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.