Remember December 2008? Did you go out in the snow and ice?

Headline from WSDOT's Web site Dec. 25, 2008: "Don we now our rain apparel? Warmer temperatures are welcome gifts to Washington drivers"

On the west side, we were just warming up from the most recent winter storm. Over the mountains and into Eastern Washington you could still find some spots of ice and snow.

While WSDOT road crews were out fighting the weather Christmas Day (and the days and nights leading up to it), I sent that info to news outlets and our Web site while toasty warm on Christmas Day. Those crews are much tougher than me. (Side note: Should I praise or curse technology? Hmmmm - still trying to decide.)

On our YouTube channel we have some videos about what we do all winter.

So back to my point - snow was here in December 2008. As we got closer to January, it finally started to turn around. This type of weather can wreak havoc on travel, so the travel patterns and drivers who travel in December can vary widely from year to year. For this reason, WSDOT will not be posting historical travel data for Christmas and New Years Holiday weekends.

We typically post historical travel data to show drivers when we expect heavier-than-normal traffic on key vacation-type routes. With both Christmas and New Years on Friday this year, we thought about it. But, the historical data can get skewed with one or two days of bad weather in late December.

Our colleagues at AAA have information on projected travel, which they gather through nationwide surveys.

We do have some travel information for Christmas and New Years. We find only two spots of higher-than-normal traffic, the I-5 area north of Seattle and I-5 through Thurston and Lewis counties. Remember, the predictions are based on clear driving conditions.

The mountain pass highways aren't one of the heavy travel spots in late December, but ski season and any new snow may bring more people to I-90 Snoqualmie Pass, US 2 Stevens Pass and US 12 White Pass.

Regardless, prepare and know before you go. Washington weather can change quickly.

Tools for navigating the mountain passes this winter

We watch mountain passes closely this time of year as the weather can make getting across the state more than a little challenging. We are constantly working to develop tools to help travelers make their journeys as safely as possible, but not everyone is aware of all of the tools in our toolbox. Here is a run-down of what we have to offer to help making crossing the passes a little easier.

The mountain pass page on our website is a good place to start as it lists all of the passes and a map of their locations. You can select a specific pass, like Snoqualmie, and get further information such as the current weather conditions, camera views, and any restrictions that are currently in place.

On the pass page you can sign up for email alerts. Every time pass conditions change, you will be sent an email. A caveat to this method however, is that when the weather starts to act up, pass conditions can change rapidly and often which can mean a lot of emails in your inbox.

Another option available on the pass page is subscribing to the pass's RSS feed. You can find more information about RSS feeds and how to use them here. This is a great way to get up-to-date information without clogging up your email.

We have a specially formatted page for mobile devices you can use to check pass conditions before you head out.  And for those of you who are in the twitterverse, we have a bevy of exciting twitter features to help plan your trip.  You can follow our twitter account dedicated entirely to the mountain passes and get the pass conditions real-time as they are updated.

My favorite is our direct messaging feature. For those of you unfamiliar with the workings of Twitter, direct messages (aka DM) are private messages between two twitter users who are following each other. No one else on Twitter (or the internet for that matter) can see theses message. So in order for this feature to work you first need to follow our main WSDOT twitter account (NOT the pass account). Then we to have to follow you back. Once we are following your account, you can send us a direct message with a special code we have created for all of the passes.  Using the Snoqualmie example it would be "pass sno".  In about 3-4 minutes the current pass conditions will be tweeted back to you.  As a side note, this feature also works for travel times, border crossing wait times and aviation weather conditions. You can learn more about our twitter features on our web page dedicated to Twitter.

Another helpful resource we have put together for travelers is our winter driving tips page where we cover everything from what to put in an emergency car kit to how to travel around a snow plow. There is a ton of information here to help you get around in winter weather conditions.

It is our hope that with these tools at your disposal, you can Know Before You Go and make good decisions before you ever get into your vehicle.

Cold weather's a drag...

4 p.m. update: Travel times are back on and some cameras are now going dark.

Unfortunately we are learning that this cold weather is affecting our fiber communication system in the Puget Sound area. Basically the pipes that help us provide travel times on VMS signs (those big black signs above and to the side of the freeway).

We have our crews out there working on them, and will be doing our best to provide workarounds until we can get the strands of fiber fixed and thank you in advance for your patience as we get these tools working again.

Thanks again for your patience, it sure has been cold outside :).

Amtrak Cascades renovations - Thanks for the feedback

By Guest blogger Vickie Sheehan

Thank you for sharing your comments, suggestions, and feedback on the proposed renovation of the Amtrak Cascades Bistro car. We received many insightful comments that we will take into consideration as we move forward in the design process. We really appreciate your time and interest in this project.

While reading through the comments, there seems to be some confusion on a few issues we'd like to clarify:

  • Wi-Fi will be installed and available throughout all trains. It will not be limited to just the Bistro car.
  • Both the Bistro and Lounge cars will be renovated. At this time we do not have a proposed design for the Lounge car.
  • The proposed design shown is an artist's rendering that has not been finalized. The Bistro design will continue to address passenger concerns with the current layout and how best to serve them more quickly and efficiently while retaining the Northwest styling unique to Amtrak Cascades.
  • We are working to develop the best solution for the location of Amtrak Conductors that would allow them to be easily accessible to the passengers (both Business and Coach), be the most effective in their critical on-board responsibilities, and have the best opportunity for communication with all on-board staff.
Thanks again for your comments. You can keep up to date on the progress of the Amtrak Cascades Trainsets Overhaul project through the project page. And to find out more about what WSDOT is doing to improve the Amtrak Cascades service including track upgrades, improved on-time reliability, reduced rail congestion, and enhanced service, visit our ARRA High Speed Passenger Rail Web page.

