Tuesday, October 31, 2023

That time of year to prepare for North Cascades Highway seasonal closure

By Lauren Loebsack

Seems like only yesterday we celebrated the spring opening of the North Cascades Highway, the section of State Route 20 between Newhalem gate (mileposts 121) and Early Winters gate (milepost 178), but that day this past May is far behind us and so is summer, meaning the countdown is on to the seasonal closure.

When will that be? We don’t know yet – depends on the weather – but no doubt it will be here soon.

The weather can change quickly on the SR 20 North Cascades Highway. These pictures were
taken within two days of each other in October.

Why do we close the North Cascades Highway?

The stretch of SR 20 that crosses Rainy and Washington passes also crosses dozens of avalanche paths between Whistler Mountain and Delany Ridge. Unlike Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie Pass where our avalanche control teams use a variety of techniques to clear the avalanche chutes in the winter, staffing, funding and proximity to the national park make it not feasible to do ongoing avalanche control through the winter in the North Cascades.

This route is sometimes referred to as the “North Cross” and is a useful route for freight, medical travel, commerce, and recreation, so our maintenance crews plow this section of SR 20 until it is no longer safe to work in the area due to avalanche conditions. At that point, we close the gates for the season to ensure the safety of the traveling public and our hard-working crews.

While the weather dictates when the North Cascades will close and thus we never know for sure, you can see when the pass has closed and opened in previous years on our web page. For those planning an end-of-season trip, it’s best to keep an eye on the forecast and be prepared for winter conditions in the mountains starting now.

Why do we move the closure points mid-winter?

While initially we close the pass between mileposts 134 and 171, when winter comes to lower elevations, we have to focus our resources on those communities, so we extend the closure points to Newhalem gate (milepost 121) on the west side, and Early Winters gate (milepost 178) on the east side.

Like the seasonal closure, the shift to mid-winter closure points is due to weather and conditions and can come at short notice. For those that use the area behind the closure points for winter recreation and need to know where you can access or park, we’ll get the word out about the mid-winter change through the same channels we use to announce the closure.

Check in for updates. …

We’re already past Oct. 17, which is the earliest winter closure date SR 20 has had and occurred in 2003. Every season is unique, but autumn is definitely transitioning to winter in the mountains, so now is the best time to plan for winter conditions and the potential for closure as we’ve already seen snow blanket the highway.

We will begin with our regular mountain pass reports Nov. 1, which populates with real-time pass updates. Crews will plow the road as needed. As soon as the team determines the route must close, we will share that information through our GovDelivery listserv topic “North Cascades Highway Newsletter” and Facebook.

Frequently asked questions

Whether this is your 1st year or 51st year following North Cascades Highway news, here are some of the frequently asked questions about the North Cascades and the seasonal closure:

  • Why don’t we just set a date for the closure? Every season is different and keeping the North Cross open for as long as possible provides a more direct route for freight, recreation, and the communities on each side of the mountains.
  • Can I park at the closure points? The gate closure locations are in place for the safety of the traveling public, safety of our crews and at locations where adequate parking is available for backcountry users while still providing access and maneuverability for crews clearing the road to the gate.
  • Am I allowed to go beyond the gate for recreation? Yes! But. …remember, this is a very active avalanche area that sees a huge amount of snow and has lots of potential hazards. So always be prepared if you choose to ski, snowshoe, snow mobile, etc., beyond the closure gates.
  • Why aren’t there any traffic cameras on Rainy or Washington passes? Since the passes close for up to half the year, the expense of installation and maintenance of cameras doesn’t justify the need. With tons of avalanche activity potentially damaging the equipment and no traffic, there’s little value in having cameras up there. There are cameras on other parts of SR 20 that remain open all year.
  • What is the elevation of the North Cascades? Rainy Pass is 4,855 feet and Washington Pass is 5,477 feet.
  • There is a snow park at Silver Star gate, why don’t we stay open all winter to the park? At a certain point in the winter, the snowpack will become too deep for our equipment to manage and we need to focus resources on priority routes.

No matter the reason you follow NCH news, we want you to be prepared. While we handle the road, there is much more going on in the North Cascades. Here are some links to keep up-to-date on other happenings in the national park and forest:

A haunting Halloween update: Maintenance crews, partners and volunteers remove 2,000 tons of litter along state highways

By Tina Werner

Cue the Monster Mash playlist. The results from litter collected this past spring and summer are eerie. And we aren’t just talking about leftover creepy white hockey masks, either.  

