Friday, March 31, 2023

Maintenance worker in right place at right time saves stranded driver

By Summer Derrey

Jerry Bennett was on a routine patrol on State Route 410 a few miles west of Whistlin’ Jack Lodge near Chinook Pass when he spotted some trees down. Noticeable, but not completely out of the ordinary this time of year up there. Jerry pushed the trees off the shoulder using the plow on his truck then hopped out to toss the remaining debris safely away from the road. But then a normal day turned decidedly abnormal, and Jerry was the right man in the right place at the right time.

First, he noticed a car buried in the forest off the highway. Then he heard a woman yelling for help. Jerry climbed down the hill and found the woman wet, cold and with some minor injuries. Traveling the night before in the dark, in the rain and sleepy, the woman missed her turn to US 12 headed to Randle. Instead, she continued onto SR 410 and crashed despite seven signs advising the road is closed 40 miles ahead. This highway closes every winter due to heavy snow and avalanche danger. With no cell phone service up there, the woman was stranded overnight hoping someone might drive by. Luckily, Jerry did.

Maintenance worker Jerry Bennett came across this car crashed near Chinook Pass and rescued the driver who had been stranded overnight.

Jerry escorted the woman safely to his truck, turned up the heater and radioed for help. Medical aid soon arrived along with the Washington State Patrol and Jerry and a trooper checked the area to make sure there were no other passengers around the vehicle.

Jerry’s actions likely saved that woman’s life and we are so glad and proud he was in the right place at the right time.

The driver who crashed near Chinook Pass missed her turn to US 12 and instead headed up toward the closed section of SR 410.

It’s also a great reminder to be sure you and your vehicle are prepared in case of emergencies. Especially if you’re traveling in remote areas or over mountain passes where cell service may be spotty and no help nearby, it’s vital to have extra food/drinks, warm clothes and blankets, medication and anything else you may need. It can make all the difference until someone like Jerry arrives to help.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Ring the bells and sound the horns, SR 20 North Cascades clearing has begun

By Lauren Loebsack and RB McKeon

When our crews traveled on snowmobile past the closure gate at Early Winters on March 1 to check conditions and snow levels on State Route 20 North Cascades Highway, the snow was 100 inches deep at the Washington Pass summit. A few weeks later there was still 82 inches at the summit, but with warm weather in the lowlands and a spring-like forecast in the coming weeks, on Monday, March 27, crews began the annual spring clearing of one of our state’s most scenic highways.

The North Cascades Highway is approximately 33 miles of SR 20 through Rainy and Washington passes. It is sometimes referred to as the “North Cross,” being the northern most east-west cross-state highway over the Cascade mountains. Last year marked the route’s Golden Jubilee, 50 years since the highway first opened to traffic in 1972.

Our team that does the assessment of the SR 20 North Cascades Highway gets some pretty decent views ahead of the early spring work to open the pass.

Due to significant risk of avalanche – there are dozens of avalanche paths that get jam packed with heavy snowfall – this is one of three mountain passes that closes each winter, typically in mid-to-late November (SR 542 Road to Artist Point at Mount Baker and SR 504 Spirit Lake Memorial Highway near Mount St. Helens also close but aren’t passes). When the worst of the winter weather has passed, an assessment crew heads up to check snow depths, take snow samples and make a plan for the spring clearing work. Winter closure and spring opening dates from past years are listed here.

While crews from the east side work their way through the most challenging avalanche areas of the pass, crews from the west side push their way up from the closure gate at the Ross Dam trailhead. Both teams work their way up until they meet, usually a little west of Washington Pass.

The initial assessment of conditions on SR 20 North Cascades Highway by our crews showed 100 inches of snow near the Washington Pass summit.

How do they do it?

Snow depths and samples help the crew plan equipment needs. Snow deeper than 6 feet or filled with rock and woody debris from snow slides will overwhelm or damage the blowers that shoot snow off the roadway. When that is the case, Snow Cat machines with a plow and excavators are used to break down the snow pack and clear out debris before the blower clears the snow. Plows and graders clear compact snow and ice from the road and open up lanes. Luckily, most of the avalanche paths are south or southeast facing and get plenty of sun, so we expect there will be plenty of melt off in the coming weeks as crews make their way to the summit. It’s quite a team effort and just one example of how we coordinate efforts and resources to keep people and goods moving across the state.

Clearing work typically takes about 6-8 weeks. This also includes repairs to the road, signs and guardrails. Once the road is open, those traveling on the freshly cleared highway will find winter conditions with few pull outs or amenities. We do not clear trailheads or Forest Service facilities, which typically remain closed until late May or June. We advise those traveling across early in the season to be prepared.

Our crews on the west side of SR 20 begin clearing near the Ross Dam trailhead and work their way east, meeting up with the eastside crews about 6-8 weeks later near Washington Pass.

Can we bike on it?

But what about a bike day?

There is a persistent urban myth that North Cascades Highway is open to bikes prior to opening for motor vehicles and we know many bicycle riders look forward to this opportunity. Some years, the clearing has been complete a day or two prior to the announced opening and bicycles have been able to ride the road before the gates open, but the fact is, this route is essential for freight and residents, so when the highway is ready to open, we open it for all users. If and when the timing works out to give bike riders a short heads up that the road is clear but the gates are still closed, we will share that information in our SR 20 North Cascades Highway e-newsletter and on social media.

In the meantime, bicyclists and anyone else looking for recreation are free to use the area inside the closure gates. Now that clearing has started, we ask that you go on the weekends as it will be a live work zone and not safe during the week. If you’re traveling behind the closure points to recreate in the back country, you should also check in with the Northwest Avalanche Center for avalanche conditions. And remember that there is little to no cell service along that stretch of SR 20.

Be aware of work leading to the pass

The blanket of snow that covers the highway each winter also means that summer is the narrow window of time our crews can do repairs or maintenance on the highway, so if you are traveling on SR 20, there is a good chance you will run into some maintenance or construction along the way.

