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.

This is not a test: I-405 peak-use shoulder lane opens April 24

By Craig Smiley

Good news for travelers on northbound Interstate 405 in the south Snohomish County area: In less than two weeks, you'll have a new option for your afternoon commute.

At 2 p.m. Monday, April 24, the I-405 northbound peak-use shoulder lane will officially open to general-purpose traffic on the 1.8 mile stretch between State Route 527 and I-5. Between now and then, we're wrapping up our testing of the new electronic signs that will control the lanes, so you might still see some test messages, symbols and colors as you drive through the area.
A green arrow like this will indicate if the new I-405 peak-use shoulder lane is open to traffic.

Originally, the Washington State Legislature funded this project with an expected opening date in 2018. However, with approval to use revenues from the I-405 express toll lanes earlier, we were able to complete the project more than a year sooner than expected.

How do I use the lane?
As the name suggests, general-purpose traffic and buses will now be able use the northbound right shoulder as an additional lane during times with the heaviest congestion—in this case, the weekday afternoon commute. That means there will effectively be three regular lanes and one express toll lane in this area.

The peak-use shoulder lane will generally be open during the afternoon peak period but will be dynamically controlled, so be sure to check the overhead electronic signs before entering the lane.
A green arrow will indicate that the lane is open, and a red "X" will indicate that the lane is closed, similar to the signs you see today on I-5 near downtown Seattle. To learn more about what you might see on the signs, check out our previous blog on the subject.

During off-peak hours and weekends, the shoulder will remain closed so that crews still have space to perform maintenance and law enforcement and emergency services can use the shoulder as needed.

As with all highway operations, our traffic management center will be actively monitoring the shoulder lane. If there is a collision or incident, we will be able to close the lane in order to allow emergency services to respond. There will also be four paved emergency pullouts in the area of the peak-use shoulder lane.

Although this is the first electronically controlled shoulder lane of its kind in the area, you may have noticed that US 2 in Snohomish County also allows traffic on the shoulder during specific hours indicated on posted signs. For more information on other peak-use shoulder lanes in the region, check out the WSDOT congestion page.

Why did we add a lane in this area?
There have always been northbound bottlenecks at the SR 522 and SR 527 interchanges because we simply don't have enough lane capacity to handle the huge growth that south Snohomish County has been experiencing.

At the SR 527 interchange, an estimated 1,000 vehicles an hour enter northbound I-405 during the afternoon commute. For perspective, that's more than two full Kirkland Costco parking lots emptying on to northbound I-405 from SR 527 every hour. The peak-use shoulder lane will offer a new place for some of those vehicles to go without needing to merge directly into the already crowded I-405 lanes.

After we opened the dual express toll lane in September 2015 between downtown Bellevue and SR 522, we found that traffic is flowing more smoothly through Kirkland, where we have five total lanes. But north of SR 522, where we did not add any new capacity and have only three lanes, we're still seeing heavy traffic. (We're looking at longer-term solutions for this area, more on that below.)

As a result, most trips between Bothell and Lynnwood on northbound I-405 are now slower during the afternoon commute than they were before express toll lanes. The peak-use shoulder lane is just one of several identified improvements that we have been able to make over the past year and a half based on driver feedback.

What's next?
We'll be closely monitoring how the peak-use shoulder lane affects traffic in the coming months, but we know that this area of I-405 still needs more help. That's why we're continuing to look at how to fund and build additional improvements between SR 522 and I-5, including extending the second express toll lane farther north and improving the SR 522 and SR 527 interchanges to help traffic move more smoothly.
The Legislature gave us initial funding in the 2016 budget to study these improvements, and the governor's budget for next year includes $5 million more to continue our engineering.

Especially with Sound Transit planning to launch a new I-405 Bus Rapid Transit system from Lynnwood to Tukwila by 2024, we know it's critical that we help keep traffic moving and provide travelers with a more reliable trip option.

In short, the peak-use shoulder lane isn't the end of the road—it's just the start of what we hope will be a series of big improvements for the north end of I-405.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pothole repair turns scary for Morton crew

By Mike Allende

It’s a sad irony that we’re spending this month recognizing the importance of work zone safety when we had a close call this past week that could have turned deadly.

Several members of our maintenance crew were alternating traffic on SR 7 near Morton to patch potholes when a fully-loaded log truck blew through the temporary stop signal and crashed into one of our vehicles in the work zone. The pickup truck that was struck was displaying one of our reader boards about the lane closure, and was parked as an additional barrier between traffic and the workers.
Fortunately, our crew members escaped this crash in an SR 7 work zone without any serious injuries.
One of our crew members went to the hospital for further evaluation, and we’re grateful the injuries weren’t serious. The Washington State Patrol is investigating the incident and will determine what citations the driver may face.

This is why it’s so important that we continue to push the message about work zone safety. We see far too many of these situations throughout the year. While we do what we can to create as safe a work zone as possible, we need help from the traveling public to ensure everyone goes home at the end of the day.
This fully-loaded log truck went through our temporary stop signal and crashed
into one of our vehicles in an SR 7 work zone near Morton.
So please, we continue to ask you to always pay attention on the highway, adhere to road signs warning of lane closures, slow down and give road workers room to get their job done.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Closure of State Route 530 near Oso extended

By Kris Olsen

UPDATE 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12
State Route 530 near Oso reopened at 2:26 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, following an emergency closure due to an unstable slope above the highway.

Over the past weekend, crews installed 11 monitoring locations to track ground movement and analyzed the hillside twice a day. After several days of no measurable movement to the slide area above SR 530, geologists from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have decided to reopen the highway.

Snohomish County officials have also lifted the voluntary evacuations for residents near the slide area.