Our road crews, other agency partners and Adopt-A-Highway volunteers from across the state have collected enough trash and debris from state highways, shoulders and interchanges equivalent to the weight of 110 MILLION(!!!) medium sized jack-o-lanterns – or 2,000 tons, to be exact. This recent litter count tracks the volume of trash collected from January 1 to August 31 of this year, and includes trash removed along roadsides by our highway maintenance crews, bags collected by Adopt-a-Highway, Department of Ecology Adult & Youth Corps and Department of Corrections crews, as well as items cleared near or from encampments.

Volunteers with Bellevue Green and Clean showcase a day full of hard work bagging trash along the shoulders of I-405

That number is only expected to increase as partners and volunteers clean their remaining sections before the winter season sets in. Generally, our maintenance crews – we don’t have and are not funded for specific clean-up crews – shift responsibilities during the colder months to winter storm response.

All Halloween jokes aside, roadside litter is an ongoing problem that is unsightly, distracts from the beauty of our state and can pose safety and environmental concerns. We all have a part to play in keeping our state beautiful and litter free.

Crews collect bagged trash and random litter dumped along I-90
near Keechelus Lake this summer

Addressing the problem requires partnerships with many agencies and organizations – and the traveling public also have an important role to play – by stopping litter from reaching roads in the first place. Combined, our agency and the Department of Ecology spend millions of dollars annually on litter cleanup. In 2021 and 2022, our two agencies spent about $12 million each year on litter cleanup and dumping fees. Yet despite these efforts and funds, crews can still only pick up a small fraction of what ends up on the ground. That means preventing litter is essential.

We are seeing a rise in litter being collected across our state over the past six years – in fact, it’s more than tripled since 2018 when we began tracking everyone’s total litter weight. Here is a breakdown of the amount of litter per-year tracked by our highway maintenance crews.

  • 2018 – 698 tons
  • 2019 – 557 tons
  • 2020 – 400 tons
  • 2021 – 618 tons
  • 2022 – 1,403 tons
  • 2023 – 1,991 tons* - January through August 2023
2018 data doesn’t include litter collected near encampments, which wasn’t available until 2019. For 2020 and 2021, most groups and partners paused work due to pandemic restrictions.

Our ask is simple. We need the public to:

  • Properly cover and tie down all loads, on all trips. Unsecured vehicle loads cause more than 300 traffic crashes and up to 40% of roadside litter annually in our state. We can change that by securing our loads on every trip – even if your plans include a quick trip across town.
  • Hold on to trash from your travels until you reach your destination or a waste receptacle. It may not seem like a big deal to toss the occasional bag or bottle on the ground, but those decisions add up to millions of pounds of litter (and millions of dollars of clean up) every year.
  • Do not dump it at safety rest areas, parking lots, park and rides or other land. Illegal dumping requires additional staff and resources to clean these areas and take discarded items to landfills – while taking our highway maintenance crews away from other important tasks like guardrail or pothole repairs.
  • Share litter prevention messages with friends and family. According to 2021 research commissioned by the Department of Ecology, about 26% of litterers say they would be motivated to stop if “a friend, family member, or passenger asked me to refrain.”
  • Consider creating an Adopt-a-Highway group to join the valuable volunteers who help clear roadsides and other rights of way. Contact one of our coordinators to see if an available 2-mile stretch of highway near you is open for adoption.
Volunteers with “Old Studs Bicycle Group” collect trash along SR 225 near Richland in October

Litter from unsecured loads and encampments

Most of the trash along our highway and rights of way come from unsecured loads and items that are thrown (intentionally or not) from moving vehicles. Also, illegal dumping is a concern – and we need people to not leave their broken refrigerator or mattress along the highway or park and ride lot. While we do collect trash from locations of people living homeless along our rights of way after it has been posted for clearing and social services and housing accommodations have been provided, we do track litter removal data from those locations as well. While the litter from encampments is significant, the majority of trash collected each year are from interchanges, on- and off-ramp and mainline shoulders due to unsecured loads or illegal dumping.

Make a difference in your community – become an Adopt-A-Highway volunteer

As mentioned, we don’t have regular, dedicated litter crews – nor the funding to create them – which is why our partnerships with other agencies, communities and the public are so important. We continue to support the ongoing efforts of our volunteers participating in the Adopt-A-Highway litter removal program. The program is a valuable tool aimed at keeping the state’s roads clean and safe while allowing individuals or groups to “adopt” a section of highway by agreeing to take care of it for a two-year period. Most volunteers take great pride in their service and efforts to keep our state litter free. Hundreds of groups are active statewide, but we are always looking for more volunteers to be part of the program.  Groups that contract for cleanup receive roadside appreciation signs within their adopted area, with their name and logo. Adopt-A-Highway signs are not considered advertisements, based on Federal Highway Administration directives – and as such are only allowed to include a name and logo.

