Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Restoring safety to I-90 near Medical Lake one month after destructive Gray Fire

By Joe McHale

It's been just over a month since the Gray Fire burned more than 10,000 acres of property in the Medical, Silver and Four Lakes areas in eastern Washington. The devastating fire, which ignited on Aug. 18th, destroyed just about everything in its path. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate, hundreds lost their homes, and many are still counting their losses.

While it fails in comparison to what was destroyed by the Gray Fire, we have been in the process of replacing approximately 2,000 feet of burned guardrail along a roughly six-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in both directions.

Crews install new guardrail

Guardrail is, first and foremost, a safety barrier intended to shield a driver who has left the road. They can make roads safer and lessen the severity of crashes. So it was crucial for us to replace what was lost in the fire, much of which lined steep embankments and slopes.

Crews installing new guardrails

The guardrail that burned in the fire appeared in sections along I-90 between milepost 263 and 270, or approximately between the west end of the State Route 902 interchange and east end of the SR 904 interchange (see below). Contractor Frank Gurney Inc. was awarded the emergency contract and crews began pulling burned posts and guardrail and replacing them the week of Sept. 11th.

Map shows locations of fire damaged guardrail to be replaced

Typically, guardrail repair is something our maintenance crews do. But engineer Travis Morrison said that in this case, hiring a contractor helped move the process along quickly.

"We don't have the added staff and the added material for our maintenance crews to just pull them away and repair this," he said. "So we brought (the contractor) in to quickly get this back up and in functioning order."

Crews working with machinery to replace guardrail.

In addition to making repairs to the guardrail on I-90, the emergency contract includes fencing, guide post, and sign replacement on SR 902 through Medical Lake. Fourteen signs were either partially or completely lost in the fire.

The work is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Northbound US 101 Riverside Bridge in Hoquiam overnight closures resuming the week of Sept. 25

Update: October 2, 2023 at 1:45 p.m.

Work to upgrade the US 101 Riverside Bridge’s machine rooms will extend into the week of Oct. 2. Two overnight closures have been rescheduled due to last week’s storms. The bridge is now scheduled to close from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 2 and Tuesday, Oct. 3. Travelers can also expect single-lane closures on the bridge during the week from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

By Angela Cochran

At the beginning of summer, we kicked off a project to repair the machine rooms that help operate the northbound US 101 Riverside Bridge in Hoquiam.

The machine rooms are at the top of the two bridge towers. They house the equipment that operates the bridge when it opens to marine traffic. Repairs were needed to replace leaky roofs, wall systems and other items that protect the equipment from weather damage and erosion.

Riverside Bridge closing to road traffic

To make these repairs, our contractor planned to close the bridge to road traffic eight times in June and July. Work began in June with single-lane closures on the bridge, and four overnight closures. These closures were supposed to continue in July but had to be paused. Construction schedules are dependent on a lot of variables and subject to change. In this case, some components for the machine rooms could not be properly fabricated in time for the July closures. So crews did as much work as possible with single-lane closures until the pieces were ready.

The good news is that the components are now ready. Crews will be able to complete the project the week of Sept. 25. To do this, drivers will see overnight closures of the bridge starting Monday, Sept. 25 through Thursday, Sept. 28. Each night, the bridge will close to vehicle traffic from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. each following day.

During the closures, travelers will follow a signed detour over the Simpson Avenue Bridge, where flaggers will alternate one direction at a time to keep people moving.

What we were waiting for

The components in question are called shrouds. They cover the pulley wheels at the top of the bridge that open and close the span. There are four total for the Riverside Bridge that were custom fabricated. On top of that, the parts had to meet certain specifications. While the parts were actually made in time, unfortunately, they did not meet all of the specifications required for installation. So we had to wait while they were completed. Why are the shrouds so important? They protect the pulley system from the weather.

The project was delayed while we awaited shrouds, which cover the pulley wheels at the top of the bridge (seen on the left, circled). Without them, as seen on the wheel on the right,
the pulley system is susceptible to bad weather.

