Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Changing the look of I-5 in downtown Seattle

Tony Black

Over a 48-hour period, the look of Interstate5 in downtown Seattle changed for the first time in almost 50 years.

A new flyover ramp, connecting State Route 520 directly to the I-5 express lanes, is taking shape. Crews set the foundation for that ramp – steel girders – over the May 19-21 weekend.

A before-and-after look at the steel girders placed over northbound I-5
and the express lanes in Seattle

The process itself is far from simple, and normally could take at least two full weekend closures of northbound I-5 to do. But with a busy construction season ahead, we wanted to minimize the disruption the best we could.

Together – the work and messaging – was a great example of teamwork between the public, our contractor Walsh and us. For that we thank you.

This wasn’t a “traditional” weekend closure as we worked with our contractor to stagger the closure times, leading to lots of questions. A Twitter thread
helped answer those questions.

What happened

Over the May 19-21 weekend, our contractor set and assembled 15 very large steel girders. The girders are 75-100 feet long, 5-feet-5 inches tall and weigh about 36,000 pounds.

They used two cranes to lift them and set them on the concrete piers and crossbeams you’ve seen sitting between northbound I-5 and the express lanes for a few months now.

The steel girders arrived by truckload in the days leading up to and during the closure.

This was no easy task, and at one point a lightning storm stopped all work. Crews needed to not only set the girders but bolt them down so we could safely reopen the lanes below for traffic.

In all, it involved two crews of 25 construction workers from Walsh, working alongside our inspectors and traffic operations over four shifts to pull this off. The result was a new bridge in one weekend, and northbound I-5 was closed for only 15 hours late Friday night into Saturday afternoon.

As the cranes position the girders, crews prepared to tighten them into the concrete piers.

Why steel?

We used steel girders because it would enhance the support of the type of traffic that will use this ramp, primarily transit and HOV carpools. The combination of curve of the road and length of the spans also made using steel the best option.

Two cranes lifted the pre-assembled steel girders into position.

What’s next?

Setting the girders is a significant milestone for our project and we are now entering what I call the “sweet spot” of this project.

In addition to building the new flyover ramp this year:

The westbound SR 520 off-ramp to East Roanoke Street is fully closed until 9 p.m. on June 17. This is so we can finish building a new retaining wall and then ultimately shift the Roanoke and northbound I-5 ramps to the north.

We have some more work to do on Mercer Street too and you can expect some lane and possible weekend closures there as well.

This project is still on track for a spring 2024 completion.

The final girders were set late Sunday night as crews finished the work in just 48 hours.

A final thank you

Just once more I want to thank everyone – you, the public, our contractor Walsh, and their partners for making this happen.

Spring/summer is always a busy time of year for construction, and we really need everyone’s help to keep things smooth and moving.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Here comes the sun – and a LOT of summer construction

By Barbara LaBoe

There’s no way to sugarcoat this – there’s going to be a LOT of road construction the next few summers.

From paving to bridge repairs to creating better routes for fish in area waterways, you’ll see lots of crews working this summer on and near state highways, and that means closures, delays or congestion. The good news is once the work is done our state will have safer and more accessible transportation systems and improved environmental habitats. The not-so-good-news, at least for the next few years, is that we’ll all share some short-term pain for that long-term gain. And we do mean all – there is work stretched all over the state the next few years which means your regular detours or shortcuts around major routes may have work as well.

We’ll be seeing a lot more construction projects this summer like this one in Spokane from a few years ago. We need everyone to stay informed and plan ahead for added congestion and delays.

We have construction every summer of course, but for the next few years it will be more than usual. And that’s not counting the many local city and county projects also planned and underway. We’re likening it to renovating several rooms in your house at once – while also getting a new roof installed. No matter how well things are planned, it’s going to be disruptive and the sheer amount of work means we won’t always be able to schedule around other projects or major events.

That’s why it’s going to be key for everyone to work together to keep people and goods moving these next few summers. We’ll work to minimize delays where we can, but with this amount of work we’re going to need travelers helping out too.

Tools, tips and other ways to help keep everyone moving

We can’t make construction go away, but we can offer you the information and tools to plan ahead and make the best decisions for you and your circumstances.

Can you go to the store earlier in the morning or later in the day when vacation travelers aren’t on the roads, for example? If so, you help decrease the congestion for everyone who can’t alter their travel plans (and earn some good karma as well).

It’s going to be a busy summer with 116 projects planned on and near state highways, not including other regular maintenance or emergency repairs. This is going to mean a lot of adjustments as people travel across the state. Details on the work noted on the map can be found on our Flickr page.

Here are some other suggestions to help keep everyone moving:

  • Stay informed – there will lots of projects and some details may change – so staying up to date as you plan your travel and before you head out the door will be key.
  • Look into other travel options when possible.
  • Use transit – and keep in mind more people may be using these options so they may be more full than usual. Among the options are Amtrak Cascades, running between Vancouver, Canada and Eugene, OR.
  • Carpool
  • If you can’t delay your travel, give yourself plenty of extra time to reach your destination.
  • Pre-program vehicle radios to 530 AM and 1610 AM for highway advisory radio alerts – and be alert for other stations listed on notice signs in some areas.
  • Carry extra food and water as an added precaution for emergencies or unexpected stops.
  • Stay calm. Delays are frustrating, but no meeting or event is worth risking injury or death. Please heed all closure or detour directions, they’re there for your safety.

We also have many tools to help you stay informed both before you go and while traveling:

The sun’s finally come out – why do this work now?

We get it. Construction delays or closures are frustrating whether you’re just trying to get from A to B, attend a special event or enjoy a summer drive. We drive these same roads and get caught in the same delays.

So why don’t we delay the work? A couple of reasons.

First, the weather that we all enjoy on summer road trips is the same we need for roadwork: consistent dry weather to allow concrete to fully cure. Anyone who lives here knows we can’t count on that in spring or fall, so summer is when most of our work is done. Any work involving waterways also has additional strict restrictions on when work can take place – water windows – to minimize stress on aquatic life, so we can’t delay or reschedule that work around other summer construction.