Amtrak Cascades renovations - first look

by guest blogger Vickie Sheehan

We are working with Amtrak to get ready to begin the next phase of renovations to the Amtrak Cascades train fleet. First up is the complete renovation of the Bistro and Lounge cars, in addition to adding Wi-Fi (yay!) and upgrading the video system. The renovation will begin shortly after the conclusion of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C. this March.  We have a concept drawing of the renovated Bistro car ready and want you all to take a look and let us know what you think!

Here is the current Bistro car:

Here is the proposed redesign:

Leave us your comments and any suggestions you have on what improvements you would like to see on the Amtrak Cascades trains below or send us an email.

Thanksgiving Travel Smart Quiz

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Got the shopping done, china and silver dusted off? Whew, those preparations are done - now it's time to prepare for travel. We will be working all weekend, but need your help. Test your holiday travel smarts with our Thanksgiving Travel Smart Quiz. With these tips (and others on our Web site) you can get where you need to be this holiday weekend, whether you are taking a ferry, crossing the border, or just loading the car with the kids to see grandma. Just remember to Know Before You Go, and travel safely!

When is the best time to travel on Thanksgiving weekend?

A) Right after the 5 p.m. whistle.
B) Just after lunch
C) While the kids are sleeping


Answer: B - while C might be the easiest, if you want to get there faster, try to stay away from the 3-10 p.m. time frame

. Check out our driver tips for Thanksgiving to help plan your trip.

What should I have in my car if I have to travel during the busy time?
A) Lots of music
B) A winter snow kit, tire chains and extra patience.
C) It doesn't matter, I will just be on the major highways.

Answer: B - while B is a must, A is a good idea. As for C, always be prepared! There are still some spots where there is minimal cell service. For answers to some Frequently Asked Questions on winter driving, visit our winter driving page.

When are the longest ferry backups on Thanksgiving Weekend?
A) Westbound on Wednesday afternoon and eastbound on Friday morning.
B) Right after discovering your uncle overcooked the turkey again and you’d rather be back home.
C) I’ll just show up right before my sailing leaves. 

Answer: A - if you want to make it to Thanksgiving dinner on time, C is not a good idea. Make sure you arrive early, try not to travel during those busy times and hope your uncle doesn’t overcook the turkey…again.

If my car breaks down halfway to grandma's house, what should I do?
A) Stand in the middle of the highway and flag down a passing driver for help.

B) Stay in the car, turn on your hazard lights, then call 911.
C) Ask your significant other to give you a piggy-back ride the rest of the way there.

Answer: B - although it might be tempting to flag down a passing driver, especially if you don't have a cell phone or are out of range, your best bet is to stay in your car where you will be safest. If possible, call 911. A dispatcher can make sure to get assistance heading your way.

What's the best time for me to head across the Canadian border?
A) Anytime. Canada had their Thanksgiving a month ago.
B) During nonpeak hours, before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

C) I'll just check the WSDOT border wait times and cameras before I go.

Answer: B - checking the border cameras and wait times is a great way to see what the current delays are. Typically, peak delays occur during the middle of the day, so if you can plan your trip earlier or later in the day, you'll likely have less of a wait. You can also view our average delay travel graphs to get a good idea of when to travel across the I-5 Peace Arch or SR 543 truck crossing.

You’re in the right lane of the freeway and you see a State Patrol trooper parked beside the freeway with their overhead lights on, apparently assisting a disabled motorist. What do you do?

A) Speed up and get past before the trooper sees you’re not wearing your seat belt.

B) Move left if safe, and slow down as you pass.
C) Continue at the same speed in the same lane. Be predictable and let the trooper decide how to best avoid you.

Answer: B - Washington’s Move Over law requires drivers approaching emergency vehicles to move left if traffic permits, and to slow down as they pass. WSP says this is an “easy” law to comply with. Simply ease off the gas, and move to the left. And of course always wear your seat belt. Even minor collisions can result in serious injury or death.

What is the most important equipment on your vehicle for winter holiday mountain pass driving?
A) Eight tiny reindeer.
B) Sharp sleigh runners.
C) Approved traction devices.

Answer: C - your local tire store can tell you if you have traction tires. And always carry chains. Check out our helpful video on how to install tire chains.

What's the best route to take during winter holiday travel
A) Over the river and through the woods.
B) Follow the yellow brick road.
C) Major highways with services.

Answer: C - you can see a list of WSDOT's roadway treatment goals to help you plan your route.

So how did you do? 100%? Stay safe this Thanksgiving holiday and save some room for pie!

Photo Friday: The New Stanwood Station Edition

In April 2009 we began building a new train station on the northeast corner of 271st Street NW and 84th Avenue NW in Stanwood. The station will give residents of the Stanwood-Camano Island area access to Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger trains that travel between Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, BC, and ten intermediate communities.  The last time passenger trains stopped in Stanwood was over 35 years ago.

Don't you just love old photos? This is a great one. It's the old Stanwood station in the 1960's.

Crews constructed the storm water retention system in July.

Measuring for trainman’s ramp. What is a trainman's ramp?  That's a good question, I didn't know either. A trainman’s ramp is a place where a train crew member who has to walk along side a freight train can easily climb on to and off  a train station platform, and is a railroad safety requirement.

And here is the finished product. Beautiful! You can find the rest of the construction photos in the Stanwood Station set on flickr. The new station will open for service on Saturday morning, November 21st, 2009! An opening ceremony will be held at the station starting at 8:45 a.m. Tickets are on sale now at

Point Defiance Rail Bypass project

By Guest Blogger Kevin Jeffers – Rail Engineering Manager

The Pt. Defiance Bypass project is a capital rail project that will reroute passenger trains that currently operate on the BNSF Railway main line near Pt. Defiance and along southern Puget Sound to an existing rail line that runs along the west side of I-5 through south Tacoma, Lakewood, and DuPont. Part of the bypass route is the same route that Sound Transit will use to extend Sounder commuter rail to Lakewood.