What’s done and what’s left to do

During the first four overnight closures and the daytime single-lane closures, crews were able to get several items completed. They used a large crane to lift materials to and from the roof of the west machine room. They reconstructed the roof, installed new railing and replaced the siding on three walls. One wall on the east machine room also has new siding. Some smaller items within the machine rooms, like door hardware, were also replaced. Crews even completed painting the operating room. That leaves one wall on the west room and the roof and three walls on the east room. And of course, installing two shrouds on each of the machine rooms.

During the closure of the bridge earlier this year, cranes were used to lift
components to and from the west machine room.

Maintenance of the bridge

Even at 53 years old, the Riverside bridge is the youngest of the five moveable bridges in the Aberdeen-Hoquiam area, but it still requires a lot of upkeep. Also, like the other bridges, the Riverside Bridge has a “poor condition” rating from the federal government. While fortunately, the rating doesn’t mean it’s not safe for travel, it does mean that we need to monitor it regularly to see if conditions change. And if needed repairs are not made, that can mean load or lane restrictions and even closures.

Our Aberdeen bridge crew and project office work together to keep these bridges in good working order. In the past couple of years, we have had several projects aimed at maintaining the bridge. Construction crews repainted the bridge’s approach spans, which protects the structure from the elements. Crews also resealed the bridge deck to improve the driving surface. In addition to these projects, our bridge crews also do regular maintenance on the bridge.

Our bridge crews are constantly working to maintain our bridges to keep them operating and safe.

These repairs and others are part of our bridge preservation program.  All five of our movable bridges in Grays Harbor County are aging gracefully due to continued maintenance and construction from our Aberdeen project office and bridge crew. They each range in age from 53 to almost 100 years old. A bridge is expected to have a service life of 75 years based on current standards. More information about bridges in our state is available online in our Gray Notebook publication.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Fueling curiosity: Navigating the future at the PacTrans-WSDOT Summer High School Transportation Camps

By Sean Quinn

They say the choices we make today create the future that we are dreaming of. That’s why we include our younger generations to help us create a better future for transportation in our state!

This summer, we hosted two groups of high school students from across our state as part of the new and free PacTrans-WSDOT Summer High School Transportation Camps. For the first time, in partnership with the University of Washington, Washington State University and Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium, we offered high school students a chance to spend a week exploring the challenges and opportunities their generation will face in the transportation field with statewide experts, leaders and frontline workers from our agency and university professors. Students stayed on campus in university dormitories during the camp and all lodging and meals were covered by sponsors so there were no costs to the students.

Students at our UW camp listen to IRT drivers Dennis Smith and Ray McLeod describe their
daily work helping keep our highways safe.

Learning how the system works

The goal of the camps was to address how we decide where transportation systems go, what we’re doing to reduce our carbon footprint and how we plan for the future of transportation and incorporate multimodal objectives while keeping people and goods moving. The students didn’t need previous experience in engineering or transportation – but curiosity was a must!

Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar spoke to campers at both the UW and WSU about the
challenges and opportunities of our transportation system.

With plenty of field trips to experience hands-on learning, the camps explored a wide range of transportation topics such as urban planning, traffic safety, environmental justice, geography, supply chain logistics and the future of connected and self-driving vehicles. For some students, 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, the teens gained 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. They also got some pretty good stories to share with friends and family about the unique experience they had at camp.

Students at the WSU camp tried their hands in robotics by building a robotic car.

Plenty to do

One group of students attended the camp at WSU in late July while a second group gathered at the UW in mid-August. While there were differences in experiences at each camp, many of the themes and some of the experiences were similar. Both camps heard from Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar, toured Transportation Management Centers in Shoreline and Spokane and heard from various leaders about the future challenges the transportation industry faces.

Each camp also took some unique field trips. Besides visiting some of our facilities near the campuses, the Seattle group toured facilities at King County Metro, Amazon and PACCAR and in Spokane they visited local ports to learn how produce grown on eastern Washington farms uses the transportation system to make its way to stores and tables.

