Monday, November 20, 2017

They’re here! New Amtrak Cascades locomotives now riding the rails

By Barbara LaBoe

All aboard! Starting this week our new state-of-the-art Amtrak Cascades locomotives are rolling on the tracks from Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon.

The eight Siemens Charger locomotives are significant upgrades from our existing machines. They meet the strictest Environmental Protection Agency emission standards and are lighter and quieter. They also provide greater rates of acceleration and top speeds even though they’ll only be travelling up to 79 mph on our route. In addition, the locomotives include computerized on-board positive train control safety equipment, which will automatically stop the train when there are dangerous situations on the rails, once the system is activated corridor-wide next year. The locomotives, which boast 16-cylinder, 4,400 horsepower Cummins engines, also will be more reliable than the existing aging fleet and will be used on all routes.
Our new locomotives, seen here at King Street Station earlier this year, started running this week.
The Charger locomotives feature the traditional Amtrak Cascades colors along with WSDOT
and ODOT logos, for the two states that support the service.

The public got a peek at the new locomotives during a May unveiling at Seattle’s King Street Station. Since then they’ve been undergoing field modifications and acceptance testing to ensure everything operates safely on our corridor. They’re now ready for their official debut in revenue service and will be phased in to all Amtrak Cascade routes during the next few weeks.

The American-made locomotives feature the traditional evergreen, cappuccino and cream Amtrak Cascades colors, along with logos from Washington and Oregon -- the two states that jointly own and manage the Amtrak Cascades service. The paint colors, inspired by the Pacific Northwest, coordinate with the exterior paint on the existing Amtrak Cascades trainsets (passenger and baggage cars) used throughout the Amtrak Cascades system.
This interior shot of one of our eight new locomotives shows the locomotive control panel during initial testing.

All the Amtrak Cascades trains operate in a push-pull configuration that allows them to make a roundtrip without turning the train around. Initially, the trains will run with a new locomotive at one end and an older locomotive on the other end. This is part of the final process to break in the locomotives. Therefore, sometimes you’ll see the new locomotives pulling the train from the front and, at other times, they’ll be pushing the train from the back. The existing Amtrak F-59 locomotives will be phased out of service on this corridor over the next year.

The locomotives are just one part of a nearly $800 million investment in passenger train service in Washington state. We oversaw 20 federally funded projects throughout Washington, ranging from new tracks in Blaine, near the international border, that let passenger trains move more quickly around freight customs inspections to a new train trench at the Port of Vancouver that separates passenger trains from freight trains. In between are numerous projects and improvements to tracks, signals and even catchment walls to help prevent landslides from reaching the tracks and stopping train service. The work also includes the new Point Defiance Bypass route and station in Tacoma opening on Dec. 18. Together these projects will allow Amtrak Cascades to:
  • Add two daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland
  • Reduce travel time between Seattle and Portland
  • Improve on-time reliability
The new locomotives were unveiled to the public in May at Seattle’s King Street Station
and are now moving into service along the Amtrak Cascades corridor.
The additional trips – one in the morning and another in evening each direction – mean heading to Portland for a quick business meeting or Seattle for a fun day trip will be easier and all travelers will now have more options.

So, the next time you catch a train, or just see one passing by, take an extra moment to check out the new face of Amtrak Cascades.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Help us design the official state airport kiosk

By Christina Crea

There’s something exciting about airports. Whether you’re about to fly to your destination or have just landed, a new adventure is about to begin. It’s also a great place to gather your thoughts and make plans for your next step, or flight…

However, in order to plan your next adventure, it helps if there’s easily-accessed information available at the airport.

Wait a minute, what does WSDOT have to do with aviation? Glad you asked! We actually have an aviation division that manages 16 of the 136 public-use airports in the state, including Bandera State Airport in the North Bend area, Ranger Creek State Airport near Enumclaw and Skykomish State Airport.

Just as with our roads and ferries, it’s important that we help the aviation community have as much information as possible. Having standardized kiosks in our public-use airports – that is, airports open to the general public without required prior approval from the airport owner or operator – that  have information about our state attractions, services and amenities has long been a goal of our aviation community.

We’ve listened – and now we’re excited to announce that our aviation division is partnering with the Washington State Aviation Alliance (WSAA) for a statewide airport kiosk design competition. That’s where you come in.

We need your help in getting the word out to talented people or groups who can create innovative kiosk designs. Show us your creativity and your concept could be greeting the tens of thousands of travelers who pass through 136 public-use airports each year.

The goal is to have an attractive outdoor kiosk to showcase information in as many public-use airports as possible. The information would include local attractions, landmarks, restaurants, lodging and other points of interest. There will also be information about services and amenities available at the airport.

