Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Look up! Not a bird, not a plane – it’s a HAWK signal – a hero in crosswalk safety!

By Sarah Hannon-Nein

In a nod to the winged heroes of our imagination, akin to Batman's iconic bat signal piercing the night sky, a unique hero has surfaced.

The HAWK signal is designed to increase safety at crosswalks by controlling traffic flow
and providing clear visual signals for both drivers and pedestrians.

Armed with flashing lights and the authority to direct traffic, Washington State Department of Transportation with their contractor, Thompson Bros. Excavating, proudly unveils the successful installation of a HAWK Signal on State Route 500 (also known as Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard), at Northeast 166th Avenue.

Contractor crews successfully installed a HAWK (High intensity Activated crossWalK)
pedestrian signal across SR 500 at Northeast 166th Avenue. 

What is a HAWK signal?

A HAWK (High intensity Activated crossWalK) signal is an effective visual system designed to grab drivers’ attention and make it safer for people to cross the road on foot or on wheels. It also makes traffic flow smoother for drivers. Unlike traditional traffic signals, a HAWK signal is activated and operates only when a pedestrian pushes the crossing button. When there are no pedestrians, vehicles move without interruption.

When a person presses the button on the HAWK signal, it will first turn yellow, then red, and finally to flashing red. Drivers should treat these lights just like any other traffic signal. Yellow means prepare to stop, red means stop. When the signal is flashing red, drivers can drive through the crossing area only if it is completely safe to do so without posing any risk to pedestrians.

A pedestrian push button allows pedestrians to activate the signal and provides reassurance they will receive a crossing indication soon.

Pedestrians can activate the HAWK signal by pushing the button at either end of the crossing. The lights on the HAWK signal will indicate when it is safe to cross. Even with the HAWK signal, it is still important for pedestrians to stay focused and be cautious of potential conflicts with vehicles. Drivers making right or left turns across the crosswalk might not always notice pedestrians.

As part of the project, our crews have also constructed a new shared-use path and a marked crossing. This path and crossing make it safer for pedestrians traveling to Pioneer Elementary School and Frontier Middle School from the neighborhoods south of SR 500. Additionally, crews have completed permanent roadway striping to give drivers visible and reflective lane guidance. The new striping means the crossing will be safer for drivers and pedestrians, especially during nighttime driving.

Crews constructed a marked crossing as part of the project, making pedestrian access safer from the neighborhoods south of SR 500 to Pioneer Elementary School and Frontier Middle School on the
north side of the highway.

Thanks to these improvements, funded by the Safe Routes to Schools Program, students walking, biking or using mobility devices to travel to school in the Orchards neighborhood now have a safer path beneath their feet and wheels.

Keep your eyes on the horizon, as the next HAWK signal is scheduled to appear along SR 503/Northeast 117th Avenue, near Prairie High School, later this year.

As Like the iconic “bat signal,” the HAWK signal alerts drivers to pedestrians entering the road. When this signal is activated, slow down and be ready to stop at the crosswalk. Just as Batman protects Gotham, drivers can be heroes too by doing their part to ensure everyone makes it home safely at the end of the day.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Thinking globally, acting locally: South Korean delegation visits us

By Sean Quinn

While we may be an ocean apart, Washington state and South Korea have a lot more in common than you may think. We both have many miles of bike lanes, pedestrian trails, tunneled highways, toll roads, and yes, even roundabouts. We also both have transportation agencies whose goal is to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation options to all. In an effort to foster international collaboration and share best practices in transportation management, we were honored when a delegation from South Korea reached out and asked us to host transportation officials at our Transportation Management Center (TMC) in Shoreline Monday, Jan. 8.

A delegation of 13 South Korean officials from their Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Korea Expressway Corporation visited our Transportation Management Center in
Shoreline earlier this year.

In December 2023, a senior manager from the Korea Expressway Corporation, a government-run corporation responsible for South Korea’s toll roads and expressways, contacted us to learn more about the work we do. The corporation, along with the country’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport wanted to learn more about our highways and tunnels to help improve their own underground highway system, all while creating a stronger relationship with an international partner. We said yes to that opportunity, and the arrangements were made.