“We want to thank everyone for their patience as we waited to reopen the roadway,” WSDOT Assistant Regional Administrator Dave McCormick. “We know this is a vital path for many folks and appreciate your understanding as we worked to keep residents safe and track any movement of this 24-acre slide.”

While the highway has reopened, WSDOT will continue to monitor the slide area.

“The highway could close again if crews detect significant ground movement,” said McCormick. We will continue to track this slide carefully.”

UPDATE 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 12
No movement noted this morning on the SR 530 slide area.

UPDATE 4:40 p.m. Tuesday, April 11
WSDOT crews found no active slide movement on the slope this afternoon. Another update will be provided Wednesday morning.

UPDATE 8 a.m. Tuesday, April 11
This morning, WSDOT crews found no active slide movement on the slope.

UPDATE 5 p.m., Monday, April 10
This afternoon, WSDOT crews found no active slide movement on the slope. Our crews will continue to monitor the hillside, and will provide another update Tuesday morning.

UPDATE Noon, Monday, April 10
This morning, WSDOT crews found no active slide movement on the slope. We will continue to provide updates twice a day as our crews continue to monitor the hillside.
Maps showing closure area

State Route 530 near Oso will remain closed to drivers until at least Thursday, April 13 due to an unstable slope above the southwest side of SR 530. The road is closed between Oso Loop Road (MP 34) and C-Post Road (MP 38). The closure began on Friday, April 7.

WSDOT geologists have spent the past two days analyzing data, and tracking movement of a slow moving landslide approximately 300 feet above SR 530. While no additional movement was detected, geologists believe the slide still has the potential to move. Geologists want additional time to observe the slide area before the highway can be reopened to traffic.

"If the entire 24 acre slide were to give way, it could completely cover highway 530 and potentially reach Whitman Road," said Assistant Regional Administrator Dave McCormick. "We know this is huge disruption to the lives of those who live and work in the Stillaguamish River Valley, but there's still a heightened risk that this slide could still move."

Alternate route
During the closure, drivers who need to travel between Oso and Darrington must use SR 20, which will add at least one hour to a one-way trip. Emergency vehicles and property owners inside the road closure will be allowed through the area.

Unstable slope information
During survey work on Saturday, April 8, geologists with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), WSDOT and representatives from Snohomish County, the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and Seattle City Light observed and mapped areas of movement within a previously known landslide. Geologists also installed 10 monitoring locations to track ground movement. The slide is located approximately 1.5 miles southwest of the 2014 SR 530 landslide.

Voluntary evacuation advisory remains in place
A voluntary evacuation notice issued by the Oso Fire Department and Snohomish County Sheriff's Office to approximately a dozen nearby homes remains in effect.

On Monday, April 3, crews working for WSDOT were notified about ground movement near Montague Creek along the south side of SR 530 and approximately a half-mile from Skaglund Hill.
On Friday evening, April 7, DNR crews observed additional ground movement at the site. Heavy rains most likely contributed to the ongoing ground movement. While this is a slow moving slide, DNR and the Washington State Patrol asked WSDOT to temporarily close SR 530 as a safety precaution.

Joint agency response
DNR, WSDOT, Oso Fire Department, Snohomish County, Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and the Washington State Patrol will continue to work together over the next several days while the highway remains closed and ground conditions are closely monitored.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

SR 530 near Oso to remain closed until at least Monday morning

By Mike Allende

State Route 530 near Oso is expected to remain closed at least until Monday morning while crews from the Department of Natural Resources and WSDOT monitor a hillside where ground movement was detected earlier this week.

The slow moving slide was discovered on Monday, April 3. On Friday evening, April 7, DNR crews observed additional ground movement in the area, likely due to heavy rains, and asked WSDOT to close SR 530 as a precaution. The Oso Fire Department issued a voluntary evacuation for about a dozen homes near the slide area.

The slow-moving slide itself is on a private forest access road on the south side of SR 530, and approximately 1½ miles southwest of the 2014 SR 530 landslide.

SR 530 closure details:

  • SR 530 is closed between Oso Loop Road (milepost 34) and C-Post Road (milepost 38) as a safety precaution.
  • The detour is using SR 20 and I-5.

At a minimum, the highway will remain closed through Monday’s morning commute. This will allow geologists to monitor the hillside through the weekend and keep drivers safe. If they notice additional slide movement, the highway may remain closed longer.
Photo of a crack in hillside above SR 530
Geologists will observe possible land movements like this crack above SR 530 through the weekend.

Photo of a crack in hillside above SR 530
Earth movements such as these cracks in a road above SR 530 led to the decision
to close the highway as a precaution while crews monitor the situation.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The lowdown on rolling slowdowns

by Ally Barrera 

I get it. I don’t like sitting in traffic either. But sometimes there’s a need for a specific tactic that may have me tapping my breaks and slowing down on a state highway for a little while in order to keep us all safe. I’m talking about the rolling slowdown.

What is a “rolling slowdown”?
You may be asking yourself, what on earth is a rolling slowdown? Don’t worry, I didn’t understand that term until I recently starting working here.

Rolling slowdowns are when Washington State Patrol troopers or our Incident Response Team crews drive in front of traffic with lights flashing as they gradually slow everyone down to a crawling speed. The trooper or IRT will then slowly guide traffic until the incident or planned maintenance work has cleared. Once it’s finished, the trooper or IRT allows traffic to get back to its normal traveling speed.

Recently we’ve had rolling slowdowns on I-5 in north Seattle while Seattle City Light strung power lines over the freeway, and another on I-5 in Bellingham while we did emergency pothole repair. Those are the kind of jobs where you don’t want vehicles buzzing by you at 60 miles per hour, and in the case of the Bellingham work we were able to patch the hole in about 15 minutes.