Both camps visited our Transportation Management Centers, including this one in Shoreline, where they also toured our Emergency Operations Center and heard from engineer Kevin Radach.

“It was just really cool to see how it all goes down – I’ve never seen such a large operation,” said Ollie, a student at the UW camp, after visiting the Shoreline Transportation Management Center. “It really puts into perspective the hard work that gets put in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, keeping people moving from Point A to Point B.”

Some students were able to explore emergency equipment inside of multiple Incident Response Team trucks and watched the hundreds of live traffic cameras showing highways across the state inside the two transportation management centers. Some took a close look at one of our drones and survey equipment we use in 3D mapping, surveying, etc. Others visited engineering and chemistry labs, learned about traffic data analysis, worked on a robotic car group project and learned about how diversity and equity play a role in transportation planning.

Students at the WSU camp toured local ports to learn how agriculture grown in eastern Washington
uses the transportation system to reach stores and our tables.

Thinking forward

At the end of each camp, students were tasked with a final project showcasing their understanding of the challenges and opportunities present in transportation in our communities.

The summer camps not only provided the next generation of minds with valuable insights into the dynamic world of transportation, but also left them with everlasting memories and newfound skills. During the camps, the students engaged in hands-on experiences, explored new technologies, and learned from industry experts, all while meeting other students with similar interests and building their confidence. As they return back for the school year, they carry with them a deeper understanding of the role transportation plays in our lives and the exciting career opportunities that lie ahead. We hope their time with us ignited their passion for innovation, sustainability, and the ever-evolving field of transportation, inspiring them to become the next generation of leaders in this vital industry.

Jeremy Rinauro spoke to some of the WSU campers about his job as a project engineer and the changes in technology we’ve used. He explained how survey tools and drones are used in designing projects.

Keep an eye out on our social media channels and our blog for future opportunities for camps should they become available. You can also learn more about the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans) on their website.

Friday, September 15, 2023

IRT swoops to the rescue of stranded motorcycle driver

By Elizabeth Mount

When Timothy Nored’s motorcycle ran out of gas on Interstate 5 near the 130th Street overpass in Seattle, he was nervous about the potentially dangerous situation. He was partially blocking the carpool lane, had no way to safely cross the freeway to the right shoulder and AAA was 90 minutes away.

That’s when Incident Response Team member Ray McLeod zoomed to the rescue.

“The noise of heavy traffic and having no room to get out of harm’s way, all I could do was watch the cars and buses trying to get over to avoid me,” Nored said. “All of a sudden an Incident vehicle showed up and covered me.”

McLeod quickly assessed Nored’s needs and gave him fuel to get him on his way. That’s when they both discovered the motorcycle battery was dead. McLeod called in support and soon two more IRT arrived to briefly block traffic so Nored could move to the right shoulder. McLeod helped push Nored’s motorcycle to safety.

“The IRT truck came out of nowhere, they are watching!” Nored said. “The response was so quick, the IRT driver was machine-like in his actions, focusing on the task at hand.”

When Tim Nored’s motorcycle ran out of gas and battery died on I-5 in Seattle, our Incident Response Team came to the rescue to get him safely back on his way.

This is an excellent example of why our IRT program is so important.

The goal of the program is to keep drivers and their passengers safe and traffic moving. If debris or a collision is blocking a lane or another emergency is taking place, IRT can be called to the scene by dialing 911. On average, our IRT can clear incidents about 13 minutes after they’ve been dispatched, which goes a long way in keeping highways both safe and moving.

We’re so grateful for our IRT members, who we often call our highway superheroes. McLeod has been with the IRT since he started at our agency 20 years ago. He says he particularly enjoys being on the road responding to calls.

“No office for me,” he said. “I love being out in the field assisting with whatever happens next.”

Our Incident Response Team are key in keeping people on the highway safe and traffic moving.