We begin early on the west side, with some remaining work to finish up from the 2022 construction season. As the weather warms up, contractor crews will complete striping on the SR 20 Rocky Creek to Granite Creek preservation project which extends for 48 miles along SR 20 between Rockport and 45 miles west of Winthrop.

Additionally, we still have contractor crews working to finish the soldier pile wall between mileposts 113 to 114 between Marblemount and Newhalem. Traffic continues to flow through a single lane, controlled by a temporary traffic signal. This project is expected to be completed by the end of June.

West of the SR 20 pass, drivers will find multiple work zones with traffic control this summer as we do multiple projects, from road repairs, to paving, to culvert replacement work.

Beginning in June, contractor crews are expected to start on the second culvert replacement on the SR 20 Skagit River Fish Passage project. This project site is located just outside the town of Concrete. Traffic will be shifted onto a temporary bypass and will operate in a single lane with alternating two-way traffic controlled by flaggers or a temporary traffic signal. Pedestrians and bicyclists and other rollers will be accommodated using the shoulder.

New projects along SR 20 North Cascades Highway this year include the Red Creek fish passage project located just outside the town of Sedro-Woolley and SR 20 Olsen Creek Unnamed Tributary to Skagit River fish passage project, where crews will replace culverts between Concrete and Marblemount. For updates on projects on the west side of the pass and what travelers can expect make sure you are following @wsdot_north on Twitter.

Throughout the summer, maintenance crews will also be crack sealing and chip sealing, repairing potholes and guardrail, and striping.

It’s a beautiful trip, but you should expect to encounter several work zones, depending on how far your travels take you. If you are stopped due to road work, take a minute to soak in the view and make sure that you practice good work zone behaviors. Check our real time travel map any time before heading out on a cross state trip. As always, we will continue to share updates on Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Bridge deck repairs require multi-day closures starting in April on I-90 east of Issaquah

By Tom Pearce

Round two of multi-day lane reductions on westbound Interstate 90 east of Issaquah starts Sunday, April 9 so we can repair several bridge decks between the Preston interchange at Southeast 82nd Street and Highlands Drive in Issaquah. We currently have closures scheduled during four weeks this spring; four additional weeks with closures will be scheduled soon.

Four of these weeks are a continuation of the project we did on westbound I-90 late this past summer. In addition to these, later this spring we’ll have two weeks with lane reductions on eastbound I-90 about a mile east of the Preston interchange so we can repair the bridge deck over the Raging River. We’ll also have two more weeks on westbound I-90.

When and where we’ll work

We need to reduce I-90 to a single lane for three to four days at each location. Each site will require two different lane reductions – one to do the left lanes, the other to do the right. The first two lane reductions are about 3½ miles west of the Preston interchange:

  • 10 a.m. Monday, April 10 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 12
  • 10 a.m. Monday, April 17 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 19

Another bridge will require two closures about a mile west of the Preston interchange:

  • 9 p.m. Sunday, May 14, to 4 a.m. Thursday, May 18
  • 9 p.m. Sunday, May 21, to 4 a.m. Thursday, May 25

Just so it’s clear, these are 24/7 closures, not just overnight, so please take that into account as you travel.

These are the locations where bridge repair will happen this spring on I-90

Later, we will have two more westbound lane reductions about four miles west of Preston and two weeks with eastbound lane reductions at the Raging River. I’d like to give you better landmarks for the westbound bridges, but all of them cross East Fork Issaquah Creek and the bridges aren’t that obvious. We have our own system to track bridge locations, but I’m not sure telling you we’re working on bridge 90/75N would help.

Balancing necessary work and travel

Yes, this work is going to create challenges for people who use both directions of I-90 between Issaquah and Preston, but we need to do this work. We’ve heard from many of you about the potholes not only on I-90, but around the region.

This westbound I-90 bridge deck about four miles west of Preston is one of the areas scheduled for repair.

Unfortunately, our resources don’t allow us to repair every pothole as soon as we hear about it. We prioritize areas in which the worn pavement is, or could soon become, a hazard for drivers. For this work, two of the bridges are part of a regionwide bridge deck preservation project. The other two are part of a project we started last year to replace damaged pavement on westbound I-90 as well as two bridges.

If you remember our pavement repair work last year, we saw significant backups to the Preston area and east, particularly during the morning commute. We understand not everyone has options, but if you do, consider:

  • Working at a remote location
  • Adjusting your travel schedule away from morning peak hours
  • Carpooling or using public transit

We know this work will be disruptive for people. If there was a way to make it more convenient, we would do it. Completing the work in a few days will give us a better final product as it prevents small gaps and seams to form in the pavement. Those gaps are where water can seep in and when that water freezes and thaws, that’s what can lead to potholes forming. The original bridge decks lasted more than 40 years. When we take the time to fix these properly, they should last for decades as well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Graffiti: A tale of two signs

By April Leigh and Tina Werner

Opinions about graffiti vary almost as much as the expression itself. It’s an art form to some and a nuisance for others. In the context of tagging along highways and bridges, graffiti poses many concerns for us.

Graffiti is illegal under Washington state law. It puts people in danger (those doing the tagging along a busy highway and our crews involved in the removal) and costs taxpayers thousands of dollars annually. It also takes away from other work we do to keep our transportation system in good working order like repairing potholes and guardrails.

We do our best to keep up with requests to remove graffiti, especially on directional signs and in areas that cause distractions for drivers. Unfortunately, our crews often report that a location is tagged again within days or even hours of graffiti removal.

Crews removing graffiti in the pedestrian/bicycle path above the Mount Baker tunnel in Seattle.

In February, graffiti was sprayed across two overhead directional signs on the off-ramp from southbound Interstate 5 to State Route 512 in Tacoma. The defaced signs posed a significant distraction for drivers and covered directions for traffic, so they had to be removed immediately.

These overhead signs on the southbound I-5 exit to SR 512 and South Tacoma Way had to be removed and replaced after they were tagged with graffiti.