East County Citizen Alliance volunteers collect litter along SR 14 near Washougal this past summer

A spooky fine could await if you litter

Littering and illegal dumping can carry fines from $103 to $5,000, with many cities and counties having local ordinances that are stricter than the state law. We don’t have enforcement for any violations on roads – that rests with the Washington State Patrol, local police departments, sheriff's offices and health departments. Under state law, litter infractions and fines require the violation being witnessed by a sworn law officer; they cannot be issued based on reports given to or witnessed by our staff or volunteers. So it’s tough to catch littering in the act, which, again, is why we need people to take it upon themselves to, well, not litter.

A local Adopt-A-Highway volunteer group after collecting trash along I-405 in October

We all have a part to play in keeping Washington litter-free

While the sheer amount of litter collected this year is shocking, the good news is that we all can do something about it – by preventing litter from reaching the ground in the first place and encouraging friends and family to not litter. Preventing litter from reaching the ground is far more effective and less expensive than the cost of cleaning it up. Thank you for continuing to secure your loads (even if just across town) and hold onto your trash until you reach an appropriate waste receptacle. Let’s keep our Evergreen State beautiful for generations to come for everyone.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Remember what Uncle Ben said

 By Barb Chamberlain

Spider-Man's Uncle Ben said it best: "With great power comes great responsibility."

That power lies in your hands and under your foot when you're behind the wheel.

We're coming up on the most pedestrian-friendly and kid-friendly date on the calendar: Halloween. Or at least it should be.

But research tells us the relative risk of a child 4-8 years old dying on Halloween because a driver struck them is 10 times higher than it is the rest of the year. The American College of Emergency Physicians says the biggest threat to trick or treaters is vehicles, not tainted candy or the other hazards parents may fear.

On Oct. 31 — and every night — if you drive it's up to you to make it safe for those outside your vehicle.

Halloween is this Tuesday and that means lots of trick-or-treaters so if you’re driving please be alert, slow down and be patient to make it a safe holiday for everyone. Kids can be unpredictable so drivers should always be prepared, alert and do their part to keep them safe.

Some of the factors for you as a driver that come together and determine whether you’re going to change — or end — someone’s life year-round, not just on Halloween:

WalkSafe (a program at the KiDZ Neuroscience Center) and the National Safety Council provided some Halloween-specific tips to go along with our other reminders to drivers below. We've added a few reminders of Washington state law (and the laws of physics) and a couple of additional pointers.

  • Reduce your speed to 20 miles per hour or less in neighborhoods whether you see children or not. Just because the sign says "SPEED LIMIT 30" doesn't mean you should drive 30 miles per hour, especially on a night when you should expect children to be out and about.
    •   RCW 46.61.400 tells you not to drive "at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions" and "In every event speed shall be so controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person no matter what the posted speed is."
    •  If you want your neighborhood to have a posted speed of 20 mph, ask your city to consider using the Neighborhood Safe Streets Law in RCW 46.61.415 . They don't have to do an engineering study to lower the speed limit.
    • A car traveling at 30 miles per hour travels about 100 feet in 2.3 seconds, the average reaction time for drivers.

  • If you see a group of kids at or near the side of the road, slow your vehicle to walking speed and give plenty of room. Remember, excited kids will act like excited kids; parents may be overwhelmed.
    • RCW 46.61.245 requires drivers to "exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and...exercise proper precaution upon observing any child..."
    • That Spider-Man mask may make it hard for the child to see you.
    • If they’re using a foot scooter they move faster than walking speed. They’ll come into and out of your view more quickly than you’re expecting.
  • The nose of your car must stop behind the stop line at all intersections, whether you see a pedestrian or not. Never stop ahead of the line.
    •   This refers to intersections with marked crosswalks and/or stop lines.
    • Remember that under RCW 46.61.235 you must stop for pedestrians at both unmarked and marked crosswalks. Every intersection is a legal crossing unless crossing is officially prohibited under RCW 46.61.240 (which is a limited set of circumstances).
  • Be extra patient when letting trick-or-treaters cross the street. It can be a chore to keep a group of excited kids orderly, and a child may drop something while crossing. Stay stopped until the entire group has passed.
  • Treat any neighborhood street with no sidewalks as if you were driving on the sidewalk. The street is this neighborhood's sidewalk.

    Halloween safety tips graphic
  • Treat driveways and alleys like intersections. Before you pull out, stop, look, and look again.
  • Discourage new, inexperienced drivers from driving on Halloween.

