Washington Jobs Now - ARRA: Restoring jobs, self-worth

WSDOT worker Erik Buholm
When work dried up, life went on. A wife battled cancer, a child was conceived, an aging relative required care – and strong men did their best to hold things together, despite being jobless and, at times, hopeless.

“You shouldn’t feel like less of a man, but you do,” said Erik Buholm, (above) a 35-year-old Lacey man with a wife, a 3-year-old daughter and a baby on the way. Buholm has been out of work for nearly a year. That is, until now.

Read the full article.

Photo Friday: Bridge Fires and Beauty Queens

Lightning sparked a brush fire that consumed the old timber bridge that crosses Dry Creek on State Route 241 in Yakima County. Don't worry! It's out. More photos from this set can be found here.

Last weekend was the ribbon cutting ceremony for the US 395 North Spokane Corridor, which looked like a fun event. Check out the cars! And who knew a loader bucket is so handy for entertaining?

This is a column for the new I-90/I-5 ramp to Edgar Martinez Way that crews are building in the SR 519 Intermodal Access project. I just think it's a cool picture, I can't get over that blue sky. Enjoy it while it lasts, eh? More here.

Yes, it's a noise wall. It's also a great picture, part of the first segment of the SR 704 Cross-Base Highway in Spanaway. More here.

A fantastic view from above. Part of our ferries set.

Have a great weekend, and don't forget about the Southbound I-405 closures in Renton starting tonight.

I-405 closure in Renton: Prepare yourself

Tomorrow night at around 9 p.m. we will be closing the carpool lane on southbound I-405, which will have the potential to wreak havoc on traffic over the weekend. I would just stay home, but that's not necessarily feasible for a lot of people - plus, there are Mariners and Sounders games to go to! We are really trying to get the word out and let people know that the HOV lane closures this weekend have the potential to affect not only I-405, but SR 167 and SR 181 as well.

We need to get more than 30% of traffic to use alternate routes or drivers can expect major delays. By major we're talking hour-long...or longer. Yuck.

So, spread the word and tell everyone you know who may be affected. Go to our What's Happening Now page to get more details and check out more information on the the project.

Repaving AND recycling... at the same time

You’ve probably heard of recycled paper, recycled glass or recycled plastic, but we’re wiling to bet that you’ve never heard (or thought) about recycled asphalt.

Recycling “old” asphalt is a relatively new and environmentally friendly way for WSDOT to repave its highways. We first tried this “hot-in-place paving” out in 1996 on SR 97, southwest of Yakima, and we’re now using it to repave a 16-mile stretch of SR 542 (Mount Baker Highway) in Whatcom County.

Hot-in-place paving involves a long train of equipment that heats and softens the existing asphalt, mechanically removes the top 2 inches of pavement surface, mixes it with a recycling agent and approximately 20 percent new gravel and oil, and replaces it on the road without ever removing the material from the work site.

If you’re watching it from the roadside, it’s pretty impressive. As the train of machinery slowly chugs by, you can watch the process unfold. The old asphalt disappears, gets rejuvenated with new gravel and oil, and reappears behind the train, smooth, flat and (almost) ready for traffic. Crews typically give the new asphalt a couple hours to cool before traffic is allowed on it.

Crews began hot-in-place paving Tuesday, Aug. 18, near milepost 15 on Mount Baker Highway, just east of the SR 9 (Valley Highway) intersection in Deming. Project Engineer Mark Hammer said the hot-in-place method moves at an average speed of approximately 16 feet per minute, and crews are paving about one and a half lane miles per day.

Though it’s about half as fast as conventional paving, also called “mill and fill” paving, the hot-in-place paving is more cost-effective. Conventional mill and fill costs about $150,000 to $175,000 per lane mile, while hot-in-place paving costs between $100,000 and $112,000 per lane mile. And although the life cycle of hot-in-place paving hasn’t been fully established yet, it is anticipated to last between 75 percent and 100 percent as long as conventional mill and fill paving.

And if you’re a driver, the hot-in-place method will also make your commute more convenient. During conventional paving, drivers typically have to navigate rutted and ground-down lanes in the interim between grinding and paving – which usually takes a couple days. If you’ve driven northbound I-5 between Lynnwood and Everett in the past month, you’ve more than likely driven in those ground-down lanes. Hot-in-place paving makes that rutted drive a thing of the past.

If you’re headed up to Whatcom County in the next couple of weeks, you can check out the process in person. Or you can check out our photos and videos on Flickr.

Photo Friday: Amazing WSDOT Images of the Week

Here is a sampling of some the best photos uploaded this week to flickr.

Workers moving 200lb blocks of Geofoam into place as fill material for the east and west approaches of the Royal Brougham Way Bridge. Check out more photos and information on the project. Geofoam is pretty cool stuff. We'll talk about it a little bit more next week.