At a Lakewood City Council meeting on November 9, WSDOT staff from the State Rail and Marine office gave a presentation on the Pt. Defiance Bypass project. During the presentation, several videos were shown on traffic simulations for Bridgeport Way, Thorne Lane, and Berkeley Ave. There were also videos showing a comparison of train speeds between freight and passenger trains and a video demonstrating wayside horns.

Demonstration of wayside horns installed at McCarver and Ruston Way in Tacoma, WA

You can view this video on our streaming server if you can't access it on YouTube.

Pt. Defiance Rail Bypass project - traffic simulations

You can view this video on our streaming server if you can't access it on YouTube.

Comparison of freight and passenger train speeds in Puyallup, WA
You can view this video on our streaming server if you can't access it on YouTube.

There were several questions and comments from both the Council and community members in attendance as well as some strong opinions on the project. We take your comments seriously and want to make sure that your questions are being answered (pdf 32kb). For the most up to date information on the project, please visit our project page. If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail us.

Deer: a seasonal driving hazard

November means it's the time of year where we start focusing a lot on preparing drivers for weather-related hazards. Studded tires are always a hot topic, the closing of mountain passes garners a lot of attention, as does the general anticipation /speculation of what this year's winter weather will bring. But we often overlook the fact that deer are a seasonal driving hazard as well. November is prime time for road kill—deer in particular. We remove approximately 3,000 deer carcasses from state highways every year with most vehicle collisions involving deer happening during the months of October- January.

Why is this?

1. Hunting season. Deer may ramp up their movement to avoid hunters, this act of self-preservation increases the likelihood that they will be wandering around near or crossing highways.

2. Food. The colder temperatures bring deer down from higher elevations to the valley floors in search ripe tree fruit and ornamental bushes. 

3. The rut. The what? This was a new term for me actually, but the rut is simply the breeding season. Does start to chase off their young and these suddenly abandoned youth wander around in search of direction. Ah...teenagers...some things never change, eh?

The rut signals an increase in deer movement as bucks and does are on the go searching for potential mates.  They are particularly active during dawn and dusk, which as we all know are peak driving times. So we've got less daylight, more precipitation, less visibility, and more deer running around increasing the chance of a vehicle-deer collision.

What can you do?

The first step is to be aware that this time of year is going to mean an uptick in deer activity. I have had my fair share of deer exposure all summer, trying to keep them from decimating my tomato plants, so I personally wasn't aware that road kill have seasons too.  I found some fantastic tips from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to help with driving and deer:
  • One deer crossing the road may be a sign that more deer are about to cross. Watch for other deer-- they will move fast to catch up with leaders, mothers, or mates and may not pay attention to traffic.
  • When you see brake lights, it could be because the driver ahead of you has spotted a deer. Stay alert as you drive by the spot, as more deer could try to cross.
  • Wonder why the person ahead is driving so slowly? The driver may know where to slow down and be extra alert for deer. Don’t be too quick to pass, and watch out.
  • Take note of deer-crossing signs and drive accordingly. They were put there for a reason.
  • If a collision with a deer seems imminent, take your foot off the accelerator and brake lightly. But—and this is critical—keep a firm hold on the steering wheel while keeping the vehicle straight. Do not swerve in an attempt to miss the deer.
Do not attempt to touch the animal AT ALL – even if it appears to be dead. Often, the animal is only temporarily stunned and people who attempt to move the animal have been seriously injured by antlers and sharp hooves. Always keep in mind that scared and injured animals are extremely dangerous. Call 9-1-1 to get the right people on the scene to help with the situation.

For a more detailed and thorough look at this issue check out the Analysis of Deer and Elk-Vehicle Collision Sites along State Highways in Washington State.

Help us do what we do better - communicate with you.

What gets measured gets managed. It is a philosophy I have heard repeated countless times at the Washington State Department of Transportation. People here take the idea of accountability and transparency very seriously. Our quarterly Grey Notebook regularly tops 100 pages or more, jammed full of data and information about our agency’s performance.

As the WSDOT communication director, it is my job to see whether we are meeting the public’s expectations for quality two-way communication. We have many anecdotal examples of how we have met your expectations, and a few examples of how we have not. We now hope to build a qualitative baseline of public opinions about our communication and public involvement efforts. Do you think we do a good job reaching out the public? Are we listening well to what you are saying? Of course, you can post your thoughts here. But we ask that you take a few minutes to fill out our online survey.

Our mission is to keep people and business moving by operating and improving the state’s transportation systems vital to our taxpayers and communities. We take this mission seriously. We would like to know your opinion about how we are doing. Your feedback will help us learn more about how we can improve our performance. Thank you.

Looking for some property at a great price?

Remember back in August when we had all of those cabins up for auction near Mt Baker?  We had a lot of buzz around those little structures which garnered quite a turnout. We had another auction recently that seemed to fly a little under the radar as we have quite a few properties still up for grab.  This one pictured on the left is in Skagit county.  It's a 2 bedroom, 1 bath with a couple of detached outbuildings on 1.35 acres...and it's available on a first-come, first serve basis at the minimum bid price!

We are currently offering 16 properties total that were up for auction. The monies received for these properties will immediately benefit the motorists of Washington by supplementing the special funding resource dedicated to highways.

Check out that view! Here is specific information about this parcel as well as a list of all of the available properties on our Real Estate Services Auction home page.

If you have questions about these or any of the available parcels, please contact Michelle Newlean at 360-705-7332 or

Photo Friday: The Random Sampling Edition

Poor neglected Photo's been a while hasn't it? Let's kick things off with this stunning beauty:

 I love the cast shadows. This is looking down at one of the columns that will support the ramp that will connect the Royal Brougham Way bridge to the second level of the Qwest Event Center garage in Seattle. This photo is part of our SR 519 construction set.