Tour day

On Monday, Jan. 8, 13 South Korean delegates arrived in Seattle in the afternoon and drove to Shoreline to tour one of our TMCs. Our TMCs are the nerve centers of our highway monitoring and operations, staffed with engineers, technicians, Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) teams, and additional highway management personnel. They’re staffed 24/7, 365 days a year, with people monitoring traffic, directing and supporting incident response, and checking tunnel and tolling operations, to keep our roads clear and traffic flowing. They’re a critical component of coordinated responses to emergencies anywhere in the state.

ITS Operations Engineer David Baker and SR 99 Tunnel ITS Lead Lauren Asher show delegates from the South Korea Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Korea Expressway Corporation how tunnel operations are handled remotely from the TMC Control Room.

During the tour, the delegates watched a presentation from our TMC and tolling staff, learning more about our road systems, how we monitor the highways in our region and how we work to keep traffic flowing smoothly and safely. Our tolling team also talked about how our electronic tolling system works.

TMC Manager Sayuri Koyamatsu (picture to the left) and Toll Division Lane Systems Operations Engineer James Carothers (right) give presentations to the Korean delegation about daily operations from inside the TMC and Emergency Operations Center. The presentations slides
were translated into Korean.

The delegation next joined staff inside the TMC’s Control Room, the heart and soul of the facility. They gazed in awe at the hundreds of live traffic cameras shown on displays above them and the many workstations we have. Each workstation serves an important purpose, such as public information (where Public Information Officers sit); our radio operator, who handles communications to our crews in the field; and our tunnels operators, who make sure everything is running smoothly in our tunnels, such as the State Route 99 Tunnel, Interstate 5 under the Seattle Convention Center and the I-90 Mount Baker Tunnel and Mercer Island Lid.

ITS Operations Engineer David Baker and SR 99 Tunnel ITS Lead Lauren Asher answer
questions about the SR 99 tunnel from the Korean delegation

The Korean delegation had many questions for our staff from the region’s TMC, toll division and tunnel maintenance team. They asked about the challenges of the day-to-day operation of the SR 99 tunnel, including fire-mitigation measures and groundwater seepage challenges inside of it. They also asked about our traffic management and control strategies, such as our use of ramp meters and digital signage and how tolling collection is done at each end of the tunnel.

Toll Division Lane Systems Operations Manager Michael Severance exchanges gifts with Director General Kim Baesung from South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport

Looking ahead

A key objective of the tour was to facilitate a meaningful exchange of knowledge and expertise between transportation officials from the two nations, and that was certainly met. The cultural exchange between the delegation and our staff fostered a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect. Diplomatic initiatives and delegation visits like this go beyond the immediate goal of knowledge exchange and lay the foundation for long-term partnerships and collaborations.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Working through the January blues by reaching a fish passage job milestone in Grays Harbor County

By Angela Cochran

As January, the Monday of months, comes to a close, we are making big progress on a fish barrier removal project in Grays Harbor County. On Jan. 2, our contractor Ceccanti, Inc., set girders on the first of nine bridges we are building to correct barriers to fish at four locations. All are located under US 12 and State Route 8. A couple of weeks later, we set the girders at the second location near Elma.

There’s a lot of work required before we reach that point. Placing the girders is literally a big job. After that’s complete, we start the process towards completing bridge construction.

Earlier this month, crews set girders on the first two bridges located west of Elma.

Coming soon: Numerous westbound rolling slowdowns on US 12 near Montesano

Next up, we will set girders on the first of three bridges near Montesano at Camp Creek. This work requires daytime rolling slowdowns with traffic holds of 15 minutes in the westbound lane of US 12.

Vehicles work in tandem to slowly bring traffic to a stop. We know it’s an inconvenience but it’s a strategy to get the job done while trying to maintain traffic access. Unfortunately, we sometimes see impatient people drive around the trucks. This is incredibly dangerous. Not only for the workers down the highway, but for anyone inside the vehicle that goes around the stopped vehicles.

During the rolling slowdowns, crews use a crane to remove girders from a truck in the westbound lane. A total of seven girders are scheduled to be set the week of Feb. 5. Work will begin at 7 a.m. and will be completed in one day. We aren’t sure of the exact date yet but will notify everyone in advance on our app and statewide travel map.