Nored said his experience has changed his impression of our agency.

“I am much more appreciative of the function your team performs on a daily basis,” he said. “I will be much more conscious when I see the IRT trucks on the road, give them a wide berth and let them safely perform their job.”

Nored says motorists should be conscious of stalled traffic on the road and give IRT trucks all the room they need because they are vital to drivers and vehicle safety on our roads.

“When they are needed, the IRT team will do just what is required to get a driver to a safe place,” Nored said. “To say I am still appreciative is woefully understated.”

Thursday, September 14, 2023

SR 520's Montlake Project: Summer steps forward, fall closures ahead

By Nicole Phaysith

As summer gives way to fall, we want to catch you up with what’s been happening on the Montlake Project in Seattle. Here’s a recap of the progress we’ve made this summer – and what you can expect in the coming months.

Past and future

State Route 520 corridor neighbors may recall receiving a mailer earlier this summer about planned closures for Montlake Boulevard and Lake Washington Boulevard. At the time, we made our best guess about how much work – and how many closures – we needed to complete the work. As with many construction projects, we faced some challenges and will need to schedule some additional closures in the fall and winter.

Between now and the end of the year, we anticipate up to seven SR 520 and Montlake Boulevard weekend closures. Some Montlake and SR 520 closures will overlap, while others may be separate. We will avoid UW football and Seahawk weekends unless we work within shorter closure windows before/after the games. Many of these closures are weather dependent, so some could slip into early 2024. You can also expect some single-lane closures, ramp closures and overnight SR 520 full closures.

We acknowledge these setbacks and recognize the impacts of extended closures on the community. We’re continuing to work with our contractor to complete the work and keep traffic moving with the least impact to the community.

Montlake Boulevard

Looking north at Montlake Boulevard’s realignment into its final configuration June to July 2023

Lake Washington Boulevard

Looking northwest at Lake Washington Boulevard in August 2023

SR 520

Looking northwest at parallel “twin” bridges on SR 520 approaching the
Montlake neighborhood in late August 2023

More milestones to come

There’s much more to celebrate next year as we complete our final milestones on the project. By spring 2024 we will open:

  • A bike and pedestrian tunnel under Montlake Boulevard, connecting the cross-lake SR 520 Trail to the Bill Dawson Trail.
  • A bike and pedestrian bridge over SR 520, east of the Montlake lid. This bridge will enhance connectivity between Lake Washington Boulevard and East Montlake Park.
  • A regional transit hub on the new Montlake lid, improving access to public transportation.
  • Last but not least, a new three-acre Montlake lid over SR 520! #LaunchTheLid!

Closures and what you need to know

We appreciate your patience during a busy summer of construction and closures. It's important to note that closure details provided here may change due to factors such as weather conditions. Bottom-line:  Between now and the end of the year, you can expect up to seven weekend closures of SR 520 and Montlake Boulevard. Some Montlake and SR 520 closures will overlap, while others may be separate.

Wondering how to stay in the loop?

Here are the easiest ways to stay updated about closure information, as it becomes available:

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

OOOHHHH, We're halfway there. …whoa ohhh. …soon we'll see fish everywhere

By Angela Cochran

UPDATE: The eastbound State Route 16 traffic shift has been rescheduled to the night of Friday, Sept. 29 due to weather. 

A project aimed to improve fish habitat in Purdy Creek under State Route 16 and the SR 302 Spur reached a major milestone in August. Our contractor reached the halfway point of the project at both locations.

To recap, crews are building new bridges which will replace old culverts that block fish migration under both highways in Purdy Creek. At the beginning of the project in October 2022, our contractor moved the westbound lanes of SR 16 into the median to build the new westbound bridge. On Aug. 15, 2023, the new bridge opened. Crews are now reconfiguring the median lanes in advance of moving the eastbound SR 16 travel lanes. When that work is complete, travelers on eastbound SR 16 coming from Port Orchard to Gig Harbor will see shifted lanes into the median.

