Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Those aren’t weeds - they’re pollinator habitat

By Barbara LaBoe

If you drove our highways this summer and early fall you likely got a first-hand glimpse at our pollinator-friendly mowing and planting policy – though it may be hard to recognize at first glance.
Signs like this at the Scatter Creek Safety Rest Area north of Centralia help explain our shift in mowing and planting to better support pollinators. In the next few years, this area will return to a more natural meadow instead of being mowed.

About two years ago, we reduced the amount of mowing and weed removal in our wider right of ways to allow a more natural, meadow-like look to return. It's called integrated vegetation management and includes planting more native plants and using plants with staggered blooming seasons. This approach helps pollinators – animals and insects that transfer pollen from plant to plant – by providing more sources of nectar, pollen, larval host plants and nesting locations. (We still mow directly alongside roadways and other areas to maintain safe sightlines).

Pollinators are crucial to plant reproduction and help support our state's $49 billion agricultural and food industry. In addition, reduced mowing helps save money (about $1 million annually) and reduces our carbon emissions (by 40 metric tons a year), which helps both human and pollinators alike breathe a little easier.
The milkweed seen growing in the median along I-82 near Prosser used to be mowed, but now we're leaving it in place to provide habitat for monarch butterflies. This new mowing policy helps support important pollinators across our state.

So, what does this new approach look like? Here are two examples:
  • Milkweed along Interstate 82 through the Yakima Valley and Interstate 90 through the Ellensburg Valley. In years past, we saw it as just a weed and removed it. But now we know it's excellent food for Monarch butterflies. In just two years of reduced mowing a vibrant pollinator habitat has sprung up along the roadside.
  • Fields in and around the Scatter Creek Safety Rest Area north of Centralia on Interstate 5. While it used to be mowed regularly, we're now letting native plants return. The emerging meadow helps provide pollinator habitat for honey bees and other native pollinators unique to the local ecosystem. Interpretive signs installed this summer help explain the ultimate goal and let travelers know to watch for signs of change during the next few years.
We know some areas may look neglected while they transition from manicured to meadow-like, but what you're really seeing is our efforts to do our share and help improve the environment. So the next time you see some "weeds" along a roadway, look again, you might just see some butterflies or bees as well.
Allowing pollinator-friendly plants in our right of ways help support pollinators like this bee, which in turn help support our state's $49 billion agricultural and food industry. The policy also saves money and reduces carbon emissions.

Friday, October 6, 2017

See your best ferry pic on our winter schedule cover

By Justin Fujioka

We've all experienced those moments where you just need to take a photo. Many times, those moments are scenic. That's why we're pretty sure most locals and visitors to Western Washington have a picture or two of at least one of our ferries.
Well, it's time to look in your albums or snap a fresh image because we're having a #FerryFotoContest on Twitter! We want a fantastic image to be on the cover of our printed Winter 2018 Sailing Schedule. It's your chance for thousands of people to see your best ferry shot!
How to submit a photo
All you have to do is follow @wsferries on Twitter, then Tweet your picture between noon Monday, Oct. 9, and noon Monday, Oct. 16. Be sure to include the hashtag #FerryFotoContest.

Photo requirements and contest rules
We're not looking for just any old image of a ferry. We want something unique, striking and interesting. You may want to include a city skyline, mountains, passengers, or if you're lucky, wildlife. Here are a few other things to note:
  • Your photo:
    • Must include at least one vessel in the Washington State Ferries system (in full or partial).
    • Will be printed in black and white, so consider how that will look.
    • Must have been taken yourself and you have the rights to submit it to this contest.
    • May have been taken at any time.
  • Do not break any laws or do anything unsafe in order to snap a shot. If you are on a ferry please steer clear of restricted areas, and if driving, please no photographing or Tweeting.
  • Do not Tweet a link to an image that has been uploaded to another site. 
  • Do not send your photo via direct message on Twitter.
  • You may submit up to three pictures. If you Tweet more than three, we will only consider the first three shared.
  • You will retain rights to your photograph, however our five finalists must agree to grant us rights to use their snapshots for marketing and communication purposes, which will include photo credit. We will never sell your picture.