Once we get past Halloween, daylight saving time ends Sunday, Nov. 5. We head into the winter months with their darker, shorter days when statistics tell us more drivers hit more pedestrians than at other times of the year. The power to save people’s lives will still be in your hands and under your foot. Great responsibility, indeed.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Maintenance crew partners with Parks Commission to save lifejackets

By Elizabeth Mount

You expect to find life jackets in the water, maybe even on a beach or a dock. But year after year, our crews pick up perfectly usable lifejackets from the side of the road, too. This year, Brandon Harding, one of our assistant maintenance superintendents, was tired of seeing those life jackets go unused.

"We pick up dozens of life jackets that fly out of vehicles and boats being towed down our highways due to not being properly secured and end up as trash on our roadside shoulders," Harding said.

Typically, when belongings are found on the side of the road, we hold on to the items for 30 days before disposing. Harding reached out to Alyssa Smith, the boating education and life jacket loaner station specialist with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, to find out if there was a way to repurpose the life jackets.

The Parks Commission provides loaner life preservers at various locations around the state where boaters and swimmers may not have one available, including public swimming areas and boat launches.

The requirements for life jackets to be eligible for the program are:

  • Free of tears or holes
  • Buckles and/or zippers are attached and working
  • Straps are attached properly
Brandon Harding (left) with members of South County Fire Station 21 show off some of the life jackets Brandon and his team gathered from the sides of highways to donate to programs that loan life jackets out

Harding stored the life jackets that met the condition requirements indoors in a 55-gallon plastic drum with each of the preservers labeled with the location and date they were found. After 30 days if they remained unclaimed, they were eligible to be donated.

"This effort was a pilot program, but we believe it could be a continued success with support from our maintenance crews," Harding said.

Once the barrel was full, Smith was able to set up a drop off with the South County Fire Station 21 in Lynnwood, which partners with the Parks Commission to collect and distribute the life jackets.

"Their dedication to saving lives and sharing life jackets with community members has made them one of our strongest partners statewide," Smith said. "So, we were so glad this initiative might support them in their work."

While we don't love seeing any litter and unsecured loads end up on the side of the highway – besides being an eyesore it's also unsafe – we are thankful that Harding came up with an idea to salvage some of the items and make them useful for people who need them!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

There's nothing simple about replacing I-405 overpass in Renton, starting Nov. 1

By Tom Pearce 

If only repairing roads was as easy as 1, 2, 3. Unfortunately it's usually much more complicated. That's why on November 1-2-3 (and 4-5-6) we have some major closures planned on Interstate 405 in Renton to replace the Lind Avenue overpass, which was damaged in 2022. Those closures are:

  • 11 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, to 4:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 2: All lanes of southbound I-405 with a detour via the SR 167 interchange, Rainier Avenue and Grady Way. Closure is weather-dependent.
  • 11 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, to 4:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 3: All lanes of northbound I-405 with a detour via the I-405 and SR 167 collector/distributor. Closure is weather-dependent.
  • 11 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 6: Southbound I-405 fully closed all weekend with a detour via Talbot Road and Grady Way. This closure will happen unless there are extreme conditions.
During overnight closures Nov. 1 and 2, drivers will need to use the I-405/SR 167 interchange as a detour.

The Nov. 1 and 2 closures will allow our contractor to restripe both directions of the freeway near the Lind Avenue overpass, just west of SR 167. Then, starting the night of Nov. 3, the crews will demolish the north span of the overpass above the I-405 southbound lanes.

The restriping is weather-dependent but not critical to the demolition work. However, the traffic shifts are necessary to rebuild the north span. The traffic shifts will create space for the crews installing the new girders and rebuilding the bridge. In late November/early December we'll have several more overnight I-405 southbound closures to install the new girders. The new Lind Avenue overpass should open in early 2024.

What happened

In June 2022, a backhoe being towed on a trailer struck the overpass, damaging five of the eight girders that support the structure. The damaged girders are not consecutive; there are undamaged girders between damaged ones.

When the backhoe on a trailer struck the Lind bridge, it broke concrete and severed steel cables that strengthen the concrete on five of the eight girders.

Considering the complexity of replacing basically every other girder, the age and condition of the overpass, replacing the north span of the overpass is the most cost-effective way to complete this work.

Bridge strikes happen many times a year across the state. Sometimes there is minor damage that can be repaired without major closures. Other times only one girder on one side of the overpass is damaged, so we can shift traffic away from that side of the bridge and keep the overpass open. We can usually remove the damaged girder and install the new one during overnight closures. With five damaged girders on the Lind Avenue overpass, that simply won't work.