This is a great opportunity for community, aviation or scout groups, school classes, college students or just a creative individual to show us their creativity and see their idea become the official Washington state airport kiosk!

Bandera State Airport near North Bend is one of 16 airports that our aviation division manages.

Contest Rules

Who is eligible?
All Washington state residents are eligible (proof of residency needed if you’re selected as one of the winners to create a prototype). Designs can be submitted as individuals or groups.
Examples of groups include, but aren’t limited to: Aviation groups (WPA/EAA/RAF/WASAR and similar local aviation groups); school groups; community groups; youth and scouting organizations; community service groups; airport employees.

What we’re looking for:
No, you don’t have to send us an actual kiosk. Instead, submit drawings, pictures and material lists on 8 ½” x 11” paper. Be as detailed as possible, including colors. All designs must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2017.

Submit your entries to:
WSDOT Aviation Division
7702 Terminal Street
Tumwater, WA 98501

Design elements to consider:
  • Kiosks will be stained or painted so show us what colors you have in mind.
  • It rains here, so design a way to keep informational materials out of the weather.
  • It should provide limited shelter from the weather for the viewer.
  • Incorporate a box to keep a sign-in notebook and other materials out of the weather.
  • Contain WSDOT logo and colors (email to get a copy of the logo and color palette).
Construction requirements:
  • Must be as easy as possible to fabricate.
  • Can be constructed with commonly available power and hand tools.
  • Materials must be commonly available from local hardware and lumber stores.
  • Materials must be weather resistant/proof.
  • Design should incorporate informational text panel ideas.
  • Minimum dimensions: 15-square-foot display area.
  • Cost of construction: Relatively low cost in the range of $1,000 - $2,000 is preferred.
How will we pick?
The top three designs as chosen by the general public in an online poll running from Jan. 2-14, 2018, will be funded to fabricate a kiosk prototype for display and voting. To stay updated and vote online visit

The three prototypes will be displayed and eligible for voting at the Northwest Aviation Conference and Tradeshow in Puyallup Feb. 24-25, 2018. The winner will be announced at the end of February with construction beginning on the kiosks in May.

Remember, the deadline to submit your designs is Dec. 31. Be detailed, be creative and have fun. More information can be found at or send questions to

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Don’t get caught in the snow: Know your priority routes

By Tamara Greenwell

Are you ready for winter weather? Our maintenance crews have been preparing for several months, long before the first snowflake hits the pavement, and are ready to go. We’ve readied our equipment, trained new members of our crews and filled our salt and deicer stockpiles.
Our maintenance crews have been working for months to prepare for the winter.

But responding to snow and ice situations on the highways is more than just being ready to roll. It's a balancing act between the forces of nature, available crews and keeping equipment running. While we work 24/7 during snow and ice events, we can’t be everywhere at once.

A lot of ground to cover
  • Statewide we have approximately 500 plow and dump trucks.
  • These trucks need to cover more than 20,000 lanes miles.
  • To efficiently treat roadway surfaces during snow and ice events, our trucks travel about 25-35 miles per hour.
Snowplows typically move 25-35 mph to safely remove snow off highways, like SR 504 in Toutle in this picture.

During many storms, snow continues to fall for hours and sometimes days, so a single pass with a plow isn’t enough to keep snow and ice from building up on the highway. We use advanced weather forecasting to predict where snow and ice will accumulate, and use the information to pre-treat high traffic corridors. The anti-icing chemicals we apply help prevent frost and ice from bonding to the pavement.
Once snow has started falling and accumulating, we switch to a salt pre-wet with a corrosion-inhibited liquid deicer that helps snow and ice to melt, making it easier to remove with snowplows – but it takes time to work.

Just as no two snowflakes are the same, no two winter storms are alike. As a guide to strategically deploy our resources, equipment and supplies during inclement weather, priority levels are assigned to all of the highways we maintain. The determination is based on the following factors:
  • The number of vehicles that use the highway each day
  • Steep hills, sharp curves, intersections or ramps
  • Access to emergency services, schools, businesses and freight routes

For a closer look at the priority snow and ice routes near you, check out these maps.

What do the colors mean?

Our highest-priority routes as our primary focus is to keep interstate corridors open. Interstate 5 is the busiest roadway on the west coast and is vital for moving people and goods to support the economy. From the onset of an event, our goal is to keep at least a single lane open in each direction and work towards bare and wet pavement across all lanes.

These are important intercity and local routes, which carry between 20,000 and 80,000 vehicles per day. These stretches of highway include many of the east/west routes like sections of US 2, US 12 and SR 14.

These routes generally carry fewer than 20,000 vehicles a day. The priority levels of some of the green highways change, as the number of people using the highway and geography changes, like US 101 near Discovery Bay.

