What exactly is “high speed passenger rail”?

by Guest Blogger Vickie Sheehan

There seems to be some confusion on what exactly is High Speed Passenger Rail. Many people keep asking - Will this be like bullet trains? Will we be able to zip between Vancouver, B.C. and Eugene, OR at 150 miles per hour? Well, not today or in the near future, but a possibility we are working towards in the long term.

Amtrak Cascades trains travel at a maximum speed of 79 mph today. Although our trains are designed to go as fast as 125 mph, we are restricted to 79 miles per hour due to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations, track conditions, rail traffic congestion, and our geography (mountains, water, lots of curves, etc.).

What this does mean is that Amtrak Cascades will continue to travel at 79 mph, but we will be able to work towards incrementally increasing the speeds to 90 mph and eventually 110 mph. Now, bear in mind, this is not 110 mph non-stop between Vancouver, B.C. and Eugene, OR, as we do have to stop at 15 intermediate cities along the way. This means that there will be bursts of speed in designated “straightaways” where we can sustain these speeds.

There has been a lot of conversation about high speed rail recently because of some exciting news we got on Wednesday. This exciting news was in the form of a $590 million ARRA award through the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program.
WSDOT applied for over $1.3 billion in October 2009 for the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor (PNWRC) .

What does this mean for Washington? As a result of this funding, two additional daily Amtrak Cascades round trips may be added between Seattle and Portland, for a total of six. Even better, the projects that this funding will help complete will help Amtrak Cascades trains be more on-time and reliable. This alone will be a significant benefit to those of you who have ever experienced train delays.

An amazing fact about this recent sum is that Washington State has invested over $331 million alone in support of high speed passenger rail over the last 15 years. To receive federal support of $590 million is a huge boost that will help improve the Amtrak Cascades service tremendously. And we will have more opportunities to apply for additional federal funding from the $2.5 billion set aside for high speed rail in the federal transportation appropriations bill approved in December 2009.

Update: Southbound Striping in Bellevue

Last weekend crews bordered each white lane stripe with black paint to further define lanes on southbound I-405 between SE Eighth Street and I-90.
by Guest Blogger Steve Peer

Thank you for your comments about the lane striping on southbound I-405 in Bellevue. We take your comments very seriously – in fact, we investigate each and every one and act on them if there is something we can do.

This is a highly unusual situation with many factors making for a challenging southbound drive out of Bellevue on I-405. Along with our contractor for the South Bellevue Widening project, we’re doing everything we can to look for solutions to keep drivers safe and traffic moving.

Early Saturday morning, we painted black borders on the lane striping on southbound I-405 between SE Eighth and I-90.  We anticipate this will further define the lanes in the area for drivers and make for a safer ride out of Bellevue and solve the issue. If not, we’ll look at other alternatives.

Thanks again for your questions and comments.   Your input it very valuable to us.

Coming Soon: Striping improvements in Bellevue

By Guest Blogger Steve Peer

Lately we’ve received comments from drivers about the lane striping on southbound I-405 in Bellevue on a stretch of road between SE Eighth Street and I-90. The striping in the area has been a challenge for drivers, but rest assured, we’re doing everything we can to try to improve the lane visibility.

Here’s what happened:
As part of the South Bellevue Widening Project, we ground down the surface of the existing concrete to create a smoother and quieter surface. However, grinding the surface exposed concrete that’s shinier and lighter in color. The lighter colored concrete caused the white lane markings to be less visible under specific weather conditions. In addition, during construction, crews shifted traffic into temporary lanes to keep traffic moving. Unfortunately, when the temporary lanes were removed, some “ghost” striping was still visible. This “ghosting” along with the lighter concrete, has caused unusual and, at times, difficult driving experiences for motorists.

We’ve already taken steps to modify this situation and will continue to work on a solution until the problem is fixed.

Here’s what we’re doing:
Several weeks ago we added a black accent stripe to define the white lane striping against the light grey concrete.  Doing this helped, but not nearly as much as expected. Our next option is to add a thick black border around each white lane stripe to further enhance lane visibility against the lighter concrete.