In addition, many of our projects are done in stages either due to how funding is allocated by the state Legislature or because initial work – a temporary bridge span, for example – must be completed before the next phase can begin. Delaying work for a month or season can create a cascade of delays or issues later on – especially as we race the clock for predictable dry weather.

Some of our funding also requires work be done in specific time frames – so delay risks the entire project having to be scrapped. Much of the work we do has often been advocated for by residents and community leaders – sometimes for years – so we don’t want to risk jeopardizing any of these projects now that funding is available.

Stay calm, stay safe

While the amount of work – and congestion and delays – is daunting, past experience has shown that when everyone works together, we can ease some of the construction disruption.

When we’ve had to close sections of Interstate 5 in recent summers or the closures just before the opening of the State Route 99 tunnel, travelers used information and tools and altered their routes to help reduce overall traffic. We’ll need this kind of effort again throughout the summer, which is why staying informed will be so important to keeping everyone moving.

Please keep road workers – and everyone else on the roads – safe this summer.
We want everyone to make it home safely.

We also ask you stay alert in the many work zones you’ll encounter – the workers there are improving roads and keeping you safe. Please help ensure their safety as well by following all directions and speed limit postings.

Again, we know delays or closures are frustrating but we also must make these repairs and improvements to our transportation system. So we’re asking for everyone’s patience as these projects get underway. Thank you in advance for your understanding and flexibility.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

SR 9 in Lake Stevens closed June 2-8 for roundabout construction

By David Rasbach

Some significant work to improve traffic flow and safety is coming to Lake Stevens but we’ll be closing both directions of State Route 9 for several days in early June to build a roundabout and we’re asking people to plan ahead.

Both directions of SR 9 between Lundeen Parkway and SR 204 will be closed from 9 p.m. Friday, June 2, to 5 a.m. Thursday, June 8. Please plan on using alternate routes during this timeframe.

Two roundabouts along SR 9 in Lake Stevens will be built this summer to help improve mobility and safety in the area. The first will be built near Vernon Road June 2-8, while the second will built at the SR 9/SR 204 intersection, above, later this summer.

During the closure, contractor crews will remove pavement, build a multi-lane roundabout at Vernon Road, complete drainage improvements and install new signs. The roundabout will give people have more options navigating the area and traffic will be more evenly spread out throughout the area.

The closure may have to be rescheduled if it rains so make sure to visit our project website here and subscribe to receive email and text updates by clicking visiting this website for the most up-to-date information about the closure.

The detour around the SR 9 closure between SR 204 and Lundeen Parkway
takes traffic along Lundeen and Market Place.

Plan ahead for this closure

While we understand that a multi-day closure is inconvenient, it will help our construction crews do this work more efficiently and safely.

Business access will remain open during the closure. If you’re traveling locally, please plan to avoid unnecessary trips through the area if possible, carpool to reduce the number of vehicles adding to congestion, or plan to travel at off-peak times and allow for extra travel time.

Please drive carefully, avoid distractions and be aware of other drivers using detour routes that may be new to them. Stay alert in work zones – the crews are working to keep everyone safe and traffic moving and they need to be safe was well.

Benefits of the new SR 9 roundabout

Once the new roundabout at SR 9 and Vernon Road is done, there will have more travel options in this area.

The roundabout will connect Vernon Road on the east and west sides of SR 9. It will help reduce congestion by increasing travel options for drivers passing through the intersection of SR 9 and SR 204:

  • Vernon Road on the west side of SR 9 will allow for two-way traffic and will connect eastbound traffic on SR 204 to northbound SR 9 by way of 91st Avenue Northeast and Vernon Road.
  • People also will be able to reach North Davies Road and Frontage Road without having to use the SR 9 and SR 204 intersection.
  • North Davies Road and Vernon Road on the east side of SR 9 will soon have direct access to SR 9 in both directions.

Check out this video to see the various travel options that will be availble once this work is done.

  • Vernon Road on the west side of SR 9 will allow for two-way traffic and will connect eastbound traffic on SR 204 to northbound SR 9 by way of 91st Avenue Northeast and Vernon Road.
  • People also will be able to reach North Davies Road and Frontage Road without having to use the SR 9 and SR 204 intersection.
  • North Davies Road and Vernon Road on the east side of SR 9 will soon have direct access to SR 9 in both directions.

About roundabouts

Roundabouts improve safety by acting as traffic calming devices – slowing down approaching vehicles – and reducing the likelihood of T-bone or head-on collisions. Drivers should lower their speeds to 15-20 mph as they approach and drive around the roundabout.

Here are a few key things to remember when driving through roundabouts:

  • Yield to drivers already in the roundabout
  • Stay in your lane; do not change lanes
  • Do not stop in the roundabout
  • Avoid driving next to oversize vehicles
  • Use your turn signal when exiting a roundabout to let vehicles waiting to enter know if they can proceed.

To find more resources and videos on how to navigate a roundabout please visit this website.

Roundabouts and pedestrians

Modern roundabouts also are safer than traditional intersections for people walking or rolling – another reason for this work on SR 9.

Crosswalks are set farther back to allow drivers more time to react to people before they merge into or exit the roundabout. Triangular islands between lanes also provide safe areas for pedestrians to wait if they choose to only cross one section at a time.

The graphic below shows pedestrian and bicyclist movements that will be available through the SR 9/SR 204 area once the project is completed later this year. The new crosswalk across the SR 9 roundabout will be fully operational shortly after the extended weekend closure is complete.

A look at the bike and pedestrian improvements at the intersection of SR 9 and SR 204

What’s next?

The work in early June is part of a larger overall project called the SR 9 – SR 204 Intersection Improvements project.

We plan to have another full closure this summer, which will allow crews to build the second multi-lane roundabout at the intersection of SR 9 and SR 204. Between now and then, there will be some minor construction work that could require various lane and shoulder closures overnight.