Winter climates differ greatly on either side of the Cascades. You’ll likely notice more orange routes in Eastern Washington, like SR 21. That’s because snowfall and freezing temps often occur throughout the winter on the east side of the Cascades. Our priority is to keep traffic moving under normal expected winter conditions for the 5,000 to 10,000 vehicles that use these roadways daily.

Less than 5,000 vehicles use these routes per day. Some of these roads, like the upper reaches of SR 504 on Mount St. Helens, are often closed during the winter months.

We partner with agencies around the state to manage sections of highways which pass through many cities and counties.

Winter weather response is our single most expensive maintenance activity, making up almost 20 percent of the entire maintenance budget. Our snow and ice plan is a holistic approach to shifting our limited resources to where the highest number of people and vehicles are located to keep traffic flowing.
Our highest priority in snow events is keeping I-5 running, which typically
means clearing at least one lane like this in Vancouver.

We need your help
Removing snow and ice off state highways takes time and our resources are limited. During periods of relentless snow and ice, we may not have enough crews or trucks to treat some of our lesser-traveled highways – even with crews working around the clock. Heavy traffic can delay snow and ice cleanup as plowing and deicing isn’t possible if vehicles are blocking the roadway.
Knowing the plowing priorities along your route can help you plan your trips, including knowing to expect winter conditions on certain roads or possibly delaying travel during particularly heavy storms.

Making the choice to travel during inclement weather is different for everyone. It only takes one crash or stalled vehicle to jam up the system for hours. Make the best decision for you, your family and all the other folks on the road by planning ahead.
  • Allow extra time to reach your destination
  • Be aware of changing weather conditions
  • Ensure your vehicle is in good working order and has appropriate tires for winter travel
  • Pack winter driving supplies in your vehicle
  • Check road conditions before traveling and carry chains
  • If you do decide to travel during a snow and ice event, drive for the conditions and to your capabilities
  • Remember to:
    • Slow down
    • Give road crews plenty of room to work
    • Leave extra space between you and the vehicle in front of you
    • Give yourself extra room to stop
Plowing highways helps but drivers also need to be prepared to slow down and be cautious in snow and ice.

Cities and counties throughout the state often post their priority routes on their web pages. Knowing which of the roads you travel get the highest level of service can help you develop a winter weather travel plan.

While Thursday, Dec. 21, marks the official start to winter, we’ve already seen snow and freezing temperatures effect our highways, cropping up seemingly out of nowhere with little warning. We’ve got our plans in place to respond, and establishing your own plan now will help you know before you go when it snows.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Help our IRT drivers help keep you safe on the roads

By Barbara LaBoe

Our Incident Response Team drivers have to be able to do a little bit of everything out on the road. These traffic superheroes have to be part mechanic, part problem solver and part guardian angel as they drive our state roadways day in and day out. Their mission? Help keep traffic moving while keeping everyone involved – themselves, passing motorists and owners of crashed or disabled vehicles – safe.
IRT driver Brian Farrar carries a variety of tools in his truck, including jumper cables to help disabled or damaged vehicles.

This is National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week, so we thought we’d share a little of what our IRT drivers do. I recently spent a day following along several drivers and here’s a list of just some of their tasks:
  • Changing flat tires as traffic zooms by just inches away. Recently they’ve also been showing some pickup truck drivers the new way some spare tires are suspended with cables that require special keys or tools to release. (One driver was ready to take a hammer to his truck until our driver showed him the trick).
  • Providing free gas. (No, they will not fill up your tank; they give you enough to get to the next gas station).
  • Chopping up trees that have fallen into the roadway. (They carry chainsaws and axes among their gear).
  • Directing traffic around crash scenes to keep other emergency responders safe and prevent other crashes. (They use cones, flags, flares, signs and flashing display boards as needed.)
  • Responding to crime scenes on roadways. Our drivers have dodged bullets, responded to vehicles with active meth labs in the trunk and one even emerged from under a vehicle to find it surrounded by officers with guns drawn because the driver was wanted by police.
  • Scanning bridge expansion joints, guardrails and highway signs on a regular basis to report any problems they see starting to develop. This helps maintenance make repairs before something becomes an emergency.
  • Siphoning off diesel fuel from an overturned semi truck’s gas tanks to reduce the chance of a spill or explosion.
  • Pushing or pulling disabled or damaged vehicles out of traffic to the shoulder or nearest exit to help reopen roads quickly.
  • Moving debris and other material out of the roadway. (Once, crews even helped someone retrieve a pair of dentures that flew out a car window during a coughing fit).

No easy task
The IRT drivers patrol a given area throughout the day, concentrating on known of areas of congestion unless they’re called to an incident. They’re also dispatched to crashes or disabled vehicles by the Washington State Patrol.
IRT Supervisor Kathy Vatter’s truck was damaged earlier this year when a driver plowed into it at the scene of an earlier crash. Luckily Kathy jumped out of the way and wasn’t injured, but our truck was totaled.

