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.