Having a blast on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass

by guest blogger Amanda Sullivan

At the start of summer, we posted a video of one of our test blasts to give you a small taste of what would happen over the summer on I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass.    Over the past couple of months, crews have gotten into a nice rhythm and have been performing much larger blasts called production blasts.  These larger blasts sometimes mean more time is needed to clean debris from the interstate and inspect the slopes.  We wanted to show you all what goes into the rock blasting operations, from preparing the slopes, cleaning the road of debris, and, of course what everyone wants to see…the blast. It’s a carefully orchestrated event from the time crews drill the holes early in the morning to when the loaders are clearing the road of debris and our geotechnical experts are inspecting the slopes for stability later that night.  We do everything possible to reduce risk and keep drivers and our construction crews safe.   So, put on your hard hat, safety vest, glasses and boots and spend a day in the life of our controlled rock blasting crews. 

Crews are conducting rock blasting operations on the slopes adjacent to I-90 near the Lake Keechelus Snowshed (milepost 58) in order to widen the highway from four to six lanes. This means temporary one-hour closures of I-90 at 6 p.m. every Monday through Thursday. Due to the uncertain nature of rock blasting, the blasting closures could last longer and are subject to frequent schedule changes. We suggest you check our What’s Happening on I-90 Web page for up-to-date information on controlled rock blasting schedules and other construction impacts.  Crews will complete blasting and excavating the tons of rock from the slopes by the end of October.

Help end the frustration on SR 3, don’t block residential driveways

by guest blogger Joe Irwin

Having personally been stuck in the traffic backups caused by the Hood Canal Bridge countless times, both heading to and coming from the Olympic Peninsula, I can attest that they’re pretty much a way of life for residents and visitors to the area.

But, like traffic jams the world over, they’re also about as fun as a root canal without Novocain.

Over the years, it’s come to my attention that while sitting in traffic on SR 3 is bad enough for motorists, it can be even worse for homeowners who live along the northbound lane of the highway.  Imagine that you’re four car-lengths from home and can’t get there because the bridge is open, traffic is backed up and some other motorist has blocked your driveway.  Or that you have tickets to a show in Seattle, and have to catch a ferry, but can’t leave your house because a semi is blocking you in.

Frustrating? You bet.

Some North Kitsap residents have experienced this sort of frustration day-in and day-out for years, decades even.

Hash marks designate "do not block" zones
In an effort to relieve this long-standing problem, WSDOT has painted hash in 36 driveways, designating them as “do not block” zones, and added six signs along northbound SR 3 to inform motorists not to block these areas.  The signs and markings will make it easier for drivers to identify where they shouldn’t stop during bridge openings.

Is it illegal to stop your car in front of these driveways? No. But we’re hoping these signs and markings will serve as constant reminders to SR 3 motorists to be good neighbors to residents who live along the highway.  They’ve put up with this issue for years, after all. 

Let’s help them out… and into their driveways.

DOT hosts Distracted Driving Summit; Foundation to host Heads Up Driving Week

Earlier this week I attended the Distracted Driving Summit hosted by Department of Transportation and Secretary Ray LaHood. The summit featured a wide cross section of the transportation community but it was clear that everyone had a shared goal – stop distraction on our roads. In support of the summit, the AAA Foundation released new distracted driving statistics from our Psychological Foundations of Safety Culture study and 2010 Traffic Safety Culture Index survey which found that fifty-five percent of drivers feel less safe than they did five years ago with the main reason being distracted driving.

Similar to previous surveys, the results showed that drivers understand the risks associated with talking and texting while driving, yet many continue to engage in this dangerous behavior anyway. In fact, motorists rated texting while driving (88%) equally as dangerous as drinking while driving. While I’m glad to hear drivers are beginning to understand the seriousness of distraction, the “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude is still an obstacle we must overcome to improve safety. This is precisely why next week the AAA Foundation and AAA are urging drivers to commit to seven days of distraction-free driving during the second annual Heads Up Driving Week Sept. 26 to Oct. 2. During this week, we are calling on all motorists to drive distraction free, “Try it for a week, do it for life.”

