Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Expect big I-5 traffic delays over last two weekends of July in Olympia

By Doug Adamson

If you drive on northbound I-5 through Olympia, most of the time you likely zip along at freeway speeds. You may not even notice the little "bump...bump" as you drive over the small northbound I-5 bridge at Pacific Avenue. Despite that small cue, the bridge needs a big repair.  That repair will take place over two weekends at the end of July, and it will help preserve the highway and avoid more costly repairs down the road.

Over the weekends of July 21 and July 28, northbound I-5 will be reduced to two narrowed lanes around the clock, from Friday night to each Monday morning. During the daytime significant backups are expected.

What are crews doing?
Contractor crews will repair two key elements of the bridge's infrastructure. Workers need to rebuild what is called a bridge approach slab. The slab is a piece of concrete that connects the northbound lanes with the bridge over Pacific Avenue. This approach slab continues to bow as material under the highway surface settles. In this project, the existing slab will be demolished and removed. Crews will then shore up the material under the highway and replace the roadway surface.

The second effort will be to replace a bridge expansion joint. The joint allows the bridge to move and flex with changing traffic and weather conditions.

Here is the bridge expansion joint that needs regular repairs. Workers will replace half of the joint and approach slab during the first weekend. Crews will finish the second half during the second weekend.

Why can't you do this work at night and during the fall/winter?
In western Washington, Mother Nature dictates when this and other types of highway construction can occur. We need mostly dry and warm weather in order for the concrete to set well. We are very likely to get poor weather during fall, winter and even early spring.

As for why this work can't be done during overnight hours, once crews start they must continue until it's complete. There will be times when there is no roadway to use. This kind of work also requires concrete curing time. The new roadway surface needs to harden before vehicles can drive on it, which means there may be times when drivers see closed lanes with no crews on site.  It means working through the entire weekend.

Keep traffic moving
We are concerned this work will create miles-long backups and we need your help.  We're asking all northbound I-5 drivers through Olympia to plan ahead.
  • Plan on traveling before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. to avoid lengthy backups
  • Make sure your gas tank is full before heading out.
  • Please drive carefully. Collisions within the backups would exacerbate the situation.
We will have additional Incident Response Teams pre-positioned in the work zone to clear any collisions that might occur. The Washington State Patrol will also be on scene to keep an eye on things.

Stay engaged
Download our mobile app

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mountain passes: stop and go, stop and go, what gives?

By Lisa Van Cise

As construction projects freckle Puget Sound roadways in the lowlands, travelers headed across the mountain passes have roadwork to navigate through as well.

East-west trips across the state are proving to be slow this summer as our contractor crews take advantage of the warm and dry weather to repair more than one hundred miles of highway.

Why can’t WSDOT plan just one project at a time?
The paving window in the Pacific Northwest is about three months in the lowlands, but only two months for cooler locations like the mountain pass areas. The materials used to protect the pavement need summertime conditions to ensure the products used stick to the road. That means July and August are very popular months to pave.

The short weather window translates to an all hands on deck situation. Get in with as many crews as possible, and get out before the weather turns cool and wet again. For travelers, that might mean hitting several different sections of roadwork as you travel east or west across the state.

We have a lot of work to do on our mountain pass highways to keep them safe for travelers. We do our best to schedule the roadwork far in advance in order to coordinate and minimize the effect on travelers. However, our mountain pass highways are in need of some TLC due to the harsh winter weather they experience.
PDF 2.3 MB

Why am I waiting so long?
To get the big picture on why you’re waiting so long, let’s map out the projects on our mountain passes.

Weekday drivers on US 2 between Gold Bar and Skykomish are experiencing delays of more than an hour as they travel through several sections of pavement preservation work.

Because US 2 is a two-lane highway, a pilot car guides alternating traffic through each work zone.

Weekday and weekend drivers on Interstate 90 between North Bend and Ellensburg know the meaning of delays as bridge deck and pavement repair work continues. Weekend delays over Snoqualmie Pass have been upwards of 90 minutes and will most likely continue until the end of summer.

More pass construction
Several sections of US 12 between Packwood and Rimrock Lake will be repaved, which will cause double-digit delays as people travel through multiple construction zones. State Route 20 up north is also under the knife with daytime lane closures. Weekday delays up to 30 minutes are expected on SR 410 between Chinook Pass (milepost 69) and Naches (milepost 116 beginning Monday, starting July 24.

A little good news
If you’re hitting the road this summer, try to set yourself up for success. Make sure your vehicle is in good shape and you have extra snacks, books and good tunes for people riding along. Once the leaves begin to fall this autumn, the smoother ride will be welcome change and hold up to the harsh winter weather for years to come.

Friday, July 14, 2017

When a boat breaks. By the numbers

By Marqise Allen
The Kittitas has been sailing around the Sound since 1980.

For Washington state’s active 22-ferry fleet, the average age of our boats is just shy of 30 years old. Thirteen ferries are over the age of 30. Of those, five are at least 50 years old.

Our maintenance crews do a masterful job of keeping all the vessels in shape to serve for up to six decades. However, just like a car, the older and more miles (the average ferry runs about 20 hours a day!), the more maintenance and sudden repairs it can require. Occasionally, a fix calls for a part that is no longer available and a replacement has to be custom built.

The Tacoma gets an engine inspection and maintenance. Vessels are pulled from service once a year for routine inspections, mandated by the United States Coast Guard, to help keep them safe.
Sometimes a ferry breakdown leaves a route with one less boat, which can cause wait times to inch past the three-hour mark as drivers wait their turn to board.

Cancelled trips make up a fraction of the approximate tens of thousands of trips made every year. Less than 1 percent! However, that doesn’t make it any less of an inconvenience when it’s your route that has canceled sailings due to a boat breakdown, a medical emergency or unforeseen events.
Twice in five years, we haul each vessel out of the water to check out the hull,
 propellers, rudders and underwater appendages.

Why not use a backup boat?

Many transit agencies have two backup vessels for every dozen in their fleet. Washington State Ferries fleet planners make one spare vessel available for relief use throughout the year, but unscheduled repairs can quickly consume this extra capacity. In fact, at the time of this blog post, our entire fleet is either in service or in the shop – there is no relief boat available to fill in.