We hope this will solve the problem. If not, we’ll continue to find new solutions to improve the visibility of the lane striping.

We appreciate all of your comments and look forward to improving this section of roadway.  We take each comment into consideration as we work to safely and efficiently operate and improve our highways to keep you moving around our state.

Dry nights means closed lanes for drivers:
To add the black lane stripe borders, crews need a dry night to make sure the paint adheres to the pavement they’ll funnel traffic down to one lane to accomplish this so if you’re in the south Bellevue area at night during these closures, please slow down and give crews a brake

Exit only lane to Southcenter and I-5 coming soon

by Guest Blogger Steve Peer

We’ve received several comments about the new lane opening on southbound I-405 between SR 167 and I-5 in Renton as part of the I-405 Renton Stage 1 project. While many drivers have told us traffic flow has really improved, they’ve also let us know they don’t like the signs or striping. So we are going to fix that as soon as we get some dry nights.

Here’s what’s going on:
Drivers tell us they’re unsure which lane they need to be in as they approach the I-5/Southcenter area and this confusion is leading to some last minute lane changes. 

Here’s what we’re doing:
The right lane will become an exit only lane to Southcenter/northbound I-5 and we’ll restripe the freeway to allow for a longer distance for vehicles to enter. Vehicles travelling to Seattle and Southcenter will have a dedicated exit only lane, while the two middle lanes will continue toward the airport or southbound I-5. The carpool lane, which currently allows drivers to continue on to northbound I-5, will remain unchanged. We’ll also change overhead signs to direct drivers which lane to get into.  Our goal is to let people know well before the intersection to avoid collisions and congestion.

Give ‘em a brake!
To make these changes, crews need a few dry nights to restripe the area and change the signs.  They’ll close a few lanes to accomplish this so if you’re in the Southcenter at night during these closures, please slow down and give the crews a brake.  For more info on nightly construction closures please check out our I-405 - Construction Updates Web site.  

We always appreciate driver feedback. It can be one of the best ways to see how well our system is working. So keep the comments coming!

UPDATE: January 25th, 2009:
This morning many drivers experienced a new lane arrangement at the intersection of southbound I-405 to I-5. After reviewing the area and listening to the suggestion of drivers, we changed how the intersection works. Traditionally it takes a few run-throughs for drivers to get used to changes – so we expect by the end of the week drivers will adapt to the new exit only lane. Also, by the time commuters hit the road on their way home this afternoon, we’ll add a few temporary message signs to give drivers advance warning of the changes.

We have one more item to check off our list before we call this job done. We need to modify a sign that directs drivers to the exit only lane. The sign modification has been ordered and should be up within the next month or two.

For now, we’re asking drivers to proceed with caution in the area and watch for other vehicles merging as they head to northbound I-5 and Southcenter from I-405.

Clarifying information about our Web site...

Maintaining and managing a web page that averages a million page views a day can be challenging. We work hard to make sure that the hardware and software work well together to deliver information in an instant when you want it.

Sometimes we are asked whether our system is running slow. It is true that on days where large segments of the Northwest are faced with severe weather, our site can bog down. When storms happen we see increases in usage up to 10 times normal traffic. But mostly, the WSDOT web site has more than enough capabilities to meet demand. That’s because learned some hard lessons from the storms of 2008-2009 and made a tremendous amount of progress in making sure our Web site can handle the amount of traffic that gets sent to it due to winter storms. We are prepared for it this year.

If you find the site slow to load in your browser, there are some things you can do. I have compiled some tips for you that I will help you tune up your browser and have a faster browsing experience.

  1. Make sure you have the latest version of your browser, it can really help with security and often increase the speed of your browsing.
  2. Clear your browser cache. Doing this can help with privacy, clear up space on your computer and make sure you are getting the latest information. One of the more common complaints we see is that a camera seems to be stuck at a specific time and date, if that happens to you clear your cache, that solves the problem 90% of the time.
  3. Take the time to research and learn how to increase the speed of your browser.
  4. Have more than one browser on your computer. If a site seems slow in one browser, check it in another to see if your computer may be the problem. There are excellent options for browsers right now, you have many choices like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera or Safari.
If you find our site is slow to respond to request please let me know, I would be happy to work with you to make sure your experience on our Web site is the best it can be. You can contact me directly at bertraj@wsdot.wa.gov

Getting to know WSDOT - and your vehicle, too.