Why not just stop traffic?

So what’s the point of just slowing down traffic instead of stopping it completely? Believe it or not, stopping traffic is actually more dangerous.

Think of it this way:

Imagine you’re traveling down the freeway at 60 miles per hour when all of a sudden the traffic in front of you is completely stopped, forcing you to slam on your brakes to avoid a nasty collision. Something like that is definitely going to stop traffic, likely for quite a while as emergency crews respond to the crash.

An example of a rolling slowdown on the I-5 express lane
Rolling slowdowns, on the other hand, have proven to significantly reduce the risk of rear-end collisions because they allow traffic to decelerate to the same speed as the vehicles in front of them, instead of having to stop abruptly.

Keep you rolling along
Rolling slowdowns also usually allow traffic to continue moving – albeit slowly. Generally, rolling slowdowns add about 15 to 20 minutes to your trip at most, and ideally, traffic is never completely stopped.

For example, say we had to close a lane of I-90 through Snoqualmie Pass to clear debris from the road. The traffic delays from closing that one lane could make your travel time significantly longer, as much as 1 to 2 hours during heavier traffic periods. We would have to send out an IRT truck to stop traffic while crews lay out barricades and any other equipment they might need. Once that is set up, then they can finally remove the debris, clean up all their equipment and remove their barricades or traffic control devices.

Our IRT crews or WSP will lead the way during a
rolling slowdown.
This work often doesn’t take more than 20 minutes but in that time, traffic can back up several miles depending on traffic volume.

If we used a rolling slowdown to clear the debris, only 5 to 8 minutes typically would be added to your travel time, and you and our workers would be safer. That seems like a pretty fair trade, don’t you think?

We know that any time we slow down or stop traffic, it’s an inconvenience but please remember that it’s always done for your and our safety. So if you see a trooper or one of our trucks or crews out there on the road, be sure to take the time and give them room to work. Remember, it’s illegal and unsafe to pass an emergency response vehicle while its lights are activated and you are being slowed down, so please be patient. The safer road crews feel, the better and quicker they can do their work.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Bertha's breakthrough and the highway to come

By Nicholas Mirra

A dramatic scene unfolded Tuesday in a 90-foot-deep pit to the east of Seattle Center. A five-foot-thick concrete wall came tumbling down, revealing a slowly rotating cutterhead five stories tall. This was Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, completing her 1.7-mile journey beneath Seattle.
Bertha’s cutterhead made its appearance near the Seattle Center on Tuesday, April 4.

Crews from the contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners began mining around 8 a.m. on Tuesday, breaking through the concrete wall around noon. We shared updates from the scene on Twitter, Facebook and Periscope, and hosted a livestream on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program website and here on the blog. (The traffic overwhelmed our servers for a time; across all our channels, nearly a half million people tuned in to witness the event).

A drone pilot brought in for the event captured the scene from above the disassembly pit

Bertha's job is complete
Bertha has been building the new SR 99 tunnel as she mines, erecting a 6.5-foot-wide tunnel ring and then pushing off that ring to mine forward (watch her build a ring). This new tunnel will carry SR 99 through Seattle, replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct which is old and vulnerable to earthquakes. Once the tunnel opens, the viaduct will be torn down and a new Alaskan Way surface street built in its place, which will provide connections between SR 99 and downtown Seattle (this map shows how common trips will look when work is finished).

With tunneling complete, Bertha now sits at the north end of a 9,270-foot tunnel stretching from the stadiums to the Seattle Center area. In the coming weeks, STP will move the machine into its final position in the disassembly pit. Then the machine will be cut up and the pieces loaded onto trucks and hauled away. Some parts of the machine will be recycled while others may be reused.

The (literal) road yet to come
While Bertha tunneled forward, crews working behind her have been building the structure of the highway inside the tunnel. These walls and decks will form the tunnel's double-deck highway, plus the ventilation, maintenance and emergency exit corridors on the sides of the roadway. When complete, the tunnel will have two lanes in each direction, plus an 8-foot shoulder and a 2-foot shoulder on either side of the roadway.
Crews have been construction the roadway of the new SR 99 tunnel behind the Bertha tunneling machine.

Building the roadway is one of four big steps remaining before the tunnel opens to traffic, currently scheduled for early 2019.
  1. Disassembling and removing the tunneling machine
  2. Building the roadway inside the tunnel
  3. Installing the tunnel's mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems
  4. Testing and commissioning the tunnel
The tunnel will have a complex set of interconnected systems to ensure the tunnel is safe and functional, including ventilation, fire detection and suppression, security and lighting. Once everything is complete, these systems will be thoroughly tested and its operators trained. You can read more about these steps on the program website, which will continue to provide updates as we get closer to opening the tunnel to traffic in early 2019.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Adjustment coming to I-405 express toll lane access point in Bothell

By Ethan Bergerson

New lane for merging will help the drivers exiting the northbound express toll lane to get to State Route 527

Interstate 405 drivers and bus riders count on the express toll lanes for a faster trip when they really need it, but during the peak of the afternoon commute even the fast lanes have their slow spots. Next week, we’ll help address a spot where cars slow down to exit the northbound express toll lane south of State Route 527 by adding a new lane in Bothell to give drivers space to pull out of the express toll lanes before merging into the regular lanes.

Every weekday, about 51,000 drivers choose to get in the express toll lanes. During the peak of the afternoon commute, there are more cars in each express toll lane than in any other lane on I-405, moving an average of 26 miles per hour faster than the regular lanes. But that big demand for the express toll lanes creates a new set of challenges, especially in the areas north of SR 522 where there is only one express toll lane in each direction.