It’d be akin to blowing out a tire on a car, replacing it with the lone donut and then blowing out another tire. In short, if another ferry breaks down this summer, we would be out of spares.
The “baby” Hiyu used to be WSF’s sole backup boat before it
 was replaced by the “younger” Hyak. The Hyak is 50 years old.

There are only so many ferries available, and it’s not as simple as moving Boat A to Boat B’s route. Some ferries can only sail certain routes due to their size and speed. The vehicle-carrying capacity of the ferry is also a factor. These constraints are weighed against the fact that it can take 12 to 24 hours to move a vessel off one route and onto another. Here’s why:

  • Due to safety rules that address the number of hours a crew can work, a new crew often must be brought in. 
  • Public notice: Notifications must be sent out to the route that’s losing a boat to let riders know that their route will have fewer sailings or less car capacity.
  • Boats can’t teleport: It can take a ferry three to six hours to sail from one route to another.

Why don’t you build more boats?
The Chimacum is the newest boat in the fleet and went into service on the Seattle/Bremerton route this year.

We are! It takes about four to six years to design and build a new ferry. Our newest boat cost $123 million. Buying used boats and throwing the iconic green and white paint on isn’t an option either. Our ferries are built to fit in our terminals and are designed to navigate in Puget Sound’s unique environment.

What can riders do?

Our crews work like mad to diagnose the issue and fix it as soon as possible. To stay in the know, ferry riders can plug in – follow our Twitter account and sign up for email updates to help make informed decisions. We suggest customers use our online tools such as Vessel Watch and Travel Alert Bulletins even if they take the ferry every day of the week, because things can and do change.

Last, but not least, the best way to avoid long lineups at the terminal – due to boat breakdowns or heavy traffic – is to leave the car at home and ride the bus, vanpool with friends or co-workers, take a bicycle out for a spin or walk on instead.

There’s rarely a wait for human-powered ferry riders! 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New day, new way on SR 520

by Ashley Selvey

This is it! Everything is in place for Monday, July 17, when we’ll open our newly aligned, SR 520 westbound off-ramps to Montlake and Lake Washington Boulevards!

For more than 50 years, westbound SR 520 drivers have driven across Lake Washington and exited into Montlake near the Lake Washington shoreline. Monday morning, July 17, will be a new day and a new way for drivers heading west. When the new off-ramps open, not only will it be the first time drivers will travel on the new bridge structure, but they will also enter a new exit lane which starts near the west end of the floating bridge - a mile earlier than they have for the past five decades.

This video illustrates how much earlier drivers need to exit to get to the Montlake neighborhood.

Here’s the bottom line: We don’t want you to miss your exit. Westbound drivers planning to exit should stay in the right lane while on the floating bridge to access the off-ramps. If you miss your exit, you’ll need to exit at Roanoke or I-5.

Here’s a map to guide you through the area:  
New westbound SR 520 exit lane and off-ramps

View announcement for the opening of the new westbound SR 520 exit lane and off-ramps. (pdf 1.3 mb)

What’s next
We’ll open all construction areas to traffic by the end of the year.

Here’s the order (pdf 1 mb).
  • Phase 1: New exit lane and off-ramps to Montlake and Lake Washington boulevards open (Monday, July 17). 
  • Phase 2: Open westbound general-purpose and HOV lanes from the floating bridge to Montlake (August, 2017).
You’ll need to get your bike and running shoes ready for the final phase.
  • Phase 3: Bike and pedestrian trail complete from the floating bridge to Montlake (November 2017)  
We’d love to interact with you more. The first @WSDOT_520 follower on Twitter that mentions this blog will win a free SR 520 Grand Opening hat. Good luck!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Your summer survival guide to highway construction in Clark County

by Tamara Greenwell

You know the drill! Summer and road construction go hand in hand here in the Pacific Northwest and that’s definitely true in Clark County. Our larger paving jobs are done during the summer months because we need hot, dry weather to get a roadway surface built to last. There are going to be times when getting where you want to go will be a bit of a challenge, but a little planning can go a long way in helping you get around.
Locations of summer highway construction in Clark County
Beginning in mid-July, we’ll start work on three highway resurfacing projects to repair damaged pavement. Doing the work now keeps our highway system running smoothly, reducing the need for costly emergency repairs and unexpected highway closures in the future.
Damaged pavement on southbound I-5 near Kalama on Friday, Feb. 17
Remember the eight-mile backup on southbound Interstate 5 near Kalama earlier this year? Two lanes of the highway were closed while crews made emergency repairs after the pavement separated from the road following an unusually cold, wet winter. Well, our work this summer will help reduce the chances of similar situations happening in the future.

Bridge resurfacing on southbound I-5 near Woodland and Kalama
This summer, the stretch of southbound I-5 near Kalama where the emergency work took place and the southbound I-5 North Fork Lewis River Bridge near Woodland are getting facelifts. Crews will resurface the bridge decks, replace expansion joints, install new waterproof membranes (adding protection to the infrastructure of the road) and apply new pavement markings.
  • During construction, scheduled to begin on Monday, July 24, you’ll encounter daytime single-lane closures and overnight double-lane closures through the work zones. 
  • For everyone’s safety, the speed limit will be reduced to 60 mph in the area until the work is completed this fall. Please be sure to slow down and give crews room to work.
Paving Padden Parkway 
Heavy traffic and harsh weather have created cracks, ruts and potholes on Padden Parkway between 117th Avenue and NE 162nd Avenue, and along NE 162nd Avenue to NE Fourth Plain Boulevard north of Vancouver. This area hasn’t been paved since it was built in 2000 so we’re reviving the road this summer. More than 30,000 vehicles use this stretch of highway every day, so we work to keep disruptions to a minimum.
  • Daytime and overnight lane closures on both directions of the highway will be in place for resurfacing work starting in mid-July through the fall. 
  • Beginning at 8 p.m. on a Friday through 5 a.m. on a Monday, crews will close all lanes of either westbound or eastbound Padden Parkway between 117th Avenue and 162nd Avenue. The following weekend they’ll close all of the lanes in the opposite direction. Since the work is weather dependent, the weekend closures will be scheduled later this summer.
  • Sign up for email notifications and we’ll send you updates with the dates and times.   
  • As a safety precaution, the pedestrian path on the south side of Padden Parkway will also close.
We’re coordinating with Clark County Public Works, which will close both directions of Padden Parkway for paving work between Northeast Andresen Road west to Northeast 78th Street. The work is currently scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, July 7, until 5 a.m. Monday, July 10. If the work has to be rescheduled due to rain or cool temperatures, the closure would occur the following weekend, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday, July 14, until 5 a.m. Monday, July 17.