Another photo from the same set. The composition in this photo is perfection, with the pulley drawing the eye down, the wood supports moving the eye across, and finally the placement of the workers and diagonal lines of the rebar complete the process by drawing the eye back up. Sorry... Hehe... Art major... This photo is of contractor crews placing rebar during construction of the Royal Brougham Way bridge in Seattle.

A fantastic aerial view of the SR 410 Nile Valley landslide looking south. It pretty much speaks for itself. Check out the rest of the set.

Just a great photo. The lighting is fantastic. Crews are installing a foundation for a new sign along I-405 in Renton. More photos here.

Great sense of scale. No. 1 end of WSDOT's first new 64-car ferry with starboard curtain plate sections (side of vessel) installed mid-ship. This photo is part of the New 64-car Ferries set.

Safety tips for Halloween (and the dark nights ahead)

Halloween is Saturday, are you dressing up? Going to a party? Taking the kids around trick-or-treating? Or are you one of those people who turns off the porch light, closes the drapes and eats all the candy yourself? Whether you are spending your All Hallow's Eve in a hot itchy costume, or on the couch with a bag of Reese's Mini Peanut Butter Cups, it will most likely be dark by the time you get around doing whatever it is you have planned.

Unfortunately dark evenings mean a greater risk for pedestrians and bicyclists.  Of the 64 fatalities recorded in Washington for 2008, nearly half of them (29) occurred during the winter months of January and March.  We have gotten use to about six months of visibility during the evening hours and it can be slow to adjust to sudden darkness, made even more apparent by the end of Daylight savings time on November 1st.

The following safety tips will help all road users reduce the risk of being involved in a collision:

  • Stop at intersections for pedestrians – The leading cause for collisions involving pedestrians is a motorist’s failure to stop for pedestrians at intersections. The law requires motorists to stop for pedestrians in unmarked and marked crosswalks (all intersections are crosswalks, unless posted). It is also illegal to pass another vehicle stopped for a pedestrian at a crosswalk.
  • Drive the posted speed limit or below as weather and road conditions necessitate – Survivability rates for pedestrians involved in collisions with vehicles decreases as speeds increase. A crash at 20 mph or less has an estimated 95 percent survival rate compared to a much lower survival rate at higher speeds.
  • Pay special attention near schools, recreation areas and senior centers – The youngest and oldest are the most “at risk” to be involved in a pedestrian fatality.
  • Follow the rules of the road – Don’t drive under the influence, or while using electronic equipment or other distracters. Being a predictable driver helps other road users to anticipate your movements.
Pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Be seen – Wear bright or reflective outerwear, use lights at night, and choose routes that are lighted, especially at intersections, whenever possible.
  • Make eye contact with the driver – Keep hats, hoods, helmets and umbrellas clear of your line of vision.
  • Walk or bike where it’s safest – For a pedestrian that means sidewalks and trails when they are available, and if not, walk on the edge of the road facing traffic. For a bicyclist that means bike lanes, shoulders and trails when available, and if not, bike as far to the right side of the road as is safe in the direction of traffic.
  •  Be a predictable road user – Following the rules of the road helps other road users know what to expect from you and helps to avoid collisions.

And since it is Halloween, I put together a safety treat for all of the little ghouls and goblins in your life. Here is a Halloween tip sheet you can download and print to keep everyone safe while they head out on the hunt for candy. Happy Halloween!
Halloween Safety Tips

Earthquake simulation highlights the vulnerabilities of the Alaskan Way Viaduct

By guest blogger Ron Paananen

The double-deck Alaskan Way Viaduct, a fixture on Seattle’s downtown waterfront for more than five decades, was already showing signs of wear and tear when the last major earthquake struck in 2001. That 6.8 magnitude seismic event further weakened the structure by damaging its joints and columns and causing sections to settle into the loose fill soil in which it was built.

In the years since, crews have kept a close eye on the viaduct through quarterly inspections and have strengthened several columns to prevent further damage to the structure, but the threat of another earthquake was always present. During this time new soil data and a better understanding of local and regional seismic behavior clarified exactly how vulnerable the viaduct is to another earthquake. In 2007 we released a report that concluded there is a higher chance – specifically, a one in 10 chance in the next 10 years – of an earthquake occurring that could cause portions of the viaduct and adjacent seawall to collapse. The vulnerability analysis is available on our Web site.

A simulation based on the 2007 report demonstrates how disastrous a strong earthquake could be for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It shows what could happen if a seismic event more intense than the 2001 earthquake were to shake the Puget Sound region again. To say that the damage to the viaduct and the seawall would be severe would be an understatement.

We understand the risk, and we are making progress to replace this vulnerable structure. Early next year we will begin major construction to replace the southern mile of the viaduct, and the state, King County and the City of Seattle have agreed to a plan to replace the section along the waterfront (The plan, calling for a bored tunnel beneath downtown, is currently under environmental review.) State and city crews also continue to monitor the structure and ensure it remains safe for drivers.

We are also installing an automated closure system next year that will keep drivers from using the viaduct after an earthquake, fire, or other event compromises the structure. The new system will use the latest in monitoring technology, including GPS antennas and wireless equipment, to detect structure and ground movement. New signs and gates at the viaduct’s ramps and entrances will detour traffic away from the structure during an emergency, and advance warning signs will notify drivers in SODO, West Seattle, downtown and north of Seattle about any closures.

The specter of another major earthquake, however, is always present. That is why we are determined to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct before Mother Nature makes the decision for us.

You can watch the video on our streaming server if you can't access it on YouTube.

Hi. My name is Traffic Team. I’m here to help.

If you had told me five years ago that I would be able to find a government agency that would promptly and accurately answer just about any question I was able to throw at them, I probably would have checked to make sure you were still taking your medication.

Today, it’s no hallucination. There is such an agency. It’s WSDOT and their Ask the Traffic Team page.