Journeyman welding pieces for WSDOT's new 64-car ferry, under construction at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle. You can view the entire set here.

Bighorn Sheep along US 97A north of Wenatchee, part of our Roadside Wildlife set.

Worker smoothing out concrete for a new Aberdeen Transit Center for Grays Harbor Transit that stimulus funding is helping to get constructed. Wet concrete...it's a good thing I wasn't there when this photo was taken as I would have been sorely tempted to mess up all of his hard work with a hand print or two. More enticing concrete photos can be found here.

"How was your day today?"
"Oh...you know...same ole same ole...precariously perched on a steel truss suspended above the Nooksack River."

This is one of my favorite sets because as someone who sits in front of a computer all day, it illustrates how hard and dangerous the work we do can be. There are some amazing aerial photos of the bridge under construction.

There some construction closures going this weekend so make sure you Know before you go and check out what's happening so you can plan accordingly. Have a great weekend and drive safe!

Five bucks for a ski cabin?

by guest blogger Mike Murphy

On Wednesday we held an auction for more than two dozen cabins on property we recently purchased for a bridge project near Mount Baker. Some of the cabins went for as little as five or 10 dollars. But here’s the catch: the buyers must move the cabins from the state-owned land by the end of September. One house mover told me that could cost between $5000 and $7000 for the smaller cabins. The buyers also had to pay a refundable bond of at least $5000 to ensure they actually followed through.

So why were we offering the cabins so cheaply? Simply put, it’s a win for everyone involved. WSDOT would have had to spend more than $100,000 in your taxpayer dollars to demolish the cabins and haul the debris to a landfill. Instead, we saved that money, recycled the cabins and gave the winning bidders a great bargain.

It’s also an example of our environmental stewardship. We recycle all the time. Concrete on I-5 in Seattle is being sent to a recycler. Old tree stumps were used as a wildlife habitat in a wetland on SR 202. We’re even recycling asphalt on a SR 542 by removing the old asphalt, remixing it and laying it back down. But rarely do we sell houses or cabins.

The cabins were part of the former Glacier Creek Lodge in the small town of Glacier, about 35 miles east of Bellingham. In addition to the cabins, the two-story, 2,150 square foot lodge also went on the auction block.

So what will happen to the cabins and lodge now? I talked to one buyer who purchased seven of the cabins. He owns a RV park in the area and plans to move the cabins there and rent them out.

As for the lodge, three local businessmen bought it for $2700 and plan to move it a few miles down the road to use either as a home or rental unit. Most of the buildings will stay in that local community.

Once the buildings are cleared out we will begin construction of a taller bridge over Gallop Creek on SR 542 (Mount Baker Highway). The creek’s streambed has risen over the years, leaving less room for the creek to flow under the bridge. The creek washes down large boulders and debris, and it backs up at the bridge, creating a potential flood that can wash out the highway. The new, taller bridge will prevent that from happening.

By the way, if you ever want to bid on surplus state land, you can find more information on our Real Estate Services page. You can also find more photos of the cabins on flickr.

A second Amtrak Cascades train starts today.

Portland and Vancouver, B.C. are now directly connected by the addition of a second Amtrak Cascades train. We have been working for over a year to get this new train on the rails. Amtrak typically needs 90 days to start up service, so getting the second round trip train to Vancouver, B.C. going within 45 days is a major accomplishment and incredibly exciting.

Previously, riders going up to Vancouver, B.C. had to deal with both a layover in Seattle and a train change. Not only is this new train is going to be a lot more schedule friendly for travelers along the corridor, it will be a fantastic transportation alternative for the 2010 Olympics. Not having to hassle with parking is going to be glorious (getting tickets to events, however, is another problem).

Bicyclists take note: bike racks are back! The Talgo trains with bike racks are back in service after having their interiors refurbished. Starting last summer we were substituting the Talgo trains with Amtrak Superliners. These trains did not have bike racks, which made bringing a bike along a complete hassle. So: bike racks, new interiors and a direct route to Vancouver - I see a weekend get away coming. Don't forget to double-check the items you will need for crossing the border.

Do you take the train? What was your experience like?
 Will this new service change how you think about traveling? Let me know!

Dangers of Distracted Driving

The dangers of distracted driving, especially those associated with emailing and texting while driving, have become hot issues after the recent release of new reports, including initial findings from our second annual Traffic Safety Culture Index survey. And, while I applaud efforts, such as the recently announced US DOT forum on distracted driving, let us not forget the bigger issue of changing the culture in this country. Specifically, our recent findings were that 90% of drivers believed drinking and driving was a serious threat to their safety, while 87% felt the same way about texting or emailing while driving. And, I believe, although we have not completely solved the drunk driving problem, we have made substantial progress, and we have changed the culture with respect to drinking and driving. It is no longer socially acceptable to “have one for the road,” and society has effectively stigmatized drinking and driving. In contrast, while 87% of our survey respondents believed texting and emailing while driving were serious threats, over 40% of drivers younger than 35 admitted to texting while driving during the last month (and about one if five of all drivers of all ages). And, unfortunately, our current culture seems to accept if not encourage these attitudes and behaviors. One death on our highways is unacceptable; one death every thirteen minutes is an outrage!