One particularly crowded spot is the northbound area between Northeast 195th Street and SR 527, where nearly 5,000 cars merge into or out of the express toll lanes daily. During the afternoon commute, when many cars in this area are trying to get over to SR 527, cars decrease their speeds in the express toll lane to find a gap in the regular lanes as they merge over. Since there’s only one express toll lane in this area, there’s nowhere for cars to pass slower-moving vehicles, which can create backups behind them.

Addressing the issue
The new lane will help address this issue by giving drivers a place to pull out of the express toll lane before slowing down to merge into the regular lanes. The new lane will stretch for almost one-half of a mile between Northeast 195th Street and SR 527, about as long as eight football fields, to give drivers more space to move over to where they need to be.
New lane will give drivers a place to pull out of the express toll lane
before slowing down to merge into the regular lanes.
This new lane is not to be confused with the new peak-use shoulder lane whose signs are being tested right now and is expected to open ahead of schedule this spring. That improvement will give drivers a new regular lane to use between SR 527 and I-5. The new lane for merging in and out of the express toll lanes is another of more than a dozen improvements to the express toll lanes we’ve made over the past year-and-a-half based on driver feedback. Other improvements have included giving drivers more room to merge and opening the lanes to everyone for free on nights and weekends.
Plan ahead for construction
Next week, contractor crews will need to restripe all the lanes in this area between Northeast 195th Street and SR 527. During this work, I-405 will be reduced to one lane nightly between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Please note that this work requires favorable weather conditions to complete the lane striping and wet weather could postpone the work. For the most up-to-date information regarding these closures, please visit the I-405 Construction Update page.

We expect that it may take drivers a little while to get used to the new access point. So be alert when you’re driving through the area, and get ready for the road to look a little different.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Follow Bertha's breakthrough

The contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners began mining around 8 a.m. this morning. The tunneling machine Bertha will mine through the five-foot-thick concrete wall of the disassembly pit, an effort that is expected to take several hours.

Crews will then stop to remove the braces supporting the wall (visible in the livestream feed), work that will take several days. After the braces are removed, crews will advance the mining machine until it is in its final resting place inside the disassembly pit.

Below is footage of Bertha's breakthrough, captured by a drone flying above the disassembly pit.

Break through time-lapse


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Monday, April 3, 2017

Please help us keep everyone safe in highway work zones

By Barbara LaBoe

It's hard to describe how it feels when a vehicle zooms by you in a highway work zone. You hear the vehicle before you see it and then you're also buffeted with a burst of wind as it passes just a few feet away from you. There are cones, barriers and warning signs, of course, but if you're not used to it the vehicles still feel WAY too close.
Our workers, including this crew replacing light bulbs on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, are often just feet away
from moving traffic. Please slow down and be extra alert when moving through work zones.

For many of my colleagues, though, this is their daily office. And, unlike me, they live with the knowledge that one second's distraction by a driver can cause their injury or even death on any given day. Every worker I've spoken to can reel off a list of near misses, and some have been injured as well. We work very hard to keep these workers safe with equipment and procedures, but we still see far too many crashes in our work zones.

We use many tools, including signs, barrels and even other vehicles, to help protect our workers
in work zones, but we still need the public’s help to ensure everyone is as safe as possible.

In 2016 alone, there were 1,790 work-zone related crashes on our state highways, including 11 deaths and 523 injuries. Nationally, there's an injury crash in a work zone every 14 minutes.

That's why we're going to spend the next month sharing Work Zone Safety messages and information to help all of us be safer on our roads. The effort kicks off this week with the National Work Zone Safety Week, and continues throughout the month.
The centerpiece of the month-long campaign is our annual Worker Memorial Event on April 13 in Olympia. The ceremony is a chance to honor the 60 WSDOT workers who have been killed on the job since 1950 as well as recognize the many others who have been injured or had near misses while working to keep the traveling public safe. It's a humbling experience every year.

So, what can you do? Please Slow Down and Pay Attention whenever you're in or approaching a work zone. The top three causes of work zone crashes in our state are distracted/inattentive drivers; following too closely and speeding – and all of these are preventable.

So, the next time you drive by workers on a highway, think about what it would be like standing so close to oncoming traffic. Slow down and follow directions. Please also be alert for other drivers who may not be paying attention and can suddenly slam on brakes in front of you.

Please help us keep everyone – our workers and all the drivers and passengers on the road – safe in our work zones. We want everyone to return home to their families at the end of each day.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

WSDOT searching in Hood Canal area for missing plane

By Barbara LaBoe

UPDATE 8:30 p.m.
Two individuals were rescued from a downed aircraft in the Olympic National Park this evening near Mt Jupiter and have been airlifted for medical treatment.

The Cirrus SR22 aircraft went down in the snow covered wilderness and search and rescue officials were alerted at 3:48 p.m. Sunday, April 2, when the plane's Emergency Locator Transmitter activated.

The signal was detected by satellites and the distress message was forwarded to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tydall AFB in Florida, who alerted the Washington State Department of Transportation.  The occupants of the aircraft were also able to alert overflying commercial aircraft on the emergency frequency.

Search and Rescue personnel from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Search and Rescue were able to locate the wreckage with the help of a search aircraft from Washington Air Search and Rescue, who tracked the distress beacon's signal.  The Navy crew then lowered rescuers to the ground to locate, access and hoist the downed flyers up and onto the rescue helicopter and transport them to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Exact details about their injuries are not available at this time, but they were described as minor and not believed to be life threatening.