Five years ago, I was a newspaper reporter trying to find someone to answer my questions. I spent more than my fair share of time sending e-mails into the black hole of the Internet, leaving voicemails for people I wasn’t sure actually existed, and all-too-rapidly turning into a very cynical reporter, wholly unconvinced of that whole government for the people, by the people thing.

Now I work for WSDOT. (No, the irony is not lost on me.) And to be honest, I’m still a bit cynical, which is actually a good thing for you. I remember exactly how frustrated I used to get when someone didn’t call me back or reply to my e-mails.

Hi. I’m Bronlea, otherwise known as the WSDOT Traffic Team.

If you haven’t heard about the WSDOT Traffic Team, I’ll give you a quick rundown: We launched the Ask the Traffic Team page about a month ago as a one-stop-shop for all those WSDOT-related questions you may have been pondering. We’ve got an archive of frequently asked questions, as well as seven region-specific pages that let you see what questions people in your area are asking. I update the page weekly, so you can check in on Mondays for your weekly dose of WSDOT.

Not finding the answer to your question? Send me an e-mail. Usually, I’ll get back to you with answers in less than a week. Sometimes, it takes me less than a day. And no, I’m not a WSDOT know-it-all. We have a ton of WSDOT engineers and other staffers across the state who help me find answers to the myriad of questions you send me.

So what kind of questions do I get? It varies, week to week. Sometimes you want to know about I-405 projects. Sometimes you have roundabout questions. Sometimes you have traffic enforcement questions (which, technically, should be directed to the State Patrol, but I call WSP for answers anyway because I’m curious). And sometimes, you want to point out a problem with a traffic signal and ask that we check it out.

We actually did find a problem with a detection loop and fixed one of our signals on SR 20 on Whidbey Island after I got an e-mail from a driver who constantly got stuck there. Sometimes it pays to point out a problem. After all, you’re the ones who drive our highways daily. You’re more apt to notice when something isn’t working properly.

And on that note, I have a request: I’ve noticed that you haven’t sent me as many questions lately. And I doubt that it’s because I’ve answered all your burning questions in the past month. I’m betting that you’re still wondering about something WSDOT-related. Or, you’ve got a friend, coworker or family member who’s wondering about something WSDOT-related.

Don’t be a stranger. Check out the Traffic Team page. Send me an e-mail. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

National Teen Driver Safety week

My first car was a 1971 lemon yellow Volkswagen Beetle with a Baja kit. It had gigantic tires and a teeny little Aftermarket steering wheel (wisely replaced by my father).  I would always get a circular soot mark on my jeans from one of the two chrome exhaust pipes while scraping the rear windshield on chilly Wyoming mornings. But my favorite thing to do was making it LOUDLY backfire by holding down the clutch as I coasted downhill on my way home from school.

That car was was my first love.

Cell phones in those days, if you even HAD one, were the size of shoe boxes that you had to plug into the cigarette lighter and teenagers communicated by passing notes in the hallway. No iPhones, iPods, texting - heck...the internet hadn't even been invented yet! (kidding)

I can't imaging the distractions teenagers face in this current environment, nor can imagine the challenges parents face trying to communicate the dangers of distracted driving.  I have only faint memories of my mom slamming on the phantom  passenger brake and the rest of the trauma (on her part I am sure) is gone. As a teenager the learning to drive rite-of-passage was a ticket to freedom.  Safety messages could not compete with the glory of not having to take the bus or being able to leave campus for lunch.

This week is National Teen Driver Safety week and there are a lot of great resources out there to help parents spark these difficult discussions. I've rounded up a few of them:

Gorey but effective Public Service Announcement highlighting the dangers of texting while driving:

The Century Council has produced an interactive initiative called The Concentration Game which mimics some of the distractions drivers may face.
The Century Council presents National Teen Driving Safety Week, visit!

The Ride Like a Friend site has a nifty Rule Setting Tool to help teen drivers set ground rule behavior for their passengers. The conversation is the first step, but the most effective tool is to lead by example.  Also - nagging works. I come to a complete stop to this day because my Dad taught me how to feel the backward "lurch" when the car redistributes itself after stopping. It took a few times, but I eventually got it.

How high-tech tools can improve commutes

By guest blogger Noel Brady

George Jetson would be jealous. Sure, he flew to work in a domed commuter pod, but could his skyway tell him where the congestion was before he was stuck in it? I think not. But that’s exactly what we’re working on for some of the busiest highways in the Seattle area.

Have you ever found yourself sitting in traffic wondering, “Where IS this traffic coming from? A wreck? Obama’s motorcade?” You don’t know whether it will clear up around the next bend or if there’s a mass evacuation you didn’t hear about.

Well, your commute is going to get a lot less mysterious with automatic, real-time traffic information and a congestion-alert system that brings you the 411 as fast as backups can start to form miles up the road. We’re calling it Smarter Highways.

Starting with I-5 and SR 520 in summer 2010 and then I-90 by spring 2011, new signs will warn drivers of slow traffic ahead to reduce the rear-enders that cause more than a quarter of the congestion on our busiest highways. The system will deliver the info automatically by calculating traffic data from sensors embedded in the pavement. The information will reach drivers faster than ever to make it easier to switch lanes or pick another route before getting caught in the bumper-to-bumper mess.

Soon we’ll begin installing 15 new sign bridges, spaced a half-mile apart, over the northbound lanes of I-5 from Boeing Access Road to I-90. They’ll support variable speed-limit and lane-status (arrows and Xs) signs over each lane and one large electronic message board at each location. So, what will this look like?

Sign progression of Smarter Highways:

Mile 1: When traffic flows freely, the variable speed limit signs are black.

Mile 1.5: Seconds after a collision occurs three miles up the highway, the speed limit drops and a sign warns drivers of backups ahead.

Mile 2: As vehicles approach the collision area, the speed drops again.

Mile 2.5: A mile from the trouble spot speed limit signs flash arrows intermittently. Green arrows instruct drivers to proceed in the their lane, and yellow arrows mean exit the lane as soon as safely possible, because the lane is closed or blocked ahead.

