Thursday, April 18, 2024

Road Warrior trucks help keep our crews safe – but we need your help too

By Elizabeth Mount

A road maintenance equipment yard at night. A yellow tractor loader on the left, two damaged truck mounted attenuators in the center and a green tractor on the right.
Two damaged Road Warriors are next to each other in the maintenance yard after
back-to-back work zone collisions on I-5 last year

Nick Bumgarner uses a lot of tools and experience when planning to keep everyone safe during roadwork. One of the most important – and most impressively named – is the Road Warrior.

Nick is our night crew supervisor in Mount Vernon and has worked with us for 6 years. He knows work zone dangers all too well: In the last year his crew experienced four work zone collisions – two on consecutive nights. Before those four collisions, Nick says since he had been in Mount Vernon there hadn't been any crashes – so it was a frightening series of wake-up calls for the entire crew.

Thankfully no one was seriously injured in the crashes, in large part due to the Road Warriors on the scene. But we can't rely on this protection – we also need drivers to do their part to help keep our crews safe.

So, what is a Road Warrior?

A yellow and black striped attenuator, or shock absorber, mounted on the back of a big road construction truck is the focus of the image. A maintenance warehouse with two garage doors is in the background. Orange barrels and other road equipment is seen in the back of the truck.
A Road Warrior is one of the key pieces of equipment our crews rely on to protect them in work zones, the yellow section on the end of the truck absorbs crash impact and protects crews up ahead.

It's not a worker – though our crews certainly face tough challenges. A Road Warrior is a piece of equipment that helps protect our workers when a vehicle doesn't move over and crashes into a work zone.

Officially called a truck-mounted attenuator, a Road Warrior is a big truck with a large, accordion-like shock absorber on the back. When someone crashes into a Road Warrior, the attenuator absorbs the energy from the crash, lessening the impact and protecting the crews up ahead.

Most work zones have two Road Warriors – one that sets up and takes down cones and barrels and is the last line of defense for our crew doing the work, and a second Road Warrior to protect the first one and warn drivers. Both Road Warriors play a vital role in protecting our workers. If a vehicle hits the Road Warrior, typically the damage and injuries are less severe.

Nick's crew is thankful his team had their Road Warrior out on the nights their work zone was crashed into. Without that piece of equipment who knows what would have happened to our workers?

Four crashes, one crew

A damaged attenuator is shown. The metal bars on the outside of the attenuator are crumbled out and the red and white striped warning sign on the back is clearly damaged as well.
The damage to a Road Warrior from one of the collisions was severe. Thankfully, the attenuator did its job by protecting our crew from being seriously injured. 

Traffic control plans, including advanced warning signs and flashing lights, were in place for each of the four crashes Nick's crew experienced on Interstate 5 last fall and winter. But no plan eliminates all danger – especially with the concerning and erratic driver behavior we've seen in recent years.

In the first crash a driver who said they were falling sleep slammed into the Road Warrior protecting crews clearing drains with a vactor truck, which is essentially a big vacuum.

In the second – the very next night – a driver was on their phone and distracted as they approached the work zone, again striking the Road Warrior as crews finished up work from the evening before.

In the third incident, Nick's crew was sweeping debris and dirt from the median when an erratic driver barreled through the work zone, collided with one of the attenuators and then fled the scene. Washington State Patrol was unable to locate the driver.

The fourth crash, just a few months ago, was while the crew was doing routine maintenance work along the interstate. A driver struck one of the Road Warriors and then kept on driving, though they were later stopped by Washington State Patrol.

In each case the crew had all the required markers, signs and flashing lights giving drivers advanced notice of a crew up ahead. The traffic control plan was reviewed after every crash for any gaps – but each time the review found that every part of the meticulous safety plan had been followed.

The crew was understandably rattled after each crash but they also credit the Road Warrior with saving their lives and preventing serious injuries.

We need your help

Nick has a wife and a young son. Our crews all have families they want to get home to at the end of the day.

Our work zone traffic control plans start with us and end with you – and even Road Warriors can't protect everyone.

Nick's crew doesn't need any more crashes to deal with, they'd rather focus on repairing the road and ensuring everyone makes it home safe at the end of the day. They need your help to do that.

Whenever you're approaching a work zone or see orange cones and vests, we ask you to slow down, stay calm, pay attention and be kind.

Please do your part to keep the road safe; it's a matter of life and death.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Meet Ashley Jackson: mom, wife, friend, traffic control supervisor

By Elizabeth Mount

Ashley Jackson has a message for drivers:

Get off your phones while driving.

Don't drink and drive.

And, slow down and pay attention in work zones.

A group of people wearing safety gear, like reflective coats, pants and hard hats, pose in front of electronic message boards in a parking lot. The photo was taken at night and the ground is wet indicating it was raining. The reader boards say, "do not pass" and "slow vehicle ahead."
Ashley Jackson and her team pose in front of variable message signs before performing rolling slowdowns on Interstate 405 in December. Courtesy of Ashley Jackson

Meet Ashley

Ashley used to be a certified nursing assistant. She says her schedule didn't allow for time off and the pay wasn't the best. She sought out an opportunity where she could have a more manageable work-life balance.