Thank you in advance for your patience as we work to improve the traffic flow and safety in the area.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Get ahead of the curve: how to navigate weekend closures on I-405 this summer and keep your travel on track!

By Julie Moon

Summer is just around the corner and we know how important it is for you to make the most of the sunshine while it lasts. The upcoming construction seasons in the Puget Sound region will see several projects that will have lane closures to safely complete work, including several weekend closures on Interstate 405 coming up in the next few months. We will have lane reductions on two consecutive weekends in June and also full I-405 closures on one weekend in August and one weekend in September.

The construction is part of the I-405, Renton to Bellevue Widening and Express Toll Lanes Project. The project also builds infrastructure for Sound Transit’s Stride bus rapid transit system including a new inline transit station at Northeast 44th Street in Renton. Bus rapid transit, paired with the ETL system, will provide more reliable transportation options for people – no matter how they get around.

Partial weekend closures in June

For two weekends in June, at least two lanes – sometimes more, depending on the time of day and location – of northbound I-405 will be closed to repave the road and install new drainage systems. The closures will start on Friday nights and end on Monday mornings.

Anticipated June closure dates:

  • 10 p.m. Friday , June 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 5: Two lanes of northbound I-405 will be closed between Coal Creek Parkway and Northeast Sixth Street.
  • 10 p.m. Friday, June 9 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 12: Two lanes of northbound I-405 will be closed between Coal Creek Parkway and Northeast Sixth Street.

There will not be any detour routes, so it's important to plan your travel accordingly and expect delays during these weekend lane reductions. At least one lane will remain open for drivers, though speeds may be slower.

Full weekend closures in August and September

For one weekend in August and one in September, northbound and southbound I-405 will be fully closed. The closures will start on Friday nights and end on Monday mornings. Closing the road allows our crews to do this work safely and efficiently. Detour routes will be available to assist you in avoiding the closures and arriving at your destination safely.

Anticipated August closure dates:

  • 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21: All northbound and southbound lanes on I-405 will be closed between Sunset Boulevard Northeast and Coal Creek Parkway.
  • Several ramps will also be closed:
    - Sunset Boulevard Northeast on-ramp to northbound I-405
    - All ramps at North 30th Street to I-405
    - All ramps at Northeast 44th Street to I-405
    - All ramps at 112th Avenue Southeast/Lake Washington Boulevard Southeast (Exit 9) to I-405
    - Coal Creek Parkway Southeast on-ramp to southbound I-405

During the August closure, crews will be replacing a fish barrier with a box culvert, which is a structure that helps fish safely swim under the highway. This will improve the fish habitat upstream and make it easier for fish to move around.

Anticipated September closure dates:

  • 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, to 5 a.m. Monday, Sept. 11: All lanes of northbound and southbound I-405 will be closed between Coal Creek Parkway and Sunset Boulevard Northeast.
  • Several ramps will also be closed:
    - Sunset Boulevard Northeast on-ramp to northbound I-405
    - All ramps at North 30th Street to I-405
    - All ramps at Northeast 44th Street to I-405
    - Northeast 44th Street over I-405
    - All ramps at 112th Avenue Southeast/Lake Washington Boulevard Southeast (Exit 9) to I-405
    - Coal Creek Parkway Southeast on-ramp to southbound I-405

As part of the project, crews will reconfigure the Northeast 44th Street interchange in Renton to include a new, inline Bus Rapid Transit station and direct access ramps to and from the future express toll lanes, with Northeast 44th Street passing beneath the highway. As part of this work, crews have been building a new northbound I-405 bridge near Northeast 44th Street. During the September closure, crews will shift all lanes of I-405 traffic to the new bridge to begin construction of the new southbound alignment.

Detour routes for full closures in August and September

Whether driving on northbound or southbound I-405, you will need to take a different route during these closures.

Northbound drivers will exit at State Route 900/Sunset Boulevard Northeast in Renton and rejoin I-405 at Coal Creek Parkway in Bellevue. Another option is to follow additional detour signs to rejoin northbound I-405 at Southeast Eighth Street near downtown Bellevue.

Southbound drivers will exit at Coal Creek Parkway and get back on I-405 at North Southport Drive in Renton. They can also exit at Southeast Eighth Street or Lake Washington Boulevard Southeast (Exit 9) and follow additional signs to detour to North Southport Drive.

What can I expect?

  • Delays and congestion: Plan for slower travel times on I-405 and longer waits along the detour routes.
  • Reduced speed limits in work zones: Anytime you're in or approaching these construction work zones, please give our crews room, slow down, be patient, and stay alert.
  • Potential noise: Construction work can also make loud noises and cause vibrations.

Stay safe and informed

We recognize extended closures can be inconvenient, so we encourage you to use other routes, postpone discretionary trips if possible, ride transit, carpool or use other alternative modes of transportation and/or travel at off-peak times. Make sure to “know before you go” and plan ahead to make the most out of your travel times this summer!

Monday, May 22, 2023

New on-ramp to SR 3 near Bremerton part of project to keep fish moving

By Mark Krulish

Keeping people moving during construction is a herculean effort. This is especially true as we work to remove barriers to fish under state highways.

If you've traveled along State Route 3 in Bremerton, you may have noticed crews hard at work. We've been transforming a stretch of highway near Chico Way Northwest.

We're now entering the homestretch of our Chico Creek fish barrier removal project.

A big milestone happened over the weekend. On Saturday, May 20, we opened the new Chico Way on-ramp to southbound SR 3. Drivers no longer need to use a detour that had been in place since July 2022.

Our contractor, Guy F. Atkinson Construction, has spent the past several months building the new on-ramp. The new ramp was needed so it could align with new bridges on Chico Way Northwest and SR 3.

These bridges create more space for Chico Creek to flow underneath the highway. This improves fish passage and access to the spawning habitat for many native fish species.