It’s a tough job. And dangerous. Earlier this year one of our IRT supervisors, Kathy Vatter, had to jump over a guardrail to dodge a vehicle that slammed into her truck so hard it totaled the vehicle. Luckily, Kathy wasn’t hurt, but we have far too many of these close calls each year.

So why do they do it? Drivers said their job is active and never boring. It’s a challenge to figure the best way to clear a complicated crash scene. But, mostly, the drivers all said they like helping people and seeing them get on their way safely.
Brian Farrar of our IRT group checks an abandoned vehicle to make
sure no one needed help before notifying the State Patrol.

“I get to help people very day,” said Zach Forrest, who joined IRT about two years ago.

“And people are really appreciative,” added Brian Farrar.

Safety is at the root of both the IRT program and our overall Traffic Incident Management program, which works with many emergency response agencies to safely clear road crashes or hazards efficiently while also preventing secondary crashes.
IRT driver Brian Farrar keeps an eye out for emergencies while patrolling the Olympia-Tacoma region.

We need your help
Our IRT drivers help people every shift, but we also need help from the public to keep everyone safe and moving. Here are some of the top tips IRT drivers said they’d like to share with travelers:

  • Leave extra space between you and the vehicle in front of you – following too closely is a major factor in roadway crashes.
  • Slow down and move over to the next lane if possible whenever you see an IRT driver at work on the shoulder. Not only is that state law, it helps keep everyone safe and cuts down on secondary crashes.
  • Keep your fuel tank full and your vehicle in good working order – prevention is key in avoiding breakdowns
  • Call 911 if you break down on the roadway or are in a collision. Emergency dispatchers work with our IRT trucks as well as towing companies to get you help quickly and this is an appropriate use of 911. It’s safer for everyone to let the trained IRT staff change your tire than attempting it yourself.
  • Always obey emergency signs, including reduced speed limits. Remember, no missed meeting, flight or other event is worth risking your life or the life of others.

Battery-operated flares help our IRT crews mark off closures without having to worry about flares burning out.

Bottom line, our overall Traffic Incident Management program is about saving lives. The lives of someone broken down on the side of the road, the lives of passing motorists and the lives of our workers and all emergency responders. Please help us honor their work this week – and every week – by doing your part to help everyone make it home safely each night.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Summer construction provides a new and improved commute for winter across Snoqualmie Pass

By Meagan Lott

Soon your commute across I-90 Snoqualmie Pass will look a little different. The week of Nov. 6 we will be switching the westbound lanes onto the second, new avalanche bridge. The first avalanche bridge was completed in summer 2016. This configuration will provide three lanes going westbound and two lanes going eastbound over the bridges. Although this is a new look, it’s not the final look. The completion of the avalanche bridges is part of the larger 15-mile improvement project on I-90 between Hyak and Easton. This seven mile section between Hyak and Price Creek has been under construction since 2010 and by next fall most of the major construction will be completed. The remaining eight miles of the corridor between Price Creek and Easton is scheduled to begin in summer 2021.
Westbound traffic will be switching onto our second new avalanche bridge on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass this November.

This summer contractor crews poured more than 4,000 cubic yards of concrete for new bridges and structures, poured more than 5,700 cubic yards of concrete for the new roadway and removed more than 234,000 cubic yards of material. Due to the work to get the new westbound lanes onto the new avalanche bridge, you will still see some delays and backups along Keechelus Lake, so it might be good to give yourself some extra travel time next week.
New westbound lanes across I-90 Snoqualmie Pass are just about ready for traffic.

The new look across I-90 continues between North Bend and the Summit of Snoqualmie Pass. This summer contractor crews replaced approximately 2,500 square feet of deteriorating concrete panels and milled about 88,000 square feet of roadway in the eastbound lanes. Crews also removed approximately 15,000 square feet of deteriorated concrete from the bridge decks in the westbound lanes. Although this project is finished for the season, crews will be back next spring to finish the eastbound lanes and the westbound bridge decks.

Near Cle Elum, contractor crews spent their second summer repairing and replacing a nine-mile section of the westbound lanes. Now you are driving on a smoother surface, which is expected to last the next 50 years.
The second arch for the I-90 wildlife overcrossing is in place with the full structure set to be complete in 2019.

Contractor crews also spent the good portion of the summer repairing several bridge decks near Ellensburg and building a new roundabout at the US 97 and Dolarway intersection.

We know traffic wasn’t easy during this very busy construction season and we want to thank all of you who traveled across I-90 for your patience and understanding. We also want to thank the Washington State Patrol troopers who helped to keep drivers and our employee’s safe through the construction work zones.