What took so long?

A repair of this size requires several steps:

  • We needed to determine the extent of the damage and what would be required to repair or replace the bridge.
  • We needed to write a contract for the work and put it out for competitive bids.
  • Once we selected a contractor, they needed to get their materials and order the girders.
  • There is no Girders R Us. Every girder is a specific size, which means it needed to be custom-made. This can take several months.

Once all the pieces are in place, we expect the work to go relatively quickly, with the new overpass open in early 2024.

Who’s paying for this?

This is the most common question we hear. When state property is damaged, we work to recover costs from the responsible party, whether it’s a multi-million-dollar bridge or a small piece of guardrail. I can personally attest to this. Several years ago our son slid off a highway in eastern Washington in the winter and damaged a fence (he was fine). As the registered owners of the car, my wife and I got a bill a couple weeks later from WSDOT for about $240 (he paid the bill).

Getting around during the weekend closure

When we have weekend-long closures like this, or even lane reductions, you can take three steps to reduce traffic issues:

  1. Plan ahead: use our mobile app and our Travel Center Map.
  2. Consider alternate routes. In this case, think about using I-90 to I-5 in Seattle.
  3. If you can, adjust your travel schedule to avoid peak hours, likely between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
When we close southbound I-405 for the weekend, drivers will need to use the Talbot Road exit and Grady Way to continue south.

Few things are as simple as 1-2-3. While the overnight closures will affect many people, we expect the biggest challenges will be during the weekend-long southbound closure. Following the steps above can help make it a little easier for you and others who need to travel through this area Nov. 3-6.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Improving the drive: A sneak peek into the future of SR 167

By Julie Moon

Get ready for changes on State Route 167, as we make transformative upgrades to the existing toll system. The SR 167 Corridor Improvements Project began construction the week of October 16 and is scheduled to be complete and open to traffic by December 2025. The project is divided into two smaller parts: the SR 167 Toll Equipment Upgrade and the SR 167, SR 516 to South 277th Street Southbound Auxiliary Lane.

Part 1: SR 167 Toll Equipment Upgrade

In 2008, we opened the first High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in our state, on SR 167, giving drivers a new option to pay for a faster trip when needed. With the existing SR 167 HOT lanes tolling equipment reaching the end of its service life, we plan to update the SR 167 toll system to create consistency for drivers along the I-405/SR 167 corridor. This project will upgrade the original SR 167 toll equipment to be the same as the Interstate 405 toll equipment, resulting in a continuous 50-mile I-405/SR 167 express toll lane system. The long-term vision includes a 50-mile express toll lane system between SR 512 in Puyallup and the I-405/I-5 interchange in Lynnwood.

SR 167 user benefits with the upgraded toll system include:

  • New payment options like pay by mail
  • Destination-based toll pricing
  • Double white buffer lines between the general-purpose lanes and express toll lanes in select areas for increased safety
Part of the SR 167 Corridor Improvements Project will be upgrading tolling systems and infrastructure
to create a more seamless experience for drivers.

Part 2: SR 167, SR 516 to South 277th Street Southbound Auxiliary Lane

We also plan to construct an auxiliary lane on southbound SR 167 between the SR 516 and South 277th Street interchanges in Kent.

Currently, heavy on-ramp and off-ramp volumes at these interchanges cause a bottleneck on SR 167. The future southbound auxiliary lane will help cars merge and switch lanes more easily between these interchanges. It will also boost safety performance and keep traffic flowing smoother in the area.

The SR 167 Corridor Improvements Project is comprised of the SR 167 Toll Equipment Upgrade (shown in green) and the SR 167/SR 516 to South 277th Street Southbound Auxiliary Lane (shown in blue)

What’s happening right now?

People in the SR 167 area will see crews doing preliminary daytime surveying and nighttime soil condition evaluation work. which is expected to last until mid-November. Expect daytime shoulder closures and nighttime ramp and lane closures throughout the SR 167 corridor. Construction work may also produce higher noise levels and vibrations in addition to usual traffic sounds but in general, traffic affects should be minimal.

Know before you go!

The best way to stay up to date is to follow us @WSDOT_Traffic on Twitter and check our real-time Traffic Map to see how things look. People can also subscribe to the weekly Eastside of Lake Washington Transportation newsletter, and download our app.

Anyone with questions about this closure and the project can call the I-405/SR 167 Program voicemail inbox at 425-456-8585 or email us at i405sr167program@wsdot.wa.gov.

Engaging communities for the Highway System Plan

By James Detke

The highway system connects communities and provides access to jobs, schools, services, and the state’s natural wonders. It is important to plan for the future of this system and determine what types of investments are needed to assure that people driving cars, riding in vanpools and buses, transporting goods, walking, bicycling, and rolling can reach their destinations.