Smarter Highways 102: Variable Speed Limits

 by guest blogger Annie Johnson

Update: A number of changes were made to the operations of the Smarter Highways signs in October 2011. In addition to decreasing the minimum speed to 30 mph, we are using additional upstream gantries to initiate the speed-reduction process earlier, using the larger Smarter Highways variable message signs to post travel times, and using the signs in a coordinated effort with the City of Seattle to communicate to drivers the possibility of using city streets instead of the freeway. 

With Smarter Highways live on northbound I-5 in south Seattle and activation on SR 520 just around the corner later this fall you’ve mastered the basics. You know that the yellow merge arrows are going to help you around the blocked lane and that a red “x” is telling you that a lane is closed. Now it’s time for what we like to call Smarter Highways 102: variable speed limits.

It’s about what’s ahead
Just like the symbols, the speeds displayed on the overhead electronic signs warn you about what’s happening on the road ahead of you. Congestion on the highway ebbs and flows and the variable speed limit signs reflect that fluctuation. It’s just like a driver speeding up and slowing down to adjust to the traffic flow. The only difference is that the Smarter Highways signs let you know in advance that the speed change is coming.

Speed limits reflect the conditions
The electronic speed limits displayed on the signs reflect travel conditions not necessarily how fast or slow traffic is moving in the freeway lanes. If traffic is stopped, the signs will display the system’s lowest speed, 40 mph. The signs won’t show a lower speed limit, even if traffic is moving slower.

Think of the signs just like a regular static speed limit sign. It’s the maximum speed you should travel, however as any driver knows you might have to drive slower than the posted speed limit due to traffic or weather. Also, just like a static sign the speed limits are enforceable and you could be ticketed by law enforcement for exceeding the posted speed limit.

Helping drivers travel safer and smarter
Ideally, approaching traffic will slow down and pass through the problem area at a slower but more consistent speed reducing stop and go traffic. By reducing stop and go traffic we’re also reducing the probability of an accident by giving drivers more time to react to changing road conditions. This helps drivers avoid the need to brake sharply as they approach congestion.

So how do you come up with that speed?
In urban areas traffic sensors along the roadway collect vehicle speeds, congestion information and traffic flow rates. This information is continuously relayed back to our Traffic Management Center in Shoreline and analyzed by computers. When circumstances that would benefit from lowered speed limits—like congestion—are identified, the computer reduces speeds incrementally to gradually reduce the approaching flow of traffic to the congested area. This is different than the electronic speed limit signs you see on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass and on US 2 over Stevens Pass. These signs are manually operated by our South Central and North Central region Traffic Management Centers to reflect the current road and weather conditions on the passes.

So there you go. That’s Smarter Highways 102. Any questions?

Highway 202 at Tokul Creek: Flood repairs in time for winter 2010

by guest blogger Jamie Holter

Scenes like this made the news in January 2009 

But something else was happening near Highway 202 between Fall City and Snoqualmie. Tokul Creek, swollen by the sheer volume of water, changed course and, rather than meandering nicely under Highway 202, it redirected itself and began to erode the riverbank, leaving the banks and the local road unstable.

Engineers are now concerned that heavy fall rain in 2010 will push more debris up against the old concrete piers that support a bridge that’s no longer there.

The debris plugs the water flow and it backs up eroding the bank which can lead to more damage.
During the first week of September, contractor crews from Amir Ahmadi’s Project office began work on a bridge scour repair job on Tokul Creek. 
Over the next month, under emergency permits from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers, dozens of workers will be on site to remove large amounts of wood and debris trapped near the bridge. They will remove the old concrete bridge piers and armor the new existing bridge piers with large rocks.

But it’s not that easy. You don’t just come in with bulldozers. Biologists are on site to trap and relocate fish. They use this porous curtain to let water pass through but not the fish.