Resurfacing SR 501 between 26th Street to the end of the highway

Sections of SR 501 – also known as NW Lower River Road – in Vancouver are cracked and rutted. Beginning on Friday, July 14, crews will resurface the road by applying a hot layer of rocks and asphalt on top of the roadway surface, which protects the roadbed from things like water and ice.
  • If you drive or bike this stretch of roadway, you’ll alternate through a single lane of the highway daily during daytime hours. 
  • There will be loose gravel on the roadway. As with any highway construction project, use caution in the work zone.
  • The speed limit through the area will be temporarily reduced from 55 mph to 35 mph.
Traveler tips
  • Sign up to receive email updates about all of these projects. 
  • Check your route before heading out the door on our mobile app or our construction web page.
  • Research if there are other routes you might take to avoid construction. 
  • If you decide to travel on roads and highways under construction, give yourself extra time. 
Work on these projects is weather dependent and can be delayed due to rain. Be sure to check with the City of Vancouver and Clark County for updates on other Clark County area road construction. While getting through construction can take a little more time than we’re used to, once the work is complete, it’s easy to enjoy the long-term benefits of a smooth ride.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Lane closures a must for safe work zones

By Tom Pearce

"Why do you close all those lanes when you're not working?"

We've been asked this specific question quite a lot when it comes to our #ReviveI5 project on northbound I-5 in Kent, SeaTac and Tukwila.

While you may not see equipment or workers in a specific area, we want to reassure you that work is happening. Paving asphalt is a slow operation and we require a safe work zone for our crews.
While we pave, a lot of the work zone has nothing happening.

It takes several hours to pave a single lane four miles long. Then we need to go back and start over again on the next lane. During a weekend lane closure, we usually pave multiple layers. So while we pave, you'll see a lot of work zone where nothing is happening, but it's safer to keep the whole zone closed.
We need people to take out concrete, but while the new concrete is curing, they can leave.

Occasionally when "nothing is happening," we are letting concrete harden. In many places we need to remove old, broken concrete panels and pour new ones. Concrete doesn't need supervision to harden, so you won't see workers.

Our first consideration is always safety – for drivers, for our contractors, for our staff. On all projects, we need open space between where crews are working and traffic. The higher the speed of the traffic, the more room we need so crews have time to react if something happens.
Work starts with establishing a safe work zone, often
created by putting out traffic barrels.

For #ReviveI5, much of the work is paving, which is a moving operation. Crews set orange barrels to designate the work zone. It's challenging work – they are placing barrels within feet of moving vehicles – and it takes a couple of hours.

It's sensible to set up the entire work zone and leave it in place. Continually moving the barriers as the paving operation moves would be hazardous. Besides, a constantly changing work zone would only add confusion and make traffic worse.

There are occasions we may have to stop work for weather. However, if we plan to restart once the weather improves, reopening – then reclosing – lanes takes too long to be worthwhile.

We want to finish the work and open all lanes as soon as safely possible, so you can enjoy the open road. We have three more weekends scheduled for paving – July 7-10, 14-17 and Aug. 11-14. We'll be working, even if it isn't always obvious.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Despite all the construction delays, progress is being made to improve I-90 between North Bend and Ellensburg

By Meagan Lott

You’ve already heard about the construction taking place across I-90 between North Bend and Ellensburg this summer. You’ve watched our videos, read our blogs, followed us on Twitter and Facebook and even downloaded our app to prepare you for your trip. You know no matter what day, time or weekend you travel across I-90, you’re going to be slowed down this summer.

So this isn’t another blog about how you need to “know before you go” or “pack your patience,” because you already know that. Instead, we want to fill you in on the progress we’ve made in the four major construction zones between North Bend and Ellensburg.
Crews set girders on the new westbound I-90 avalanche bridge over Snoqualmie Pass.

Over the past nine weeks, contractor crews have resurfaced three deteriorating bridge decks, laid 50,000 tons of asphalt, poured more than 21,000 cubic yards of concrete, replaced 25 broken concrete panels, set 43 girders and poured concrete for two deck spans for the new westbound avalanche bridge.
Westbound I-90 through Cle Elum is getting new pavement.

In order to do this work, we have to keep traffic off the areas we are working, which is the reason you are driving through shifted lanes and detours. These detours and traffic shifts need to remain in place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the work is finished because we can’t put you on torn up roadway and bridge decks.
Several bridge decks are being repaired across I-90 and traffic must stay off the roadway while it is torn up.

Before our contractor crews can call it quits for the summer, they still need to replace more than 460 concrete panels, repave six miles of existing roadway, build seven miles of new roadway, repair five more bridge decks, finish the westbound avalanche bridge and install the arches for the new eastbound wildlife overcrossing.
Work on I-90 this summer includes replacing 480 concrete panels.

Phew, that’s a lot of work! So needless to say, it’s probably still a good idea to remind you to continue to watch our videos, read our blogs, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, check our app, and visit our What’s Happening on I-90 webpage to help you “know before you go” so you can “pack your patience” this summer.
Arches for the new westbound I-90 wildlife overcrossing are being
constructed next to the existing arches in the eastbound lanes.

We know it’s frustrating sitting in traffic, especially on beautiful, sunny summer days. We hope that at least having a sense of the progress being made to improve this major corridor will help take some of the sting out of it, and we appreciate your patience.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Love, chicks and science under the Ship Canal Bridge

By Mike Allende 

Earlier this spring, Ariel spotted Maverick. She took his breath away, and she decided he should be part of her world. Maverick flew through the danger zone to kiss the girl. One thing led to another. And that’s how our workers found themselves under the Ship Canal Bridge, 95 feet above Portage Bay and Lake Union, on a sunny Friday at the end of June.

