Thursday, September 22, 2022

Answering your most common questions about why we do so much weekend summer work

By Mike Allende

Fall has arrived and with it, thoughts of winter start creeping into our heads. At the same time, road workers are busily trying to get as much done as they can before the wet, cold weather arrives.

In the Seattle area, that means another busy weekend of work, including a full closure of westbound I-90 across Lake Washington, and closures of the I-5 express lanes and the southbound I-5 exit to Mercer Street, as well as the I-90/southbound I-5 ramps. This is just the latest in what has been an extremely busy summer of roadwork. You’re tired of it. We’re feeling fatigued. It’s a lot for everyone to manage and try to get around in.

We get it. We go to all the games and big events too. If there was a way to get all of this done overnight in the middle of winter, we’d do it. It’s just not possible. How come? Great question. In fact, we’ve gotten lots of good questions this summer, and we wanted to provide a handy one-stop shop to answer the most common ones. So, here you go!

During the 23 weekends of the Revive I-5 construction season, there is only one weekend where there are no large events happening, making it impossible to get work done and avoid disruptions.

Q: Why can’t you just do this work overnight like every other agency in the country?

A: We do lots of work overnight. But not ALL work can be done overnight. There just isn’t enough time. Major jobs like our Revive I-5 expansion joint project are too large to just get done overnight. Between setting up a large work area, then replacing the expansion joints – there are large pieces of metal that have to be cut out – then letting the concrete set (which can take almost a full day alone) and picking up the work zone, there isn’t enough hours overnight to get all of that done. Some work also just isn’t safe to do in the dark.

Q: But why do you have to do it during the summer when we are all out trying to enjoy the weather?

A: In short, we need predictably dry, warm weather to do work that involves a lot of concrete. Otherwise, the concrete won’t set firmly or evenly. In western Washington, that leaves a pretty small window of weather – basically June to maybe mid-September – to get a ton of really big work done.

It takes full weekends to replace the dozens of expansion joints on southbound I-5
in Seattle as part of the Revive I-5 project.

Q: Why are you closing multiple highways at the same time?

A: The Revive I-5 work involves replacing about 40 large expansion joints. Each half of the expansion joint takes quite awhile to replace, and so we need the full summer to be able to get it all done. But there is other big work that also has to get done on highways like I-90, I-405 and SR 520. With I-5 work happening basically every weekend, there really aren’t enough weekends to do work on other highways while avoiding I-5 work weekends. And, if we don’t do this work each summer we risk emergency closures when an aging expansion joint fails and that also snarls traffic – but with no advance notice.

And the big one...

Q: Why are you doing this the same weekend that (fill in the blank major event) is happening?

A: Our first weekend of Revive I-5 work was May 13-15. The last one will be about Oct. 14-16 if the weather holds out. Between those two times – encompassing 23 weekends – there was ONE weekend where there wasn’t at least one pro sports game happening. That’s not counting major festivals and events like Seafair and Comicon, holiday weekends and the many concerts at the stadiums and arenas. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to do this work and not affect a major event.

With Revive I-5 happening every weekend, we still must get work done in other areas, like this coming weekend on I-5 near Mercer Street where work on our SR 520 project will be happening.

Again, we go to these games, concerts and events too. We know it’s frustrating to deal with closures and traffic. If this major work could be done in a way that has no effect on anything, we’d do it in a second. It’s just not possible though, and so we do the best we can to give people heads up – on our various social media, through the traditional media, on our website, via our email/text alerts and on signs – so they can plan around them.

The good news is that this construction season is almost over. The not-as-great news is, we’ve got a lot of busy summer construction seasons coming up. And they will undoubtedly effect people’s abilities to get where they need to go. So please continue to stay looped in via our social media and other outlets so you can stay informed on what’s to come. It’s not going to be easy, but with our roads aging and in need of major work, it’s vital, and we’ll do our best to keep you in the loop about what to expect.


Zelda B said...

This gives me a chance to hand out kudos .
Thank you for the information coupled with the empathy for the commuters. I realize you guys/gals are under tremendous pressure to get the job finished before the rains and the Big Dark . BTW, shout out to the person/s for the timely tweets. They are really helpful in planning my commute. And lastly, as a regular traveler from Snohomish county to Tacoma, good job on the changes wrought on I-5, eg., HOV . Makes it so much easier. In essence, I appreciate all the hard work, and the dissemination of information WSDOT does to make us safe in our travels.

King Safety & Compliance said...

I'd like to echo everything Zelda B. said. I rely on your Twitter updates and WSDOT emails. Thank you!

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