The brand new on-ramp from Chico Way Northwest to southbound SR 3

Week-long closure of northbound SR 3 exit ramp

Just as we reopen the new southbound on-ramp, we need to temporarily close the northbound SR 3 exit to Chico Way Northwest. The closure is scheduled to extend around the clock for one week and is tentatively scheduled for late June. We'll send email updates when the closure is scheduled.

The weeklong closure will allow our crews to remove old pavement and realign the connection from the highway to the exit ramp. They will also build up the exit ramp to connect with the new bridge.

Drivers heading northbound on SR 3 will need to use the Austin Drive exit to get to Chico Way Northwest. The good news is after the weeklong closure, most of the remaining work won't affect travelers.

Drivers will have to detour around the SR 3 northbound Chico Way
exit ramp closure for one week.

Entering the final stage of construction

Now we’re getting close to the project payoff. Workers will physically put Chico Creek onto a new engineered stream channel. Workers will also connect Chico Creek to the nearby unnamed tributary. The new channels simulate what's found in a natural stream. Workers have planted native vegetation. There are engineered bends and elevation changes. It's all designed to support every life cycle of fish. The new channels provide places for fish to lay eggs and hide from predators. Overall, fish will be able to move between fresh water and saltwater habitats.

Other final steps include decommissioning the old culverts, additional landscaping and improvements to the surrounding habitat.

Once the project is complete, the SR 3 and Chico Way Northwest interchange will have two new bridges and relocated southbound SR 3 exit and on-ramps. All the while, people were kept moving on SR 3 which required no long-term closures to traffic. We essentially moved the creeks instead of completely digging through both directions of SR 3.

This will create more space for Chico Creek and the unnamed tributary to flow. It will also eliminate barriers to fish passage present since this interchange was first built.

Before the project, there were five barriers to fish at the SR 3 and Chico Way Northwest interchange.
Once the project is completed in winter 2023, fish will have access to 21 miles of potential habitat and an improved connection to Chico Creek and Chico Bay.

What we've accomplished so far

Along with a new on-ramp, crews have been busy working on other elements of the project:

  • Building a wider, stronger bridge on SR 3 that provides unobstructed fish access to Chico Bay. The new bridge will carry both directions of SR 3.
  • Excavated under Chico Way Northwest to build a new stream channel for Chico Creek and tributary
  • Built an elevated bridge on Chico Way NW that allows for fish passage
  • Built a new southbound SR 3 exit to Chico Way Northwest
SR 3 from above with its new bridges over Chico Creek and a new southbound
on-ramp from Chico Way Northwest

Stay aware

As always, please keep our crews, yourself, and others safe. Be cautious when driving through work zones. New ramps and wider lanes may take some getting used to at first. Please slow down and stay aware so we can complete this work safely.

Visit our project website to find out more information and to sign up for email updates.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Applications are being accepted for FREE overnight high school transportation camps this summer

By Lisa Walzl

Are you a high school student curious about how we decide where highways go, what we’re doing to help the earth by reducing our carbon footprint or how we plan for the future of transportation while keeping people and goods moving? Ever just wanted to get a behind the scenes tour of a bridge or other parts of our state transportation system? Know a teenager who does?

If so, we have a summer camp experience for you. For the first time ever we’re offering high school students a chance to spend a week exploring the transportation field with statewide experts, agency leaders and university professors at our 2023 PacTrans-WSDOT Summer High School Transportation Camps.

One of the camps will take place at WSU, where students will learn a wide-range of transportation topics including how we incorporate multimodal objectives into our planning.

We’re offering two free camps this summer, both of which include staying overnight at a state university. One is a five-day camp at Washington State University in Pullman from July 24-29. The second is a six-day camp at the University of Washington in Seattle from Aug. 13-18. Students will stay on campus in university dormitories during the camp. All lodging and meals are covered by sponsors so there are no costs to the students.

The deadline to apply for both camps is June 15. Camps are limited to 20 students. To be considered, applicants must be entering 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th grade at a Washington state school for the fall 2023 semester, have a 2.0 GPA or higher and be able to attend the entire session. You don’t need previous experience in engineering or transportation – but curiosity is a must!

To learn more about these programs and to apply, visit this link for the camp website.

With a Link light rail station basically on campus, the UW was an obvious place to hold
one of our two transportation camps.

Both camps offer students the chance to:

  • Explore current and future transportation topics, issues and challenges – including why past decisions were made and what we’d do differently now.
  • Take field trips to observe major transportation investments like bridges, transportation management centers and learn how they’re engineered. And some non-engineering field trips like boating on Lake Washington or taking a bike ride to the WSU Creamery cheese factory in Pullman.
  • Learn directly from professionals and researchers in a variety of transportation topics – engineering, urban planning, supply chain logistics, environmental justice, geography and the future of connected and autonomous vehicles (aka self-driving vehicles).
  • Participate in hands-on projects.

This could be the start of a career in transportation, engineering, planning or a whole host of other fields. But even if it’s not, participants will have a better understanding of how we all get where we’re going as well as how the things we buy and need get to store shelves or our homes – and what goes into making those trips as safe and smooth as possible. And some pretty good stories to share with friends and family about the unique experience you had over the summer.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, May 15, 2023

Looking at more passenger train service connecting eastern and western Washington

By Janet Matkin

What would it take to add more central and eastern Washington passenger rail service?

As a state transportation agency that sponsors passenger rail service along the coast, we get that question a lot. We and others have studied the idea and so far, have not found a financially feasible solution – but we know the desire for this service continues.

That’s why we’re participating in and sharing news about a new Federal Railroad Administration study that is looking at expanding Amtrak’s long-distance network. The federal Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study isn’t finished – and several other steps, including federal funding also would be needed to add service in Washington state – but we want everyone to have the chance to follow and participate in the federal process.

We’re participating in a new Federal Railroad Administration study looking at expanding
Amtrak’s long-distance network.