These overhead signs are located along a very busy stretch of I-5 and have been repeatedly targeted. A temporary directional sign was moved to the roadside while maintenance crews started work on a fix. When all was said and done, both overhead signs had to be replaced and a catwalk removed from the sign structure to prevent future tagging.

Whoever vandalized the signs had to crawl across that catwalk to do it – endangering their life and the lives of everyone who passed underneath them.

Replacing signs – particularly overhead ones – is a timely and expensive task. In this case, the graffiti defaced the entirety of the directional signs, and they were not able to be salvaged.

How much does something like this cost? Our team is still calculating the final bill, but replacing both signs is estimated to be between $40,000 and $50,000. That includes labor, equipment and materials.

Crews use large trucks equipped with hydraulic arms and buckets to replace the overhead sign on the ramp from southbound I-5 to SR 512 and South Tacoma Way.

The cost of graffiti

Graffiti removal projects like this are paid out of our maintenance and operations budget. Our crews prioritize critical maintenance activities (PDF 187KB) like catch basin cleaning, snow and ice removal, mowing for sightlines and other work. The more resources we spend on graffiti removal, the less we have for this other work.

In the past two years, our maintenance teams have spent $1.4 million on graffiti removal. In the next biennium, we expect to spend even more to address the growing issue.

Graffiti vandalism on the rise

We’ve seen an increase in graffiti vandalism along our state roads over the past few years. Newly completed bridges, overpasses, walls, and other structures are often hot spots for these crimes as they offer a fresh blank canvass for taggers. Active construction projects with new or closed sections of roads also attract activity because there is no traffic there at night.

A section of a new wall along SR 16 in Tacoma before and after graffiti removal.

Crews often have to use special equipment to access the vandalized areas – like trucks with lifts to reach high places that would otherwise be used to maintain, inspect or clean state bridges. Using equipment like this also requires traffic control or a lane closure during daylight hours. This is a huge challenge when we’re also trying to keep traffic moving.

What about designed safe-graffiti spaces?

Some people have shared that they’d like us to allow for portions of our highways and other facilities to be safe-expression spaces for graffiti artists. Safety plays a big role in this effort along with consistent monitoring of the spaces for vulgar or offensive language.

We are aware and have been evaluating the innovative artist in residence program and how it could help address safe-graffiti spaces. However, we are currently in the middle of legislative session where bills have been introduced on this topic and we are awaiting hearing what the results are.

How graffiti removal is prioritized

While graffiti is a crime and a law enforcement issue, the cleanup is our responsibility and we do so as often as we can. We prioritize removing graffiti with vulgar or obscene phrases. As we are not a law enforcement agency and don’t have enforcement authority, we partner with law enforcement, but they must catch someone in the act of tagging to be cited for vandalism. Given that much of the tagging happens at night, this is a huge challenge.

We aren’t funded to have or hire specific-graffiti removal teams. It takes time and planning to coordinate a cleanup site. We try to roll this work into other projects occurring in the same area to minimize disruptions to drivers, and work with neighboring cities and counties on prioritizing large sections that draw noticeable concern. You can report highway graffiti online too – and we share that directly with our crews to address as time and resources allow.

We’re often asked why we don’t use our traffic cameras to help law enforcement capture taggers in the act. Our traffic cameras only provide the most current snapshot image. We don’t record footage from them as that would require a significant investment to support storing video from more than 600 cameras statewide. Law enforcement must catch someone in the act of vandalism to potentially arrest a person on state property.

Crews removed graffiti from this I-5 sign near Marysville at 88th St NE.

Bottom line: There’s always been, and likely always will be graffiti. Along with law enforcement, we will do the best we can within our resources to try to keep up, but ultimately it’s up to those committing the crimes to stop putting themselves and others at risk.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Keeping the SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge operational is vital for everyone

Update: 12:49 p.m. Monday, April 10

We’ve had a change in plans about this summer's work on the Hood Canal Bridge. We’re no longer going to need around-the-clock total weekend closures of the bridge. Instead, we’ll use weeknight and weekend nighttime bridge closures in May, June and September. Please note this blog was written at a time when this was our best guess as to how long the work will take. But again, there will be no weekend-long closures of the bridge.

By Cara Mitchell

Anyone who works or lives on the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas knows just how vital the State Route 104 Hood Canal Bridge is to communities in Jefferson, Clallam, Mason, and Kitsap counties. No one likes it when there are unplanned closures of the bridge for high winds, collisions, or emergency repairs.

Yet these unplanned events do cause the bridge to close, forcing nearby communities to be extra resilient. We saw it happen twice in February. The salty, marine environment the bridge sits in forces the structure to have constant maintenance and construction. The bridge is regularly under pressure from wind, waves, and fast-moving tides. Many key elements of the of the bridge are custom made. This requires lots of time to fabricate and install replacement parts. There is no other bridge like it.

Hood Canal Bridge draw spans are opened during high winds to relieve pressure on the bridge.

A couple years ago, we began preparing for some larger repairs to the center lock system on the bridge that is critical to keeping it operational for years to come. The center lock system keeps the two halves of the bridge closed so vehicles, bikes and pedestrians can get across Hood Canal. If that system fails, we won’t be able to keep the two halves of the bridge together so people can get across the water.

Here is one of two pyramids and receivers that are part of the center lock system that helps keep both halves of the bridge in place. The pyramids and receivers need significant work
this summer to keep the bridge working properly.

Due to the complexity of the work, the repair requires four weekend closures of the bridge.  The video below has another look at the work planned for this summer and why keeping it in a state of good repair is vital for everyone.

Work was initially scheduled for 2021 but like a lot of other projects, delays occurred due to the Covid 19 pandemic. We tried again in 2022, and again the work was pushed to 2023 because of supply chain issues.

So, here we are in 2023.

Hood Canal Bridge crews inspect the bridge bumpers and part of the pyramid from a boat. This is part of the center lock system that is the focus of this summer’s repair.

Getting the word out. …again

In January, we began spreading the word to Olympic Peninsula communities for this and other construction projects that are lining up this year. We met with the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission, presented at county commission meetings, met with local city councils, met with local reporters, and have received numerous letters from concerned business owners, residents and people who are planning summer vacations.

