Thursday, September 21, 2017

Remodeling I-5 requires patience and creativity

By Cara Mitchell

Anyone who has ever remodeled a home knows that the process requires a lot of time, extreme patience and advanced planning. Adding an extra room or two can mean shifting of furniture, plumbing or moving windows and doors. Cooking a meal without a kitchen sink, stove or counter tops takes some creativity. That is very similar to what is happening in Tacoma, where contractor crews are adding HOV lanes, building new bridges, and remodeling the lanes and ramps to Interstate 5. Maneuvering around the ramp closures requires patience, creativity and planning ahead. The good news is huge progress is being made.

What is finished, and what is ahead
This summer, we moved traffic on to the new northbound I-5 bridge that spans I-705 and State Route 7 in Tacoma. Crews also temporarily split southbound I-5 into two roadways. This effort created workspace for crews to rebuild southbound I-5 and the associated ramps.
Left: Crews are now advancing work on Pier 2 of the new McKinley Street overpass.
Right: Crews are grooving the deck of the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge to allow storm water to efficiently drain.

This September, crews successfully re-aligned the southbound I-5 ramp to East 26th Street and the I-705 ramp to southbound I-5. We also closed the southbound I-5 ramp to SR 7 to build permanent retention ponds, install drainage and electrical components, and to rebuild the ramp to match the new alignment of I-5. This closure also gives crews workzone access to begin drilling the shafts for Pier 2 on the new McKinley Street overpass. This is the final long-term ramp closure for this particular project, and it will be in place through fall of 2017. During the closure, drivers who use the SR 7 ramp will be detoured using northbound I-705, the SR 509 interchange and southbound I-705.

Two ramps – the A Street on-ramp to I-705 and the SR 7 ramp to southbound I-5 – are expected to re-open to traffic this fall. Both ramps closed early in the project due to temporary configurations of adjacent ramps leading to southbound I-5.

New northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opens to ramp traffic
A new phase of construction will move ramp traffic on to the brand-spanking-new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge in October 2017, weather permitting. The new 1,569 foot-long bridge, built to current seismic standards, is straighter than the existing I-5 Puyallup River bridges. Crews also rebuilt and realigned the northbound I-5 ramps for 28th Street and SR 167. As early as the weekend of Oct. 13, a new 28th Street ramp to northbound I-5 will open to traffic. Drivers who use this new ramp will cross the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge prior to merging with mainline I-5 traffic.

In addition, northbound I-5 drivers heading to the Port of Tacoma Road (exit #136B) and East 20th Street (exit #136A) will exit mainline I-5 south of the river and over the new Puyallup River Bridge to reach the interchange. Drivers will need to exit approximately a half mile south of the current exit. Crews will implement this change over the same weekend.

Once the ramp traffic is on the new bridge, crews will begin building lanes to match the new alignment of northbound I-5 leading up to the new bridge. If weather cooperates, all northbound I-5 traffic could be using the new bridge as soon as spring 2018.

One year: Three new bridges
For many commuters driving on I-5 through endless construction, it is hard to see the progress crews are making. Here is an important fact to consider: before the end of the year, crews on three projects covering seven miles of I-5 through Tacoma will have finished building THREE new northbound I-5 bridges.

The third bridge that is rapidly nearing completion is located at the interchange of SR 16 and I-5. Crews building direct-connect HOV lanes between the two highways are on schedule to move northbound I-5 traffic on to its new alignment and over a new bridge that spans the eastbound SR 16 ramp by Nov. 15. 
Left: Progress is being made on the new northbound I-5 bridge near SR 16. The bridge is expected to open to traffic by Nov. 15. Right: The ramp approach to the new northbound I-5 bridge spanning the Puyallup River is being built. The new bridge is 1,569 feet long and the deck is comprised of 6,788 cubic yards of concrete. Traffic will be shifted onto the bridge this fall.

After three years of announcing temporary ramp or lane closures, it is a great feeling to announce to drivers the opening of ramps, lanes and bridges. It is a sign that our three active HOV projects are moving towards completion. Before you break out into a happy dance, there is still one more funded HOV project to go. Construction on the I-5 – Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Southbound HOV project is expected to begin in 2018. The project will build a new southbound I-5 bridge across the Puyallup River. The construction schedule and staging for this project will determine when the HOV lanes will open to traffic.

