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.