Mile 3: At the site of the collision, red X’s indicate which lanes are blocked.

Want to learn more? Check our information about  I-5  and SR 520/I-90 Active Traffic Management on our website. You can also download our Building Smarter Highways folio (pdf 2mb) and view our Building Smarter Highways video.

So hold on to your space helmet, Elroy! It’s going to be a smooth ride.

Massive landslide closes SR 410 near Naches

By guest bloggers Joe Irwin and Megan Pembroke

Drivers who use SR 410 near Naches are facing a traffic nightmare after a massive Oct. 11 landslide blocked a half-mile section of the roadway. The slide was powerful enough to demolish the highway and carry tons of dirt, pavement, and debris into the Naches River, shifting it off course. That new course took it right over the Nile Loop Road on the other side of the river, cutting off another access point for local residents.

Long-time WSDOT engineers tell us that a slide of this scale hasn’t been seen in the last quarter century. That means that efforts to restore transportation to the area won’t be easy. We’re extremely grateful no one was hurt in the slide, but we also know that the aftermath is incredibly frustrating for nearby residents and businesses.

As the Department of Natural Resources explores the cause of the slide, we’re focusing on restoring temporary access to the area. We’re particularly concerned about providing residents of the nearby Nile Valley community with a safe route to jobs and services in Yakima. It’s currently taking them an additional two hours to get there. 

Today we began building a temporary road to restore emergency services and limited local access for the 600 homes and businesses along SR 410. Crews are working quickly, but the work will be slow-going. They must install several culverts and build up the roadway with fill material and crushed rock before it can be opened to traffic.

Drivers who rely on SR 410 have been contending with a major detour since the weekend. To keep drivers safe, we initially closed a 47-mile section of SR 410 following the landslide Sunday. Today we moved the closure points closer to the landslide, allowing access to all but a four-mile section of SR 410. The highway is now closed between the east and west intersections of Nile Loop Road (mileposts 104-108).

However, you won’t be able to get all the way across the state on SR 410, so if that’s your goal, plan to take alternate routes like I-90 Snoqualmie Pass or US 12 White Pass and SR 123 Cayuse Pass. Be sure to check for lane restrictions for construction projects before you head out.

What’s next?
We have a long road ahead of us. Forecasts are calling for snow in the area, so we’ve lined up plows and crews on both sides of the closure. We’re still dealing with an unstable slope and facing an immense mountain of dirt and debris where a highway used to be.

Houses and highways can be rebuilt, but not a life.  With that in mind, we’ll proceed with extreme caution to ensure that safety remains our top priority as we begin to explore our options for a long-term fix. At this time, we don’t expect to open SR 410 west of Naches this winter.

Stay updated
If you’re a local resident, a concerned family member, or just a curious observer, we’ve put together an arsenal of tools to help you get the information you need:

Let's take the train!

Amtrak Cascades train en route to Seattle
Today we are are officially celebrating the addition of a second, direct round-trip Amtrak Cascades service between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, B.C at King Street Station with Governor Gregoire and the British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell. Since the second began on August 19, ridership is averaging 60 riders per day and growing, which is pretty exciting. So in honor of today's event, our photos are all about Amtrak Cascades.

Let's start off will a little history:

These are the new Amtrak Cascades Talgo train sets arriving from Spain in the fall of 1997. I dig that guy's bright red coveralls.

The new Amtrak Cascades trains were tested in Pueblo, CO in November of 1998 prior to putting them into service. Part of the testing included taking them to their top speed of 125 mph.

The inaugural run of new Amtrak Cascades Talgo train pulling into Seattle's King Street Station in January 1999.

Here we are along the waterfront in Edmonds, WA. I hear this stretch along the water is particularly beautiful. You can find more photos and a timeline of milestones on Amtrak Cascades. And while you're at it check out some of the fantastic entries we received in the 10th Anniversary Coloring Contest. This is my personal favorite: 5 and Under finalist Tifanie Manyrath's very coloful and creative interpretation.

How to prepare your car for winter

We are a week into October  and the weather has been mostly mild, which is a perfect time to get prepared for what winter will bring us.  I keep hearing opinions that El Niño will give us a milder winter, but just in case we have a repeat of last year's Snowpocalypse, take the time now to prepare your car for winter. Don't be left scrambling at the last minute when The Weather Event of Aught Nine hits and the stores are sold out of everything you need.

Note to self: Buy snow shovel...Just in case.

On that note here is a list of steps you can take to prepare your car for winter:
  • Have your cooling system cleaned and flushed, replenish antifreeze.
  • Check your battery, thermostat, heater, and defroster.
  • Check hoses and belts for cracking, rotting or softness.
  • Purchase winter wiper blades and change wiper fluid for anti-freeze version. Check that the spray nozzles for the wiper fluid are not clogged.
  • Get windshield nicks fixed so that the "thermal shock" of temperature changes don't turn the nick into a crack.
  • Check the tread on tires and get chains if needed. You can find out more information about tires and chain options on our winter driving site.
  • Pack an emergency kit. We have a list of items to include to help you get started.

You can also download our Winter Driving Brochure (pdf 417k) to print out and take with you or contact Alice Fiman to request multiple copies.

And…Action! Take a look at our new low-light traffic cameras over I-90 Snoqualmie Pass

Night view of road conditions
By guest blogger Amanda Sullivan, I-90 Communications

Have you ever needed to travel over I-90 Snoqualmie Pass at night and tried to pull up WSDOT’s mountain pass traffic cameras only to see a pitch black image with the occasional car headlight?

Well, not anymore. WSDOT just completed installing eight new low-light traffic cameras on I-90 west of Snoqualmie Summit to Cle Elum. The new traffic cameras have infrared illuminators that provide around-the-clock views of highway conditions – even during a midnight snow storm!