The Tacoma/Pierce County HOV program is a $1.6 billion investment that spanned 17 projects over 20 years. We are down to the final four projects. As always, we appreciate your patience while we remodel I-5 in Tacoma to help ease congestion. To stay on top of weekly overnight ramp and lane closures, please visit

WSDOT: From the age of disco to Twitter, 40 years of keeping the state moving

By Barbara LaBoe

When the Washington State Department of Transportation was created in 1977, dancers still shimmied across disco floors, "The Love Boat" was just starting to sail into people's televisions and the original "Star Wars" movie was still in theaters. Gas cost 65 cents a gallon, the average new home cost less than $50,000 and Atari had just introduced the first popular home video game console.

Much has happened in the past four decades – bell bottoms even had time for a (thankfully brief) return – but the agency's mission remains much the same: Keeping people and goods moving across the state.
Left: final paving of the I-90 bypass in North Bend in July 1978.
Right: crews backfill the northbound I-205 bridge abutment in Clark County in March 1982

Of course, there were state highways long before the age of 8-Tracks and pet rocks. The first official state agency to develop roads was created in 1905, later morphing into the state Department of Highways and adding ferries in 1951.

Want to know more about our history? Our department library has digitized many records and documents, some as far back as 1905, with more being added all the time.
When we opened the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 2007, 60,000 people walked across the span to celebrate.

A unified department
In 1977, lawmakers voted to "create a unified department of transportation." Gov. Dixy Lee Ray signed the legislation into law on June 2, 1977, and the agency officially began Sept. 21, 1977, with the first meeting of the newly organized State Transportation Commission. (Initially the commission hired the Secretary of Transportation, though now the governor appoints the head of the agency).

In addition to highways and ferries, the new agency now oversaw the Aeronautics Commission, the Toll Bridge Authority and the Canal Commission, as well as some functions of other agencies. This allowed for better overall state transportation planning, and made it easier for the state to apply for national funding and implement national transportation policy. Agency leaders also said the one-stop location for transportation issues also would allow for more public comment and involvement.
Almost 7,000 cyclists helped celebrate the April 2016 opening of the SR 520 bridge in Seattle.

A busy 40 years
It's been an eventful four decades. Since 1977, our agency has:
  • Completed the Washington portion of Interstate 90 and half of the North Spokane Corridor.
  • Rebuilt the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (State Route 504) after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens destroyed dozens of roads and bridges.
  • Launched state-funded Amtrak Cascades passenger train service.
  • Inspected and repaired numerous roads and bridges after the 2001 Nisqually quake, leading to the project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel.
  • Opened the Hood Canal, Glenn Jackson (I-205), I-182, Intercity, Foss Waterway, new Tacoma Narrows and new 520 bridges.
  • Added sensors and traffic cameras to roadways and computerized traffic management systems to better track real-time traffic conditions.
  • Purchased new, larger vessels for the Washington State Ferries system, the largest ferry system in the country.  
  • Launched the Commute Trip Reduction program to ease congestion, improve air quality and reduce oil consumption by promoting alternatives to driving alone to work.
  • Placed a temporary bridge on I-5 over the Skagit River just 27 days after a vehicle strike knocked a portion of the structure into the river.
  • Started the agency's first social media account, growing to what is now the largest following of any state DOT in the nation.
  • Worked with local and state agencies to rebuild a road – and help a community recover – in Oso after a massive landslide buried homes and State Route 530, killing 43 people.
  • Created the Active Transportation Division to further integrate active transportation modes into our agency and assist others in doing the same.
The Chimacum is the latest of our ferries to set sail and is the third of four Olympic Class ferries to join our fleet.
So, what's next?
No longer focused on just highways, our agency's multimodal focus includes people who walk, bike, take transit, ride a ferry or rideshare. That includes considering the range of travel modes when planning projects, embracing new technology and reorganizing our management structure to better integrate all travel modes into decisions. (It's also a nod to our history: the 1905 Road Laws of the State of Washington allowed for dedicated bicycle and pedestrian lanes on all public highways).
The Amtrak Cascades passenger train service – owned jointly by Washington and
Oregon - will soon have these new locomotives on the rails.