Crews must climb down two ladders to get under the Ship Canal Bridge,
95 feet above the lake.
Say what?

Allow me to explain.

Banding under the Ship Canal Bridge 
It’s a long way down for both our workers and the new chicks they’re visiting under the Ship Canal Bridge. Peregrine falcon chicks, that is.

The siblings hatched around June 11 to thrilled parents Ariel and Maverick. Now about 3 weeks old, it’s the perfect time for chicks to be banded with identification tags. Their legs have reached adult size, but they don’t yet have their flight feathers.

That’s where we come in.

 Workers, including a maintenance technician, our wildlife biologist and one of our communicators, escort a licensed falcon bander from the Falcon Research Group under the bridge to attach bands to the chicks. But it’s not quite that simple.

The group climbs down two ladders on the outside of the Ship Canal Bridge, one 40 feet and the other 20 feet. They’re secured to the bridge with a heavy-duty climbing harness with lanyards and hooks, preventing them from falling into the water. While secured to a cable, the group walks across a beam to a nesting box where the falcon family lives.

Ariel loudly protests our interference in her otherwise calm day.
New parents Ariel and Maverick aren’t always interested in having visitors, though, and can attack and dive-bomb to protect their chicks. Keep in mind that peregrines are the fastest animal on Earth, with the ability to dive at more than 200 mph. So, our group carries open umbrellas for protection. This time, Ariel mostly hung around some of the beams and screeched loudly at the group.

Our group approaches the nesting box from both sides to secure the chicks and place them in a soft sided bag. One person gently holds each chick, while the bander measures its leg and places the band on, then returns the chick to the bag. The whole process takes about 20 minutes. Finally, the chicks are carefully returned to their nest.

Why bother?
Banding is an essential part of bird conservation, and studying bird habits helps focus conservation efforts to keep them safe and healthy. The small, metal bands have codes that help identify the bird. Millions of birds are banded worldwide each year, which helps researchers better understand migration, bird ranges, life span and behavior.

The falcon chicks aren’t typically thrilled to have bands placed on their legs, but we’re quick and gentle.

The story of Ariel and Maverick
The story of Ariel and Maverick is one of love, loss and learning to love again.

It goes back to 2002, when a male falcon ruled the Ship Canal airspace along with his mate, Bridget. Bridget died in 2013 and the male – who we never did name – attracted Ariel in 2014. They lived at both the Ship Canal and University bridges, until the male was involved in a collision this past March and died at the age of 16 while in the care of PAWS. He was among the last of the many offspring of Belle and Stewart, the first peregrines to reoccupy the Seattle area in 1994 after a many-decades absence.

In April or May, Ariel bonded with Maverick, who we believe was nesting at the old Washington Mutual Building until his mate died recently. That takes us to the chicks.

Falcons, bridge maintenance and transportation planning
Peregrine falcons are the unsung heroes of our bridge maintenance program. They dominate the airspace around a bridge, creating a “no fly zone” for other birds, which reduces bird droppings that contain uric acid and can corrode paint and steel on bridges. This reduces the need for maintenance work on bridges.

The peregrine falcon chick appears to say, “How could you?” after we’ve completed placing a band on its leg and placed it safely back in a soft bag before moving it back to its nest.

The banding efforts assists us in transportation planning as well. Because peregrines are still recovering from near extinction, we don’t know all the places they would normally nest. Banding has shown us they are flocking to natural sites that have been vacant for decades and tells us which natural habitats need to be preserved as we plan for transportation needs. The Falcon Research Group also lets us know about the species using our structures, so we know in advance what to expect during construction and maintenance work and can keep the wildlife and workers safe.

The banding operation is a bit stressful for the falcon family – and sometimes for our workers high above the lake – but the end result is a win for everyone.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SR 900 to close July 28-31 between Issaquah and Renton for culvert work

By Tom Pearce

It's not on most maps, but it's as important as a highway – at least for fish.

We're a month out from another big fish passage project this summer. Starting at 7 p.m. Friday, July 28, we'll close SR 900/Renton Issaquah Road Southeast for the weekend so we can dig up the highway and replace the culvert for Green Creek, west of 164th Avenue Southeast. The highway will reopen by 5 a.m. Monday, July 31.

Yeah, I couldn't find it on the map either, but after a field trip, I can assure you it's there. Our graphic artists even created our own map that shows the creek's location.

Restoring fish passage
Crews that built the original road about 100 years ago put in the culvert. It's only four feet wide and three feet tall; the upstream side of the creek is more than 11 feet wide. That means when the water level is up, the creek runs through the culvert with so much force that fish can't continue upstream – their highway is pretty much shutdown.
This culvert below SR 900 in Renton is about 100 years old and needs to be replaced with a larger culvert.

Through the years the creek has worn away at the downstream side of the creek bed, to the point where it's now created a tough jump for fish in a shallow creek, especially if there's a heavy flow coming out of the culvert. All that makes the creek a barrier to fish passage.

A 2013 U.S. District Court injunction requires us to replace those sorts of culverts under state highways. The Green Creek culvert is one of 475 that need to be fixed by 2030.

Dig it
SR 900 is two lanes wide with almost no shoulder at Green Creek, and carries about 9,500 vehicles a day. However, the culvert is more than 25 feet beneath the road, so it will take our contractor crews an entire weekend to dig out the old culvert and replace it with a 16-foot wide, 10-foot tall culvert that is 55 feet long. Once that's in place, they'll fill in the gap, repave SR 900, replace the guardrail and reopen the highway.

With the new culvert in place, the crews will be able to create a natural creek bed in it, making it much easier for salmon, trout and other species to travel upstream.

The scenic route
Drivers will need to use a detour around SR 900 in late July when the
highway closes to allow crews to replace a fish culvert.

Even though the highway will be closed all weekend, you'll still be able to use it between Issaquah and Renton. We'll have a signed detour set up via 164th Avenue Southeast, Southeast 128th Street/Northeast 4th Street and Duvall Avenue Northeast. Folks who live between 164th Avenue Southeast and Duvall Avenue Northeast will have access on SR 900 up the work zone, but they won't be able to cross it during construction.