Collisions on the SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge can result in hours-long delays
for travelers between Kitsap and Jefferson counties.

Our conversations with our local partners have been meaningful. This community feedback is helping us refine the work schedule with the contractor. We have not locked in work dates yet, but we will soon. We are evaluating the contractor’s schedule looking for opportunities for opening the bridge to travelers occasionally during the weekend closures. There are a lot of variables that come into play with doing that. Here is what we know:

  • The bridge is a critical connection for more than 18,000 travelers who use it daily and is a lifeline for the people and businesses of the Olympic Peninsula.
  • The closures are being planned sometime from July to September. Key factors playing into this are the needs of travelers, emergency responders, our contractor, construction material availability, and tracking festivals that bring needed tourism to the peninsula.
  • The alternate route is a long one as it uses SR 3 and US 101 to get to the Olympic Peninsula. Travelers will see additional delays on this route from other projects that were preplanned and cannot be delayed.
  • Alternate ferry service is not planned. While our ferries division is incrementally adding service to its regular runs, it still faces crewing and vessel shortages.
  • The weather will be the ultimate deciding factor for if a weekend closure is going to proceed or not. This work requires optimal weather, including calm tides and winds. During these repairs, workers are suspended from the edge of the bridge with the roadway open to repair the pyramids. This means it is not possible to perform this work with waves crashing against the bridge.

What we don’t want to see is travelers lining up on US 101, SR 104 or SR 3 waiting for the bridge to open. This will affect local communities and property owners being able to get out of their driveways.

The SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge closed to vehicles but open for marine traffic during a boat opening.
Marine openings are required by federal law.

There is no good time to perform this repair. No matter what weekends we choose, someone is going to be inconvenienced. There is no weekend without a big summer event. Our work is often planned out months in advance and often has to be shifted due to weather concerns or delivery delays. The bottom line is, the repairs on this bridge have to happen. One thing we all agree on is keeping it operational is vital for everyone.

We are coordinating with our partners to lessen affects where we can. But we need everyone to work together during this construction season. Delaying trips, going early and staying late helps everyone else who can’t do so. Allow for extra time and stay informed. 

Please visit our online open house for more information about the 2023 construction season and to sign up for updates.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Navigating detours during US 2/97 and Easy Street roundabout construction

UPDATE: 11:46 a.m. Monday, April 3

There have been a few changes to this project since this blog was posted. The start day for the Easy Street closure and detour is now Saturday, April 8. At that time Easy Street north-south access will be closed and traffic will be detoured onto Ohme Garden Road to go north and onto Penny Road to go south of the US 2/97 intersection.

There has also been an update to the traffic control on the SR 285 northbound ramp to US 2/97 Easy Street. Instead of closing, for the first phase of construction the ramp will stay open and traffic will need to merge with eastbound US 2/97 to access the Odabashian Bridge. After the first phase is complete (which will take about 15 working days), the SR 285 ramp will be closed and northbound SR 285 traffic will be detoured to the Penny Road off-ramp.

By Lauren Loebsack

Change can be hard. Whether it’s adjusting to a new job, learning a new city or having to replace your beloved old phone with a new one, figuring out how to navigate your new world can take some time.

Change is coming to the intersection of US 2/97 and Easy Street in Wenatchee, and we know it will take time for some of you to adjust.

On April 3, construction kicks off on a multilane roundabout at that intersection and while this project will improve safety and traffic flow, we know for some people, roundabouts can be a pretty intimidating change. The good news is the vast majority of people – even those initially against it – end up seeing the benefits of a roundabout over a signalized intersection. But for many, that does take time and can be a learning curve.

The multi-lane roundabout will replace the existing traffic signal, creating a more consistent flow of traffic and while we can’t promise there will be no collisions, roundabouts have been proven to reduce the severity of collisions. The project will also add improvements like transit pullouts and an extension of the Apple Capital Loop Trail to provide better options regardless of how you get around.

What to Expect

To complete the work, Easy Street will be closed from the US 2/97 and Easy St. intersection to Ohme Garden Road north of the highway and approximately 250 feet south to the Circle K and Subaru dealership accesses. The northbound State Route 285 off-ramp to eastbound US 2/97 will also be closed.

These closures will be in place 24 hours a day through the major construction of the roundabout and is scheduled to reopen in mid-June. During construction, crews will build a temporary roundabout at the Euclid Avenue intersection to the US 2/97 eastbound on-ramp as well as a four-way stop at the intersection of Easy St. and School St. in Sunnyslope to accommodate traffic flow for the detour.

Lots of North-South Detours

If you regularly travel through the area, the thing to remember is that east-west traffic on US 2/97 will be maintained throughout the construction of the roundabout.  Any north-south traffic will be detoured. While the detour will probably seem frustrating for regular commuters, the closure allows the contractor to finish the project a lost faster than they would without it.

Here’s a breakdown of how the detour will affect your travel, depending on which direction you’re headed:

