Rentonite wins bet with boyfriend – is the first to use new on-ramp

By guest blogger Steve Peer

For months, Renton resident Tami Green watched construction on I-405 in her Renton neighborhood. When she learned that WSDOT was building a new on-ramp to northbound I-405 from Talbot Road, she realized her daily commute from Renton to Bellevue would be vastly improved because she wouldn’t have to go through downtown Renton to get on the freeway further north. She figured it would reduce her commute by 5-10 minutes each way. As the ramp began to materialize, she made an unusual wager with her boyfriend. She bet she would be the first to drive on the ramp.

So Green called someone with the City of Renton who immediately contacted us. We loved her idea of having a citizen open up a road so Tami became our honored guest. After all, we make improvements for real people, like Green, so it was a perfect fit.

On December 21 crews opened the new I-405 interchange and lanes to traffic in Renton as part of the Renton Stage 2 project. Tami Green was on hand to be the first to use the northbound on-ramp. She waved to construction workers, officials from the City of Renton and WSDOT as she was escorted by Renton Police vehicles onto I-405. The motorcycle police peeled off just before entering I-405.

And Tami Green was the first to drive onto I-405 from the new on-ramp.

The new $83.7 million project adds a new southbound off-ramp to Talbot Road (exit #3) and a new on-ramp to northbound I-405 plus additional lanes in each direction of I-405 between SR 167 and SR 169 and helps to relieve congestion. Crews worked day and night to finish project nine months ahead of schedule – welcome news for many who have been watching construction progress in Renton.

December 21 was a good day for Tami…and it was good day for many other drivers. Since opening the project to traffic, we’ve received quite a few notes from drivers and residents in Renton who tell us the new interchange has shaved time off their commute. Tami told us the new ramps have reduced her commute by eight minutes. Have you tried the new intersection? We want to hear from you about your experience – please leave a comment below.

Make Your Resolution to be a Safe Driver This New Year's

With New Year’s just two days away, this is a time when people take time to look back at what they’ve done over the past year and make resolutions to do things differently in the future. Most people resolve to go to the gym more, floss more often or to read more books instead of watching television. But why not making a resolution to be a safer and more responsible driver?

The AAA Foundation’s 2010 Traffic Safety Culture Index survey found that nine out of ten drivers agreed that people who drive after drinking alcohol are a very serious threat to their personal safety and even more people said that it was completely unacceptable for someone to drive when they may have drank too much. However, one in ten drivers also admitted to having driven when they thought their BAC was close to possibly over the legal limit. This “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude among drivers is something we can all help eliminate from our roadways this holiday season.

New Year’s in particular is recognized as a night prone to increased drunk driving and a recent analysis of NHTSA data found that in the past decade an average of 80 people have been killed in alcohol-related crashes on New Year’s Day. This is almost 150% higher when compared to the same day of the week during the weeks surrounding New Year’s. Every alcohol-related traffic death is preventable and it’s the responsibility of all drivers to make the right choice before getting behind the wheel. So on behalf of the AAA family, I’d like to call on all drivers to be safer and more responsible drivers in 2011. You can start by pledging to drive alcohol and drug free this holiday season.

Last snow of 2010 (hopefully)...

Electric vehicles...the first Nissan LEAF arrives on Friday!

The electric vehicles (EV) are coming…and the first one will be here tomorrow!

The first mass-produced Nissan LEAF, all-electric car, will arrive in Washington on Friday.

We are working on an electric highway project that will help EV drivers get from border to border in Washington without using a single drop of gasoline.  We have a project to install fast charging electric vehicle supply equipment every 40 to 60 miles along the I-5 corridor, also known as the West Coast Green Highway.

In a recent “Range Anxiety: Not on the Highway” article in Detroit Automotive News, Mark Perry, director of product planning at Nissan North America, maker of the Leaf electric vehicle said “The Green Highway is a crucial step in expanding the appeal of electric vehicles from early adopters to the mass market”

"You can talk about it until you are blue in the face," said Perry. "Until the mass market sees cars on the road and publicly available chargers in use, this is all in the future." (WSDOT's public-private partnerships) office is in charge of recruiting companies to help build a network of fast-charging stations along the Washington portion of I-5. Fast-charging stations, also called Level 3 (480-volt) stations, can recharge a battery in as little as 15 minutes. A Level 2 (240-volt) station takes more than four hours.”