At the end of September, eastbound SR 16 traffic will shift onto the reconfigured median lanes while a new eastbound bridge is built. The median lanes will be about 10 feet lower than westbound.

Slow ride. …take it safely

Crews expect to have the reconfigured eastbound SR 16 median lanes complete by the last week of September. On Sept. 26, we’ll have a rolling slowdown and lane closures on eastbound SR 16 while traffic is shifted into the new lane configuration. It’s important to note that the reconfigured median lanes will be about 10 feet lower than the new westbound bridge. A reduced speed limit from 60 mph to 40 mph will be in place so please slow down in the work zone as it will look and feel different. Our crews have seen numerous collisions in this work zone so the speed reduction is one way we try to combat that. Since the project began this past fall, 11 collisions have occurred within the SR 16 work zone and two at the SR 302 Spur. While thankfully the majority have not resulted in injuries, every collision has resulted in property damage. When that happens, we have to stop work for the investigation and make repairs.

A recent collision damaged guardrail on eastbound SR 16.

To keep people safe, we need everyone to stay alert and follow the posted speed limit. We ask all drivers in work zones to:

  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds, they’re there for your safety.
  • Be Kind – our workers are helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways.
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic.
  • Stay Calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone’s life.

We have travel tools to help you plan your trips. If you haven’t already, download our app. Check the statewide travel map before leaving for real-time traffic and construction information. You can also sign up for email updates to get the latest information for roadwork in Pierce County.

SR 302 Spur update

While SR 16 still has another year of work, including the in-water work next summer, the work at the SR 302 Spur is on schedule to wrap up by the end of this year. Crews completed the in-water work in August. Following the in-water work, crews spent two days setting girders on the new bridge. The girders are the backbone of the bridge that supports the road.

A large crane was used to lift and place the 77-foot-long girders onto bridge shafts (10 girders were placed over two days in August). Once the girders were set, concrete was poured at the ends to lock them in place, then rebar and concrete will be added on top.

In the zone. …the riparian zone

The rest of the work at the SR 302 Spur includes completing the bridge construction and improving the riparian zone, which is the area where water meets land. Crews will add native plants to the area during the planting window this month. These plants will help the aquatic life in the riparian zone thrive by becoming a food source and providing nutrients to the soil and water. There is a large riparian zone at the SR 302 Spur location as the tides go in and out of Burley Lagoon.

A view of Purdy Creek through the riparian zone where multiple layers of special sand and sediment along with large tree stumps to prepare for planting have been set
This is near Burley Lagoon, seen here at low tide

The detour continues through December

If you have traveled through the area, you already know the SR 302 Spur is closed between Purdy Lane Northwest and 144th Street Northwest. Travelers detour around the closure along Purdy Lane Northwest. Because Purdy Lane is part of the detour, parking is not available on the shoulders. We understand that this road is used for overflow parking by students and staff from Peninsula High School. This means we have several months of school to get through before that option opens back up. We recognize this is an inconvenience however once work is complete there, we will repave Purdy Lane Northwest and parking will become available on the shoulder again.

A look eastbound at the detour route on Purdy Lane Northwest at the SR 302 Spur

We expect to complete the SR 302 Spur portion of the project in late December. SR 16 will be complete in the fall of 2024.

We appreciate the community’s patience throughout construction. We will continue to share construction photos on the project’s Flickr album and updates on the project web page.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Getting to know the Wapato Way roundabout - Part III

By Lizzy Buechel

You may think you know the Wapato Way roundabout in Fife, but do you ‘know know’ the Wapato Way roundabout?

With two years of use under its belt, the Wapato Way roundabout connecting State Route 99 to the new Wapato Way East Bridge over I-5 has become a familiar intersection for frequent travelers through Fife. But sometimes people need to know a little more about something to truly understand it. So we’ve done a three-part blog series to re-introduce the Wapato Way roundabout and answer some of the most common questions we hear from the community.

Part I: Don’t stop me now: Why a roundabout instead of a traffic signal?

