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.