We are very lucky to have you. You pay attention, ask questions, offer opinions AND solutions. Many times, your letters, e-mails and phone calls bring up issues or questions and I think – you can’t be the only person who thinks that. So, we add information to our Web site or try some other way to get the info out to drivers.

This week, we got one of those e-mails. (I did edit a bit for spelling.) “I understand that two years ago you began a program of using salt on Eastern Washington roads. I drove to Pullman last December and I'm still dealing with the corrosion as the result of this one trip. Please let the appropriate officials know I believe the use of corrosive chemicals for road treatment should be stopped. Until the program is stopped you should let people know on your Web site which roads are actively being salted so they would have a chance to avoid those roads.”

One of our Maintenance Managers responded. “The traveling public and the freight industry will no longer tolerate the frequent closure of highways and the corresponding elevated accident rates that were associated with the previous philosophy of ‘sand and plow’. WSDOT will continue to test alternative products such as acetates and agricultural by-products which are thought to be less corrosive, but until such products are made more readily available, are less expensive, and have been fully tested for environmental impacts, we will continue to use the tried and true methods which have allowed us to provide the level of service the traveling public has come to expect.”

This response (and the more details I offer below) highlight what we do and how much emphasis we place on keeping state routes open during challenging winter conditions. But there are just a few things about winter that we just can’t control. One is the weather. There are very sophisticated weather forecasting systems, but sometimes, Mother Nature just throws a curve ball.

And number two is drivers. Today’s auto safety features save lives. But, you shouldn’t feel like you can drive through a snow storm as if it’s 60 degrees and sunny just because you have AWD, 4-wheel drive or advanced traction control. Unfortunately, we still see those drivers out there. And, when they cause a collision, it slows down everyone else.

For many of us, gone are the days when you car started to spin or slip a bit so you knew it was time to take it down a notch. So please, slow down and get to know your car a bit. How will you know when or if the traction control starts taking over? This, along with the weather outside the window, will help you know when it’s time to start slowing down. Don’t wait until you are in the ditch (or worse) before you realize you are going too fast.

And what do those anti-lock brakes sound like? A sudden loud sound coming from your car while you are trying to navigate through a snow storm can really wreck your concentration.

For those who would like a bit more background on the WSDOT Winter Road Maintenance program, here are some other highlights for the e-mail response:

  • The salt program is much older than two years in Washington State. We've been using a Chemical Priority Program for several years with the goal of reducing sand use across the state.
  • This program is statewide and is not confined to Eastern Washington.
  • We use a variety of corrosion inhibited liquid chloride products including sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride. We also use solid sodium chloride (rock salt) in combination with the inhibited liquids to form a wetted salt which acts more quickly and effectively on ice and snow.
  • Any one of these liquid products along with solid salt is used on every state route to varying degrees, dependent on climate and elevation.
  • The use of liquid and solid chloride products to manage ice and snow is practiced in nearly all snowbelt states and Canadian provinces.
  • WSDOT is one of the few transportation agencies which requires that all liquid products be corrosion inhibited. As a member of the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters (PNS), WSDOT requires that liquid products be at least 70% less corrosive than straight sodium chloride. This is not to say that these products are totally non-corrosive. There will be some corrosive effects from the use of any chloride product, inhibited or not.
  • We strongly feel that the ability to provide a superior level of service in winter outweighs the comparatively minor impacts of these products. The ability to drive from Ridgefield to Pullman in December is a case in point.
Also, please note the above outlines treatments on state highways maintained under WSDOT’s Winter Maintenance program. More links that describe the WSDOT Winter Program and the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters organization: www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter/, www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter/SnowIcePlan.htm, www.wsdot.wa.gov/partners/pns/.