Building something that keeps people, fish moving

We are building bridges for each direction of the divided highways. The work is taking place at three locations on US 12 and one on SR 8. The fifth location on SR 8 east of McCleary doesn’t have a bridge. Instead, we’ll remove barriers to fish there by building a large concrete culvert.  It is like a bridge, but it has four sides. The bottom is buried under the streambed so fish can easily pass through it. The pieces are built elsewhere and brought in on a semi-truck. Crews will install half of it this year. The other half will be built next year when the work zone is moved to the opposite side of the highway. This approach helps balance the needs of construction with keeping people moving.

Example of a large concrete culvert that allows fish to swim through more easily than traditional culverts which were built just to move water under highways.

How it all began

Work started on the project in June 2023 on US 12 when crews set up lighting in the work zones. After all three locations were ready, crews began building a lane that crosses over the median to keep one lane in each direction open around the work zones. This work took place throughout the summer. In the fall, crews built a crossover lane at each of the two locations on SR 8 near McCleary.

We built a lane crossing over the median at each work zone to keep one lane
in each direction open for travel throughout the project.

How the bridges are built

After completing the crossover lane, work began at each location to build bridge foundations. Crews drilled shafts into the ground to help distribute the load and provide stability for the bridge. Crews then installed the piers on the shafts to get ready for girder placement. Girders make up the backbone of the bridge and support the bridge deck or driving surface.

Crews drill large holes into the ground and fill with rebar and concrete to create
the shafts or large underground support columns.

Once the girders are placed for each bridge, crews will rebuild the lanes approaching the bridges. Most of this work will take place in the spring when the asphalt is available. We also need consistently warmer weather. Asphalt requires temperatures above 50 degrees and fairly dry conditions to create a long-lasting driving surface.

Working in the stream

In summer 2024 and 2025, crews will perform any work that has to take place in the water. There is a limited time frame they are allowed to do this that is determined by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. We call it a “fish window.” This is when working in the water will be the least disruptive to aquatic life. The fish window is not the same at every fish passage job but is usually in mid to late summer. In this case, the fish window is from July 16 to Sept. 30. Because we are building at least two bridges at each location, two summers are needed to complete the work in the water.

An example of de-fishing. Crews remove aquatic life from a stream at
Wildcat Creek for a project several years ago.

Before working in the water, a barrier is placed around the area within the stream where the work will take place. Then crews remove aquatic life within the barrier and document the species and quantity. We call this process “de-fishing”. The marine life is then moved to a safe spot outside of the barrier. Once the area has been de-fished, crews are able to work in the water to build the embankment and restore the streambed that was previously routed under the road in a large pipe or culvert.

Traffic shift ahead

After work in the water is complete, crews will reconfigure the crossover lanes to allow travelers to shift to the opposite side of the road. Then crews do the same work that happened over the past year on the other side. They will build new bridges at four locations and install the other half of the structure at the fifth location. Once work in the water on the other side of the highway is complete, crews will start work to move the travel lanes back to their original location. Other work includes landscaping and planting around the streams. We use plants that hold soil in place. Plants contribute to a healthy environment and provide food to the aquatic life in the stream. The project is scheduled to be complete in late 2025.

Big jobs take time

We have learned a lot about correcting barriers to fish. While we’ve been doing this work since the 1990s, we sped up the process after the 2013 federal injunction. We are now working on multiple locations at the same time when it makes sense. A lot of work goes into planning the work at these locations. This process can take years to complete because we are looking at the best way to balance the needs of construction with the need of travelers. We work closely with Tribes, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and local jurisdictions. You may have seen fish projects on other highways that were completed in a shorter time period. Those projects generally require full closures of the road for weeks at a time. This can be done where there are detour routes available that can accommodate all users of the road. We also look at traffic volumes, stream characteristics, flood zones, environmental impacts such as endangered species, and overall project cost, including right-of-way needs.

In this case, we have multiple work zones under two divided highways with substantial traffic volumes. We determined the best course of action to limit the effects on travelers was to build crossover lanes. This extends the overall project timeline but keeps people moving while construction is happening simultaneously.

