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.
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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.