Now, you can plan your evening trips based on what you see from the new cameras before you hit the road. You can view these cameras from the Snoqualmie Pass mountain pass condition Web page or WSDOT’s statewide traveler information Web page.

What are the specific locations of the new cameras you ask?
We’re live at the following locations:

Franklin Falls (milepost 51.3)
Snoqualmie Summit (milepost 52)
Price Creek (milepost 61)
Easton Hill (milepost 67.4)
Easton (milepost 70.6)

The following locations also have new cameras and should be available for public viewing before winter:

East Bandera (milepost 46.8)
Hyak (milepost 55.17)
Cle Elum (milepost 84.6)

The $60,000 camera replacement project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Our new Web site redesign

New WSDOT webpage redesign
Our website is getting a clean new look just in time for the annual increase in Internet traffic caused by our changing weather. Today at 10 a.m. most of the pages on our site will automatically be converted to the new look.

The WSDOT Website remains the most popular government site in Washington, averaging more than 1.2 million page views each day during the busy winter weather season.

The average number of people visiting WSDOT Web pages fluctuates with the seasons. On an average summer day, 35,000 users visit the site. In the winter, that average increases all the way up to 70,000 users, we have seen the user count go as high as 300,000 on a "snow day."

Each day we receive kudos from the public about the quality of the information on the website, but we also hear complaints that the site is "too busy" and that the amount of information is "overwhelming."

It's challenging to avoid this information overload when we're making 50,000 Web pages available to the public in more than 50 topical areas. The new look attempts to simplify the site and make it easier for people to find what they're looking for.

Links to our social media activities like this Blog (also sporting a new look!), Twitter, Flickr, etc. move to the front page on the new site, making them easier to find. The new site was developed with public input collected from extensive usability testing. We couldn't have done it without you and your feedback was sincerely appreciated.

So...let us know that you think!

Distracted Driving - Time to Start Addressing the Problem

The hot topic on the minds of transportation officials all across the country over the past few weeks has been the problem of distracted driving. With more and more states beginning to examine the possibility of proposing texting/emailing bans or complete cell phone bans, driver distraction has been pushed to the front of the transportation safety agenda.

The increased attention being given to distraction is reflected in the upcoming Distracted Driving Summit being hosted in Washington, DC by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The summit, to be held on Sept 30th-Oct 1st, will bring together senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates and law enforcement to discuss the problem of driver distraction and how it can be addressed. The AAA Foundation will be involved with these proceedings as Senior Manager of Development Kristin Backstrom will share the foundation’s knowledge on the issue, including findings from this year’s AAA Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index survey which found 80 percent of drivers agree that distracted driving is a serious threat to their safety, but 67% of drivers also admitted to talking on a cell phone while driving in the past month.

This “Do as I say, Not as I do” attitude is one of things we must change to push toward a positive culture of safety. As part of this effort, we are calling for all drivers to become a distraction-free driver during Heads Up Driving Week beginning October 5th. During that week, we would like to remind drivers of the risks from all types of distracting behaviors and encourage them to drive distraction free. We all need to examine our own driving habits and stop engaging in distracting behaviors behind the wheel. Help spread the message about the dangers of distracted driving and keep your Heads Up from October 5th-11th.

Check out Central Washington State fair on WSDOT’s Webcam

WSDOT's booth at the Central Washington State Fair
By guest blogger Meagan McFadden

It’s that time of year when the smell of corn dogs, elephant ears, and cotton candy fills the Yakima Valley. It must be time for the Central Washington State Fair. This year if you go to the fair in Yakima, which starts on Friday, (Sept. 25 through Oct. 4) you may be caught on candid camera because WSDOT in South Central Region (SCR) has a new addition to our outside fair booth – a Webcam!

This year we are featuring a portable Variable Message Sign with a Smart Zone Camera. The reason we are so excited about this is because it will not only be broadcast on our South Central Region Webpage, but the Central Washington State Fair’s home page as well. Fair-goers can check out the weather and see how big the crowd is before they make their way to State Fair Park.

For those of you who don’t know what a portable Variable Message Sign with a Smart Zone Camera is, it’s a new tool in WSDOT’s bag of tricks, and SCR is the first in the state use it.

Typically, in work zones, WSDOT uses the portable VMS to let drivers know what is going on ahead of them. With the camera, WSDOT Traffic Engineers can actually see what is going on and change the message accordingly. SCR bought six of the Smart Zone Cameras with the portable VMS to use on the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project, which starts next year. Until the project starts, we are using them in other projects and now we are featuring it in our fair booth.

Each year, we choose a theme for our fair booths. This year our outside booth focuses on work zone safety. You may have seen these Smart Zone Cameras on the road in our work zones. We use these cameras to monitor how well traffic is moving at our construction sites. Now fair-goers can check out conditions and crowds at the fair. We have a second booth inside the Yakima Sundome that focuses on highway improvement projects and how they benefit our community. You’re invited to visit our booths to find out more about work zone safety and highway improvements.

We hope to see you at the fair!

Editors note: Now that the fair is over the cameras at the fair are offline and being moved to a workzone.

Photo Friday: I-90 Lake Easton Vicinity to Bullfrog Road Interchange Westbound Concrete Replacement project

cracked pavement
Deteriorating Concrete Pavement. We have several miles of this stuff in the right lane of westbound I-90.  Since July we have been working at night to minimize traffic impacts due to heavy summer traffic, but now that summer is almost officially over (where did the time go?) traffic has subsided and now we are working both day and night. Which means it’s serious crunch time because we want to get this work done before the first winter storm. For the safety of motorists and construction crews, we have restricted traffic to one lane in each direction during the weekdays, but on weekends, three lanes – two in the peak travel direction - are open to accommodate heavier traffic volumes.