Part II: It likes big trucks, and it cannot lie: Is a roundabout safe for trucks?

Part III:  It spins me right round baby, right round: How do I use a roundabout

Round and round and round they go. …where do they stop? Nobody. …wait! We do know. Please don’t stop in a roundabout! Here are a few general tips to keep in mind when approaching and using a roundabout:

  • Yield to drivers already in the roundabout (on the circulating roadway)
  • Avoid driving next to oversize vehicles; give them plenty of space
  • Prior to entering the roundabout, choose the appropriate lane for the direction you’d like to exit, and stay in your lane. Do not change lanes!
  • Do not stop in the roundabout
  • Slow down when approaching a roundabout – roundabouts are designed for speeds between 15 and 25 mph

If you still feel like you’re going in circles, we have some excellent resources you can circle back to. Below you will find everything from safety tips to instructional videos.

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of the Wapato Way roundabout and why we are installing roundabouts on the SR 167 Completion project, check out this roundabout fact sheet, which explains each factor in more detail.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Three-year project will bring HOV lanes and a redesigned interchange to DuPont and JBLM

By Joe Calabro

Exciting changes are coming to southwest Pierce County. Our contractor has begun construction that will widen Interstate 5 for High Occupancy Vehicle lanes between 41st Division Drive and Mounts Road in DuPont. This is the third in a series of projects that add HOV lanes to I-5 in the area. The existing HOV lanes will be extended in the following areas:

  • On southbound I-5, the HOV lane will extend 1.7 miles from 41st Division Drive (exit 120) to the Steilacoom-DuPont interchange (Exit 119).
  • On northbound I-5, the HOV lane will begin at Mounts Road (Exit 116) and continue north 3.5 miles to join the existing HOV lane near 41st Division Drive (Exit 120).
Southbound I-5 narrows down from four lanes to three just past 41st Division Drive. This project extends the existing HOV lane to Steilacoom-DuPont Road while the northbound HOV lane will extend from Mounts Road to the existing HOV lane at 41st Division Drive.

A new overpass and Diverging Diamond Interchange

To widen the interstate, crews must replace the 66-year-old Steilacoom-DuPont Road overpass. The new overpass will be built north of the existing bridge and include a partial Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI). The partial DDI will include a traffic signal, like the new Marvin Road interchange in Lacey. Adding a DDI here improves mobility and safety between I-5, DuPont and JBLM. Pedestrians and bicyclists will have access to a shared-use path over the bridge.  

The new bridge over I-5 spans the railroad tracks, eliminating the need for DuPont travelers to stop for passing trains. This safety improvement will reduce travel times for all users of the overpass. Once the bridge is complete and open to traffic, work to remove the original overpass will begin, sometime in late 2025 to 2026. This work will likely require directional overnight closures of I-5. We will share details on the project webpage as construction progresses.

Improvements include an extended HOV lane in both directions of I-5. Crews will build a partial diverging diamond interchange at the new Steilacoom-DuPont overpass and a roundabout. There will also be improved access to and from JBLM.

A roundabout on Steilacoom-DuPont Road

A new roundabout will be installed at the junction of the new I-5 overpass and Steilacoom-DuPont Road. The roundabout will improve safety and reduce congestion for people traveling to or from DuPont and Steilacoom. The roundabout will accommodate vehicles of all sizes, including large trucks, emergency vehicles and buses. The shared-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists will extend from JBLM, over the new bridge, to the roundabout.

East of interchange: improved access at JBLM’s DuPont gate

Redesigning the interchange gives us the opportunity to improve how people access I-5. Improvements on the east side of the highway at JBLM’s DuPont gate (exit 119) include:

  • Direct access between JBLM and both directions of I-5
  • A dedicated northbound I-5 exit lane to DuPont and other communities west of I-5 via the new interchange
  • Crosswalks and a pedestrian and bicycle path to the overpass

Auxiliary lane on northbound I-5 between Center Drive and Steilacoom-DuPont Road

Several years ago, we modified the Center Drive and Weigh Station on-ramp to northbound I-5 as part of the Stage 1 changes on the overall project. We are happy to share that the dedicated auxiliary lane is coming back, which will give all highway users more time to merge to mainline I-5. This addition, paired with the northbound I-5 exit lane to the JBLM DuPont Gate, will reduce how often drivers experience backups. 