  • Eastbound US 2/97 to north Easy Street: If you’re returning home to Sunnyslope from Cashmere or Leavenworth or you need to get to the Easy St. Park and Ride and you usually turn left onto Easy Street, you’ll take the detour through the intersection and take the off-ramp to Euclid Ave. then take a left and head north to the roundabout at US 97A and Ohme Garden Rd.
  • Eastbound US 2/97 to south Easy Street: If you’re traveling from Cashmere or Leavenworth to the Penny Rd. Park & Ride, the car dealerships or the gas stations and would normally take a right turn at the signal, you will need to take the detour east through the intersection to the Euclid Ave. off ramp and turn right to Penny Rd., then right onto Easy St.
  • SR 285 to eastbound US 2/97: Leaving Wenatchee to travel east over the Odabashian Bridge to East Wenatchee or Orondo will require you to take the Easy Street off-ramp and take a right on Penny Rd. to Euclid and use the ramp to access eastbound US 2/97 over the Odabashian Bridge.
  • SR 285 to north Easy Street: If you are heading north from Wenatchee toward Forest Services offices and the Sunnyslope area, you’ll take the Easy Street off-ramp and take a right on Penny Rd. and follow the detour north to the US 97A/Ohme Garden Rd. roundabout to turn left onto Ohme Garden Rd.
  • Southbound US 97A to south Easy Street: When traveling from Entiat or Chelan to the car dealerships or the gas station, instead of using the US 2/97 ramp and taking a left at the signal, you’ll take Euclid Ave. to Penny Rd. and take a right at Easy St.
  • Westbound US 2/97 to south Easy Street: Heading west from East Wenatchee over the Odabashian Bridge to the Penny Rd. Park & Ride, the car dealerships or the gas station, instead of taking a left at the intersection signal at Easy St., you’ll take the Euclid Ave. exit, turn right and follow Penny Rd. to Easy St.
  • Westbound US 2/97 to north Easy Street: If you’re travelling west from East Wenatchee over the Odabashian Bridge headed to the Sunnyslope area, you’ll take the off ramp to US 97A and use the US 97A/Ohme Garden Rd. roundabout to turn left onto Ohme Garden Rd. to access Easy Street.
  • North Easy Street to westbound US 2/97 and SR 285: If you’re heading from Sunnyslope and need to go to N. Wenatchee Ave. or west to Cashmere/Leavenworth, you will need to use Ohme Garden Rd. to the roundabout at US 97A and take a right onto southbound US 97A to the US 2/97 on ramp since the US 2/97 and Easy St. intersection will be closed to north-south traffic.
  • North Easy Street to EB US 2/97: When traveling from Sunnyslope east to East Wenatchee/Orondo, you’ll use Ohme Garden Rd. to the US 97A/Ohme Garden Rd. roundabout and take a right to go south to Euclid Ave. then use the eastbound ramp to get on US 2/97 Odabashian Bridge.

Art installation

When the roundabout is close to being finalized, the City of Wenatchee’s contractor will install the city entry art feature. Artist C.J. Rench created the sculpture.

When the roundabout opens to traffic

Again, we know this is going to be a big change for some of you. While roundabouts are designed to improve safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, it may feel a little awkward at first. Here are some tips for driving through multilane roundabouts:

  • Yield to drivers already in the roundabout
  • Do not change lanes in the roundabout
  • Never stop in the roundabout
  • Give trucks and oversized vehicles both lanes
  • Use your turn signal before you exit

It’s important to be aware of pedestrians and bicycles in roundabouts.  At the US 2/97 and Easy St. roundabout, the crosswalk ramps are set further back from vehicle traffic, allowing more time for drivers to react to people crossing before merging into or exiting the roundabout. Triangular islands between lanes of vehicle traffic provide a safe place for pedestrians to wait for traffic to go by. Be sure to be alert and work together so everyone is safe!

Bicyclists can choose to ride through the roundabout with traffic or walk their bicycles through the pedestrian crosswalks.

We’re excited for this improvement to this area and while we know it’ll take time to get used to, we’re confident that people in the area will soon see a safer, smoother trip through this busy intersection.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

WSDOT searching for missing plane in forest land near Queets

UPDATE: 5:00 p.m. Monday, April 10, 2023

On Monday, April 10, our Air Search and Rescue crews successfully identified a missing 2006 Cessna T182 Turbo Skylane piloted by Rod Collen in the wooded forests near Queets. The pilot was discovered deceased inside the aircraft, likely dying upon impact. He had been missing for 36 days. The Collen family has been notified and briefed of today's events. More information about today's findings are available online.

This concludes WSDOT's involvement in the mission. Further questions about recovery efforts should be directed to the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office. Media questions about the investigation into why the plane went down can be directed to the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB is responsible for investigating the cause of plane crashes, which could take 12-18 months to complete and publish. We know this is a tragic outcome for the family and community, and our thoughts are with them during this time. We'd like to thank everyone who has supported the family throughout this search.

UPDATE: 11:30 a.m. Monday, March 20, 2023

On Monday, March 20, WSDOT Air Search and Rescue crews called off the search for a missing 2006 Cessna T182 Turbo Skylane. The plane was piloted by Rod Collen on Monday, March 6, who departed from the Tacoma Narrows Airport at 5:35 p.m., fell off radar abruptly a few minutes later and has not been seen or heard from since. WSDOT Air Search and Rescue crews have searched for 13 days and found no traces of the aircraft or pilot during this time. This is not the outcome searchers and the many partners had hoped for and our thoughts are with both the family and everyone who worked to try and locate the aircraft. The family has been kept informed of search activities and has been briefed about this decision. A detailed announcement was made about this decision.

Barring new leads or developments, no additional aerial searches are planned. Anyone who thinks they saw or heard the plane Monday, March 6, or spotted anything in the area, should call the State Emergency Operations Center at 800-258-5990 with details. The plane's tail number is N24289. A detailed series of events, including photos of the mission and daily updates, were provided on this blog.

UPDATE: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18, 2023

No aircraft or pilot were spotted during the aerial search today. Significant rains, clouds and winds are forecasted in the targeted search area tomorrow and will prevent WSDOT Air Search and Rescue crews from safely flying Sunday, March 19. Crews will re-evaluate approaches to the mission and provide an update Monday morning, March 20, on this blog. Recently released aerial search flight paths show extensive effort in the targeted search area by crews to locate the missing plane.

UPDATE: 9 a.m. Saturday, March 18, 2023

Our Air Search and Rescue crews continue aerial searches today near Queets with two aircraft. Recently released aerial search flight paths show extensive effort in the targeted search area by crews to locate the missing plane.

The next update with be provided at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 18 on this blog.

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 17, 2023

No aircraft or pilot were spotted during the aerial search today. Air search and rescue crews plan to return Saturday, March 18 to the search area. Recently released aerial search flight paths show extensive effort in the targeted search area by crews to locate the missing plane.

The next update with be provided at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 18 on this blog.