In 2021, Congress directed the FRA to study 18 long-distance Amtrak routes that were discontinued in the 1970s because they were no longer financially viable. Among those discontinued routes is the North Coast Hiawatha line that connected Seattle to Ellensburg, Yakima, Pasco and Spokane – before continuing on to Chicago. This route traversed the Cascade Mountains through Stampede Pass and a series of tunnels built in the 1880s. The Hiawatha started service in 1971 (shortly after Amtrak was formed) and was discontinued in 1979.

Of course, Amtrak’s Empire Builder long-distance route still connects several Washington cities today. It travels from Chicago to Spokane before splitting into two segments – one to Seattle, with stops in Ephrata, Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Everett, and the other to Portland, with stops in Pasco, Wishram and Bingen-White Salmon. But these trains do not stop in Yakima or Ellensburg, which were previously served by the North Coast Hiawatha, and we know residents in those areas have long wanted greater passenger rail access and service.

As part of the new study, the FRA recently held six regional workshops – including one for the country’s Northwest Region. Our Rail, Freight and Ports Division participated in this meeting, alongside representatives from Amtrak, other state DOTs, the Class I Railroads, local planning organizations, federally recognized tribes, local officials and rail advocacy organizations.

Materials from those initial meetings can be found online. The Northwest group recommended several themes to be considered when deciding which lines can and should be re-established, including the:

  • Number of rural areas that routes could/should connect
  • Availability of local transit and other connections in station communities along a route
  • Number of areas with higher-than-average disadvantaged populations a route would serve
  • Ridership potential
  • Economic benefits to communities along a route
  • Cost and schedule competitiveness with auto and air travel
  • Greater frequency on existing long-distance and state-sponsored routes (in lieu of route restoration)
  • Needed improvement to railroad tracks to enable increased speeds for passenger rail

Next steps of the federal study

Once complete at the end of this year, the federal study will include a vision for expanded long-distance passenger rail service. It will identify preferred options for restored, enhanced or new long-distance service and include a prioritized list of capital projects and other actions needed to restore or expand the routes. The study also will include cost estimates and potential public benefits for regions along the routes – and identify potential federal and other sources of funding.

Once the study is submitted to Congress for consideration, it is expected Congress may provide federal funding for the improvements needed to restore the long-distance routes and keep them operational in the future.

In Washington state, federal financial support will be key to any plans pursuing additional passenger train service to central and eastern Washington. A 2020 analysis done by the Washington Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee looked at the viability of providing more passenger rail service within Washington that would serve Auburn, Ellensburg, Yakima and the Tri-Cities.

The state report determined a state-financed route would be financially and logistically challenging due to:

  • The long journey times (8½ hours between Seattle and Spokane)
  • Low ridership projections (about 200,000 annually)
  • High costs of construction estimated in the range of $320 million to $420 million
  • The high cost of installing federally mandated Positive Train Control safety, which was not included in the 2020 estimates
  • Ongoing operating subsidy costs to keep the service running

If a federally funded long-distance service was established – such as the resumption of the North Coast Hiawatha line, service connecting eastern and western Washington on the central route might be more feasible – but that decision still depends on several other steps. That is why we are supporting the federal study and looking forward to its completion at the end of 2023.

Those with questions or comments about FRA’s long-distance study are encouraged to submit them via the comment form at the bottom of the study webpage at:

Friday, May 12, 2023

WWI items found in records audit

By WSDOT Staff

Our Records and Information Management (RIM) team didn’t expect much excitement as they worked on auditing our holdings at the State Records Center. A somewhat arduous project, it involves poring over hundreds of records, items and artifacts from the agency collected between 1950 and 1990. So when agency records personnel came across what looked like a box of precious personal items, it caused them to pause.

The artifacts included a wallet, bank books, and sentimental keepsakes from service in World War I – all of which belonged to a man named Fred Gloor. With the help of a little internet sleuthing, Records & Information Services Administrator Shannon Gill found out Fred was a World War I veteran, and a Department of Highways civil engineer who worked in the Vancouver area during the 1950s.

Fred Gloor, a World War I veteran who worked as a civil engineer with the Department of Highways
in the Vancouver area in the 1950s

With curiosity peaked, Shannon reached out to her uncle, a genealogy buff. Through, they were able to connect with Fred’s great nephew, Steve. Steve and his wife Brenda were thrilled to hear about the discovery of the records, and recently made a visit to our Olympia headquarters to meet with the RIM team to take home their great uncle’s personal items.

Though Steve knew of his great uncle, he did not have any personal memories as Fred passed away at least 15 years before Steve was born.  Shannon and her Records & Information Management staff shared the story of the records discovery, and how they believe the items ended up with us.

Fred Gloor’s great nephew Steve and his wife Brenda posing with some of Fred’s artifacts we discovered during a recent audit

The Records & Information Management team thinks Fred did not retire in a traditional sense. In the 1940s, Shannon said it was common to store personal items at your workplace, as many people did not have a home office. If Fred’s career with the agency had a sudden end, it would make sense that such precious items were left behind. Shannon noted that this was before the agency maintained emergency contacts for employees, so they may have not been able to contact his family members to return the items.

Shannon believes the items were left in a desk drawer in our Vancouver-area office from 1950 to 1990, when it was transferred to the Records & Information Management Office. Unsure what to do but recognizing they were probably important to someone, someone likely boxed the items and put them in storage in the State Records Center in the early 1990s.

A couple of pictures of Fred Gloor, a civil engineer with the Department of Highways and WWI veteran. Our Records and Information Management team recently found some of Fred’s keepsakes during an audit.

Steve and Brenda were in awe of how many items were returned to them, as well as the pristine condition they were in. They also liked discovering their relative’s connection to our agency.

The discovery of the records was not only special for Fred’s family members. It was also a treat for the Records & Information Management team to discover and investigate artifacts that they wouldn’t normally find.