She obtained her flagger's card, several other certifications, and after several years of hard work she had enough experience to become a traffic control supervisor. In this role she will get contracted to set up traffic control for WSDOT on state highway projects.

Ashley says being a woman in a male-dominated field has been challenging. She feels like she needs to prove she can do the work. But a few male coworkers who want to see Ashley succeed go out of their way to make sure she is learning how to do different aspects of the job. She enjoys the work she does, in part because she loves being outside and doesn't mind getting dirty.

Ashley's not trying to ruin your day

Ashley creates traffic control plans based on the road size, closure length and traffic flow. For example, she developed a traffic control plan for the Barnes Creek fish passage project. The detour was large. Setting up a detour route starts with a lot of research and looking at maps to decide which roads can accommodate the traffic in the area. She drives the route several times, checking the traffic and making sure the roads can handle the extra vehicles. After that, she can put up signs, but she still needs to pay attention to the detour and adjust it as needed. This is just one facet of her day as a traffic control supervisor.

Traffic control doesn't eliminate the risk to our crews. Ashley says in her experience, the choke point where vehicles are finally forced to merge is the most common place for collisions. She wishes people would have more patience and realize road crews aren't trying to ruin anyone's day.

Ashley is in the center of a photo posing with her son on the left and husband on the right. They are at a Monster Jam event and a green and black monster truck is seen in the background.
Ashley Jackson poses with her husband and son. Courtesy of Ashley Jackson

Ashley's plan can't stop distracted drivers

Not too long ago, Ashley and her team were on State Route 18 working in the right lane. They had set up everything necessary to take a lane – signs, support trucks, truck mounted attenuators, etc. But, a driver, who had been texting, ignored all the signs to move to the left lane and was forced to change lanes at the last second. That didn't work, and the vehicle hit another car and one of the attenuators protecting Ashley and her team.

Just as in Ashley's example, distracted driving is one of the top reasons work zone collisions happen. Ashley says travelers have become numb to work zone signs. But each of those signs isn't just a warning to drivers about upcoming lane closures – it's also a reminder that fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends will be working on the road and are vulnerable if somebody drives into their work zone.

Ashley and her colleagues all have families they want to get home to. Specifically, Ashley has a young son and a husband at home. For her to get home to them, safety needs to be a top priority for everyone using our roads.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Applications are being accepted for FREE overnight high school transportation camps this summer

By Lisa Walzl

Are you a high school student curious about how we decide where highways go, what we're doing to help the earth by reducing our carbon footprint or how we plan for the future of transportation while keeping people and goods moving? Ever just wanted to get a behind the scenes tour of a bridge or other parts of our state transportation system? Know a teenager who does?

If so, we have a summer camp experience for you. We're once again offering high school students a chance to spend a week exploring the transportation field with statewide experts, agency leaders and university professors at our Washington Transportation Camp 2024 hosted by PacTrans and WSDOT.

Photo of students touring the WSDOT Transportation Management Center in Shoreline
Students touring the WSDOT Transportation Management Center in Shoreline

We're offering two free camps this summer, both of which include staying overnight at a state university. One is a five-day camp at Washington State University in Pullman from July 21-26. The second is a five-day camp at the University of Washington in Seattle from Aug. 4-9. Students will stay on campus in university dormitories during the camp. All lodging and meals are covered by sponsors so there are no costs to the students.

The priority deadline to apply for both camps is April 28. Camps are limited to 20 students. To be considered, applicants must be entering 10th, 11th or 12th grade at a Washington state school for the fall 2024 semester and be able to attend the entire session. You don't need previous experience in engineering or transportation – but curiosity is a must!

To learn more about these programs and to apply, visit this link for the camp website.

Photo of students working with a robotic car at the Washington State University camp
Students working with a robotic car at the Washington State University camp

Both camps offer students the chance to:

  • Take field trips with professionals to transportation facilities like the Northwest Region Transportation Management Center to gain insight into their inner workings.
  • Showcase your knowledge in collaborative group projects.
  • Make new friends and experience life on a college campus.
  • Explore the potential for a future career in transportation—whether it's in engineering, planning, or beyond.

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, participants will have 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. And some pretty good stories to share with friends and family about the unique experience you had over the summer.

We hope to see you there!

Friday, April 12, 2024

Nighttime road crews recall multiple work zone crashes

April Leigh

When the sun goes down and the evening commute wraps up, Joy Draper and his overnight maintenance crew get to work. Most nights you can find them fixing guardrail or cleaning drains on state highways in Pierce and Thurston counties.

The nighttime maintenance crew in Lakewood working on southbound I-5 in Tacoma

There are 15 people on Joy's crew. They are parents, children, grandparents, friends, neighbors and community members. Each one takes pride in their work and knows how important it is to keep our roads in good working order for all travelers. They deserve to go home to their families at the end of their shift. This team is like a family, and they look out for one another, especially in work zones.