Our new 2024 Highway System Plan (HSP) replaces the 2007 version and is a roadmap for preserving, maintaining, improving, and operating state highways for all people using all types of transportation. The plan recommends program funding for preservation, maintenance, and the capacity and operational improvement of the highway system over the next 20 years. The draft Highway System Plan will be open for public comment beginning Nov. 1.

This blog post is the first of five that will highlight the plan’s key findings and the process behind its creation. In the following posts, you will learn about the planning process behind the HSP, how we addressed greenhouse gas emissions, different investment scenarios, and the reasoning behind our funding recommendation to the Washington State Legislature.

The Trent Avenue Bridge is one key piece of the highway system that connects
communities on either side of the Spokane River.

How have we been engaging the community?

Community engagement has been an ongoing process while creating the HSP and we have been engaging communities across our state to learn their priorities and how they use the highway system. Not only is it a legal requirement to engage the public, but it allows us to understand the public’s perspectives and create a plan that meets the changing needs of as many residents as possible.

From the initial planning phases of the HSP update, the project team prioritized public input. Over the course of the plan development, residents contributed feedback through a survey, an online opinion poll, virtual public meetings, scenario workshops, in-person outreach, policy board briefings, and an online open house. While no investment recommendation will satisfy everyone, this robust community engagement process helped the Highway System Plan find a non-partisan funding recommendation.

We designed our outreach to include people who are traditionally unable to participate due to age, disability, income or national origin, which helps to give us a complete picture of highway funding priorities in our state.

A representative state survey asked participants to prioritize a hypothetical annual budget of $3 billion across highway-related budget categories. In conjunction with the survey, we interviewed Advisory Committee members about their funding priorities. The HSP Advisory Committee is comprised of local agencies, advocacy groups representing business and environmental interests, Municipal Planning Organizations, Regional Transportation Planning Organizations, and tribal governments. Together, this feedback allowed us to develop a variety of scenarios that fit the priorities of our residents.

We brought these scenarios to community members who attended our meetings and workshops. Through the virtual public meetings, we introduced attendees to the project and encouraged them to take the online opinion poll. During the scenario workshops, we explored different conceptual funding scenarios and gathered feedback to refine the scenarios down to three funding options.

The HSP team found that some groups were underrepresented in that outreach. To assure that our community engagement incorporated the views of everyone who uses our highway system, we interviewed people with low income, people of color, those with limited English proficiency, and adults aged 18-34. The interviews focused on understanding how people’s day-to-day lives intersect with roads and transportation.

Takeaways from engagement

Some major takeaways from our community engagement include:

  • Across all regions and demographic groups, there is strong support for preservation and maintenance funding.
  • Our residents prefer strategies that increase safety and efficiency for the existing system, while still funding some highway expansion. These strategies include environmental retrofits and improvements to safety, public transportation, active transportation, and transportation operations.
  • There is a need to address equity by increasing travel choices, improving access to affordable housing, and creating economic opportunities from highway investments for overburdened and vulnerable communities.
  • Residents believe it is important to address climate change and resilience.
  • Freight is critical to our transportation system.

The draft Highway System Plan releases Nov. 1

The draft Highway System Plan will be open for public comment beginning Nov. 1. Once updated, the HSP website will have information about the HSP, the draft plan for your review, and an online open house. There will also be a link to join the virtual public meeting from 2 to 3 p.m. on Nov. 30 where you can learn more and provide direct feedback on the plan. The public comment period is available through 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18. We look forward to hearing from you - your feedback helps us make recommendations that best serve the diverse communities affected by transportation decisions.

Join us next week for our blog post about how we used financially constrained planning for the Highway System Plan.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Breaking ground and building a better transportation system

By Allie Breyer

Last month, in collaboration with Sound Transit, the City of Kirkland, design-builder Graham Contracting Ltd., and many regional partners, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the I-405/NE 85th St Interchange and Inline BRT Station Project at the Lee Johnson car dealership on Northeast 85th Street near Interstate 405 in Kirkland. This event also marked the beginning of construction for Sound Transit’s Stride BRT system on I-405.

Breaking ground on this project marks a significant step forward in enhancing public transportation, mobility, and connectivity for everyone in Kirkland and along the I-405 corridor.

Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar speaks about the benefits of the 85th Interchange Project and
Bus Rapid Transit for Kirkland and other communities

What's this project all about?

We are working to reconstruct and improve the I-405/Northeast 85th Street interchange. This project's key innovation is adding a new middle level, with a multimodal hub, to the interchange.