“This has been a very bright spot for our team during a large and often boring project,” Shannon said.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Course correction on two central Washington roundabout projects

By Lauren Loebsack

Travelers familiar with State Route 28 may have noticed that over the weekend we had to remove some recently placed concrete at the White Trail Road roundabout near Quincy. 

Removal of the center island concrete on SR 28 and White Trail Road

We're removing the concrete because we discovered an issue with the location of construction. As it was initially built, the north-south line of the intersection with White Trail Road was too far to the west.

After discovering this inconsistency at SR 28, the contractor requested that we inspect the US 2/97 and Easy Street roundabout project to determine if a similar misalignment had also occurred at that location. We unfortunately confirmed a similar issue occurred there. 

We're still working out how this happened, and we will share more as we get to the bottom of this.

Our big question was whether we could design an engineered solution that would allow us to adjust the rest of construction to what had already been built. In both locations, we determined that the misalignment is too great for this kind of small adjustment. It creates enough offset that continuing with the current alignment would require several months of additional engineering and right-of-way work. For the sake of completing the project in the shortest possible time for the needed results, we decided to remove what won’t work and rebuild the roundabout to the proper alignment.

On the SR 28 and White Trail Road project, we need to replace the roundabout center island and curbing, some drainage fixtures, and conduits for lights. On the US 2/97 and Easy Street project, we fortunately caught this issue before concrete was placed. Here, the contractor will need to remove and rebuild drainage structures and regrade the earthwork in preparation for placing concrete.

Regrading on US 2/97 and Easy Street intersection project

It’s always frustrating for all parties involved to discover an issue on a project. No one wants to remove freshly placed concrete. We decided on this approach because it will finish the project closest to the original timeline.

What this means for the schedule is still tough to tell. Rescheduling materials delivery and subcontractors takes time, but our contractor has already brought in additional resources to expedite the work. We will continue to keep you informed on how we're working together to deliver these projects to our community in as timely a manner as possible.

Answering your top questions about litter cleanup ahead of a busy summer construction season

By Tina Werner

We can all agree that trash is unsightly and diminishes the natural beauty of our Evergreen State. Yet every day, anything from thousands of pieces of debris to mattresses or desks fly out of vehicles and end up along our highways. According to 2021 research commissioned by the Washington State Department of Ecology, 26% of litterers say they would be motivated to stop if “a friend, family member, or passenger asked me to refrain.” Who knew it was so easy?

So. …while we may not be your friend or family member, maybe you can pretend just this once: Please, please, please stop littering. Seriously. It’s illegal, it’s selfish and it’s gross.

We get asked about litter frequently – especially at this time of year. So we wanted to answer some of your most burning litter questions and share what you can do to help us in our efforts. (Hint: it involves not littering).

Maintenance workers clean up litter along an eastbound I-90 ramp near Easton in late April

But before we get to the questions, a quick look at where we’re at.

In 2022 our maintenance workers, crews from the Department of Ecology and the Department of Corrections and volunteers in the Adopt-a-Highway program collected more than 1,400 tons of trash – roughly the weight of six blue whales. We’ll keep working at it, but ultimately our workers can’t be everywhere picking up after people 24/7. We need the public’s help preventing litter from reaching the roads in the first place.

OK, on to the questions:

Q: I drive I-5 through (insert your city) five days a week and don’t see anything happening. Why are you never out there?

A: The most active litter cleanup work typically happens between March and November as cold, wet weather and less visibility makes it more unsafe in the winter. Once November hits our crews usually switch to winter-related maintenance work but now that spring is back, litter cleanup will become more active.

A typical litter cleanup job involves Ecology Youth Corps and adult crews bagging the litter and our crews collecting the bags and transporting them to landfills. In the first four months of 2023, crews have collected 1,648 tons (roughly 220,000 total bags) of trash. Our total for 2023 is only expected to increase as more litter pickup occurs across the state during warmer weather.

Department of Ecology Youth Corps collected a large amount of trash and other debris in eastern Washington this past summer and will be back
again this year across the state.

You may be wondering why the spike in litter totals this year? For the early part of the year there has been an increase in cleaning at encampments, including some of the work in Governor Inslee’s and the state Legislature’s Right of Way Safety Initiative to offer housing to the people living in state rights of way and close encampments. At times a site can’t be cleared because housing hasn’t been identified but our crews can still clean up the area and/or do regular trash collections to help keep trash from accumulating or spreading. While the amount litter collected near encampments is significant, it’s also important to note that historically it’s not the major type of trash we clear from roadways. Once crews are out in full force this spring and summer we expect to see significant increases in the overall litter totals we also report from other items such as leftover lunches to larger items like mattresses and desks (which pose safety hazards as well as adding to roadside litter). Essentially basic, every-day litter.

The spring and summer litter crews include the Ecology Youth Corps crews, who work in July and August and are paid roles. Ecology’s adult crews work from March to November and are paid roles as well. More information about Ecology’s work crews are available by clicking this link.

Along with Ecology, we contract with the Department of Corrections to hire inmates who choose to participate in the program to gain professional work experience, earn some money and give back to their communities while being supervised. Our contracts prohibit participants with serious offenses or security risks.

Here’s a look at the before and after of Department of Corrections work along I-5 near Tacoma.

Q: Most of the trash has to be from encampments near the highway, right?

A: In 2022, approximately 466 tons of trash was collected near encampments statewide. In 2021, that number was 166 tons – almost three times less. People living homeless on state rights of way is a far-reaching issue that can’t be resolved by a transportation agency alone. When addressing litter associated with an encampment, we remove the debris and hazardous waste after an encampment site has been vacated – and must rely heavily on other state agencies, non-profits, local jurisdictional and behavioral health partners before a site can be cleaned. (As mentioned above, we may also do regular trash collections at some sites waiting for housing to be identified). The outreach and planning work to connect people with social and medical services and other options is key to closing encampments long term versus just having people disperse to another outdoor location.