But they worry, and for good reason.

We're seeing more speeding and erratic driving behavior in work zones– which puts everyone at risk.

The number of fatal crashes in work zones doubled in 2023 when compared to 2022. This is even more alarming because the overall number of work zone crashes decreased even while fatal crashes increased. This trend is deeply concerning.

Joy and his crew know this. They've experienced work zone crashes and worry the next one could be fatal.

A car and one of our vehicles after a driver crashed through a work zone on southbound I-5

Four years ago, Richard Burnham, a 60-year-old maintenance veteran on the crew, was in an early warning truck, which signals to drivers that there is work ahead. That's when his vehicle was hit at 60 mph by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel on southbound I-5 in Lacey. Burnham said the collision caused him shoulder, neck and back pain that had him in physical therapy and doctor's appointments for months. Physically, it took him a full year to recover from the collision. He also suffered post traumatic stress from the crash – and tensed up every time a vehicle got close to him.

In 2023, he was hit two more times in a work zone while inside a truck. Another crew member, Robert Rauch, was also hit twice the same year. In both collisions Rauch was inside a vehicle while parked in a work zone.

The vehicle and the truck Robert Rauch was in after a driver crashed through a work zone
on westbound State Route 512 in 2023

Four months into 2024, and this team already experienced another work zone crash. One crew member is still out recovering from the collision and unable to work.

Joy and his crew do what they can to protect each other and others while at work. They follow safety protocols. When they set up work zones, they use two early warning trucks with safety cushions and flashing lights. They place safety barrels along the roadway for hundreds of yards before they work. They also have a third truck with safety cushions near crew members working on the road, as a final line of defense.

The crew repairing guardrail on southbound US 101 in Olympia

While we are shifting some highway maintenance work to daytime hours for safety concerns and improved lighting, you will still see crews doing work at night. Traffic volumes are lower at night, but there still are risks to this type of work. It's harder to see work crews in the dark, for example, even with bright orange flashing beacons alerting drivers that a work zone is ahead. Our partners at the Washington State Patrol also report more speeding and drunk driving at night too – which also puts our night crews like Joy's at risk.

No matter when we do the work, we need everyone to slow down and pay attention to work zones. Joy and his team's lives depends on it. They frequently report seeing drivers on their phones, watching a show or just distracted traveling through work zones.

It's not just road crews at risk in work zones: Nationally, nearly 95% of people injured in work zone crashes are drivers, their passengers or nearby pedestrians. It is in everyone's interest to pay attention and drive safely in work zones.

The nighttime crew on State Route 512 in Puyallup. Three safety trucks can be seen
in the background of the work zone.

We need everyone's help to address this safety crisis. When approaching a work zone, we ask drivers 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

Joy's team will continue to work diligently to maintain our highways in Pierce and Thurston counties – but they need your help. Please slow down in work zones, look out for our crews and never drive distracted.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Driving kindness home on the road: our crews are looking out for you, please be patient and understanding with them

By Elizabeth Mount

When drivers see orange signs, cones and an attenuator on the side of the freeway, it might be obvious that we have crews working to improve our transportation system. Other work zones we have may not be as obvious, like our Incident Response Team tending to the scene of a crash or crews driving snowplows during a winter storm.

Chris Clarke is a highway maintenance lead in east Snohomish County and has worked for WSDOT for nine years. Two winters ago, Chris was involved in a collision on US 2 while plowing snow.

A blue SUV on the left side of the image has crashed into a plow on the left side of the image. The hood of the SUV is clearly damaged and folded upward. A snowy ground and background is also seen surrounding the crash scene.
Chris Clarke was out plowing on US 2 when a SUV crashed into him. The plow was slightly damaged, but the SUV was severely damaged.

With several mountain passes closed because of a big snowstorm, more cars were using US 2 for cross-state travel and Chris says the traffic was heavy that day. He was plowing westbound on US 2 near Index when a semi-truck heading eastbound began to slow down. The driver of an SUV behind the semi hadn't slowed down or allowed extra space between vehicles. She steered to the left to avoid rear-ending the semi and instead crashed into Chris's plow head on. Thankfully, neither Chris nor the driver were severely injured, but the driver's SUV was damaged.

According to the Washington State Patrol, the top reason for work zone collisions in 2023 was following too closely. Second and third place were excessive speed and distracted driving. All three of these reasons are entirely preventable.

An orange plow covered in snow is seen in the foreground of the image. A damaged blue SUV is seen on the other side of the plow. Snow covered brush is seen in the background.
The SUV that crashed into Chris Clarke’s snowplow two winters ago. Courtesy of Chris Clarke

A challenging situation made even worse

After the collision, Chris had a chaotic scene on his hands. The small SUV that struck Chris's plow was starting to smoke a bit and the driver was a slightly dazed. Chris says he was worried about the driver's well-being. He followed protocols, making sure emergency responders were on their way and alerting his supervisor. The conditions weren't letting up, though, and Chris says it was cold and even walking around was hard.