This rainbow trout was one of the first caught and taken downstream.

Then we install something called an aqua dam, a large inflatable filled water to make the area downstream fish and water-free. Pipes installed in the area take the water around the aquadam to a place downstream and out of our work area.

Here is a wide shot of a full inflated aquadam. Isn’t it strange looking?

Over the next few days we will get to work removing debris and hauling in ecology blocks, large light-weight lego-looking type barriers to shore up the existing bridge piers.

Stay tuned and we will provide more about the progress of this project on SR 202.

Decline in Traffic Deaths A Step In the Right Direction

The Department of Transportation just announced roadway deaths are the lowest they’ve been in 60 years despite an increase in the number miles driven. Statistics show that traffic deaths fell by 9.7% from 2008 to 2009 and the 33,808 deaths is the lowest since 1950. The decline is a clear signal of the hard work being done by to change our traffic safety culture. Increased seat belt usage, safer road designs and stronger enforcement of laws are all contributors to the decline. However, we have to keep in mind the most important fact – 33,808 people still died on our roads last year and that’s still an outrage. I'm pleased that 3,600 fewer people died in 2009, but there are still issues that threaten our safety on the road. Distracted driving is a major problem that will get worse as new in-vehicle technologies are developed. Cell phones, GPS navigation systems, other passengers and pets are all potential distractions and taking your eyes off the road for one second is all it takes to cause a crash. I think Secretary LaHood’s reaction to this news sums things up well, "We could not be happier, but we are not going to sit back on our laurels. We have a long, long way to go."

Americas Transportation Awards, we need your help....

Aerial photo of SR 410 landslide
Remember that crazy landslide on SR 410 in October of 2009? Turns out our efforts to reopen that roadway is being recognized nationally! This "Nile Valley Landslide" project is one of ten transportation projects selected by AASHTO (American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials)  as a finalist for this year's Best Transportation Project in the U.S. 

What could we win, you ask?  The winner receives $10,000 to donate to support a community service project or local charity.  Our hope is to put the money back into the Nile Valley community.

So why are we telling you?   This particular award is the "People's Choice Award" and the winner is based solely on the number of votes received.  We hope you can take the time today, and maybe everyday, to head on over to the America's Transportation Award website and cast your vote and help a local community who was so incredibly impacted by this landslide.

Still not convinced you should vote? Here are a few more reasons:
  • This is the only project on the west coast that was nominated
  • It's a way to honor those who worked so hard to get this road back open, we're talking 14 hours a day seven days a week to construct a new river channel and get a detour set up.
  • $10,000
  • Did I mention that $10,000 would come to Washington state to benefit a local project or charity?

Scan this Microsoft
Tag with your smartphone
tag reader to vote.
We need your help, cast your vote and let's win this thing!
(feel free to vote up to 10 times per day ;) )

Labor Day 2010: The Recap

While it didn’t quite reach the 10 percent AAA predicted, travel increased in most locations compared to Labor Day weekend 2009. I have no idea why we didn’t reach the 10 percent mark. The weather remains one theory. What’s yours?

Yes, those ferry boats were full. There was a backup on I-90 coming back into the Puget Sound area and through Olympia into Tacoma. But we have seen those most every weekend this summer. And the I-90 backup was stop-and-go, not the stop-and-stop we typically see on busy three-day weekends.

So, what’s the deal? One piece of happy news could be the answer. It seems there were no major traffic incidents at the locations we track for holiday travel. That alone kept traffic moving rather well.

Thanks. And, here are the official numbers.

Over I-90 Snoqualmie Pass, there was a slight increase in traffic volumes over Labor Day compared with 2009. Between Friday and Monday, 191,000 vehicles traveled both directions of Snoqualmie Pass, an increase of 4,000 vehicles, or 2 percent.