A look at litter under the SR 705 and I-5 interchange in Tacoma and after a contractor
cleaned the area in late January

As far as addressing encampments, our maintenance crews and contractors work to clean them and we also work with neighboring jurisdictions to coordinate large-scale cleanups like in Tacoma and Seattle. For January through April of 2023, our maintenance crews and contractors reported they’ve cleaned up a combined total of 1,453 tons of trash from encampments across the state. Some of our crews utilize contractors for encampment cleanups while other crews do the work themselves to reduce costs. To date, contractors have collected and disposed of 176 tons of our overall 1,453 tons from encampments.

Q: You’re not doing enough when it comes to litter. Can’t you just allocate more money to your maintenance budgets to focus on litter cleanup?

A: Along with the Department of Ecology, we spend a combined $12 million on litter cleanup annually. Even with such a large expenditure, the litter problem is constant and increasing at rates greater than our crews, volunteers and partners can reasonably collect. The main need is to prevent litter on our roadways and rights of way in the first place, which is why we have supported Ecology’s latest litter prevention campaign, Keep Washington Litter Free. This campaign includes messages on our highway reader boards, a robust social media campaign and seasonal litter emphasis patrols by the Washington State Patrol.

Highway signs show a variety of anti-litter messages throughout the year.

Highway maintenance work is prioritized and measured through a statewide accountability process based on funds allocated to us by the state Legislature and legal mandates we are obligated to meet for safety. In many cases we simply cannot defer critical maintenance work to focus only on litter – many of these other tasks are important for life/safety concerns. Roads must be cleared of ice and snow during the winter to keep people and goods moving. We also have thousands of miles of guardrail due for replacement and bridge decks that need repairs to extend their useful life. Our agency oversees approximately 18,700 lane miles, 3,300 state bridges and 120 miles of dedicated bike lanes across the state so there is a lot of work to do on a daily basis with limited funds.

Our roles in litter cleanup include:

  • Responding and removing any trash in active traffic or posing an immediate safety risk
  • Removing large items or debris (mattresses, couches) that potentially block traffic
  • Removing roadkill
  • Cleaning trash found near other roadside repair activities, as time allows
  • Collecting and disposing of all bags of litter collected from roadsides by Adopt-a-Highway volunteers, Ecology Youth Corps crews and Department of Corrections crews

We work hard to balance the needs of our aging transportation system while also addressing litter as time and resources allow.

Maintenance crews pick up trash bags and debris along westbound SR 8 near McCleary

Q: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect litter pickup over the past few years?

A: Highway litter pickup was severely affected by the pandemic, including several litter cleanup programs put on hold due to safety and exposure concerns. That has led to an increase in highway litter. Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, volunteer Adopt-a-Highway crews, the Department of Ecology Youth Corps and state and local departments of Corrections crews were not available for 2020 and parts of 2021 – meaning most of the “normal” highway litter cleanup did not take place or did so at reduced levels. Last year, due to the increase in trash after two years of a global pandemic, we increased our own litter duties statewide, while also focusing on graffiti removal, to help address the backlog.

Q: Why can’t you just fine people seen dumping furniture or trash bags along the highway?

A: The most important reason is we are not an enforcement agency and have no authority to issue citations. Enforcement on state highways is handled by the Washington State Patrol while local law enforcement handles other areas. Under state law, litter tickets and fines require the violation be witnessed by a sworn law officer. They cannot be issued based on reports given to or witnessed by our staff. Littering and illegal dumping are against the law in Washington. Fines range from $103 to $5,000. Many cities and counties have local ordinances that are stricter than the state law.

Q: There is a stretch of highway sponsored by a local business, and I don’t believe they are doing a good job at picking up the litter. How often do groups need to pick up trash to maintain good standing before possibly being removed?

A: There are two types of Adopt-a-Highway cleanup programs and they require a specific number of cleanings per year, rather than cleaning all litter as soon as it accumulates.

  • Adopted areas: These are areas adopted by volunteer groups, which could be a group of business employees, a family, a club, etc. The group receives an acknowledgement sign for their efforts. Groups must clean their sites a minimum of four times a year.

If an adopted location has not been picked for more than six months, local agency coordinators will contact the group leader and request they act with urgency. If a group is unresponsive or not compliant with their agreement, they are notified that their agreement will be canceled, their recognition sign removed and their section of road made available to another group for adoption. This rarely happens; however, we have had to make the decision to revoke an adoption. Some of our groups have been participating in the program for decades and take great pride in their work as valuable volunteers to Washington state.

  • Sponsored areas: For these sites a company partners with a state-approved contractor to clean a stretch of road – often areas where volunteers can’t operate due to safety concerns. The contract includes placing an acknowledgement sign recognizing the company’s efforts. The company’s name and logo – which must be reviewed by our agency -- also can only take up one-third of the entire sign. Federal law states the signs must be acknowledgements and not ads for the businesses – and they also cannot include details like addresses, phone numbers or hours of business.

Sponsorship contracts require six cleanings a year. If a sponsorship contract fails to meet their minimum cleaning requirements, the same follow up happens with the group as with adopted areas.

Adopt-a-Highway volunteers pick up litter along SR 99 in King County. We have
655 actively registered groups across the state

We need your help

Okay, we’ve answered some common questions we receive about litter but now have an ask of you – please help us keep Washington beautiful and litter free. We ask the public to:

  • Properly cover and tie down all loads, on all trips
  • Keep trash and debris securely gathered in vehicles until you reach home, so it doesn’t fall out or fly out of vehicles. The Department of Ecology provides free litter bags that are available for pick up at Fred Meyer locations throughout the year in Washington state.
  • Properly dispose of all trash; do not dump it at rest areas, parking lots or other land.
  • Share litter prevention messages with friends and family
  • If able, consider creating an Adopt-a-Highway group to join the valuable volunteers who help clear roadsides and other rights of way.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Down to the wire: Reporting on wire theft, costs and challenges

By Sean Quinn

Copper wiring plays an important role in our transportation system. It powers important items that help you get to where you need to be like digital signs, overhead lights, traffic cameras, signalized intersections and more. Wire theft has been and continues to be a problem for us. Our crews have seen an increase in wire theft in recent years which may be in part due to the increasing price of copper. Not only is this theft costly to taxpayers, it also puts people at risk who have to make those repairs and the public loses critical infrastructure that helps traffic flow smoothly.