It's a lot of work for a little creek, but by closing our highway for a weekend, we're reopening a highway for fish that's been closed to salmon and other native species for a very long time.

Give yourself some extra travel time this Fourth of July – and all summer long

by Barbara LaBoe

Hitting the road this Fourth of July?  Or maybe the weekend before the holiday?  We don’t create travel charts for midweek holidays, but whether you’re driving on our highways or taking one of our ferries, you should still plan for extra travel time during the weekend and the holiday itself.

Where are my travel charts?
We don’t produce travel charts on midweek holidays because it’s harder to predict which day people will travel – if they do at all. If holiday travel is spread over several days, we also don’t see as many bottlenecks or congestion on any one day or time. In addition, the historical data isn’t as helpful. The last Tuesday July 4 we had was 2006 and the last one before that was 2000. The population and even some roads have changed a lot since then, so our forecasts wouldn’t be as useful as they are for annual weekend holidays such as Labor Day.

Like any holiday weekend, Independence Day weekend is a busy one on the roads and drivers should expect some delays on major travel routes.
That said, with summer travel and a number of construction projects across the state, we expect EVERY weekend to have potential for congestion – especially for those traveling east or west, with work scheduled on I-90, US 12 and US 2. We want you to be prepared. Plan out your route ahead of time, give yourself extra travel time and make sure you have plenty of gas, water and snacks in case you get stuck in a traffic backup.

Get updated travel information from our app or any of our online tools, including social media. You can also call 511 for travel alerts or visit our travel alert website. Please do NOT check the road status on your phone while behind the wheel – have a passenger check or pull over at a safe spot.

Why is all this construction happening now?
Summer is our busy construction season because it’s the season with the dry weather required for a lot of our work. We know people also travel during the summer, so we try to keep disruptions to a minimum wherever possible.

We halt construction on major holidays – and will do so this coming weekend. Often, though, the detours and lane changes must remain in place. In some cases, the roadway or bridge is torn up and we couldn’t divert traffic back on it even if barriers were moved. In other cases, leaving the barriers in place allows work to resume more quickly and helps shorten the overall construction and disruption. So, weekend drivers will still see some work zones even without active work. Other work is specifically done on weekends or in the evenings to try to avoid major traffic.

As for tolling, the SR 520 bridge will be on its new weekend toll rates on Tuesday, July 4, and the I-405 express toll lanes will be free for everyone on that day (no pass or carpool needed). The Good To Go! visitors’ guide is a great resource for out-of-towners.

Fourth of July is one of the busiest travel times for our ferry system, with about 430,000 passengers riding during last year’s holiday weekend. We expect similar numbers this year so plan for longer than usual wait times, make vehicle reservations to the San Juans, Sidney, B.C. or Port Townsend/Coupeville, and if possible, consider walking on.
Fourth of July weekend is one of the busiest of the year for our ferry system and passengers should expect longer than normal waits and may consider walking on.

Passengers sailing between Mukilteo and Clinton should take note that a smaller vessel will be serving the run as the Tokitae is undergoing federally required inspections. We’ll add extra service as needed late night on July 3 and 4 but please plan ahead as the smaller boat could lead to longer wait times.

We’ll also have extra sailings between Vashon Island and Fauntleroy, along with the Anacortes and San Juan Island routes. There will also be some adjusted schedules so be sure to check our summer schedule (pdf 911 kb).

Fireworks shows
Many of us like a good firework show. Unfortunately, every year we see people try to avoid the crowds at venues putting on the shows and sometimes stopping on highway shoulders or even off- and on-ramps to watch the show. This is a bad idea, creates a significant road hazard and can lead to collisions. Please don’t stop on highways or ramps to watch the shows, and if you’re driving during a firework show, please keep your eyes on the road.
Please remember not to stop on highways or on- and off-ramps to watch fireworks as this is a major safety hazard.
(Photo by Bruce Ikenberry)

Give ‘em a Brake
Speaking of work zones, please stay extra alert through all work zones you may encounter this summer. Please SLOW DOWN and STAY ALERT any time you enter an area with crews working. We average more than 900 work zone crashes on state roads each year and almost all are preventable by simply paying attention and following signs and directions. And remember, 96 percent of injuries in work zone crashes are not to workers, but to the driver or passenger of the other vehicles involved. So it’s in your and your family’s best interest to be as safe as possible.

The crews out there are working hard to keep your roadway safe and they need your help ensuring everyone makes it home safe to their families each night.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Traffic switch on I-5 in Tacoma requires advanced planning and patience

Crews finishing up the ramps off of
the new I-5 bridge that spans I-705 in
Tacoma earlier this month.
by Cara Mitchell

Tacoma commuters, get ready.

Two big traffic shifts are scheduled to occur shortly after the July 4 holiday and will last for six months. The first will affect northbound Interstate 5 traffic when all northbound lanes will move onto a newly-built northbound I-5 bridge over I-705. Once that traffic shift is complete, an even bigger shift, this time to southbound I-5 traffic, will occur.

Starting July 10, southbound drivers will notice changes being made to southbound I-5 approaching Tacoma as crews place barrier and restripe the southbound lanes into two distinct roadways.

In this temporary southbound alignment, the two lanes to the right of the barrier will provide access to exits that serve State Route 7, I-705, SR 16, and South 38th Street. The three lanes to the left of the barrier will serve travelers heading toward Olympia and beyond. This temporary alignment will be put into place over a week of night closures starting July 10.

Piece of cake, right? It will be as long as you plan ahead and know what to expect.

July 7-10: High Impact Weekend

To get the temporary southbound alignment into place, an around-the-clock weekend lane closure will take place.

From 11 p.m. Friday, July 7 until 5 a.m. Monday, July 10, crews will close one lane of southbound I-5 near the Tacoma Dome to rebuild the center median of the highway. This will likely create big backups coming out of King County. Drivers are advised to travel early when traffic volumes are lower, and build extra time into their trips.
Week of July 10

Once the center median work is complete, crews will move the three left lanes of southbound I-5 onto the former northbound lanes and begin installing barrier to create collector/distributor lanes. The I-705 and SR 7 on- and off-ramps, and the exits to SR 16 and East 38th street will be re-striped. This work will occur during overnight hours throughout the week, and will involve lane and ramp closures to implement. While some of this work is weather sensitive and could be delayed, the goal is to have the temporary southbound configuration in place by Friday, July 14.

