Monday, April 24, 2017

A summer toolkit to help navigate around construction on I-90 between North Bend and Ellensburg

By Meagan Lott

If you're hitting the road this summer, you're going to want to utilize our travel toolkit to help you plan and prepare for construction-related delays and closures along I-90.

A number of road-improvement projects start this week and will continue throughout the summer as we build new lanes, build and repair bridges and fix cracked sections of pavement between North Bend and Ellensburg.
The I-90 construction season is getting underway and there are plenty of
resources drivers can use to stay updated on what’s going on.

It's a difficult challenge as much of what we need to do requires dry weather, which on much of I-90 is tough to depend on outside of a few months in summer and early fall. Unfortunately that's also when people are doing a lot of their traveling, and it's a tough balance of needing to get this work done in a limited timeframe while also wanting to help people get where they want to go with as little delay as possible. We hope these tools will help.

  • I-90 Text Message Alerts
    A new tool in our toolkit to alert you about delays, backups and closures on I-90 between North Bend and Ellensburg. Just text the phrase “WSDOT Snoqulamie” to the number 468311 to start receiving your text message alerts.
  • Webpage
    Our What's Happening on I-90 webpage provides a day-by-day look of what construction activities are taking place and the location to help you prepare for delays and slowdowns.
  • Twitter
    Follow us on Twitter @snoqualmiepass or @wsdot_east to find out the latest information about backups, delays and closures this summer.
  • Email Updates
    Every Friday we send email updates about the following week's traffic impacts on I-90 to help you prepare and plan your trip.
  • Highway Advisory Radio
    Turn to your AM station and tune into 1610 AM or 530 AM while on the road to hear the latest information about construction-related delays and backups on I-90.
Now that you have the toolkit, choose the best communications tool or tools to help you navigate across I-90 this summer. We are also teaming up with the Washington State Patrol to keep our work zones and you safe. You will see a lot more troopers along the I-90 corridor looking for speeders and distracted drivers. So please be safe out there for the sake of each other and all the road crews working to keep this important highway in good shape.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

It only takes a moment to cause a life-altering work zone injury

By Barbara LaBoe

Terry Dunn knows how quickly a life can change in a work zone. It took less than a minute for his whole world to turn upside down.
Terry Dunn's life was forever changed
by a work zone injury in 1995.

Terry was working as one of our asphalt inspectors near Colfax in the fall of 1995 when a contractor asphalt truck went into reverse through the job site.  There was a spotter on site, but the truck moved so quickly Terry never had a chance to do more than turn around and see it coming at him. The next thing he knew he was pinned under the heavy machine while laying on top of fresh, boiling hot asphalt.

He had burns, broken bones and nerve damage to his legs – and lots of pain. He remembers it feeling like someone was grabbing his toes and squeezing them with pliers. Even worse, he had a wife, an infant son and two adopted special needs children at home – and no idea how he'd take care of them.

After six surgeries and lots of physical therapy, Terry was able to make a partial recovery, but his life and the life of his family has been forever altered due to the extent of his injuries. He returned to a desk job in utility permitting rather than construction, because he can no longer stand for long periods. He and his wife raised their children, adopting three more over the years, but he hasn't been able to coach his kids in sports or even play ball with them in the yard. The outdoor activities he loved, like camping and visiting fairs, also are a thing of the past. And he'll be on pain medication for the rest of his life.

"It's impacted my life forever," he said recently from his Spokane office. "And I'm grateful for the recovery I had and the job I have, incredibly grateful, but injuries like that, they're with you the rest of your life."

That's why work zone safety awareness is so important, and why we stress it not only for our work crews but also for passing motorists. Attention is rightly given to workers killed in work zones, but there also are people like Terry, whose injuries are far more extensive than they may sound in an evening news report.
It has taken more than a year for road worker Greg King (left) to be ready to return to work after a 2016 work zone crash.

Greg King knows that all too well. Greg was struck by a semi truck on Jan. 26, 2016, while flagging traffic near Aberdeen. He's hoping to return to part-time light duty work soon, but it has taken 15 months and back surgery to make that possible.