In this hub, transit riders will benefit from a brand-new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station connecting to local and regional transit. Pedestrians and bicyclists will enjoy wider sidewalks on Northeast 85th Street and improved connectivity to BRT and the broader regional transit network. Carpoolers and express toll lane (ETL) users will have the convenience of direct access ramps to the I-405 ETL system, streamlining their commute.

A rendering of the new interchange design in Kirkland

Why are we so excited about this project?

Well, let's dive into why this project matters and how we’re working with our partners to improve your daily commute, support your community, protect our natural resources, and make our region more accessible and connected.

1. Improving your daily commute

BRT will offer faster and more reliable bus service, reducing travel times by up to 20 minutes on popular routes. Whether traveling from Bellevue to Burien or Lynnwood to Bellevue, your journey will be significantly quicker.

But that's not all – this project includes building direct access ramps to and from the ETL system on I-405. These ramps will eliminate maneuvering across general purpose lanes to access the ETL. The best part? You can use the ETLs when you need them, adding more options and convenience for your daily commute.

2. Supporting the Kirkland community

This project is more than just building infrastructure; this project supports the City of Kirkland’s larger vision for a safer, healthier, and more vibrant community.

As Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet said during the ceremony, "In the coming years, this neighborhood surrounding the BRT station will blossom with opportunities for affordable housing, park amenities, high tech and family-wage jobs, commercial and retail services and new school capacity. Kirkland is all in on BRT and the amazing interchange that will make it all possible. We will continue to be an ally and advocate in bringing this generational mobility infrastructure to life."

Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet (center) discusses the 85th Interchange Project
with our agency's David Gerla and Diana Giraldo

3. Working towards a more sustainable future

Environmental stewardship and sustainability are central to the work our agency does. In designing and building this project, we are supporting a transportation system that helps our climate and promotes healthier communities.

  • More sustainable transportation options: The new NE 85th Street Interchange will be a multimodal hub, designed so that carpooling and using public transportation will be more convenient and efficient than driving alone. More folks sharing rides or the bus means fewer cars on the road and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Removing fish barriers: We will also be removing and correcting a fish barrier to help with salmon and steelhead recovery and to meet our tribal treaty obligations. Fixing fish barriers is essential for preserving ecological balance, sustaining local economies, respecting cultural traditions of local tribes, creating jobs, and promoting the long-term health and resilience of our state.
  • Replanting native, adaptive plants and trees: While some tree removal is necessary during construction, we aim to minimize it as much as we can. Many trees we remove will be repurposed for stream habitat restoration. At the end of construction, we will replant more trees than were removed, focusing on native species to improve the environment and control non-native plants.

4. Powered by partnerships

This project exemplifies what we can achieve when we work together. As Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar said during his groundbreaking remarks, Sound Transit, the City of Kirkland, and King County -- as well as countless businesses, local organizations, and community members – partnered with us to get where we are today.

We look forward to continuing collaborating to create a transportation system that works for all, regardless of how they choose to travel.

Elected officials and members of partner agencies across the I-405 corridor
celebrate the start of construction.

What work is happening now?

If you live, work, or drive through Kirkland, you may see construction crews working in and nearby the project area.

This fall, work includes installing signs, placing erosion control (orange fencing, straw), conducting field surveys (potholing, geotechnical borings), removing vegetation and trees, installing drainage, and diverting a stream for stream restoration work.

Construction work will pick up over the next two years. We expect to complete most of this project by winter of 2026.

How can I stay informed?

For more information, please visit our project webpage. You can also sign up for project email updates by emailing us at i405sr167program@wsdot.wa.gov. That's also a good email to send us any questions you may have about the project. Or you can call us at 425-224-2423.

We look forward to delivering a project that benefits our community for generations to come.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Ben Reid the right man at the right place at the right time at NCW Fair

By Sebastian Moraga

No matter the situation, no matter how stressful, no matter how much of a fuss people insist on making over them, they just want to show up, get it done and get on with the rest of the day. And if the day does not go as planned, they are prepared for that, too.

Ben Reid, a highway maintenance worker from Waterville area, is one of those people. Not interested in getting the credit, just interested in a good outcome. But, well, we couldn’t help but give Ben some credit.

Last month at his hometown’s annual North Central Washington District Fair, Ben stood near the livestock sale when he heard the commotion. A man had fallen out of the stands and lay on the ground unresponsive.

Relying on his CPR/First Aid certification, Ben made his way toward the man and began applying cardiopulmonary resuscitation compressions on the man’s chest. After 28 compressions, the man regained consciousness.