The new I-5 lane configuration through Tacoma. Soon northbound lanes (yellow) will be placed on a new, permanent aligment and three southbound lanes (green) will be moved onto previous northbound lanes. Blue lanes will be temporary southbound collector/distributor lanes and orange represents the work zone.

Why separate southbound I-5 lanes?

This temporary lane configuration creates a work zone allowing crews to advance work on the McKinley Street overpass and rebuild the outside lanes of southbound I-5. It will be in place at least through the end of 2017, and longer if weather delays construction progress.

Eastbound SR 16 to northbound I-5 goes back to two lanes

Amongst these closures and traffic shifts, we do have some good news to share. Along with the southbound traffic shift, this next phase of construction will bring some relief to eastbound SR 16 drivers heading to northbound I-5. Once traffic is moved onto the new northbound alignment, the ramp from SR 16 to northbound I-5 will once again be two lanes instead of one.  Enjoy this temporary respite, as the dreaded single-lane ramp will have to be implemented one more time before construction is complete.

Thank you to drivers and a safety message

We know the commute through Tacoma is not easy these days because of on-going construction for HOV lanes. We appreciate your patience and ask for your help in keeping work crews safe. Drive safely. Pay attention. Limit distractions. Work zones are an inconvenient yet necessary part of the process to improve our state highways. We ask that you slow down and give our crews a brake, for safety’s sake.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

I-405 peak-use shoulder lane is off to a positive start

By Victoria Miller

If you commute on northbound Interstate 405 between State Route 527 and I-5 in the afternoon, then you have most likely noticed or used the new peak-use shoulder lane. In late April, we used money collected from the I-405 express toll lanes to convert the existing shoulder to an additional travel lane during the afternoon commute, adding extra capacity to this congested stretch of roadway when it is most needed.

So far, we have succeeded in moving more vehicles through this area and decreasing travel times. It has been almost two months since the lane opened, so let’s explore the specific accomplishments of the project based on our first full month of performance data.

How many more vehicles are getting through?
Every weekday since opening, the peak-use shoulder lane has typically been open to traffic between 2 and 7 p.m. In the two months before the project was complete, an average of about 4,700 vehicles per hour were traveling on I-405 across all lanes just north of SR 527 between 4 and 5 p.m., the busiest time of the afternoon commute for that area.

With the addition of the shoulder lane, on average, more than 5,200 vehicles per hour are now traveling through this same section of the freeway at that time. More than 750 of those vehicles chose to use the peak-use shoulder lane. As a result, we are seeing less congestion in both the general purpose lanes and the express toll lanes, also resulting in lower average toll rates for an even more reliable trip in the express toll lanes during this time.

How much time are people saving on their commutes?
Between Bellevue and I-5:
In the two months before the peak-use shoulder lane opened, drivers commuting at the busiest times on the corridor were spending an average of about 38 minutes in traffic in the general purpose lanes. Thanks to the peak-use shoulder lane, drivers commuting at the same time in the general purpose lanes are saving on average between 10 and 15 minutes for this 17-mile trip.

Between SR 522 and I-5:
Commuters in the general purpose lanes were spending an average of about 20 minutes to drive about 7 miles. Thanks to the peak-use shoulder lane, the travel time for this trip has decreased by about half on average.

Is traffic flowing more smoothly?
For an example of how traffic has changed since the peak-use shoulder lane opened, check out the two flow maps below. These diagrams represent only a snapshot in time for the area between SR 522 and I-5, and we recognize that conditions can change daily, but these images help give a sense for how traffic has improved.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Five consecutive weekends of lane closures to #ReviveI5

by Tom Pearce

Friday, June 16, marks the start of five consecutive weekends of pavement improvement work on northbound I-5 between SR 516 in SeaTac and the Southcenter area.

As we continue to #ReviveI5, our contractor crews will reduce northbound I-5 to two lanes during the following weekends:
  • June 16-19
  • June 23-26
  • June 30-July 3 - This work has been postponed
  • July 7-10
  • July 14-17 
  • Aug. 11-14

Expect major backups
Drivers should prepare for lengthy delays during each weekend. During the first weekend of work in June, we saw backups reach six miles at one point. Your best chance to avoid major delays is to plan ahead:
There are several alternate routes to use instead of northbound I-5.
Viva la differencé
This weekend we’ll do crack, seat and overlay work on the left lanes, with two lanes open on the right. We’ll also remove more than 300 feet of concrete panels at four separate locations and replace them with asphalt. Working on the right lanes means the on- and off-ramps at South 188th Street will be open. The SR 516 on-ramps and the South 200th Street on- and off-ramps to I-5 will be closed.

Crews need to remove sections of concrete panels the length of a football field, then replace them with asphalt, to create smooth transitions between the concrete and asphalt.
Making changes
We appreciate the feedback many of you shared with us after our first weekend of work. We received concerns about the lack of signs on some alternate routes, particularly near the South 200th Street/Military Road on- and off-ramps. We put out more signs during the first weekend, and we’ll have better signage throughout the rest of our work this summer.

Why weekends?
We hear that question every time we do a major project that disrupts the weekend. Our contractor crews are doing most of the work during overnight lane closures throughout the week.

It takes a couple of days to break the old concrete, compact it and repave asphalt over the top of it.

However, some of the work simply takes too long to do during overnight lane closures. Crack, seat and overlay work is a three-step process. An overnight shift doesn’t provide enough time to complete the needed steps.

It will be the same later this year and in the first half of 2018 when we replace expansion joints at Interurban Avenue and the Duwamish River – we need more than 50 straight hours to do that work.

We understand all of these lane closures are inconvenient. However, I-5 is the main artery of our region and we need to preserve it. We are confident that a little short-term pain will provide decades of smoother travel. Hang in there! We appreciate your patience!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Help researchers train computers to recognize road users, prevent collisions

by Ann Briggs

What if we could use technology to predict where vehicle collisions involving people who walk or bike will occur, then take steps to prevent them? Would you want to help? Well, now you can.