At this time we still do not have the names of the pilot and passenger or know the purpose of the flight. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are already mobilized and will begin their investigation to try and determine what caused the plane to go down.

This concludes WSDOT’s involvement in the search and recovery mission. Further information – including the pilot’s and passengers names – will be released by the FAA. Media can contact the FAA PIO at Details about the site will be handled by Olympic National Park officials, who can be reached at 360-565-3000.

Photo credit to Long B. Nguyen of Washington Air Search and Rescue

UPDATE 6:37 p.m.
Search crews have located the missing plane and the two people who were onboard have minor injuries. Rescue crews are still working to reach the plane.

We have no further details about names or other information at this time.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is searching for a missing plane in the Hood Canal/Olympic National Park area near Brinnon.

At 3:48 p.m. Sunday, April 2, an emergency locator beacon signal was received. At roughly the same time, an aircraft contacted Seattle air traffic control reporting hearing another aircraft making a mayday call.

The search is being conducted with an aircraft from Washington Air Search and Rescue as well as a US Navy helicopter crew out of Whidbey Island. They are searching the area  of Emergency Locator Transmitter signals. WSDOT also is coordinating with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Olympic National Park officials.

Brinnon is approximately 60 miles north of Olympia on the Olympic Peninsula's east side, along Hood Canal on the eastern edge of the Olympic National Park.

At this time details about the plane and pilot, and any occupants onboard, are not being released because it is unknown. No aircraft have been reported overdue at this time. Updates on the search will be posted on this blog.

WSDOT, by statute (RCW 47.68.380) is charged with the coordination and management of aerial search and rescue within the state. The agency works in conjunction with volunteer search and rescue groups, law enforcement and other agencies, such as the U.S. Navy, in carrying out such searches.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The danger from above SR 503

by Tamara Greenwell

State Route 503, also known as Lewis River Road, closed on Monday, March 13, when a debris slide knocked trees and rocks down onto the highway near Speelyai Bay Road, about 21 miles east of Woodland in Cowlitz County. While the debris on the roadway does not look like much, the real danger is from up above. An estimated 20 million-pound rock slab has come loose from the hillside, making it unsafe for anyone below.

A rock slab estimated to weigh 20 million pounds has come loose about SR 503 in Ariel.

Typically, we would physically inspect the slope when it stops moving, but this one is unique and continues to move. It’s too dangerous to assess the slope from below, so we turned to some other methods. By using aerial drone technology, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and 3D imaging over the past two weeks, we’ve collected data that indicates we can access the hillside from on top. LiDAR is a surveying method using light pulses, which provides 3D images of the earth.
Photos do not do it justice! We usually see debris slides containing rocks, mud and trees, but the rock slab that has dislodged from the hillside is about the size of a basketball court, approximately 100 feet wide, 60 feet high and we are not sure yet how far back it goes into the hillside. Current estimates are about 10-20 feet.

We are putting an emergency contract in place with Pacific Blasting to remove the slab and stabilize the hillside as soon as safely possible. Meanwhile our geotechnical engineers will bring a drilling machine to collect core samples, by drilling approximately 200 feet down into the hillside from the top. Core sample data will tell us how dense the rock is and where the fracture points are in the hillside. That information helps us develop a removal plan, which will likely include trim blasting, rock scaling slopes, installing rock bolts and anchors as well as tree and debris removal. All of this work takes time and depends on what we find as well as ongoing weather conditions.

While the debris on SR 503 may not look like much, it’s the instability of the slope above,
including a massive rock slab, that has kept the highway closed.

Next steps
It is still too soon to tell when the highway will reopen. We have to remove the large rock slab, assess what is behind it and then stabilize the slope. Due to the current danger of the large rock slab breaking loose, the highway will remain closed. We know road closures are frustrating, but we simply cannot put our workers or the traveling public in danger by opening the road before we complete the necessary work.

We’ll keep you updated on our progress while this work continues. You can sign up to receive email alerts with updates about the work to stabilize the hillside and news about when the highway will reopen.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tell us your incident response stories

By Mike Allende

Many of us have been there at some point. Stranded on the road after a collision, or maybe because of a flat tire. Maybe you thought you had enough gas in your tank to make it, only to find out, well, you didn't.
Our Incident Response Team does everything from helping out at collisions
to assistant stranded drivers with some gas, a push or a tire change.

It can be a scary situation to find yourself stuck with traffic whizzing by. Fortunately, between our Incident Response Team and our maintenance crews, we have people available to help. Recently we've gotten emails from drivers letting us know they were helped out of stressful situations when our crews changed a tire, jump start a vehicle or simply provided some calming words and traffic control to help the person off the highway.

April is Work Zone Safety Awareness month, when we put extra effort into letting the public know what they can do to help keep all road workers safe. We have a lot planned, but we also want to hear from you.
Providing traffic control is one of the ways our Incident Response Team helps
create a safe environment on the highways for drivers and road crews.

Have you been helped out by a member of our IRT or maintenance crew? We want to hear your stories. What was the situation? What did they do?

If you have something to share, please email Help us work toward making the highways as safe as possible for all road workers.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Testing… testing one, two

By Craig Smiley

If you have traveled through the Canyon Park area recently, you may have noticed some changes to northbound Interstate 405. It’s all related to our new project, which we mentioned back in January, to add general purpose capacity to northbound I-405 between State Route 527 and I-5.

With signs installed, testing of our new I-405 peak-use shoulder lane begins this week.

Since then, work on the I-405 Northbound Peak-Use Shoulder Lane Project has been progressing. Crews recently finished installing four sets of electronic signs that, when the project is complete, will indicate when the shoulder lane is open to drivers and display messages about traffic conditions ahead.

Now it’s time to start testing.