The worst part, though, was that while Chris was navigating the scene and ensuring the driver was okay, other drivers caught in the back up started taking their frustrations out on him. He says they yelled at him to move out of the way so they could continue their travels – even threatening to jump into his plow and move it out of the way. Sadly, this isn't unique to this crash. Other road crews have experienced firsthand threats, coffee thrown on them or various hand gestures while they are simply out on the job keeping roads safe for others.

A plow that Chris Clarke regularly drives when he’s plowing. Courtesy of Chris Clarke

Chris says the yelling was particularly frustrating because he was working as quickly and as safely as possible. He tried to explain that while a delay may be inconvenient, the highest priority is to make sure everyone involved is OK and first responders can get to the scene.

His message to travelers is simple: Slow down in work zones and please be patient. Especially in work zones or during a storm, everyone needs to expect delays. We understand that being stuck in the back up is an inconvenience, but our crews and other first responders work as quickly as possible to clear a scene and reopen lanes.

Lives on the line

This was the only instance where Chris was hit while working, but he says he's been in several close calls. He primarily works on US 2. He's seen high speed vehicles much too close to him while he's out repairing guardrail or filling potholes. We're seeing vehicles traveling much faster than usual across the state, putting our crews and everyone else on the road at risk.

Chris Clarke is the focus of the image. He is wearing a cowboy hat that has a red brim and blue top with white stars. Trees are seen in the background.
A photo of Chris Clarke. Courtesy of Chris Clarke

Chris grew up in the same area he works, takes pride in his job and says the community is typically supportive of the different maintenance he and his crew do. He urges drivers to have empathy for those in collisions and to be understanding when crashes or delays happen. Our crews are travelers too – they understand the need to keep traffic moving. But sometimes that simply isn't possible when there are multiple collisions needing response or a difficult scene to clear. It's especially frustrating when those collisions involve entirely preventable crashes like people who chose to drive under the influence or use their cell phones while driving a vehicle.

Chris's story is a good reminder for people to be kind to our workers. They are trying to keep everyone on the road safe and improve the roadways – and their lives are often literally on the line.

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.

At the end of the day, everyone is just trying to get where they're going and return home safely, including our crews and workers like Chris. Please do your part to make sure that happens.

Speed Limit Change on SR 522 Signals Start of Construction on North End of I-405

By Lauren Penning and Julie Moon

Major construction starts this month on the I-405/Brickyard to SR 527 Improvement Project near the SR 522 interchange. This project will add an additional express toll lane in each direction. This means a change from a single express toll lane to a dual express toll lane system to be consistent with the length of I-405. We’ll also build direct access ramps to the express toll lanes and add new Bus Rapid Transit stations and improve connections to regional transit service at both the UW Bothell Station (SR 522) and the park and ride at Canyon Park (SR 527). This project is being built by WSDOT as part of a funding partnership with Sound Transit and will support Sound Transit’s new service with buses arriving every 10 minutes for most of the day.

In 2015, we introduced Express Toll Lanes (ETLs) between Bellevue and Lynnwood. While ETLs helped make trips more reliable for travelers on the north end of the corridor, the section of I-405 between SR 522 and I-5 still experiences heavy traffic, especially during the morning commute. When construction is complete in 2028, the expanded ETL system and new bus service will help keep all vehicles moving efficiently.

Map of project area on the north end of I-405
Map of I-405 showing the I-405/Brickyard to SR 527 Improvement project area in orange

What to expect when construction starts

We will start this project on the south edge and move north. Our first big change will be to SR 522 between Bothell and Woodinville. First, we will establish the construction work zone and build a new alignment for westbound SR 522. The realignment will allow us to begin construction of the new northbound I-405 on ramp connections from SR 522. There will be lane closures over the course of two weekends.

The scheduled dates for the closures are:

  • 10 p.m., Friday, April 12 to 4 a.m., Monday, April 15,
  • 10 p.m., Friday, April 19 to 4 a.m., Monday, April 22

During the closure, crews will close one lane of westbound SR 522 and all lanes of eastbound SR 522 near the I-405 interchange. Drivers heading east on SR 522 will follow signed detours via I-405 southbound at Northeast 160th Street. Drivers should be prepared for traffic backups and congestion on SR 522, southbound I-405 and Northeast 160th Street during the closures. After the second closure is complete on Monday, April 22, the speed limit on SR 522 near the interchange will be permanently reduced to 35 MPH.

Map of construction area on SR 522 between Woodinville and Bothell
Map showing the construction zone and the area of speed limit reduction starting April 22

Why is the speed limit on SR 522 changing?

The speed limit is changing during construction to ensure a safe work zone while crews are building improvements in the area. The westbound SR 522 lanes will be shifted over the median next to the eastbound SR 522 lanes, opening space for construction. As drivers travel eastbound out of Bothell, they will maintain the 35 MPH speed limit. As drivers travel westbound towards Bothell, they will need to slow down to 35 MPH as they pass Woodinville and approach the I-405 interchange.