As we embark on our next 40 years, our agency's name guides us more than ever: We serve all travelers in the state, no matter how they make their way through the world.

Or, to paraphrase Fleetwood Mac in "Don't Stop," one of 1977's most popular songs: We won't "stop thinking about tomorrow."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Show us your MS Paint skills

By Mike Allende

Because of some technical issues earlier in the week, we’re extending this contest through the weekend. Entries are now due by 7 a.m. Monday, Sept. 25.

By now most of you have seen our busy weekend maps featuring some pretty impressive Microsoft Paint drawings. We use these maps as a creative way to help paint a picture of what travelers can expect over the weekend, including special events and road closures. The maps, which we’ve used regularly since the start of summer, have proven to be one of our most popular pieces of content.

Now we want to see what you can do.

We’re holding our first Busy Weekend Map MS Paint contest! Show us your skills in balancing information with art and you could find your submission posted on our various social media platforms, which are followed by about a million people!
Our busy weekend MS Paint maps have been very popular, and we want to see what you can come up with.

The contest
Use the base map below as your starting point. Then take a look at the various special events and road closures below. Using MS Paint (to ensure a level playing field other programs can’t be substituted), produce a map that shows what special events are happening, and what construction work is going on. It’s up to you to decide which events and closures to use and how you’ll present them. Can you squeeze them all onto the map? Do you have to be selective? Are your art skills up to creating certain items?
Save this base map to your desk top and use it as the starting point for
your MS Paint masterpiece.

Not sure how it’s done, or want some tips? Check out the video below featuring our ace MS Paint artist Ally Barrera:
Remember, the primary purpose of the map is to provide information about where people may encounter traffic delays, so keep that in mind while you’re drawing a WSU football helmet or a picture of Don Henley.

Oh, and WSDOT employees and their family are not eligible.

Submissions will be accepted until 7 a.m. Friday, Sept. 22, and can be sent to Please include your name and where you live. We will select the 10 finalists and open it up to voting on our Facebook, Instagram and Flickr pages. Comment on which picture you like best, or give it a “like,” to vote. Voting will continue until noon on Tuesday, Sept. 26 and we will announce the winner via a Facebook Live broadcast on Wednesday.

The winner will have their work shown on our various Twitter accounts as well as Facebook and Instagram.

What to include
OK, so you’ve got your map ready and MS Paint pulled up. But what to put on it? Here’s a list of what’s going on. Remember, you decide what should go on your map, where, and how it should look:

Sept. 29 – Oct. 1 weekend
Special events

  • Central Washington Fair, Friday-Sunday, Yakima
  • Leavenworth Oktoberfest, Friday-Sunday
  • WSU football vs. USC, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Pullman
  • Fright Fest, Friday-Sunday, Wild Waves (Federal Way)
  • GeekGirlCon, 9 a.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Washington State Convention Center (Seattle)
  • Eagles and Doobie Brothers concert, 6 p.m. Saturday, Safeco Field
  • Sturgill Simpson concert, 7 p.m. Saturday, Marymoor Park (Redmond)
  • Seahawks vs. Colts, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field
  • #ReviveI5. Northbound I-5 reduced to two lanes between the I-405/SR 518 interchange and the Duwamish River Bridge from 8 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday.
  • Southbound I-5 Ship Canal Bridge maintenance (Seattle). Two left lanes between NE 50th St. and Boylston Ave. closed 2-10 a.m. Saturday. Two right lanes between NE 50th St. and Boylston Ave. closed from 2-10 a.m. Sunday. The NE 45th St. on-ramp to southbound I-5 closed 2-10 a.m. Sunday.
  • I-90 Bellevue ramps. The I-90 on- and off-ramps at Bellevue Way will be closed from 5:30 a.m. Saturday to 9 p.m. Sunday.
  • SR 410 closed due to fire activity west of Chinook Pass between mileposts 65 (SR 123 junction) and milepost 88 (Bumping River Road).
  • Ongoing construction work on I-90 between North Bend and Ellensburg.
OK, you’ve got your map, your information and a helpful video from our resident expert. The ball is in your court. Send us your submissions by 7 a.m. Sept. 22 and let your creativity and information sharing shine!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

How it’s made: Busy traffic weekend maps

By Ally Barrera

This year, you might have noticed maps like this pop up on our social media platforms. Our busy weekend traffic maps are one of the most popular ways we spread the word about major road work and special events happening on the weekends.