New simulations showcase proposed Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement

Trying to convey the changes that will result from a large transportation project is a challenge. For smaller projects – repaving a road, adding a roundabout – it’s easy for people to picture what the end result will be. For a project like the SR 99 bored tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, it’s a little more complicated.

Not only does the proposed replacement include an almost two-mile-long bored tunnel beneath downtown, we also plan to rebuild the surface street along the waterfront. People ask – What will the tunnel look like? How will I be able to access it? How will the new waterfront street be different than what exists today? Well, we now have some new tools to help provide answers.

The program team has posted two simulations to YouTube. The first video shows the current design concept for the proposed SR 99 bored tunnel. The drive-through starts at the tunnel’s south portal, which is near the stadium district and the Port of Seattle’s terminals, and takes you to the exit in the north, onto Aurora Avenue N. Along the way, you can see the ramps at either end of the tunnel that will allow drivers to access the downtown street grid from SR 99, as well as the new street connections that will be built over the tunnel’s portals.

Once the tunnel is built and the viaduct is removed from the waterfront, what will go in its place? The answer is in the second video. We plan to build a new Alaskan Way boulevard in the footprint of the current viaduct. The new road will connect to Elliott and Western avenues, which is important for those traveling to the northwest section of the city, and will provide access to downtown and SR 99. Removal of the viaduct will allow creation of new public open space on the waterfront.

You can visit the Alaskan Way Viaduct program Web site at www.alaskanwayviaduct.org to learn more about these and other improvements that are part of the viaduct’s replacement.

Bored Tunnel


What's that noise?

When John from the Ravenna neighborhood e-mails me at 2 a.m. saying pavement grinding work on I-5 in Seattle sounds like “airplanes landing in [his] neighbor’s backyard,” I decide to check out the noise myself. I don’t see any crash-landing Boeing jets, but it sure does sound like it.

To get a good idea of how loud it is, listen to this video with your headphones on. I shot this video at midnight 200 feet from I-5 near John’s house at NE 72nd Street.

Pavement grinding is that loud.

No question about it, grinding down 40 years worth of battered, rutted concrete is noisy. However every night our grinders are out there making noise, our highway is getting safer for drivers. The stacked, circular, diamond blades create a textured, corduroy pattern that improves traction for drivers and helps keep standing water off the road, preventing collisions.

During the past few months folks like John have put up with a lot of construction noise on I-5.

The noise started back in February with screeching concrete saws ripping out crumbling concrete panels in the snow (photo, right).

In the springtime residents endured pavement grinders grinding out rutted concrete 24 hours a day all weekend long.

Neighbors enjoyed a reprieve in early summer while crews working for WSDOT shifted their schedule to finish another WSDOT pavement grinding job in the eastern part of the state.

From the sound of things, the crews are back in town. We are grinding down portions of I-5 in both directions from just south of the Ship Canal Bridge to NE 145th Street in Shoreline. We're running at least three grinding machines at the same time to complete the project as fast as possible. Depending on where you live we will finish up the grinding by the fall, a month or so later than we had earlier thought.

Most of the folks I’ve chatted with about the project understand the work needs to get done. They want to know when we will be working near their home and what they can do to block out the loud noise robbing them of sleep at night.

I-5 neighbors can check the site to see where grinders will be working that week. It takes one of our grinders about 10 minutes to grind 60 feet of concrete four feet wide*. The average property lot along I-5 is between 50 and 60 feet wide. This means that if the grinders are working directly near your home, you will hear the noise ramp up and then ease off over a period of about an hour as the grinders move down the highway and away from your area.

I empathize with neighbors and will personally mail free earplugs to anyone who requests them. These earplugs are the same type of ear protection our pavement grinding crews use so there is a good chance they will block out more noise than average earplugs you may find at the corner store.

Finally, I want to thank all those living along the freeway for your patience and understanding while we smooth out nearly 20 miles of wheel ruts, cracks and uneven pavement.

When the work is finished everyone who drives this stretch of road will breathe a sigh of relief from a smoother ride, improved traction and a safer highway.

*Each lane is 12 feet wide, we will grind across all lanes of I-5. The 12-foot lanes require crews to make several passes in order to grind the whole width of each lane. The process is similar to mowing a lawn row after row, only this “lawn” is 72 feet wide and six miles long – in both directions.