New traffic signal at southbound I-5 and Mounts Road exit

Anyone who uses exit 116 to Yelm knows how backed up the Mounts Road exit gets during the afternoon commute. This project adds a traffic signal at the top of the ramp to help keep travelers moving.  

What travelers can expect

Lane and ramp closures are already underway. Three lanes of traffic will be maintained in both directions of I-5 throughout the project, keeping travel times similar to what they are now. Lane closures will generally occur overnight when traffic volumes are lower. Daytime work may be necessary to safely complete some of the construction. 

This project will occur in phases over three years. Each phase involves different types of work with various closures and detours. Be aware of temporary speed limit reductions and ramp closures. Give yourself extra time to follow detours if exiting or entering the highway in the area. You can learn more about the project phases and timeline at our online open house. We also encourage you to visit our project webpage and sign up for email alerts to track progress.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Getting to know the Wapato Way roundabout - Part II

By Lizzy Buechel

You may think you know the Wapato Way roundabout in Fife, but do you ‘know know’ the Wapato Way roundabout? 

With two years of use under its belt, the Wapato Way roundabout connecting State Route 99 to the new Wapato Way East Bridge over Interstate 5 has become a familiar intersection for frequent travelers through Fife. But sometimes people need to know a little more about something to truly understand it. So, we’ve launched a three-part blog series to re-introduce the Wapato Way roundabout and answer some of the most common questions we hear from the community.

Part I: Don’t stop me now: Why a roundabout instead of a traffic signal?

Part II: It likes big trucks, and it cannot lie: Is a roundabout safe for trucks?

Part III: It spins me right round baby, right round: How do I use a roundabout?

Check back next Tuesday for the last installment.

Part II: It likes big trucks and it cannot lie: Is a roundabout safe for trucks?

And we can’t deny. … that roundabouts are designed for use by large trucks and freight! So, the short answer is yes.

Today, we’re going to keep the focus of this series on a roundabout near and dear to our hearts – the new-ish Wapato Way roundabout. During the design process for this roundabout, our traffic engineers factored in the intersection’s proximity to the Port of Tacoma and local warehouse distribution centers, designing a roundabout that is safe for oversized vehicles. The Wapato Way roundabout includes wider-than-typical lanes to accommodate frequent use by semi-trucks as well as a truck apron. A truck apron? Yep, a truck apron is a raised section of concrete around the center island that offers oversize vehicles more space to make turns. The apron provides room for the back wheels of large vehicles to ride onto, which can help them to turn in a scenario where they get off-track or can’t straddle multiple lanes.

The Wapato Way roundabout is safe for all vehicles, including trucks. However, for the roundabout to work as intended, drivers of all vehicles need to learn the best way to share a roundabout with an oversized vehicle.

Tight squeeze? It doesn’t have to be!

Still skeptical that we can all share one roundabout? While it may be a little intimidating the first time around, these two tips will make your travels safer and easier:

  1. Give space
    Do not drive next to or try to pass a truck inside a roundabout. Many people don’t know that by law, large trucks are permitted and encouraged to straddle two lanes to enter and move through the roundabout. So when traveling through a multi-lane roundabout, please give trucks plenty of space.
  1. Slow down
    Always slow down when entering the roundabout. The posted speed limit on SR 99 is 35 mph and a safe roundabout speed is 15 mph. This speed limit is in place for a reason and helps ensure you can safely maneuver the turns required to go through the intersection.

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of the Wapato Way roundabout, and why we are installing roundabouts on the SR 167 Completion project, check out this roundabout fact sheet, which explains each factor in more detail.