King considers himself lucky to have survived. He knows just a few more seconds or inches could have caused a career-ending injury – or even death.

"It's been a long road of recovery," he said recently at our Worker Memorial ceremony for workers injured or killed on the job. Greg's not a fan of the spotlight, but he agreed to speak at last year's ceremony and to be interviewed by news crews this year because he knows firsthand how crucial it is to raise awareness about work zone safety.

"It's someone's life at stake," he said.

"That could be your brother, your father or another family member who's out there working," adds Terry. "Treat it that way."

Terry said he's not angry at the asphalt truck driver who backed over him and is glad to note that policy changes after his incident improved work zone safety. But workers still face dangers today, both from the very nature of their work as well as the vehicles passing just feet away.

Terry hopes sharing his story will remind both his fellow workers and drivers about work zone dangers and what they can do to help keep everyone safe. Most work zone crashes are completely preventable by just slowing down and being extra alert.

"No one drives through a work zone thinking they're going to hit someone," Terry said. "They're thinking they're now 15 minutes late for whatever and don't think it will happen to them. But everyone out there has a family, has kids, has parents that they go home to at the end of the day."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Relieving the aches and pains of an aging I-5

This is the first in a four-part series on highway preservation work starting this month on northbound I-5 from Kent to Seattle.

By Justin Fujioka

It's been a while since it cost just 5 cents for a first-class stamp, 50 cents for a gallon of milk and $20,000 for an average home.

Back in the early 1960s, color television was making its debut, Seattle's newly-built Space Needle was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River and construction of Interstate 5 through King County was in full swing.
Construction of I-5 in Seattle in the late 1960s

Much has changed since then, but the driving surface of I-5 through Washington's most populated area isn't one of those things. Sure, we do regular inspections and preventative maintenance work, but we haven't done a full-blown rehabilitation. Well, northbound I-5 from Kent to Seattle is about to get a much-needed extreme makeover as we replace much of the pavement and fix dozens of aging expansion joints.

Outliving its expectations
When this 38-mile stretch of I-5 opened in 1965, I'm not sure anyone imagined that the concrete pavement would survive largely untouched for more than 50 years. Whether it was the type of cement used, the amazing work of its builders or our regimented upkeep, one thing's for sure – the freeway is outliving its expectations, possibly by decades.

Showing its age
No matter how well you take care of something, almost everything has a lifespan. You can repaint sections of your house as needed, but one day you'll need to repaint the whole thing. That's where we stand with I-5. Despite repairs on several sections of concrete and the replacement of many expansion joints, the time has come for a major overhaul.
Aside from regular inspections, preventative maintenance work and emergency
repairs, the driving surface on this section of I-5 has held up for 50-plus years.

As many as 236,000 vehicles use this corridor each day. More than half a century of heavy traffic and Pacific Northwest weather have taken their toll. Much of the driving surface is worn out. You can feel it – from the bumps where concrete panels are broken to the backups caused by lane closures from aging expansion joints popping up. The signs are pretty obvious.

It comes down to timing and available funding
I'm sure you're asking, “Why didn't you do something about this earlier, before we got to this point?” That's a fair question. It all comes down to timing and available funding.

Although much of the Interstate Highway System in Washington state was built around the same time, each section of freeway is aging at much different rates depending on wear and tear from traffic and weather. We tackle the worst spots first using a set amount of funding we receive each year from the legislature for highway preservation projects, like our recent pavement work on southbound I-5 from Tukwila to Federal Way.
Emergency repairs such as expansion joint work have caused some traffic nightmares on I-5 in Seattle.

Between waiting for funding and juggling construction schedules that are carefully timed around the dry season, special events, other projects and hundreds of thousands of commuters, some corridors end up waiting longer than we'd like before getting some love. In those cases we do the best we can to maintain the road as well as possible with temporary fixes.