Your photo will be displayed in black & white on our cover so consider that when submitting your entry.

Selecting a winner
A panel of judges will select five finalists based on originality, technicality, composition, artistic merit and overall impact. The decision of the panel is subjective, final and cannot be appealed.

The finalists' pictures will be posted on the @wsferries Twitter page on Friday, Oct. 20. The image with the most "likes" at noon Monday, Oct. 30, will be named the winner. And we're pretty sure whoever that person is will have another one of those photo-worthy moments once we release our Winter 2018 Sailing Schedule brochure in December!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The I-405 express toll lanes turn two

By Emily Pace

It's hard to believe the I-405 express toll lanes have already been in operation for two years. Twenty-five million trips have been taken on the express toll lanes since they opened to the public on Sept. 27, 2015. Drivers who decide to skip traffic and use the express toll lanes pay an average toll of about $3 and save 11-14 minutes, getting a faster, more predictable trip.

Benefits despite increased volume
People traveling on I-405 like having a choice to get out of traffic faster. Before the express toll lanes, the HOV lanes were often as congested as the regular lanes, offering little benefit to carpools and transit. Data shows that the express toll lanes maintain faster speeds during peak times and move more vehicles than the old HOV lanes. For example, a trip between downtown Bellevue and Lynnwood that should have taken 16 minutes in the old HOV lanes used to take 27 minutes on average and 39 minutes on an especially bad day. Today, the same trip takes 16-19 minutes on average. That's a significant time savings for people who drive the corridor.

We're seeing these positive trends despite the huge growth our region continues to experience. These days, a new driver moves here every 6 minutes! I-405 carries almost 20,000 more vehicles a day in some places than two years ago. Lined up bumper-to-bumper, those cars would stretch 65 miles from Bellevue to Olympia. Luckily, the express toll lanes were designed to move higher volumes than regular lanes and keep traffic flowing when congestion is at its worst. For people driving in the regular lanes, their average speeds have either remained the same or improved.

Investing in the corridor
We recognize that I-405 still has significant traffic congestion, and we have many projects to build through our long-term Master Plan. Every time a driver pays a toll, they are investing in improving the corridor. More than 17 million express toll lane trips were taken by toll-paying vehicles, generating $38.6 million in revenue. We need about a third of the revenue for operations and maintenance. The remaining two-thirds, about $25 million, must be used to fund improvements to I-405.

In April, we used some of this money to add a new peak-use shoulder lane from Canyon Park to Lynnwood to speed things up during the afternoon rush hour.

We are committed to making the lanes even more efficient to help manage congestion as our region grows. As of the end of June, which was our last official reporting period, when looking at the average in both directions, the express toll lanes offered speeds of 45 mph or faster 81 percent of the peak period. That's significantly higher than the performance of the previous HOV lanes which moved cars at that speed only 62 percent of the time. While we're not yet meeting the goal the Legislature set of 45 mph or more 90 percent of the time during peak periods, the lanes' northbound performance has improved a great deal since the opening of the peak-use shoulder lane. During the four months between the opening of the peak-use shoulder lane and the end of August, the express toll lanes met the 45 mph standard 86 percent of the time. Overall, most of the corridor is meeting the Legislature's goal, with the exception being the southbound single-lane section between I-5 and SR 522, due to the heavy demand from drivers in the morning commute, which is pulling down the overall average.

We are continuing to look at new ways to lessen the amount of time people spend in traffic on the corridor. The Legislature provided additional funding to continue studying how we can add capacity in the northern portion of the corridor, and we are exploring how we can provide improvements in that area. We're also moving forward with much-needed improvements between Bellevue and Renton, which were funded by the Legislature in the 2015 Connecting Washington package.