Mixed with the right amount of colors, fun emojis, and sub-par-at-best Microsoft Paint artwork, they have become the talk of social media this summer.

Every week people ask, "How do you make those maps?" or "How did you draw that (whatever doodle) that looks like something a 5-year-old drew?" Well, you're in luck, because in this week's Busy Traffic Weekend video, we are pulling back the curtain to reveal how we put together these popular maps.
The finished product:

There are a few other things going on that we couldn't fit in the video or map.
  • Boats Afloat Show, Thursday to Sunday, Lake Union
  • Renton City Comic Con, Saturday to Sunday, Renton
  • Hank Williams, Jr. concert, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Puyallup
  • #ReviveI5 overnight lane closures
    • Up to two lanes closed between South 260th Street and SR 516, including ramp closures at the I-5/SR 516 interchange
    • Lane closures will start at 8 to 9 p.m. and finish by 9 to 10 a.m. the following morning
  • Seattle ramp closures (10 p.m. Saturday to 5 a.m. Sunday)
    • The southbound I-5 ramp to 45th/50th Street Northeast
Clearly, there is lots of stuff happening this weekend. No matter which side of the mountains you are traveling to this weekend, PLAN AHEAD! We have several resources that help you know what is happening on the roads before you leave the house.
We'll be posting closures and updates on those three platforms throughout the weekend to help you #KnowBeforeYouGo.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Putting people to work: Transportation, trades and community services team up for a win-win

By Ann Briggs

As our workforce ages and Baby Boomers continue to retire in droves, the transportation industry is struggling to fill positions with qualified, skilled tradespeople. These traditional “blue collar” jobs – including carpenters, welders, electricians, ironworkers, and masons – rank among top high-demand jobs that are hardest to fill.

At the same time, many capable young minority men, women and disadvantaged persons in urban communities face barriers and challenges to getting the education and skills training needed to hold living-wage jobs. Typical barriers for low income individuals trying to find better paying jobs are a lack of:
  • Reliable transportation
  • Gas money
  • Proper safety equipment and work boots
  • Language skills
  • Driver’s license

So how do we resolve these two needs? Enter a new program, Pre-Apprenticeship Support Services (or PASS for short), that brings together the state, highway construction industry and community services to give disadvantaged individuals in pre-apprenticeship programs the support they need to succeed. Authorized through the Connecting Washington transportation funding package, the PASS program is already showing great success in its startup phase.

In the past year, the PASS program has sponsored two training classes conducted by the Ironworkers Union, Local 86, in Tukwila. As part of the PASS program agreement, the union provides training through its certified apprenticeship program as well as job placement assistance for those who graduate. For the 28 individuals who completed the four-week training, 25 are now employed as ironworker apprentices, earning wages up to $25 per hour. They also have the potential for regular wage increases as they gain experience. These are people who were previously dependent on social programs; working multiple, low wage jobs; or unemployed.
People going through our PASS program train with the Ironworkers Union to
become the next generation of skilled trades workers.

While in the training program, community-support-services providers were there to help trainees by removing barriers that might have otherwise caused them to fail. For one person, it was getting funds to pay for driver’s training so they could get a license; for another, a gas card to help get them to and from training. Other PASS trainees received housing assistance that allowed them to cut back on their work schedule so they could attend training, and many trainees were provided required safety equipment in order to work.

Using this model, we’re expanding the PASS program in next phase and offering training classes for carpenters and cement masons, in addition to ironworkers.

As of August 2017, the state invested approximately $83,000, and in return the graduated ironworkers have earned total wages of $537,800. That’s money that supports their family, helps support their local economy and has reduced or eliminated their dependence on public assistance – a true win-win for Washington.