We’re experiencing almost daily acts of wire theft across the state. Each time wire is stolen or damaged, not only can it make it less safe for travelers, but also puts a strain on our maintenance teams who repair the extensive damage. But still, even when repairs are made, damage can happen again.

Despite the effort put forth by us and law enforcement, it’s no guarantee that our equipment will be protected from further damage or theft.

Our improvement efforts

We continue to use stronger theft protection on our boxes – like welding junction box covers – but must balance that with the need to keep them accessible to our crews at all hours of the day including in emergencies. In some places, we are replacing copper with aluminum wiring, which is a much less lucrative find for thieves.

We’ve also changed how we light roads. In some cases, we replace traditional bulbs with LED, in others the entire light and pole is removed as research has shown light isn’t needed in all areas we illuminated in the past. While not the motivation for removing unneeded lights, it does also decrease the amount of potential theft targets.

Wire theft and damage from one of our pieces of equipment in February 2023 near the
SR 167 and SR 18 interchange in Auburn

The costs to the public

The cost of replacing stolen wire can be expensive. Unlike private companies or members of the public who may be insured by commercial insurance companies, we are self-insured. There is no insurance company that we can file a claim with when someone damages our boxes. We don’t have the authority to issue fines or cite/arrest someone caught in the act of vandalism – our partners at the Washington State Patrol handle enforcement. If a suspect is identified and arrested by State Patrol, it most likely will be for theft and vandalism. Our losses are paid for by taxpayers which often means other maintenance and preservation work like pavement striping, pothole repairs and vegetation management gets deferred as a result.

As of April 27, 2023, our statewide wire theft costs for the 2021-2023 biennium has reached more than $850,000.

Copper theft also affects our tolling operations. The annual revenue loss is estimated at $440,000 and the repair cost at $96,000, which delays our ability to meet bond requirements. If power to toll signs is out it also creates confusion over whether and how much you will be charged for your trip, and customers can experience delayed billing while we and our vendor adjust the system to function in a degraded state until repairs can be made.

In King, Snohomish, Island, Skagit, and Whatcom counties alone, we have spent more than $310,000 on security upgrades directly related to copper theft and equipment damages so far in the 2021-2023 biennium. These include repairing and installing fences, security lighting and monitoring equipment, and upgrades to protect cabinets against common intrusion methods.

The safety hazards to travelers

When thieves steal wire or damage our equipment, it can lead to serious safety hazards for the public and our crews. For example, if freeway lights are not functioning due to stolen wire, drivers may have difficulty seeing the road at night. Similarly, if traffic signals and other electronic equipment are not working, it can cause confusion, delays and may increase the risk of collisions. It can often take several days if not weeks to make repairs to the infrastructure and replace the wiring due to delays in materials or availability of crews to go out and complete the work. This includes finding a way to secure the system so that we can hopefully prevent it from happening immediately after we make repairs.

Each red dot along I-5 at the West Seattle Bridge/Columbian Way interchange in Seattle indicates a piece of our equipment like a light or traffic camera that went dark due to wire theft that happened in less than a week this past winter.

Other affects to travelers

Wire theft is also downright inconvenient. In the first three months of 2023, we had a flammable cargo restriction in place for all of I-5 in downtown Seattle, something that is unusual to have in place for that long. The restriction was put in place after wire theft occurred, resulting in damage to the fiber system and conduits, disabling digital signs on the tunnel under the Seattle Convention Center. The signs are there to warn drivers not to enter the tunnel in the event of a fire or emergency. With the sign not operable, it wasn’t safe to allow flammable cargo through the tunnel.

For multiple weeks in February 2022, wire theft forced the closure of the access ramp to and from the I-5 express lanes near the Seattle Convention Center, affecting travel times for some entering and exiting downtown Seattle. We know this is frustrating for travelers and it is for our crews doing the work as well.

A tunnel closure sign over I-5 under the Seattle Convention Center. Wire theft from equipment attached to the sign led to it being inoperable for months, meaning we couldn’t display messages in case of fire or emergency inside the tunnel.

What you can do to help

We continue to work with law enforcement and law makers to try to stop these thefts, but we need your help. Catching someone in the act of vandalism or theft is difficult enough in the daylight, and even more challenging at night, when most theft occurs.

Be aware of the people you see interacting with our equipment. Keep your eyes and ears open for any suspicious or odd work zone activities. Our crews and contractors' trucks and equipment are clearly identifiable with logos. Thieves might be suited up in construction gear, but it’s unlikely their clothes or trucks will display our name or logo. If you see something concerning or poses an immediate safety risk, please call 9-1-1.

Also, keep an eye out for the vehicles around our equipment. Our crews and contractors will always have traffic control set up to alert drivers. Our work zones are clearly signed, and workers wear reflective clothing and hardhats. Drivers will see signs telling them a work zone is set up ahead. Our trucks have flashing lights and crews use cones and barrels. On the other hand, thieves will almost always have a single truck or none at all and will try to appear as discreet as possible, as in this recent video we captured in fall of 2022. The person was stealing wire in broad daylight, dressed up as a highway maintenance worker. There were no vehicles with flashing lights, other crews, or advance warning signs on the roadway around him. Our crews informed State Patrol, who arrived on site and arrested him.

What’s the difference? Click on this link for an example of our typical (and legitimate) signals crew in action. Notice the orange cones, multiple trucks with our logos on it and flashing lights.

Reporting a real time occurrence of theft or vandalism will allow law enforcement and our teams to respond and assess the situation. With your help, we can work to keep our equipment intact, our highways safe and important tax-payer dollars going towards needed repairs. You can also send us your feedback about highway safety concerns by clicking this link.