North Cascades Highway opening won’t be the same without Tootsie

By Mike Allende

Next spring the Diablo Gate will swing open and cars will make their first trips across the SR 20 North Cascades Highway after the yearly winter closure. Engines will rev, horns will honk, thanks will be given to our hard-working maintenance crews.

But it won't be the same.

Tootsie won't be there.

We were all heartbroken to learn that Tootsie Clark – known to many as the cinnamon roll lady – passed away this past weekend at 95. While she was never a WSDOT employee, she was every bit a part of our team.
Since 2006, Tootsie Clark helped our crews push open the Diablo Gate at the SR 20
North Cascades Highway opening. This was in 2012.

"She was my first sighting of every spring," said Don Becker, one of our maintenance supervisors in charge of getting the highway open every year. "I will surely miss Tootsie."

We all will.
Tootsie Clark shares some of her famous cinnamon rolls with our maintenance crew
at the 2010 SR 20 North Cascades Highway opening.

Tootsie had been making the trek up to the SR 20 gate opening since the early 1970s. She'd arrive early to be first in line and would hand out coffee and, yes, her famous cinnamon rolls, to those waiting in line as well as our crews opening the gate. And oh boy, were they delicious.

In 2006, Tootsie took on an even bigger role, actually helping us push the gate open to mark the opening of the pass. Her granddaughter told us how exciting that was for Tootsie. She'd then lead the procession of smiling, waving drivers through. That's where she was this past May when she pushed the gate open for the last time.
The North Cascades Highway is still open for people to enjoy. But soon the winter snow will move in and around Thanksgiving, as we do every year, the gates will close for the season. Then as spring begins to poke through, our crews will begin the tough task of clearing the snow and repairing the road, getting it ready to open.
Tootsie Clark poses with Granny Winthrop, maintenance supervisor Don Becker and some of
our other crew members at the 2015 North Cascades Highway opening.

It was always a fun, exciting time to get to the gate opening and see a crowd surrounding Tootsie, enjoying her cinnamon rolls and thanking her for, well, just being her. She was an indelible part of the North Cascades Highway reopening and we'll miss her terribly. Thanks for the memories, Tootsie. We'll never forget you.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Changes afloat for ferries passengers

By Justin Fujioka

The weather’s cooling down, leaves are turning colors and you’ve probably started smelling pumpkin spice at your local coffee joint. Fall has arrived and change is in the air. ….and on the water as well.

A new ferry sailing schedule and adjusted fares start Sunday, Oct. 1.

Fall sailing schedule
With less sunshine and cooler temperatures, fewer people are taking recreational trips. Because of changing demand, we do some minor tweaks to our ferry sailing schedule this time of year. Our fall sailing schedule is available online and runs through Jan. 6, 2018.

Beginning in October, the Anacortes/San Juan Islands/Sidney, B.C. route will be on a four-boat schedule instead of five. There will also be fewer weekend sailings on the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth and Mukilteo/Clinton routes. The Port Townsend/Coupeville route will have one vessel instead of two, through spring.
Fall is here and with it comes changes to both our ferry schedules and fares.

Adjusted fares
Passengers can expect to pay between 5 to 15 cents more per ride on most routes (40 cents more per ride on the Anacortes/Sidney, B.C. route)  and an increase in standard sized vehicle base fares between 15 to 55 cents more per ride on most routes ($1.55 more for people driving a vehicle onboard the Anacortes/Sidney, B.C. route).

The Washington State Transportation Commission set new ferry fares in July. But here’s where it gets a little tricky. …some of you will be paying less, because the last day of our peak season surcharge is Sept. 30. The peak season surcharge has been in place for customers with a vehicle since the 1970s for congestion management.

In addition, drivers of vehicles under 14 feet in length may be asked to provide written or electronic documentation of their vehicle length to staff in the tollbooth. Bicycles towing kayaks or canoes will now pay the motorcycle/driver fare. The WSTC made that decision following public input to lower fare proposed increases for walk-on passengers and most bicyclists.

So how much will you be paying come Oct. 1? Use our calendar feature to calculate your new fare – and to count down the days till the start of winter!