Monday, November 28, 2022

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

By Angela Cochran

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

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

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

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

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

13-mile detour during closure

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

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

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

Thank you for your continued patience and planning ahead

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2022

Workforce development key to ferry service restoration

By Justin Fujioka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2022

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

By Mark Krulish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

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

By Lauren Loebsack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 7, 2022

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

By Joe Calabro

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

That’s where Chau and Elvis come in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job opportunities

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

Thursday, November 3, 2022

State Active Transportation Plan receives multiple awards

By Barb Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

A heroic survey crew gives new meaning to roadside assistance

By Angela Cochran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

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

 By Tom Pearce

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

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

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

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

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

Expansion joints on deck for 2023

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

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

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

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

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