UPDATE: 9 a.m. Friday, March 17, 2023

Improved weather will allow for two aircraft led by our Air Search and Rescue crews to search for the missing plane and pilot today near Queets. Recently released aerial search flight paths show extensive effort in the targeted search area by crews to locate the missing plane.

The next update with be provided at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 16 on this blog.

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, 2023

Our Air Search and Rescue crews continued aerial searches today near Queets. No aircraft or pilot were spotted during the search. Air search and rescue crews plan to return Friday, March 17 with two aircraft.

The next update with be provided at 9 a.m. Friday, March 17 on this blog.

UPDATE: 9 a.m. Thursday, March 16, 2023

Our Air Search and Rescue crews continue aerial searches today near Queets with two aircraft. Anyone who thinks they saw or heard the plane Monday, March 6, or who has spotted anything in the area should call the State Emergency Operations Center at 800-258-5990 with information. The plane's tail number is N24289.

The next update with be provided at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 16 on this blog.

UPDATE: 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Our Air Search and Rescue crews continued aerial searches today near Queets. No aircraft or pilot were spotted during the search. Air search and rescue crews plan to return Thursday, March 16 with two aircraft. There are no nearby structures or open fields making the forested terrain challenging for even experienced search crews. It is also swampy in parts and having ground searchers cover the entire area is not logistically practical. The search is ongoing at this time.

The next update with be provided at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 16 on this blog.

UPDATE: 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Improved weather conditions will allow for search and rescue crews to conduct air searches today. Images from Tuesday's aerial search mission are available on our Flickr account. No ground searches are happening at this time until we can identify more specific areas. The search remains ongoing. Updates from Wednesday's aerial search efforts will be posted to this blog at 5 p.m.

UPDATE: 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Our Air Search and Rescue crews along with Washington Air Search and Rescue, a non-profit volunteer flight group, flew two aircraft over the 36-mile search area for several hours today thanks to improved weather conditions. No aircraft or pilot were spotted during the searches. Additionally, Quinault Tribal Nation emergency management crews flew a drone over the search area, but also found nothing of significance. Our Air Search and Rescue crews will again conduct aerial searches over the densely wooded forests near Queets on Wednesday, March 15, barring any changes to weather that would preclude safe flying operations. Some snow melt has occurred, which is positive news for air search crews as snow has been obscuring much of the search area.

We will provide an update at 10 a.m. March 15 on the blog.

UPDATE: 9 a.m. Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Improved weather conditions late Monday afternoon permitted search and rescue crews to conduct air searches via a state DNR helicopter. Crews searched the area for several hours near Queets and found nothing of significance. Additionally, Quinault Tribal Nation emergency management crews flew a UAS drone over the search area Monday afternoon and could not find anything of interest. No ground searches are happening at this time until we can identify more specific areas. The terrain remains challenging to navigate as it is densely wooded and covered in snow in some locations.

Improved weather conditions Tuesday, March 14 will allow for two aircraft to search the area today in addition to the Quinault Tribal Nation’s drone operation. The search remains ongoing at this time. Updates from Tuesday’s air search and rescue efforts will be posted to this blog at 5 p.m.

UPDATE: 10 a.m. Monday, March 13, 2023

Strong winds, rain, reduced visibility and low clouds continue to affect search and rescue flying conditions today. If weather conditions improve, crews will be standing by to attempt air search efforts later today. If that happens, we will update this blog with that information. We continue to work with the Quinault Nation Emergency Management Team about potential ground search efforts in the 36-square-mile search area near Queets. We are also engaged with several property owners the search area covers, including Olympic National Park, the state Department of Natural Resources, local jurisdictions and tribal partners. Barring new search flights, the next update will be available at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 14 on our blog.

UPDATE: 10 a.m. Sunday, March 12, 2023

We continue to search for the missing plane. Weather is preventing air search and rescue efforts from happening Sunday. Crews will evaluate air search efforts again Monday. Washington State's Search and Rescue Planning Team continue to investigate last known primary radar returns of the plane.

Anyone who thinks they saw or heard the plane Monday, March 6 or spotted anything in the area should call the State Emergency Operations Center at 800-258-5990 with details.

The next update with be provided at 10 a.m. Monday, March 13.

By Tina Werner

We are searching for a missing plane in rugged forest land near Queets that abruptly dropped off radar Monday evening.

Our Air Search and Rescue was notified of a missing 2006 Cessna T182 Turbo Skylane piloted by Rod Collen on Monday evening. Search efforts began that night and has included air searches on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday when the weather permitted safe flying conditions. Law enforcement and others have been patrolling roadways in the last known position area as well.

Collen left the Tacoma Narrows Airport at 5:35 p.m. on Monday; and a few minutes into the flight the plane's Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system was either turned off or malfunctioned and the plane was no longer visible on normal tracking systems the air traffic controllers use. With the help of a specialized radar forensics team, primary radar returns were located that placed the aircraft near the coast between Lake Quinault and Queets. The final radar plots show the aircraft made a very rapid descent to the ground. Collen was the only one in the plane.

Photo of a plane similar to the one that is missing
A search is ongoing for a plane similar to this near Queets.

No signal has been detected from the plane's Emergency Locator Transmitter since it went off radar, but search officials have narrowed the search area to a 36-square-mile section of forest land with rugged terrain and some logging activity. The amount of snow on the ground has hampered searchers' ability to spot the plane from the air. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Deputies and Quinault Natural Resources crews have patrolled roads near the areas but the section is too large and rugged to send in ground search crews until the search can be narrowed to a more specific site.

The area where the plane descended is on Quinault tribal land near Queets near the Jefferson and Grays Harbor county line. The area is on the Olympia Peninsula along Washington's coast.

The search remains active, but crews are waiting for new developments or a weather change before flying search aircraft again. Anyone who thinks they saw or heard the plane Monday or spotted anything in the area should call the State Emergency Operations Center at 800-258-5990 with details. The plane's tail number is N24289. At this time search officials do not need volunteers to conduct either air or land searches as that may overlap or hamper already searched areas or new missions.