This is only a test
Starting as soon as Wednesday, March 29, the signs will start displaying symbols such as different colored lines and shapes, and several test messages. These test messages will run until the lane is ready to open for use by traffic later this spring.  As this will be the first dynamic peak-use shoulder lane in the state, we are not only testing the signs individually to make sure they work but are also testing all the signs together to make sure the system will operate as planned once we open the lane.

Once the lane is fully operational, here’s what you will see on the signs over the peak-use shoulder:

Symbols on the signs over the peak-use shoulder.

  • A green arrow will indicate when the lane is open to traffic
  • A red “X” will indicate the lane is closed
  • Yellow arrows will indicate when drivers should start to merge out of the lane or use extra caution because of an incident ahead
An additional sign mounted on the side of the signpost may display information about traffic conditions, such as:
  • Shoulder Open 
  • Shoulder Closed 
  • Shoulder Blocked 
  • Shoulder Work Ahead 
  • Incident in Shoulder Ahead 
  • Slow Traffic Ahead 
What if there’s a crash?
Some of you have been asking what happens in the event of a crash. We have worked with our partners at the Washington State Patrol to develop emergency protocols. As with all highway operations, our Traffic Management Center will be actively monitoring the lane. If there is a collision or emergency, we will be able to close the lane to allow emergency services to respond. There will also be four paved emergency pullouts in the area of the peak-use shoulder lane.

Stay tuned for more information about the exact opening date for the new peak-use shoulder lane, which is on track for completion this spring.

Friday, March 24, 2017

All in a night's work

Crew comes to stranded motorist's aid on SR 7

By Mike Allende

All Rhonda Long wanted to do was get home.

Traveling back from Yakima and well into an already 13-hour day, she turned north onto SR 7 in Morton on the very rainy night of March 9. With 100 miles to go before reaching her home in Port Orchard and a slow ride over US 12 behind her, Rhonda was ready to be off the road and safely through her front door.

And then she hit a pothole.

She pulled over to assess any damage but it was 8:15 at night in a driving rain, not ideal conditions to get a good look at her tire. Fortunately for Rhonda, Marty Wilkinson and Jack Thomas, maintenance technicians in the southwest portion of our state, were in the area.

Jack Thomas and Marty Wilkinson

Jack and Marty were in the area fixing potholes on SR 7 and came upon Rhonda and another driver about 5 miles north of Morton. Both had hit the pothole and found themselves on the side of the highway. After helping the first driver with his tire and jumping his dead battery, they moved on to help Rhonda.

"It was very dark and raining very hard but the first thing we think of is to keep the public, ourselves and our coworkers safe," Marty said. "We use our amber strobe lights to hopefully slow down traffic and that helps us all out."

Adding to her problems, the wheels on Rhonda's vehicle also sank into the mud as rain pelted them all. But our crew was able to help get a spare tire put on and move the vehicle out of the mud, and soon Rhonda was on her way.

"I cannot express how grateful I am for Jack's and Marty's help in getting safely off the road and out of the mud," Rhonda said. "I was able to get back on the road from that point! Exhausted, but home!"

It was just in a night's work for Marty, Jack and the rest of our hard-working road crews. Not only do they put forth great effort to keep our highways safe, they also are always available to help out drivers in need, regardless of conditions. Jack and Marty went on to spend the night fixing more potholes along SR 7 with traffic control help from the Washington State Patrol.

These workers don't look at these situations as anything special. But,  but for people like Rhonda, who find themselves in need on dark, rainy nights, help from our crews and other road workers make a huge difference. Thanks for your service, Marty and Jack!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Washington State Ferries’ summer schedule cover contest

With summer just around the corner, it's time to leave the passenger cabin for sunnier skies on the sun deck!

By Nicola Zanchi

Calling all high school students. We're looking for a sunny new look for our summer 2017 sailing schedule.

Summer is our busiest sailing season, as millions of tourists and locals flock to our ferries to spend time on the water. Whether it is yoga on the sun deck, riding a bicycle aboard for a two-wheeled island adventure, or taking in the sights from the pickle fork, summer on the ferry is an unforgettable experience.

High schoolers are invited to send us their best drawing of what “Summer sightings on the ferry” means to them.

School's out for summer

As Alice Cooper crooned, school's out for summer – or will be soon – and high schoolers, we want you to indulge your summer break daydream and participate in our summer schedule cover contest! Students currently in grades 9-12 have until early April to create and submit original artwork based on the theme "Summer sightings on the ferry."
Alexander Sowers, a 13-year-old
from Seattle, won our 2017
spring sailing schedule
drawing contest with
this image.

This summer we will print more than 985,000 ferry schedules with the selected cover art and distribute them across our 10 ferry terminals and 22 vessels that make up our fleet. With more than eight million passengers travelling aboard our ferries last summer, just think of all of the people who will see your artwork!


Who is eligible?

All students currently in grades 9-12 are eligible and invited to participate in this contest. Submissions will be accepted beginning Wednesday, March 22. The contest ends Monday, April 10. No submissions will be accepted after that date.

What are the submission requirements?
  • Dimensions:
    • Electronic: Submissions must be 300 dpi or higher, and portrait oriented. Submissions cannot exceed 16 MB.
    • By Mail: Submissions must be on 8.5 x 11 paper, and portrait oriented.
  • Media: We welcome a variety of media, both designs produced by hand and computer graphic design.Submissions must be in black and white. Color submissions will not be accepted. Artists are encouraged to use bold, strong lines.
  • Original artwork: All work must be original and include a ferry or elements of a ferry (i.e. life ring). No copyright images, text or other material will be accepted. (For example, artwork depicting characters from television shows, video games or books is not allowed).
  • Ownership: Artist submissions shall be treated as being free of restrictions and limitations to their use. By submitting artwork, you give ownership to WSF and authorize WSF to post your entry on our website indefinitely, and grant WSF the right to use, print and publish your design.
  • Deadline: All submissions must be received by Survey Monkey or mail by Monday, April 10.