Volunteers are needed to help train computers to recognize objects and flag “near misses” at intersections. An example of a near-miss is when a driver nearly hits someone in a crosswalk.

Here’s how it works: your task is to view a short clip of a pre-recorded traffic scene, then label and track the movement of each person or vehicle within the screen. By doing so, the computer can begin to distinguish a person walking, biking, or using a wheelchair; a bus or car; then recognize patterns to identify near misses. Using the data from the video analytics, engineers could then take corrective actions to prevent future crashes.
Technology like heat mapping has the potential to help us improve road safety.

Fair warning to potential volunteers – until you get accustomed to using the labeling tools, it may take you several minutes to complete the task – plan on at least five minutes or longer per task at the start. Once you master the image tracking tools, your speed will likely increase. You can submit just one task, or complete as many as you’d like.

This work is part of a multi-city, multi-organizational partnership called Video Analytics Toward Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries while increasing safety for all users of the roadway.
We need the public’s help to use our crowd-sourcing tool to analyze video and teach computers how to tell the difference between cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians.

Vehicle crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists are on the rise in Washington state, as well as in other states. Fatal collisions involving bicyclists and pedestrians in Washington increased 6 percent from 100 in 2015 to 106 in 2016.

Why not give it a try? With your help, researchers can create a database that one day may save a life and make our roadways safer for everyone.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Big changes come Monday, June 5 for I-90 drivers across Lake Washington

By Annie Johnson

If you travel I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue you're hopefully aware of our joint project with Sound Transit to add new HOV lanes to I-90 which will enable Sound Transit to build their East Link light rail extension across I-90 to Redmond. It's been a long process that started back in 2006 when we built a new westbound HOV lane between Bellevue Way and 80th Avenue SE on Mercer Island. In 2012 we opened the new HOV lane in the eastbound direction between Mercer Island and Bellevue.

Over the past 2.5 years we've been working on the final stretch of new HOV lanes between Mercer Island and Seattle. A lot of that work has been taking place off the roadway and mostly out of view of drivers but it will all come into view this weekend when we open the new HOV lanes and permanently close the express lanes.
A before and after look at I-90 across Lake Washington. Cones are in place in the new westbound
HOV lane. HOV lanes will open in both directions on Sunday, June 4.

What's the plan this weekend?
At 9 p.m. Friday, June 2, all eastbound I-90 traffic will be reduced to one lane. For most of the night eastbound traffic will remain in the express lanes while crews do one last night of testing systems in the tunnels, unveiling signs, and lane striping on the eastbound I-90 mainline. Early Saturday morning crews will switch the express lanes to the westbound direction one final time. Eastbound I-90 will remain reduced to one lane near Rainier Avenue while crews restripe the area near the eastbound entrance to the express lanes. This is an area crews can't reach when the express lanes are open eastbound so we'll be out there bright and early to do this striping before fully opening the eastbound roadway and the new HOV lane by 9 a.m. Saturday.

From 9 p.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday, westbound traffic will be reduced to one lane as we repeat Friday night's work but in the opposite direction. If you want to take one last drive in the I-90 express lanes for sentimental reasons I'd suggest doing so by 4 a.m. on Sunday. Around that time crews will begin to shift traffic back to the westbound mainline and permanently close the express lanes to vehicle traffic. However, westbound I-90 will remain reduced to one lane west of the Mount Baker Tunnel as crews restripe the area near the westbound exit from the express lanes. We expect to finish the work and reopen the westbound mainline by 9 a.m. Sunday.
Left: Crews have been working on re-striping I-90 across Lake Washington to put new HOV lanes in both directions in place before the express lanes are handed over to Sound Transit. Right: New signs will be unveiled this weekend as part of our project to introduce new HOV lanes on I-90 across Lake Washington while closing the express lanes for good.

What can I expect Monday morning?
How exactly these changes will impact your commute depends on a number of things including the time of day you travel and where you're going. You can find detailed information about the changes in an earlier blog. No matter what, you should definitely expect a period of adjustment. This is a big change for everyone that uses I-90 across Lake Washington. It could take months for traffic to settle into its new routine.

As we normally do, we'll be keeping an eye on things and doing our best to keep you informed of what's happening out there. Before you hit the road, take a minute to look at your commute with our WSDOT traffic app or check out the WSDOT traffic Twitter feed.
Upgrading systems in the I-90 tunnels has been a major component of our Two-Way Transit and HOV project.

What happens after this weekend?
Over the next few weeks our contractor crews will continue working to hand over the I-90 express lanes to Sound Transit as they gear up for light rail construction on I-90. Our work includes removing the existing overhead signs for the express lanes and placing barrier to permanently close the express lanes to traffic. There's always work to finish up even after a project opens to traffic so expect nighttime lane and ramp closures this summer. You can always find the latest information about I-90 lane and ramp closures in King County on our I-90 and SR 520 construction closures website.

Sound Transit's work on the bridge will begin with surveying, concrete work to prepare for future post-tensioning work at the East approach to the bridge, and relocating existing electrical equipment inside the bridge pontoons. For updates on Sound Transit's progress on this and other projects, visit The Platform blog.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Plan ahead during our busy weekend of work on I-5 and I-90

By Tom Pearce

Ah, summer in Seattle. Mariners games.  Sounders matches. Getting away to the beach, the mountains or a park. All kinds of events around the region. And of course, road construction.

Sorry to slam on the brakes and interrupt those pleasant summer thoughts, but if you want to spend more time having fun and less time in traffic, heads up. We have three big projects this weekend, starting Friday night, June 2:
  • Testing in the I-90 tunnels in Mercer Island and Seattle.
  • Repaving on northbound I-5 from SR 516 to South 188th Street in SeaTac.
  • Repairs on the southbound I-5 Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle.
All this work coincides with a Mariners homestand throughout the weekend, The Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure Sunday morning and a Sunday night Sounders match at CenturyLink Field.

You can get to any of these events – all of them, if you're really ambitious – with a little bit of planning around our road work.