What to expect
This month, our contractor crews begin a multi-year project to rehabilitate the driving surface of northbound I-5 from Kent to Seattle. This is a huge undertaking that we expect to last 2-3 years. Some work will require weekend-long lane reductions – a cost many of us will have to budget into our lives in order to avoid huge backups while keeping the corridor safe and sound for the next 50+ years. We want to thank commuters in advance for adjusting around what we know will be some rough commutes… because we all know, traffic volumes are not at 1960s levels, along with just about the cost of everything nowadays.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Remembering our fallen colleagues at our Worker Memorial

By Barbara LaBoe

This morning 60 orange traffic cones, 60 white helmets and 60 white roses line the lobby of our headquarters building in Olympia.

They appear every year on the day of our Worker Memorial honoring the workers killed or injured on the job. But, no matter how many times you see them, it's still a sobering reality check about the dangers many of my co-workers face on a regular basis.

Each cone bears the name and date of one of our workers killed while doing their job. The list stretches from 1950 (the last year we have good records) into modern day. Each one represents someone's parent, spouse, sibling, child or friend who never made it home from what started as a normal day of work. Some of their loved ones will join us at the ceremony this year in what is always one of the most humbling and moving parts of the day.
Left: This row of cones, hard hats and roses represents each of the 60 WSDOT workers killed on the job since 1950.
Right: A new cone was added this year, for Hood Canal Bridge worker Bruce Cowing, who died May 16, 2016.
A pair of empty boots is included to signify our missing worker in the first year since his death.

Today's event is especially solemn as we remember Bruce Cowing, a Hood Canal Bridge maintenance worker who died May 16, 2016, near the end of his shift. The Washington State Patrol investigation determined Bruce momentarily lost control of his truck and accidently drove off the bridge. His death highlights how easily a family's world can change in an instant.

Bruce is the 60th name on our Memorial Wall, which will be unveiled during the ceremony. It's a list we never want to increase. We hope today's event is the last time we add a name to this wall – but we need your help.

The top three causes of work zone crashes on state roads are distracted driving, following too close and speeding. These are all avoidable. They're also all actions that put everyone on the road at risk. Statewide, 96 percent of the people injured in work zone crashes are passing motorists, their passengers or pedestrians. Eleven people died in work zone crashes last year in Washington and another 523 were injured. It's in every drivers' best interest to be extra alert in work zones – your own life could depend on it.

We're spending the month sharing information and tips about how to help keep everyone safe in work zones. We're also sharing messages from our workers, asking drivers to slow down, pay attention and give them the space they need to improve or repair roads, bridges and ferries.

You may not get to see the cones, speak with family members or attend our ceremony today. But please keep our workers – past and present – in your thoughts when you're driving.  We want to see everyone return home to their families every day.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lengthy closure of Tacoma I-5 exit may begin Friday

By Cara Mitchell

A major step in our I-5 improvement project in Tacoma is about to start, but so is a 7-month closure of a key exit, and we need drivers to be prepared for some potential delays during peak traveling times.

Starting as early as 11 p.m. Friday, April 14, our contractor crews building HOV connections between I-5 and SR 16 will close the northbound I-5 exit to Tacoma's city center – exit 133 – for 7 months. That means drivers who use this exit to reach downtown Tacoma, I-705 and SR 7 will need to use a detour onto the northbound I-5 exit to SR 16 and Tacoma Mall (exit 132), around the clock. While it's a pretty simple detour, we do expect backups at peak commute times so drivers should plan extra time to their trips.

During the closure, crews will build new northbound I-5 lanes, a new northbound I-5 bridge and a new northbound I-5 off-ramp to Tacoma's city center. They'll also start building new HOV lanes for both eastbound and westbound SR 16 traffic merging onto I-5.

This is the third of three projects designed to improve the I-5/SR 16 interchange and provide a direct connection to HOV lanes between the two highways.

We know that anytime we close lanes or exits, it's an inconvenience for drivers but the only way to get this major portion of the project completed in a timely and safe manner is to do this full closure. We appreciate your ability to adjust and be patient while this work gets done.