  • 53,900 traveled Friday, with 200 (less than 1 percent) more vehicle traveling this year.
  • 43,900 traveled Saturday, with 1,700 (4 percent) more vehicle traveling this year.
  • 42,800 traveled Sunday, with 800 (2 percent) more vehicle traveling this year.
  • 50,000 traveled Monday, with 1,100 (2 percent)

We also tracked traffic in three other locations. In comparison to 2009, on I-5 from Shoreline (north Seattle) to the U.S./Canadian border (for Friday through Monday) there were 140,700 vehicles on I-5, an 11,000 vehicles (or 9 percent) increase compared to 2009.

  • 2,200 more (6 percent) traveled Friday.
  • 2,900 more (9 percent) traveled Saturday.
  • 3,500 more (11 percent) traveled Saturday
  • 2,300 more (8 percent) traveled Monday.

There’s an equipment malfunction so no data on I-5, Olympia to Chehalis (Thurston/Lewis county line), but we can tell you what happened further north, between Olympia and Tacoma. We found the traffic was fairly normal for a summer weekend. And the volume was essentially unchanged compared to the same period in 2009. For Friday through Monday there were 446,000 vehicles on I-5. This was an increase of only 1,100 vehicles (0.2 percent) from 2009.

  • 5,300 fewer (4 percent) traveled on Friday.
  • 2,700 more (2 percent) traveled on Saturday.
  • 6,400 more (7 percent) traveled on Saturday
  • 2,700 fewer (3 percent) traveled on Monday.

We were unable to gather data for westbound US 2/Leavenworth to Stevens Pass this holiday weekend. For Friday through Monday there were 16,700 vehicles on eastbound US 2. This was an increase of 2,200 vehicles (or 15 percent) compared with the same period in 2009. And while this seems like a large jump, we didn’t have any backups Monday on westbound US 2 coming back.

Another hmmmmmmm. What’s your theory?

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Repair

Monitored Fracture
Originally uploaded by WSDOT.

Here's the reason the westbound lanes of the old Tacoma Narrows bridge was down to two lanes yesterday. Crews worked through the night to repair this fractured steel beam. More photos on our Flickr site.

What happened to the US 2 - Stevens Pass Traffic cameras?

by Guest Blogger Jeff Adamson

Construction began this past May on the US 2 - Stevens Pass Summit - Pedestrian Safety project, which will provide a separated pedestrian crossing to eliminate conflicts with motorists.  It also will install access control barrier to prevent pedestrians from walking across the roadway and a right turn lane into the ski facilities western parking lot. Since the project started, the outside eastbound lane has been closed because part of the project builds a new right turn lane into the parking area on the west side of the summit.  That lane is finished now and on Wednesday, September 1st, we're going to move the concrete barrier off the highway. The new lane stripes will be painted so by the end of the day on Thursday- the outside lane will be reopened to traffic.  The timing worked well so there won't be any lane restrictions over the Labor Day weekend.

The timing that didn't work out quite so well involves the Stevens Pass traffic cameras.  They're critically important in the winter, but for the most part, they're only value in the summer is "recreational" for hikers, mountain bikers and the like to see what the weather is like.  The only times they have much travel value is on holidays.  So here we are the week before Labor Day and the cameras and weather station had to be unplugged, and they'll stay dark for next two weeks.  The building that houses all the electronics is right where the end of the new pedestrian bridge ramp is being built.  The new location for the control building is several hundred yards further east.  It would have been nice to be able to delay moving it until next week, but the construction schedule is extremely tight to get the project substantially complete (usable) before it gets too cold for concrete to set.  So the ramp work required the building to be moved today. (With all the lanes open - we're not expecting any delays at the summit, but now you know why the cameras are off line and the Road Weather Information Station (RWIS) isn't giving current weather info.

The Stevens Pass ski area cameras (and weather info) that are still available for recreational users; they don’t show the highway traffic, but you can tell if it’s raining or not.  You can also sign up to receive US 2 Stevens Pass to Wenatchee email updates to get up-to-date information.