After construction is complete, this project will include three new traffic signals on SR 522 to allow access to the new Stride Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station and direct access ramps to the ETL system. This work will make access to I-405 in this area more efficient for transit users. We will time the signals so they work together to efficiently manage traffic on SR 522. Our estimates show that the signals will add about one additional minute to SR 522 travel during peak hours.

Map showing the future configuration of the I-405 and SR 522 interchange.
A map of the final configuration of the SR 522 interchange, with three new traffic signals to allow for access to the new direct access ramps and transit hub. Please note, this is a conceptual design and details are subject to change.
Design visualization of I-405 at the Brickyard Park and Ride with new elevated walkways to the inline transit station.
This is a visual rendering showing the design concept of the inline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station on I-405 at the Brickyard Park and Ride station. Please note, this is a conceptual design and details are subject to change.

Reliability for all users

WSDOT worked closely with Sound Transit and the City of Bothell to design the new Stride BRT station at the Brickyard Park and Ride in Bothell. Voter-approved Stride BRT service along I-405 as well as the improved connections will serve both the UW Bothell Station (SR 522) and the park and ride at Canyon Park (SR 527). This work will enable BRT vehicles to travel exclusively in the new ETLs between Lynnwood and Bellevue while stopping briefly to pick-up and drop-off passengers without having to leave the highway system. Having dedicated ETL access in the center of the freeway makes travel more efficient.

Design visualization of new connections at the Canyon Park Park and Ride.
Proposed design for the I-405/SR 527 interchange. We will build a partial direct access interchange at SR 527 to and from the south connecting to the Canyon Park Park and Ride. Please note, this is a conceptual design and details are subject to change.
Map of future Stride BRT Line from Lynnwood to Bellevue
Stride BRT S2 Line from Lynnwood to Bellevue with markers
for a new transfer hub at SR 522

Local environmental improvements

We are dedicated to reconnecting streams to improve fish passage and aquatic ecosystems around the state. This project will remove ten fish barriers and create over seven miles of new habitat area. We will also construct new stormwater management and water quality facilities, as well as three new stormwater outfalls on the Sammamish River and North Fork Perry Creek. These improvements will help prevent flooding and pollution.

Preservation and maintenance

From a preservation and maintenance perspective, the project will overlay much of the roadway with new pavement and striping. We also will make repairs to barrier, guardrail, signing, illumination, electrical, ITS, drainage and seismic resiliency throughout the corridor.

What is the project schedule?

We started preparation work last fall and continued throughout the winter. You have probably seen crews conducting field surveys and clearing vegetation and trees. Now we are transitioning to major construction on the project. Check our project website for weekly updates on lane and ramp closures and other updates. This project is scheduled for completion in Spring 2028.

We recognize construction on I-405 is inconvenient and disruptive. We are working to minimize disruptions by providing the latest information so that you “know before you go.” We are steadfast in our commitment to improving the lives of all transportation users along the corridor by reducing congestion and enhancing connectivity, accessibility, safety performance and mobility.

Keep in touch, keep informed

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

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

April showers bring May flowers...but sunny April weather brings new asphalt to highways and roads near Gig Harbor

By Angela Cochran

There are a lot of reasons to enjoy spring in the Pacific Northwest – the sun comes out more, cherry blossoms appear, tulips and daffodils start popping up, and a different kind of plant opens – the kind that makes asphalt!

While asphalt may not be top of the mind for you, the Purdy community has a reason to be excited. Paving that could not happen over the wet, cold fall and winter months can start at the State Route 302 Spur. Later this year, paving and striping will also be the final step before the new eastbound SR 16 bridge opens.

Last year, our contractor completed the new SR 302 Spur bridge in Purdy near Gig Harbor. To complete this portion of the fish passage project, they needed to pave sections of the spur and surrounding local roads. Unfortunately, after just a couple of nights of paving, temperatures dropped too low for them to finish. Now that work is about to start up again.

Photo showing large machinery and workers pour fresh asphalt on the road.
Last October, crews paved the approaches to the new SR 302 bridge
and a section of 144th Street before it got too cold.

That means the new shared-use path on the State Route 302 Spur bridge will soon open to people who walk or roll. The path will extend along the SR 302 Spur on the lagoon side from 144th Street Northwest to Purdy Lane Northwest. A crosswalk at both ends will allow people to get to and from the path. We don’t have a date for opening the path yet. It all depends on just how rainy late April will be. We need the dry, warmer weather to hold long enough to get the new asphalt and striping down. Once the paving work starts, crews expect to complete it within a few weeks as long as the weather holds. We will provide updates on our project webpage, app and travel center map.

The shared-use path is a direct result of working with the community to create a highway that benefits all travelers. This is what our Complete Streets approach is all about.

Graphic representation of the roadway showing a barrier-protected path for pedestrian and bicycle use and the dimensions of the road and path.
When paving and striping are complete, people will have a new shared-use path
on the SR 302 Spur between 144th Street and Purdy Lane.