Our summer schedule drawing contest is open to anyone in grades 9-12.

How do students submit their artwork?
  • Electronic: Submissions must be entered via Survey Monkey. Please fill out the form with contact information and upload the artwork by Monday, April 10.
  • By Mail: Submissions must be received by Monday, April 10. All submissions should include a note with the student's name, age, grade, school, and the best phone number and email to contact them. All hard copy submissions should be sent to the following address:

    Washington State Ferries
    ATTN: Communications Staff Aide
    2901 3rd Ave. Suite 500
    Seattle, WA 98121
  • Please note: Each student may only submit one entry.
Who will select the winning artwork?

A panel of judges from the WSF executive team will review entries. A winner whose work best depicts the theme of "Summer sightings on the ferry" will be selected. Entries will be judged on creativity, originality, clarity of theme and artistic merit.

What do I win?

Five finalists will be selected and featured on the WSF website, on the WSF Twitter, and in the WSF weekly update. From those finalists, the winning artwork will be chosen to be featured on the 2017 WSF summer sailing schedule.

Questions? Contact us at

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The imperfect storm: How we worked to clear the I-405 semi-truck crash in Bellevue

By Harmony Weinberg

Morning commuters, we understand your frustration. Whether you were late for work, school or appointments on this dreary Wednesday, sitting in traffic could not have been any fun.

So what happened, exactly? Why did it take more than four hours to clear the semi-truck that crashed and rolled over on northbound I-405 in Bellevue? On top of that, why did traffic clog up on I-5 and I-90? Let's get right to your questions.

What happened?
Just after 5 a.m. Wednesday, March 15, a semi crashed into the barrier between the northbound I-405 lanes and the off-ramp to Northeast 4th and Northeast 8th streets in Bellevue, splitting the trailer in half. Tons of boxes packed with clothes and paper products went pouring onto the roadway. The impact of the crash also ruptured the truck's gas tank, spilling nearly 100 gallons of diesel.

We worked with the Washington State Patrol to close all lanes of northbound I-405 for approximately an hour before opening two lanes. Then, the real work began: It was time to clear the truck and clean up the mess.

What does it take to clear a crashed semi-truck?
Clearing a split semi-truck trailer and its cargo and leaking diesel is no easy task. Not only did we need to safely secure the area and set up traffic control, we also needed to get all the right people and equipment there so we could clear the scene and get traffic moving again.

Setting up a safe work zone
  • Our overnight maintenance crews rushed to the scene to help WSP with traffic control.
  • Our first priority was to keep drivers away from the debris in order to keep them safe and avoid any secondary collisions.
  • It was also crucial to create a safe work zone for our crews so they could do the cleanup work.
Getting equipment and workers to the scene
  • It took careful coordination to get the right equipment and the right people to the scene.
  • Get a load of this: Crews on scene needed to get a giant tow-truck, designed to haul semis; giant flatbed trucks that could carry the two halves of the trailer; and a loader to remove all the debris.
  • The Department of Ecology (DOE) sent a crew to inspect and clean the spilled diesel, which can present both safety and environmental hazards.
Clearing the truck and the debris
  • Crews used the loader to push the debris off the freeway and onto the exit ramp so we could get all lanes of I-405 moving again.
  • We were able to reopen all lanes of traffic just before 9:30 a.m. However, we kept the exit lanes closed while we loaded the spilled cargo into empty trucks by hand and then haul it away.
  • At the same time, the DOE crew cleaned up the spilled diesel.
  • Maintenance crews also had to fill orange barrels with sand in order to create a temporary barrier between the exit and the freeway.
Why was traffic so bad everywhere?
You probably noticed while stuck in traffic that it was pouring down rain. Combine that with the crash, and you get a ripple effect on traffic throughout the area. Then, throw in the inconvenience of this happening during rush-hour conditions. Top it off with only two lanes open on a very busy northbound I-405 and traffic diverting to I-5 and city streets and, well, you have a big influx of congestion just about everywhere in the area. Call it the imperfect storm.

Our Traffic Management Center worked quickly to alert travelers of the closure on our overhead messaging signs. Our communications team turned to social media right away to let people know before they hit the road so they could avoid the area and take alternate routes.

Thank you!
We want to thank all of you affected by today's snarled roads, and for staying engaged about the changing traffic conditions while our hard-working crews and all of the first responders worked to clear the scene and get you moving again. Many of you turned to our social media accounts to learn more about the situation.

This is a good reminder to prepare yourself, your passengers and your vehicles for the possibility that you could get stuck in a traffic jam at any given time. It's always a good idea to have water, snacks, entertainment for the kids and blankets in your vehicle.

Final words of wisdom: If your gas tank is half-full, it's also half-empty – you should fill it up.

Major Hood Canal Bridge work coming up

By Shari King

For commuters driving between the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas, the Hood Canal Bridge is a vital piece of our transportation network. As one of the world's longest floating bridges, it turns what would be a 115-mile trip around Hood Canal into a 2-mile trip, and is a lifeline for communities. Unlike other floating bridges in the state, this one sits in salt water. That harsh and corrosive environment means that the bridge requires daily maintenance to ensure it functions for both marine and vehicular traffic.