The American Red Cross’ website states that CPR can double or triple a person’s chances for survival if bystanders take action.

Like Ben did. True to his nature, Ben refused to take a bow.

“There were three people who were all a part of it,” he said.

Ben Reid (third from right in sunglasses) was recently honored by his co-workers for his life-saving efforts administering CPR to an injured man at a local fair.

Days later, while Ben worked as part of a crew near Orondo, Terry Berends, assistant regional administrator in our Wenatchee office, showed up with a crew of his own, but this crew carried cameras, and a special token of recognition for Ben’s heroic actions.

The token, a gold-colored coin called the Safety Challenge Coin, rewards people for their lifesaving actions, and their commitment to safety.

“It was great to see (that) Ben used first aid training he received at WSDOT to save a man's life,” said Chris Keifenheim, our North Central Region administrator, said. “Ben's actions were heroic and admirable.”

Jim McWiggins, safety manager in our Wenatchee area, called Ben’s actions “a great example” of our commitment to communities both on and off the highways.

North Central Region assistant administrator Terry Berends (right) shakes Ben Reid’s hand after awarding him a Safety Challenge Coin after Scott saved a man’s life at the North Central Washington Fair

After saving a man’s life, Ben stuck around the fair. He had come for the livestock sale, and although the day had not gone as planned, he was prepared.

He bought a rabbit and a hog from a local 4-H club and went home.

Some people just like to get the job done.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

It's not an Appetite for Destruction, just work to stay ahead of the November Rain

By Amy Moreno

Any hope for an extended summer washed away when it started storming in September and now it's time to grab your flannel shirts and let that fall feeling set in. It seems like it went from shorts to sweater weather in a day. But nothing lasts forever, right? It sort of reminds me of that old Guns N' Roses song. … you know. … the one about the rain? It's a love song and I can almost hear Axl Rose in front of the piano pouring out his heart but maybe singing about road construction? "When we look into your eyes" as you drive down the highways we worked on this summer "we can see a love restrained" (Do you feel the same?)

It probably seems "we've been through this such a long, long time" because it was a busy summer for construction. I say "seems" because we're asking for a little "Patience" and hoping "your hearts can change." This autumn brings the start of two major projects on the state's busiest freeways and a major milestone for another long-term project.

I-405 Lind Avenue

"If you could heal a broken heart bridge, wouldn't time be out to charm you?" This project will replace a bridge that was damaged last year when a truck hauling a backhoe ripped chunks out of Lind Avenue overcrossing Interstate 405 in Renton. Crews will need a weekend-long full closure of southbound I-405 and 6-to-8 overnight closures to replace the bridge. Drivers should also expect multiple lane reductions on southbound and northbound I-405 into early next year. We're still finalizing the dates but it will be in the next couple months so stay tuned.

Work to replace the damaged Lind Avenue overpass over I-405 in Renton will happen in the next couple months, and will include a full weekend closure of southbound I-405.

I-5 Seneca Mobility

"We know it's hard to keep an open heart" after more than two years of construction, but this mobility project on northbound Interstate 5 near Seneca Street in Seattle is moving into its final stages. The third through lane opened in July and added immediate capacity to the road. If the weather cooperates, we will turn on ramp meters in late October. You may have already noticed the signal lights over the freeway and at the Cherry Street on-ramp. Those meters will change how traffic merges from Interstate 90 and SODO to northbound I-5 in the heart of downtown. New electronic signs will be activated soon as well.

A third through lane on I-5 near Seneca Street in Seattle was added this summer and additional work
on this project will happen in late October.

I-5 Duwamish to Lucile

This project will be another installment of our "Revive I-5" work. "We could take some time to lay it on the line" (by "it" we mean expansion joints on Military Road, which is what we think Axl meant too. …maybe), so contractors will begin work between Lucile Street and the Duwamish River. The project will involve grinding down spots in the concrete to eliminate ruts and replacing some expansion joints. The work will take place on both northbound and southbound I-5 with lane reductions and some ramp closures.

Work for this project will start Oct. 9 with overnight lane reductions on southbound I-5 between South Forest Street and Albro. The work will take place Monday through Thursday nights beginning at 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. the next morning. In addition, the South Columbian Way to southbound I-5 and southbound Albro off-ramp will close during this work.

Revive I-5 returns this month with highway repair work happening in south Seattle.

This project is especially important because "nothing lasts forever" so we have to do preservation work on I-5. And if you really do "need some time on your own" away from our love work; biking and transit are good options. It may or may not be "Paradise City" where you live but "November Rain" is coming and we're committed to repairing, preserving and improving roads as best we can.