What to expect

If the weather cooperates, in late April, travelers will see nighttime lane closures on the SR 302 Spur, 144th Street Northwest and Purdy Lane Northwest for paving and striping work. The exit from SR 16 to the SR 302 Spur will also close. Travelers heading to the westbound SR 302 spur will detour via the Burnham Drive exit and Purdy Drive. The on-ramp to SR 16 will also close during this time. Travelers will take Purdy Drive to Burnham Drive to get onto westbound SR 16.

This paving work includes restoring Purdy Lane Northwest to its original configuration with parking available on the shoulders as well as new asphalt on the road itself. That’s good news for Peninsula High School staff and students who sometimes use the area for overflow parking. We really appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding with these temporary changes.

SR 16 update

The new eastbound SR 16 bridge is scheduled to open to travelers this summer. Crews poured the bridge deck at the end of March. Then they started paving the roadway leading up to and away from the bridge. We expect to move traffic out of the median and onto the new bridge in May or June. Crews will then remove the temporary lanes in the median to start work on the stream under the bridge.

Photo of work zone with large cranes and work trucks around a new bridge under construction where workers pour concrete onto the bridge deck.
Crews poured concrete on the new eastbound SR 16 bridge
at the end of March.

Work in the water is allowed July 15 through September 1. Crews will start to “de-fish” the stream, which means removing and documenting fish and other marine life in the stream. The stream will be temporarily diverted through pipes to the other side of the highway so crews can build the streambed in its new location under the bridge. This work includes adding sediment and large tree trunks to provide refuge for salmon and other fish species as they migrate through Purdy Creek. The final piece of the puzzle is the landscaping. After the in-water work is complete, we will add native plants along the stream to provide nutrients and food for the fish. Crews will work through the fall to finish any final elements of the project.

Workers install netting and sandbags in a wetland area.
In summer 2023, our contractor set up a large barrier in Burley Lagoon to prevent marine life from accessing the work area. Crews will install a similar but smaller barrier at SR 16
for the in-water work there.

We will send out advance notification before moving traffic onto the new bridge. This work also depends on dry, warm weather because we will be paving and striping. Make sure you are signed up for email updates to get the latest information on this project and other major roadwork in Pierce County.

We also ask that everyone slows down and pays attention in the work zones. We are so close to the finish line. Please keep our crews safe so they can go home to their families at the end of their shifts.

Whenever near work zones please:

  • Slow down – drive the posted speeds, they’re there for your safety.
  • Be kind – our workers are out there helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways.
  • Pay attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic.
  • Stay calm – leave early; no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone’s life.
Salmon wearing orange vest and holding yellow construction sign with the word slow.
Please slow down and pay attention when traveling through work zones.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Surviving the Road: A WSDOT Highway Worker's Story of Resiliency and Advocacy for Safety

By Celeste Dimichina

Nestled in the heart of southwest Washington, Beth Blankenship and her husband Kyle lead lives intertwined with public service, both personally and professionally. Beth serves as one of our highway maintenance workers in the southwest region and is also a volunteer firefighter. Her husband Kyle is a seasoned firefighter with Cowlitz Fire Department. Together, they have dedicated themselves to ensuring the safety of their community. However, their lives took a dramatic turn on the night of Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, when they experienced firsthand the dangers of suspected impaired driving.

Photo shows emergency responders assisting our maintenance crew, who were rearended by a suspected impaired driver, who was driving a gold 4-door sedan on southbound Interstate 5 in Clark County
Emergency responders assisting our maintenance crews, who were rear-ended by a suspected impaired drive on southbound I-5 in Clark County, on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024

A crew member's worst nightmare

Beth vividly recalls the events of that fateful night with a mixture of disbelief and gratitude.

"Our crew was called to fill potholes on I-5 in northern Vancouver following a string of winter weather. Little did we know, we would become victims of someone's poor decision," she recounts.

Within 90 seconds of pulling to the shoulder to begin work on the roadway in a marked work zone, their work truck was hit from behind at a speed of nearly 70 miles per hour.

The crash was catastrophic, leaving Beth and five other crewmates suffering from serious, but non-life-threatening injuries.

•	Photo shows Beth Blankenship who is wearing sunglasses and an orange with grey baseball cap that features the “WSDOT” logo in orange on the front. Beth is also wearing a bright orange, gray and yellow safety vest with a gray shirt.
Beth Blankenship wearing an orange WSDOT Safety vest and cap.

Amidst the chaos, coworkers demonstrated strong support and camaraderie. "Everyone that night was worried about each other," Beth recalls. Fortunately, her coworkers had her husband's phone number since she lost her phone during the incident. She called Kyle directly to inform him of the situation, recognizing that as a full-time firefighter, he might receive the information from dispatch—she wanted him to hear it from her first.

After confirming everyone was "okay," the crew went to check on the driver who rear-ended them. Four of the six crew members, including Beth, are also volunteer firefighters with first aid training. However, as they worked to assess the driver's injuries, Beth realized her own injuries were limiting her ability to help, and she was taken to the hospital for further evaluation.

A spouse's worst nightmare

Upon receiving the call from Beth, Kyle immediately left work, and headed to the hospital.