Project benefits

We know this is at the very least inconvenient. We live and work in these areas, too. If we could build these projects faster and without affecting traffic, we definitely would. But this work has to be done. Not only do we have to comply with the injunction requirements, we are seeing the ecosystem recover in real time. Fish are returning to areas of streams they couldn’t get to before the barriers were corrected. These projects aren’t just for the fish. They benefit people as well, providing a healthier environment, food and even jobs.

Construction opens habitat for fish.

We need your help to keep our crews safe while we complete these projects as quickly as possible. Please plan ahead and slow down when traveling in the work zones. You can get the latest information about construction projects in Grays Harbor County by signing up for email updates.

All this work is being repeated in so many other areas right now. Check out more on our efforts to comply with the federal court injunction (PDF 11.5MB).

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Weekend-long closures coming to southbound SR 529, starting Jan. 19

UPDATE 1:52 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29
Work on the SR 529 bridge project has been postponed. We will get word out when new dates have been set.


By Tom Pearce

Maintenance and preservation are a big part of what we do at our agency. Among other tasks, we inspect more than 3,900 bridges – and when I say bridges, that includes overpasses – in the state at least once every two years. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of poking around, particularly in some tight spaces on some of those structures.

Last year during a routine inspection of the 97-year-old southbound State Route 529 Steamboat Slough Bridge just south of Marysville, our crews found about a dozen worn gusset plates, which connect steel beams. The bridge remains safe to use, but we reduced the speed limit to 25 mph last summer to lessen vibrations and wear.

This is one of the plates that will be replaced on the southbound SR 529 Steamboat Slough Bridge.

It’s taken time to hire a contractor and order replacement parts, but we’re ready to start that work now. In order to replace these worn plates, we’ll need a few weekend-long southbound SR 529 closures, the first of which begins at 11 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2. Southbound SR 529 will reopen at 5 a.m. Monday, Feb. 5. We’ll repeat the closures the weekends of Feb. 10-11 and 24-25, depending on weather.

During the weekend-long closures, people traveling from Marysville to Everett will need to use southbound Interstate 5. People still can get to the west side of SR 529 from northbound SR 529.

Why a full southbound closure?

We need to close the southbound SR 529 lanes because we need the bridge to be still as we remove the old plates and install the new ones. As you can imagine, any traffic on the bridge would create vibrations, which isn’t ideal when you remove a piece that connects the beams.

Once this work is complete, we should be able to return southbound SR 529 to its regular 55 mph speed limit.

Regular bridge inspections

While we check our bridges at least every two years, sometimes our inspectors see things that require more frequent inspections. Our bridge crews have checked the Steamboat Slough Bridge about every six months since 2022. This past summer, they determined we need to replace the plates, which were part of the original structure.

The southbound SR 529 Steamboat Slough Bridge, built in 1927

A little history

The southbound SR 529 Steamboat Slough Bridge is part of the original highway across the Snohomish River delta between Everett and Marysville. Opened in 1927 as part of US 99, the highway had one lane in each direction. The structure is a swing bridge, meaning it can rotate to open a channel for boats to continue upriver. For comparison, the SR 529 Snohomish River bridges have a lift span that raises a section allowing boats to pass.

In 1954, a separate road for US 99 northbound lanes opened, so the original road became southbound only. When US 99 was decommissioned in 1971, the road became part of the state system and was renamed SR 529.

More work on SR 529

The southbound Steamboat Slough work is part of a larger preservation project that also involves the northbound Steamboat Slough Bridge and the SR 529 twin bridges over the Snohomish River.

A four-month closure of the northbound SR 529 Snohomish River Bridge is the biggie for this project. Before we close the bridge this spring, our contractor crews will build a crossover between the northbound and southbound lanes north of the bridge. When the closure begins, the southbound SR 529 Snohomish River Bridge will be reduced to one lane in each direction. After crossing the bridge, northbound traffic will use the crossover to return to the northbound lanes. Our contractor is planning to operate a shuttle to move cyclists and pedestrians between Everett and Marysville.

In addition to the southbound Steamboat Slough Bridge closures, the northbound bridge also will have a couple of multi-day closures. During these, northbound traffic will detour via I-5.

With so much work to complete, this project will continue into 2025. We expect some challenges with traffic, but if you plan ahead and use an alternative, such as I-5, that will help those who need to use SR 529. Thanks for your patience!