Guillotine machine
A Guillotine machine. That’s kind of fun to say, what a crazy name. It never ceases to amaze me how many types of equipment we utilize. This one is grinding panels in the westbound lane.

hydraulic hammer

Once the panels are ground, they have to get broken up by a hydraulic hammer. Traffic is most definitely being impacted by the work. When crews work so closely to the roadway traffic tends to slow down even more.  Check out the rest of the photos in this set.

So, plan ahead if you are traveling on I-90 through this area:
  • Pay attention to the signage in the construction work zones. 
  • Visit our project Web page to view travel graphs for the best times to travel
  • Sign up to receive email updates from the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass alert system under Mountain Pass Reports.
  • Reduce your speed to 50 mph through the construction zone.
  • Dial 511 from your hands free wireless device or tune in to the Highway Advisory Radio at 1610 AM.
  • Expect up to an additional hour of travel over Snoqualmie Pass on weekends. 
  • Follow our WSDOT_passes twitter account, and learn about our very cool Direct Messaging features for the passes. 
  • Pack your patience!
Check out project Web page for more information and you can download a pdf (275 kb) of the lane restrictions to print out for reference.

Happy Traveling!

A Boring Machine

WSDOT takes another step in designing and building the SR 99 bored tunnel project.

By guest blogger Eric Balliet

As the proposed replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the SR 99 bored tunnel promises to be a challenging undertaking. It would be one of the largest diameter bored tunnels in the world, with an outside diameter of approximately 54 feet. At almost two miles long, it would also be one of the longest highway tunnels in the United States.

How would such a large structure be built?
A bored tunnel is constructed using – you guessed it – a tunnel boring machine. Advances in technology and decades of tunneling experience have produced a machine that essentially chews through the ground and simultaneously constructs the outer shell of a tunnel in its wake. To help understand this process, we have posted an animation of how a tunnel boring machine works. This is just an example, however; the details of the machine used for our project will be determined by the contractor.

A bored tunnel machine

Those of you without YouTube access can view a Windows Media version.

Not so boring anymore
In the years since the viaduct replacement program began, tunnel boring machines have been developing at a rapid rate, with a major increase in diameter, better ground control and improved reliability. They can now safely excavate under almost any type of soil, rock or groundwater conditions.

In anticipation of building the tunnel, crews working for WSDOT have been gathering soil samples along the tunnel’s route. When testing is finished in October, we will have samples every 100 to 400 feet, to depths of 100 to 300 feet below the surface. This information will help in the design of the boring machine, so it can handle the soil conditions we expect to encounter during construction.

Visit the Alaskan Way Viaduct program Web site at learn more about the proposed SR 99 bored tunnel and other improvements that are part of the viaduct’s replacement.

Photo Friday: The Bridge Edition

Repairs being made on the US 97 Columbia River Bridge at Beebe

Repairs being made on the US 97 Columbia River Bridge at Beebe after a semi-truck collision on Aug. 31 severely damaged steel trusses and beams that support the bridge. 

the bridge taken in 1919/></a><br /> </div><strike>Here is the same bridge in 1919. The photo was taken by a  Mrs. Dale Yetter  in the spring of 1919. This bridge was built by the Beebe Orchard Company to carry two 12-inch water <a href=flumesover the Columbia River from springs on the west side to an orchard on the east side.
 Edit* I stand corrected (Thanks Jim!):
"That isn't the same bridge, US 195 runs over a 1963 highway bridge that was built just north of this location. You can still see the concrete towers that supported the 1919 bridge, but the bridge itself is gone."
You can check out the entire photo set here as well as a little more information.

R 6, S. Fork Chehalis River Bridge
This is the SR 6, S. Fork Chehalis River Bridge. was built in 1925. At 22 feet wide, it presented safety and mobility issues along SR 6, which connects the SW Washington coast to I-5. Find the set here.

SR 539 Nooksack River steel truss bridge

A worker on top of the SR 539 Nooksack River steel truss bridge. I am going to quote Dustin since he says it better than I can, never having been on the old one or the new one:
"You know, when I drive over the current Nooksack River Bridge, I never think of it as being all that big. Seeing this picture of a construction worker walking across the top of the new one we're building helps put its size into perspective. It may not be the size of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, but it is big."
You can find the rest of the set here.

SR 542 Nooksack River bridge
Another Nooksack River bridge, this one is on SR 542 (Mount Baker Highway) west of Glacier. It's getting a bit of a makeover to help preserve the structure, prevent rust, and keep it looking snazzy.  Crews have repainted the west half of the bridge, and are now working to repaint the east half.  You can check out the whole set here, and Bronlea posted about the really cool shrink-wrapping back in July.

Have a great weekend!

Photo Friday: WSDOT Labor

avalanche control
In honor of Labor day I wanted to showcase just of few of the many workers who toil in less than idyllic conditions to make sure our lives run a bit more smoothly. Your hard work is very much appreciated.

A worker performs avalanche control on I-90 East Snoqualmie Pass. Dangerous work is done in the dead of winter and at night. More photos here.

pavement repair on I-5 Seattle to Shoreline

Most of the pavement repair on I-5 Seattle to Shoreline was done during the weekend at night. View the rest of the set here - and you can also track our progress, we're almost there!

a worker constructs a rebar shaft cage frame
A worker constructs a human-size hamster wheel. No, not really. However cool that may be (alternative fuel?), it's actually a rebar shaft cage frame for the pier foundations for the Royal Brougham Way Bridge. More of the SR519 Construction set can be found here.

Widening an intersection to add turn and through lanes
Widening an intersection to add turn and through lanes on S. Atlantic Street at First Avenue S. in Seattle. Also part of our SR519 Construction set.

Workers pour and level concrete
Workers pour and level concrete on northbound I-5 near the Corson Avenue on-ramp in South Seattle. Construction trivia: that long metal tube leveling the concrete is called a screed. File that away and pull it out when least expected to impress your friends and acquaintances. More here.

Have a happy and safe holiday!