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 http://www.alaskanwayviaduct.org/to 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!

Labor Day - Remember the Workers

by Dustin Terpening
I don’t know about you, but when Labor Day weekend approaches, I can’t help but feel a little sad that summer is coming to an end. The saving grace for me is that we at least had a really nice summer this year. Though, I have to admit, I’m getting a little excited about fall in the Pacific Northwest and all that it has to offer – leaves changing colors, spiced ciders, football, etc. My seasonal-related feelings aside, the Labor Day holiday is a good reminder to stop for a minute and review all that we have and are accomplishing. From the WSDOT perspective, we’ve accomplished a lot. This is our busiest summer ever, and we’re still working hard to wrap everything up before winter arrives. I’m sure you’ve noticed the many workers clad in bright orange/yellow gear on many of your local roadways. While the construction projects can be an inconvenience at times, those projects have a little more meaning this year considering the state of the economy. Many of the workers you see along the highways are back to work and being supported by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

There are more than 135 Recovery and Reinvestment projects awarded or underway in almost every county of the state right now. In addition, we are currently delivering the largest capital construction program in Washington’s history, including hundreds of safety and congestion relief projects funded by the 2003 and 2005 gas tax, worth $13.4 billion. As of June 30, WSDOT has completed 194 of 391 projects, and by September 30, 2009, 284 of the 391 projects (73 percent) will either be completed or under construction.

That’s a lot of work. And it takes a lot of workers to make it all happen. In honor of Labor Day, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a proclamation (pdf 120 KB) encouraging state residents to celebrate Washington transportation workers. Please take a moment this Labor Day to remember the workers.