hung in there with us through work zones, shifted lanes, ramp closures, overnight closures of I-5, and more new configurations of I-5 than this author can remember. Since 2019, we:

  • Built a new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge
  • Removed all but a few remaining pieces of the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge
  • Widened I-5
  • Replaced the East L Street Bridge
  • Added new auxiliary lanes
  • Added HOV lanes
  • Installed enhanced lighting, stormwater collection and filtration improvements
  • Replaced aging pavement

This video visually highlights all the work that has gone into this effort from the past three years to open HOV lanes and ultimately finish the project.

Opening the HOV lanes signals a monumental moment for Pierce County transportation. To finish this final I-5 HOV project in Tacoma, we still have a few items to complete by this fall. This includes:

  • Levy fortification
  • Removing old bridge piers
  • Completing the public art installation on East 28th Street
  • Work to add dedicated left turn lanes on Portland Avenue under I-5
  • Some landscaping and river habitat restoration
  • Install final striping and recessed pavement markings on I-5
  • Rebuild the SR 167 on-ramp to southbound I-5

New East L Street Bridge opens in August too

As part of this project, crews replaced the East L Street bridge spanning I-5. The new bridge has wider lanes, wider sidewalks, and has dedicated bike lanes in each direction. The East L Street bridge was removed and replaced to accommodate I-5 widening beneath it. Neighbors on both sides of the bridge have been incredibly patient with us over the last three years as our crews worked to complete this bridge.

An overhead view of the new East L Street bridge that spans I-5 in Tacoma

About that remaining highway work

Once the HOV lanes open, you won't see much work happening on I-5. In fact, if you're not driving in the middle of the night, you may not see any work happening on I-5 near the Puyallup River.

The overnight work that is planned for I-5 on either side of the Puyallup River includes lane closures to grind and place new asphalt on southbound I-5 near the Port of Tacoma exit. Overnight lane closures will also happen when crews install the permanent reflective pavement markings and final striping throughout the project. The southbound SR 167 on-ramp will close for repaving and to remove two partial spans from the old bridge that remain near the ramp. This ramp closure time length is still to be determined and we will let drivers know the timing of this work once the schedule becomes available.

We also anticipate the reduced 50 mph speed limit will be removed, and the previous 60 mph speed limit be restored once the work zones on I-5 have been removed. The new speed limit will be enforceable once the signs are installed and uncovered.

Northbound I-5 already dodging traffic headlines

In June, our crews put northbound I-5 in its final configuration (minus opening the HOV lane). This final configuration added one general purpose lane and an auxiliary lane to northbound I-5. We noticed immediately the disappearance of this area as a trouble zone from the morning traffic reports.

The new northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River bridges, connecting Fife and Tacoma

Honestly, this made all our transpo-nerd hearts skip a beat and made us even more excited for the upcoming opening of the HOV lanes. We recently compared traffic data between May 2022 and July 2022 on northbound I-5 at M Street. The data shows that congestion has dramatically decreased in July, while a 12 percent increase in traffic volume occurred.

The amount of time we see congestion during peak commute hours is dramatically less. Instead of seeing four or five hours of backups and heavy traffic on northbound I-5 through downtown Tacoma, we’re seeing an hour and a half.

Summer traffic volumes are different than the rest of the year. We know this data could change once school begins in the fall. By then, however, the HOV lanes will be open. Opening the HOV lanes will add additional capacity to all lanes on northbound and southbound I-5 in Tacoma.

Safety, always a priority

We know you may be excited to drive on I-5 through Tacoma on the new, wider highways. It does take time to get used to new lanes and travel movements so please stay focused on the road and drivers around you. There may still be occasional work zones in place. We ask that you keep our crew safe while we finish this project.