The search has been conducted with an aircraft from WSDOT as well as Coast Guard crews out of Port Angeles. We are also is coordinating with the Quinault tribe, Jefferson and Pierce county sheriff's offices, the Tacoma Police Department and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

Updates on the search will be posted on this blog post. Email updates from WSDOT are also available online by signing up and selecting the Emergency news “air search and rescue” option. Barring new developments – which would be announced on this blog – the next update is planned for 10 a.m. Sunday, March 12.

WSDOT, by statute (RCW 47.68.380) is charged with the coordination and management of aerial search and rescue within the state. The agency works in conjunction with volunteer search and rescue groups, law enforcement and other agencies, such as the U.S. Navy, in carrying out such searches.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Shipwrecks, Goonies and Kelly Clarkson: A WSDOT story

By DeAnna Dailey

Our co-worker Scott Williams has a knack for saying, “No, thank you” when opportunity knocks. A couple weeks ago, that’s what he said when a production assistant on the Kelly Clarkson Show asked if they could fly him out to Los Angeles to talk about his shipwreck project on the show. There was almost no notice, and it was just for a 5-minute appearance, so Scott didn’t think it was doable. Fortunately, his wife talked him into changing his mind.

Scott Williams (right), our Cultural Resources Program Manager and president of the Maritime Archeological Society, sits next to Alyssa Milano and Macklemore on the set of the Kelly Clarkson Show to talk about a shipwreck he helped identify.

“Bee” sure it’s the right ship

It all started when Scott, an archeologist and historian and our Cultural Resources Program Manager, got interested in a particular shipwreck along the Oregon coast. There are a lot of shipwrecks along the Oregon coast, but very few date so far back and have such a long oral and written history. This particular ship was a Manila galleon, and it would have been sailing between the Spanish-occupied Philippines and Acapulco, Mexico in 1693. We know that it wrecked off the coast of Oregon because many years later, in 1813, a fur trader in Astoria wrote in his journal that the local Clatsop people brought large blocks of beeswax to trade. There are no native honeybees in Oregon – and the beeswax squares had recognizable European letters and numbers carved into them. The locals said the beeswax and other goods had been washing up on shore since a shipwreck a couple generations before. Many other visitors throughout the 1800s included the same beeswax sightings and details in their journals.

Scott made it his personal mission to see if the ship could be found and recovered. There was no chance that a wooden ship would still be intact after a few hundred years on the bottom of the ocean, he figured, but there was some hope that enough could be found to identify the ship and confirm that it was one of the missing Manila galleons. He spent about 15 years researching and walking the beaches and making friends with the local beachcombers. One beachcomber in particular, Craig Andes, had found a variety of interesting potential ship parts washed up on the shore over the years, but when he called Scott up to say that he’d found some large wooden beams that had to be from the missing galleon in a sea cave at low tide, Scott didn’t believe him.

Scott Williams spent much of the past 15 years walking the Oregon coast working on discovering and identifying a shipwreck.

“No, thank you,” Scott said, when the beachcomber said he should come down right away to take a look. Not only was Scott extremely skeptical that any wooden part of the ship would be preserved for several hundred years in the tidal zone, but it was early 2020 at the very beginning of the pandemic.

“All you have to do is look at old wooden pilings around here to see how long wood lasts in saltwater,” he explained of not making the trip. “And most of those old pilings are only a few decades old, not centuries.”

But Craig didn’t give up, calling Scott every week or two for almost the next year.

When saying “Yes” pays off

Scott finally gave in and told him to send a couple small pieces of the wood to the US Forest Service to analyze. If they found the wood was Douglas Fir or another local wood, that would confirm  the pieces were from a more recent, locally-built ship while the Phillippines-built Spanish galleons would have been made out of tropical hardwoods. So, imagine Scott’s surprise when he opened the Forest Service analysis a few weeks later and saw the words “Tropical Hardwood.”

The wood beams recovered from the cave that were part of the wrecked Spanish ship

Now convinced that the beams were worth looking into further, the question became how to get to them. The beams were buried under rubble in a sea cave only accessible at the lowest tides. Craig had been visiting it for years and only recently started to see some wood peeking through the rubble. In fact, this is what had preserved the beams for so long – they had washed up close to shore and then been buried in a massive landslide. New tides and waves had moved away enough of the rubble to expose the wood. With the help of another maritime archeologist, National Geographic agreed to fund the recovery in fall of 2021 – but they’d have to wait until low tides returned during summer 2022 to access the cave.

The part of the cliffside where the beams from the shipwreck were found on the Oregon coast

How does Kelly Clarkson fit into this?

Fast forward to early summer 2022 and the successful recovery of the beam, which confirmed that this was part of the missing Manila galleon, named the Santo Cristo de Burgos. National Geographic and a local Oregon newspaper broke the story together, which was then picked up by all the major news networks. Soon a writer was asking if this shipwreck could be the same one that inspired the iconic 1985 movie The Goonies about a search for a lost ship and treasure. And that brings us back to Kelly Clarkson who, as it happens, is a huge fan of The Goonies.

For the record, Scott isn’t totally convinced this is the same wreck that prompted the Goonies storyline, but once his wife talked some sense into him, he was happy to pop down to LA to talk with Kelly about it a little. He also got to spend a couple minutes on stage with Alyssa Milano and Macklemore – the other two guests on the show that day.

“I’m very lucky to have a job like WSDOT, where I told my boss on a Friday ‘I’m going to have to be out of the office on Monday and Tuesday to be on television’ and I have the freedom to do that,” he said.

After initially saying no, Scott Williams agreed to be on the Kelly Clarkson show
where he shared the story of finding a Spanish shipwreck.

So, what was it like being a TV star?

Being on the show itself is about how you might imagine it. Staff handled Scott’s wardrobe and makeup and he got about five minutes to chat with Alyssa Milano, Macklemore and Kelly Clarkson before the tape started rolling. Then he got about 90 seconds to talk about the shipwreck – with no chance for second takes – and then was guided off the stage. With that, his 15 minutes, or rather 90 seconds, of fame was complete.