"When your loved one is involved, you don't realize how fast you jump into panic mode," Kyle shared.

Kyle arrived at the hospital that night, uncertain of Beth's condition. The fear of potentially losing his wife weighed heavily on him. "You never want to be on the receiving end of the phone call telling you that your loved one has been injured. But that's what happened to me. And I'm here to tell you, it's a position you never want to find yourself in."

Photo shows Beth and Kyle in their “turnouts” during fire training
Kyle & Beth Blankenship pose together in their turnout gear,
during fire training

The dangers of driving under the influence

In 2023, there were 1,228 work zone crashes, 10 of which were fatal, and seven were DUI-related. In the first two months of 2024, Clark County alone recorded two work zone crashes linked to suspected impaired driving, including the incident involving Beth.

The new normal – that's anything but

The aftermath of the crash left Beth with physical injuries and emotional trauma.

"I have lower back pain and bruised knees from the work zone crash" she shares. "The crash was so forceful that it sent me into the dashboard. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the impact."

The road to recovery is long and uncertain. More than anything, Beth wants to get back to work but acknowledges she's afraid. She says even getting into a vehicle to travel to the doctor made her anxious about the possibility of being struck again.

After nearly two months, Beth was cleared to return to work the week of March 18.

Kyle, who admitted that he hadn't discussed the crash with anyone, openly shared how this incident has affected his life.

"I wake up every morning thanking God that she's still here. It's a reminder that people really need to be more aware of their actions and they need to have a plan. It doesn't matter if it's 2 a.m. or New Year's Eve. People driving need to pay attention and slowdown in work zones, and never drive under the influence."

A voice for change

Many of our workers have experienced close calls, serious injuries and even deaths in our work zones. It's rare to find a crew that hasn't had an injury or multiple close calls.

Beth's message is clear: the consequences of reckless driving extend far beyond the crash. Those incidents have lasting emotional and psychological effects on our crews and their loves ones who support them into recovery and beyond.

Photo shows Beth and Kyle Blankenship, smiling while sitting side by side on the step up to the Cowlitz County District 1 fire engine
Beth and Kyle take a break during fire training to pose together for a photo

Reflecting on their roles as public servants and first responders, both Kyle and Beth understand and embrace their career choices. Our crew members take pride in their work as public servants, and just want to go home at the end of their shift to see their families.

To ensure everyone's safety, they urge the public to take precautions in work zones: slow down, stay vigilant, and show respect to fellow road crews and first responders just doing their jobs. They also stress the importance of never driving under the influence.

In the weeks following the crash, Beth shares, "The support here at WSDOT has been amazing." Reflecting on the outpouring of kindness and compassion she's received from colleagues and strangers alike, she adds, "I wouldn't be able to focus on my recovery without their support."

Photo shows Beth and Kyle Blankenship working together to fight fire during a recent fire training
Beth and Kyle working together to fight a planned fire during a recent fire training exercise

Their story serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and the power of one bad decision. Beth and Kyle Blankenship may have survived the crash, but their message echoes far beyond the confines of a single incident: drive safely, stay focused and protect the lives of those around you.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Fatal work zone crashes on state highways doubled in 2023

By Kris Olsen

It's frightening. Shocking. And puts everyone at risk.

The number of fatal crashes in marked work zones doubled in 2023, compared to 2022. You read that right. We had 10 fatal work zone crashes in 2023 resulting in 10 deaths. In 2022, we had five fatal work zone crashes resulting in six deaths.

A photo that shows the damaged trailer attached to the back of a damaged work truck. The trailer is black and yellow. It is crumpled, torn and twisted.
A WSDOT attenuator truck smashed by a driver. The attenuators are positioned between oncoming traffic and crews, designed to absorb a hit from a driver who enters a work zone.

Numbers like these take our breath away. It's why we're continuing to take aggressive steps to protect not only our workers, but drivers and passengers as well. We're seeing more speeding and erratic behavior in work zones. It must stop.

April is Work Zone Awareness month. Throughout the month, our crews will tell their stories of incidents in work zones. The injuries, the close calls, the scary moments.

Drivers, passengers and pedestrians are at highest risk

Nearly 95% of people injured in work zone crashes are drivers, their passengers or nearby pedestrians.

The Washington State Patrol says the top three reasons for work zone crashes are the result of following too closely, excessive speed and distracted or inattentive driving. All easily preventable.

A photo that shows a gold or tan colored car that has crashed into the back of a white truck. The car’s hood is crumpled upward and the car is partially wedged under the truck. The white truck has an electronic signboard on its roof illuminated by yellow lights. Behind the truck and the car is a white ambulance.
Six WSDOT maintenance workers were injured on I-5 in Vancouver when a driver suspected
to be under the influence hit a work truck on Jan. 21.

Managing and reducing risk

Our crews know there is risk involved in the work they do to maintain, operate, improve and monitor our highways.

On Washington highways in 2023, we had:

  • 1,228 reported collisions in a work zone or in a related back-up.
  • 28 serious injury-related collisions in work zones.
  • 10 fatal crashes.