I-90 between Seattle and Bellevue
You've heard this one before. We are reducing I-90 to one lane and detouring traffic to the express lanes across Lake Washington overnight. This will allow crews to test the tunnel operations systems, uncover new signs and install final striping for the new HOV lanes. That means:
  • From 9 p.m. Friday until 9 a.m. Saturday, eastbound I-90 will reduce to a single lane at Rainier Avenue then traffic will be routed to the express lanes.
  • From 9 p.m. Saturday until 9 a.m. Sunday, westbound I-90 will reduce to a single lane at Bellevue Way then traffic will be routed to the express lanes.
On Sunday, permanent HOV lanes on I-90 across the lake will be in place, providing a more reliable trip between Issaquah and Seattle that doesn't depend on the direction of the express lanes.  With the HOV lanes open, the I-90 express lanes will close for good so Sound Transit can build its East Link light rail extension between Seattle and Redmond.

Biggest effects
If you're heading back to the Eastside after the Mariners game or another event in Seattle Friday night, plan ahead as we'll see congestion leaving the city. Taking transit or carpooling will help reduce regional congestion. Consider taking SR 520 or driving around the lake if possible, but expect congestion there too.

Sunday morning if you're heading to Seattle to Race for the Cure or anything else before 9 a.m., leave early or use alternate routes.
Our contractor crews will pave asphalt over the old concrete between SR 516 and the Southcenter area.

Northbound I-5 repaving in SeaTac
This is the first of six weekends when our contractor crews will close lanes to repave lanes between SR 516 and South 170th Street:
  • From 8 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday, northbound I-5 will be down to two lanes at SR 516.
  • The SR 516 on-ramp to northbound I-5, the off- and on-ramps at Military Road and South 188th Street/Orillia Road will also be closed.
Think alternatives
We see backups anytime we reduce lanes of a major highway. Similar work last year on southbound I-5 in South King County produced 20- to 40-minute delays. Some ideas that may help:
  • Take transit – a bus or light rail allows you to relax and reduces the number of cars on the road.
  • Use alternative routes – SR 99, SR 509, SR 167 and I-405 can take you around the I-5 backups.
  • Avoid using I-5 late morning through the early evening. Going earlier or later can help you dodge the heaviest congestion.
Southbound I-5 Ship Canal Bridge
The deck has some small bad patches of concrete that we need to jackhammer out and repave. We'll start closing lanes at 2 a.m. early Saturday and Sunday mornings and start the noisiest work at 5 a.m. each day. On Saturday we'll work on the two right lanes and close the Northeast 45th Street on-ramp to southbound I-5. On Sunday we'll repair the two left lanes, and all ramps will remain open.

Plan ahead
The most important thing is, if you're traveling across the southbound Ship Canal Bridge Saturday or Sunday morning and you have to be somewhere on schedule, give yourself a cushion and leave early.

This really matters Sunday morning because our crews will still be at work when you're going to Race for the Cure. The Mariners' first pitch Sunday is at 1:10 p.m. and while our crews will be off the road by 10 a.m., the backups will linger. You can also try SR 99. Whatever you do, plan ahead.

We know we've planned a lot of work this weekend considering all the other events that are scheduled. But we have so many projects that need weekend hours, we have to work when we can. The only weekends that are off-limits this summer are June 10-11 for the University of Washington's graduation ceremonies and Aug. 5-6 for the Seafair boat races and Blue Angels. There may be work on every other weekend this summer as it's the only way we can finish this important work and keep traffic moving. Much of this work needs dry weather to be completed. We know it's not easy to get around with these closures, and we appreciate your patience.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Doug Baldwin talks train safety to South Sound residents

By Barbara LaBoe

Doug Baldwin spends many Sundays thinking about hard-hitting safeties, but he had a different kind of safety on his mind this past Sunday – train tracks.

Baldwin, along with some Sea Gals, helped us spread our train safety message to more than 300 children and adults from the South Sound region. The Seahawks' Pro Bowl wide receiver and Super Bowl XLVIII champion met personally with some lucky contest winners and also engaged the crowd as a whole on how to be safer around trains.
Seahawks star Doug Baldwin helped us spread the message about railroad safety at an event earlier this month in Lakewood.

The event is a part of the larger Stay Back from the Tracks safety campaign that we, the Seahawks and Operation Lifesaver designed to get area residents ready before passenger trains are rerouted through Tacoma, Lakewood, JBLM, and DuPont in the fall.

The Point Defiance Bypass tracks that run along I-5 between DuPont and Tacoma currently have just intermittent freight traffic. Starting this fall, though, residents will see 14 passenger trains every day traveling at up to 79 mph. It's crucial that residents know to what to expect and what to do to keep themselves safe, including:
  • Never walk on train tracks. They're private property and it's just not safe to be on them.
  • Don't assume a train can stop to avoid someone on the tracks – it takes more than a mile before a heavy train can stop – that's more than 18 football fields.
  • Never cross a train/road intersection if the gates are down or lights are flashing. Trains can travel in either direction, so just because one has passed doesn't mean another isn't coming from the other way.
Baldwin's message Sunday was simple: Everyone needs to be safe around train tracks.
People gathered around Doug Baldwin of the Seahawks to hear his message of being safe
and aware around railroad tracks at our safety event in Lakewood on May 28.

He reminded participants about the risks around train tracks and then "played" an interactive train safety video game with the crowd. The game has several built-in safety messages, including to never cut across tracks as a short cut and to always obey signals and lights.

While Baldwin was the star attraction, children and families also enjoyed several other train-related activities. The Lego station was a popular stop for many participants and included take home kits to build their very own Amtrak Cascades locomotive. Participants also were able to pose with a life-size banner of our new diesel-electric locomotives that will start running this summer. For those kids hankering for a train ride, a mini train operated in the parking lot.
A large Lego setup showing two working trains and structures from around the Puget Sound
area was a big hit at our railroad safety event May 28 in Lakewood.

In addition to Sunday's event, our partners at the non-profit Operation Lifesaver organization have made more than 75 presentations at area schools this year. Partnering with the Seahawks ups our train safety game by spreading the message even further.

We're excited about the new expanded Amtrak Cascades service starting this fall. It will add two daily round trips between Seattle and Portland (for a total of six), cut travel time and improve on-time reliability. But our first priority is always safety, so please follow Baldwin's advice and remember to always Stay Back from the Tracks.