Back at the office later that week, he resumed his regular duties as our Cultural Resources Program Manager. You might be surprised to learn that we have archeologists and historians on staff. In fact, we have nine of them throughout the agency, and they are involved in the early planning stages of all new construction and renovation. They help ensure our projects don’t affect culturally or historically significant locations, or, if it’s unavoidable, they work with relevant parties (such as local tribes) to figure out how to mitigate the impact.

Funny enough, 15 years ago when this Cultural Resources position first came open, Scott worked at a different state agency. His then-boss suggested he apply for the position at WSDOT and true to form, Scott’s answer was “No, thank you.” He thought he had no desire to work on transportation projects. But several months later when the position was still open and his boss nudged him again, he was talked into applying.

“And it’s gone very well,” he says, with his usual good humor.

Preserving history

While Scott works on a wide variety of projects, he’s been focusing a lot recently on the work to remove barriers that keep fish from swimming upstream. The barrier removals often require reconstruction that has potential to impact culturally sensitive spaces. For example, a recent fish passage project initially included removing a large live cedar tree. But it was determined that the tree showed signs of historic harvesting activity commonly practiced by the local Stillaguamish tribe. Historically and still-today, the Stillaguamish and others harvest long strips of cedar bark – without harming the tree – to use for basketry, clothing and other items. This particular tree was thriving while showing evidence of historical harvest, which designates it as a culturally sensitive tree.

With the help of Jason Cooper, one of our archaeologists, the new culvert was redesigned to accomplish everyone’s goals; barriers to fish were removed, and the historic tree was preserved.

Scott worked with fellow archeologist Jason Cooper to redesign a culvert project when it was determined that this tree showed signs of historic harvesting commonly practiced by the local Stillaguamish tribe.

This is an example of why Scott and his team are involved very early in the planning process – so preservation can be baked into each project from the start. The Cultural Resources team works closely with tribes in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and also works with municipalities across the state to preserve things like historic bridges and landmarks, archeologically and anthropologically sensitive sites and spaces or things of cultural significance.

We are very glad that Scott said yes to this role (eventually!), and that his skepticism led him to a fantastic piece of citizen science identifying this historic ship.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Beaming over our beams: SR 520 team celebrates Montlake Project’s final girder placement!

By Shoshana Wineburg

This past weekend’s closure of State Route 520 marked a major milestone for the SR 520 Montlake Project. Crews set in place the project’s final 37 girders. Thirty will support a new bike and pedestrian bridge over the highway in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood. The other seven will support new bus and carpool ramps to and from the highway lid we’re building in Montlake.

These 37 weren’t any old girders. They marked the last batch of the 513 total girders crews have placed for the entire Montlake Project!

Wait a second. … what’s a girder?

Girders are beams that support the weight of what’s above – essentially the foundation of a crossing. A log placed over a creek is a girder that supports your weight while you cross.

With more complex structures, like bridges and highway lids, girders support the weight of the concrete deck slab above, plus the weight of soil and plants atop a landscaped lid’s deck, plus the weight of traffic and people moving across the structure. Girders keep bridges standing and people safe.

Girders can come in different shapes, sizes and materials. On the Montlake Project, they are made of reinforced concrete and most have an I-beam shape.

The girders are precast, meaning they are built off site, loaded on trucks and delivered to the work site, where cranes lift and lower them into place.

A worker checks steel rebar alongside massive concrete girders that will support the deck of a landscaped lid over SR 520 in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood

What’s the purpose of the direct-access ramps?

This past weekend’s work included placing the seven girders that will support the Montlake Project's direct-access ramps. These ramps will give buses and carpools a separate, dedicated lane on and off the Montlake neighborhood’s new, three-acre lid and its regional transit hub. Rather than using SR 520’s existing on- and off-ramps in Montlake, the new ramps will provide transit, vanpools and 3+ carpoolers direct access to and from the highway and reduce travel times for commuters. The direct-access ramps, together with SR 520’s new HOV lanes, will give bus riders and carpoolers safer and faster trips between Seattle and the Eastside.

Why a bicycle and pedestrian bridge?

The remaining 30 girders set this past weekend are a key step in completing a much-anticipated bicycle and pedestrian bridge over SR 520 just east of the lid. This new crossing exemplifies our commitment to building a multimodal SR 520 corridor that serves all kinds of users and reconnects communities severed by the highway’s construction in the 1960s. The bridge will connect to the existing 520 Trail and provide a welcome alternative to crossing the highway along busy Montlake Boulevard.

Like the Montlake lid, the shared-use bridge will be landscaped. We’ll plant almost 15,000 plants and shrubs, including wildflowers and wild berries. And the paths leading up to the bridge will be lined with dozens of trees.

An interesting historical context precedes these new plantings. Before we first built SR 520 through Montlake 60 years ago, the footprint of the new bike and pedestrian crossing was part of the Washington Park Arboretum. Crews removed about 300 trees to make room for the new highway. Many of these trees were replanted in other locations, including 30 cherry trees that found a new home in the University of Washington Quad. Yes, those cherry trees.

In the foreground are the 30 girders placed over the Feb. 25-26 weekend for a bike/pedestrian bridge across SR 520. Further west are seven girders set in place for bus and carpool ramps to and from a regional transit hub we are building on the three-acre Montlake lid.

Where did the rest of the girders go?

Nearly half of the Montlake Project’s 513 girders – 225 of them – are in place on a 1.2-mile-long bridge we’re building over Union Bay. This structure, built to current seismic standards, will carry three lanes of eastbound traffic from Montlake to the SR 520 floating bridge. The project’s remaining girders support the three-acre Montlake lid.

At right is a new, seismically resilient bridge being built for eastbound SR 520 traffic. After it opens, the parallel span to the left will revert to a westbound-only bridge. In the upper right is the SR 520 floating bridge.

We expect to complete all these structures by the end of 2023. So there’s much more celebration to come!