Each week, bridge crews perform preventative maintenance on the bridge, just as you do when you change your car's oil or windshield wipers. At some point however, a major mechanical part in your vehicle needs to be replaced, such as a transmission. That's a good analogy for the work we have started  for the Hood Canal Bridge, While repairs to your car may take a day at the mechanic, our bridge repair work will last into the fall, and will require numerous bridge closures.

The Hood Canal Bridge drawspan must be open during our repair project to
allow access to the mechanisms and wheels of the bridge.
Up to 12 overnight closures will occur.  The first set of closures occurred in late March; the second set of closures will occur during night hours on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, April 2-5, between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. During that time, the bridge will close to vehicle traffic.

Why does the drawspan need to be open for the work to take place?
The Hood Canal Bridge is unique. When we need to replace parts, they must be built to order. During the upcoming closures, crews will take exact measurements of the guide roller wheels responsible for opening and closing the drawspan. They need the drawspan to be open to access the mechanisms and wheels, first for measuring them and, later, for replacing them. We realize having the bridge closed to traffic is a big disruption to area residents, so we've worked hard to condense the closures down to as few days and hours as possible. We scheduled the closures at night when we have lower traffic volumes.

What can drivers do?
No question, these closures will be a challenge and will add a lot of extra time to the trips of late-night drivers used to having quick trips across the bridge. Because of the work hours, we don't expect to see any significant traffic increase on alternate routes but some alternative transportation options such as ferries may have limited availability. Updates will also be available on our Twitter account, on our Hood Canal Bridge web page and you may subscribe to our free Hood Canal text messages by sending a text to 468311 with the words 'wsdot hood.'

The gear boxes of the Hood Canal Bridge will be replaced with new ones during our upcoming bridge repair project.
What will happen if there's an emergency on either side of the bridge?
Area emergency services are aware of the upcoming closures. We have a plan in place to ensure that we close the drawspan as quickly as possible to get emergency responders across the canal if necessary. The amount of time needed to close the drawspan will depend on what activities the contractor is doing when notified by emergency services.

Why wasn't this work done when the east half of the bridge was replaced in 2009?
We did replace some of the mechanics during that project, and we are now replacing more parts. This ongoing maintenance is critical to keeping the bridge functional. In fact, we will be back again next summer for another construction project during which we will replace steel girders in the bridge. In a perfect world, we would be able to do all this work at once. The reality is, however, that we must schedule the work when funds and resources become available. Our job is to gauge the most effective times and methods to do this work while meeting the myriad other transportation needs in the state.

Why didn't you provide more advance notice of these closures?
We try to provide as much notice as possible to the public when we get ready to start projects like this. Our goal is to balance advanced notification with accuracy. Mother Nature can waylay the best of plans, so we work closely with our contractors to hammer out schedules that provide as much accuracy as possible so that when we do provide the information publicly, it's useful and reliable. Even so, changes to construction schedules are commonplace and we may well need to modify dates and times of bridge closures as we move forward. We apologize for the inconvenience these closures are causing, but please know that we are working in your best interest to ensure a functioning canal crossing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Avalanche response: practicing now, just in case

By Barbara LaBoe

You may have dug your car out of a snowdrift a time or two, but have you uncovered a vehicle that was buried under 4 feet of snow?

That’s exactly what our Stevens Pass maintenance crews – along with several other agencies – do each year as they learn how to search for, locate and unearth vehicles buried under a snow slide. It’s a skill we hope none of them ever has to use, but it’s a vital one for the crews up on the pass.
Students learn how to use probes to locate a vehicle buried in a snow slide or avalanche.

We have maintenance workers specifically tasked with avalanche prediction and prevention. The annual avalanche response training, however, is for all of the maintenance crews, because any worker up on a mountain pass could encounter a snow slide. That’s also the reason we invite other agencies to participate – because a utility worker or law enforcement officer could be the first responder on scene and also are valuable partners to our own crews.

The class
The class is held at Berne Camp, our maintenance facility eight miles east of the Stevens Pass summit. Students first learn about each agency’s procedures so they understand what each other can and can’t do during an emergency. This helps all the agencies – such as county sheriff’s offices, ski area employees, utility workers and towing companies – coordinate on any type of emergency response. We’ve been doing this for three years and have seen our partnerships grow with each agency that takes part. This year 11 agencies participated.
Crews practice using probes to determine a buried vehicle’s location in the snow following an avalanche.

Once outside, students practice using beacons and probes to find a buried vehicle as well as the proper shovel technique to quickly find a vehicle and get occupants to safety. (Hint: Don’t dig straight down, come in a few feet over.) Then, the big finale: finding and unearthing a vehicle that instructors have buried under 4 feet of snow somewhere on the grounds. (Our buried vehicle comes from a wrecking yard).

Students aren’t timed during this training, but in real life time would be critical. That’s why we have the crews practice now when there is still time to work out any problems or ask questions.

What if you’re in an avalanche?

Of course, we work hard to reduce the risk of anyone getting caught in an avalanche on our passes, but we can never completely eliminate the risk. This year we’ve seen vehicles buried in snow slides or avalanches in nearby states such as Wyoming, Utah and California. We hope our crews never have to use these skills, but we’re glad to know they’re ready just in case.
Our crews are joined by crews from other agencies to unearth a car buried under
 4 feet of snow as part of avalanche response training in December.

What should you do if you’re ever caught in an avalanche while driving?
  • Stay in your vehicle
    • It’s much easier to locate a vehicle using the probes
    • You’re protected from further slides inside your vehicle
  • Turn off your engine to avoid asphyxiation risk
  • If you have an avalanche beacon with you, activate it; if not, turning on your flashers can help searchers
  • Never drive around a road closure sign. No one likes a closure, but these signs are there to protect both you and first responders.