Before crews go into the field, they review their safety plan for the area. Their own safety is the first thing they think about before heading out to a job site. They doublecheck to make sure they have the right safety equipment, law enforcement on site as needed, attenuator trucks to protect them and a place to escape should a driver smash into the work zone.

They also think about traveler safety. They set up signs to warn of closures on the road ahead, they place construction barrels and even more signage to guide drivers safely past the work zone.

A photo that shows a highway with one lane in each direction, divided by solid yellow double lines. In the right foreground is a person holding a large red stop sign. They are wearing a yellow and orange vest and yellow hard hat while standing at the tailgate of white truck. In the distance, a large piece of yellow equipment is blocking the highway as it moves rocks. Two more trucks, a pale greenish yellow in color are parked on the side of the highway. Hillsides dotted with trees surround the highway.
A work zone on State Route 129 for shoulder maintenance. A WSDOT flagger keeps
an eye on both the work zone and traffic.

These efforts are more important than ever. We're seeing increasingly dangerous driving on roadways.

  • Some vehicles traveling 100mph or higher.
  • Driving under the influence. In 2023, DUI was a factor in seven work zone crashes. In just the first two months of 2024, there have already been two work zone crashes involving drivers suspected of being impaired.
  • Crews consistently report seeing drivers looking at phones, texting, watching videos, or using other electronic devices while blowing past signs about slowing down or stopping. That puts everyone at risk.

Work zone safety is everyone's responsibility

We need all drivers to be our partners in keeping roads safe. There are simple things every driver can do to make sure they arrive at their destination safely and ensure our workers go home at the end of their shift.

  • Slow down – drive the posted speed limits. They're there for your safety.
  • Be kind – our workers are helping keep you safe and improve roadways.
  • Pay attention – both to the workers directing you and the surrounding traffic. Put down your mobile devices and other distractions.
  • Stay calm – expect delays, leave early or take an alternate route if possible. No meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life.
A work zone safety graphic reminding drivers to slow down, be kind, pay attention and stay calm

Changes in work activities and work zones

As we enter another busy construction, maintenance and travel season, our commitment to work zone safety mustn't waiver. We are working both in-house and with construction, union and legislative partners to improve safety in work zones for everyone.

Together, this includes:

  • Taking new and additional steps in designing some of our work zones. This may include additional closed lanes or a longer closure distance to create a larger buffer for our crews. We're also looking at new safety equipment.
  • Launching a work zone speed camera program. These cameras have proven to be successful in other states by reducing speeding in marked work zones. Additional details about the start of the program will be shared toward the end of this year.
  • Continuing to bundle multiple jobs into one to reduce the number of times crews are exposed to traffic.
  • Working more often during the day when visibility is better and there are typically fewer major collisions and excessive speeds. That doesn't mean you won't see us doing any work at night, just that more of it may be done during daylight hours.

But we need drivers to do their part as well by planning ahead, allowing extra time and using many of the tools we offer that will help get you safely through or around work zones and to your destination.

Never forget

Since 1950, 61 WSDOT workers have been killed on the job. At this year's Worker Memorial Ceremony, we will add Rodney C. Wheeler to our list of fallen workers. Rodney passed away on June 30, 2023. He was a bridge tender on our State Route 99/First Avenue South bridge in Seattle. This year's ceremony will mourn the recent loss of our colleague and honor the family he leaves behind.

We don't want to add any more names to the list.

A row of white hard hats with the WSDOT logo are lined up in a row. Behind them are orange traffic cones with reflective white tape around the top. Each cone has a white rose placed in it. On some of the cones, a person’s name is visible, noting that they were killed on the job.
Hard hats and traffic cones – one for each WSDOT worker killed on the job.
There were 60 at the 2023 memorial service. In 2024, there will be 61.

Our crews have run for their lives and jumped over barriers to avoid injuries, or even death, due to speeding, inattentive/distracted or impaired drivers.

A year from now, we don't want to read the number of people who died in marked work zones doubled yet again. Literally, lives are on the line.

Our workers are you

Our workers are more than hard hats and vests.

Two workers stand on rocks on the side of a road. They are wearing blue jeans, heavy boots, yellow and orange vests, hard hats, glasses and gloves. Of the men is holding a long thin piece of equipment while mixing materials in a container. Behind the men is a blue wheel wheelbarrow, a white bucket, box and a work vehicle.
WSDOT workers on the job

They're sons, daughters, husbands, wives, partners, parents and grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. Just like you, they're Little League and T-ball coaches, school volunteers and scout leaders. They're caring for young children and aging parents, maybe both at the same time. They're hikers, skiers, snowboarders, readers, sports fans, gardeners and artists. They do school drop-offs and pick-ups, serve coffee and punch at church, run 5Ks and play soccer. They like to hang out with friends, fire up the grill, play video games, tell jokes, dote on pets, and bake cakes and cookies. They are you.

Please show them respect and give them space they need to do their jobs safely. Remember, work zones are temporary. Actions behind the wheel can last forever.