Our EV project is making it easier for drivers to operate their vehicles.

Drilling a rock on Chuckanut Drive

Drilling a rock on Chuckanut Drive
Originally uploaded by WSDOT.

This photo captures the essence of what our crews have been doing the last few days. Working long hours to make sure state highways remain open and safe to travel.

It all depends on the weather...

Forecasts call for heavy rain this weekend and our crews are gearing up in full force. They are out inspecting culverts, catch basins, flood gates, drains and anywhere that standing water may cause challenges for drivers.  We have crews ready to work all weekend to keep roadways open during any storm.

The forecasts we see call for snow in the mountains from Saturday around 4 a.m to Sunday at 4 a.m. and then a warm up on Sunday.  The freezing level could rise to as high as 8,000 ft., so much of that snow will melt and fill drains and rivers.  We watch this closely because, as you may already know, if we get a ton of snow and it starts to warm up we may have to close highways for avalanche control late Saturday evening or first thing Sunday morning.  Of course as we all about a fickle mother nature. This is only the forecast and can change.

Where do we get this weather info from? We get a detailed forecast several times per day from a private forecast service (WeatherNet). We use these forecasts, along with other sources such as the National Weather service, to help us determine staff levels and snow and ice-fighting material applications. We have a few other sources we like to reference and thought we would share them with you:

Where do you like to get your weather info from?

AOTA Hosts Older Driver Awareness Week

Senior Safety & Mobility is one of the AAA Foundation’s four strategic focus areas of research; we understand how important this issue is for seniors, their families and roadway safety overall. That’s why I was pleased to hear that the American Occupational Therapist Association’s (AOTA) is hosting Older Driver Safety Awareness Week this week (Dec 6th-10th). The goal of the week is to “promote understanding of the importance of mobility and transportation to ensuring older adults remain active in the community—shopping, working or volunteering—with the confidence that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home.”

This description is very similar with the Foundation’s goals when it comes to promoting senior driver safety. It’s important that both older drivers and their families understand what resources are available to help address this sensitive topic. When a teenager gets his or her driver’s license it is a big step towards becoming an independent young adult. The opposite feeling can occurs with older drivers as many seniors feel their independence is being threatened when it comes to giving up the keys. However, driver training tools like DriveSharp can help seniors retain some abilities critical to safe driving and when the time does come to give up the keys, options such as Supplemental Transportation Programs (STP) are available. The Foundation offers several free resources including an online senior evaluation tool, Roadwise Review Online, and a searchable license policy database containing current licensing policies for seniors in each state. Also, we recently redesigned and updated our most popular older driver brochure, Drivers 65 Plus. All of these resources, along with other useful information regarding seniors, can be found at and through AAA’s new senior driver website

Thanksgiving Recap: Mom gets her way

There’s one mother who always gets her way. A mother that doesn’t seem to care about anyone’s plans, but her own. Yes, that’s her: Mother Nature.

And that was pretty evident over Thanksgiving weekend, when WSDOT’s traffic data shows 33 percent fewer drivers traveled over Snoqualmie Pass and 45 percent fewer traveled over Stevens Pass compared to the mild 2009 weather.

And those pre-Thanksgiving weather conditions, and lower travel numbers, weren’t just in the mountains. They also showed up in other places. On I-5 near the U.S./Canadian Border, there was a slight decrease (less than one percent) and through the Tacoma/Olympia area, there was a six percent decrease from 2009.

WSDOT tracks holiday travel in locations where travel increases significantly on long weekends. With its five-day break, Thanksgiving tends to see the most highway travelers of the year.

(Side note: let us know in the comment about your Thanksgiving route over the river and through the woods. We have the black and white data, but we're always looking for color commentary.)

In general, lower elevation areas saw decreased travel for the beginning days of the 2010 holiday weekend, and increased travel towards the end. This pattern also tends to favor weather as the key indicator, as the winter storm lost steam Thursday.

In the mountains, travel was down all weekend – as the snow hit hard most of the weekend, even into Sunday.

I-90 Snoqualmie Pass
For Wednesday through Sunday, 126,500 vehicles traveled I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass. This was a decrease of 62,800 vehicles (33 percent) compared to 2009.

  • 11,400 fewer (25 percent) traveled Wednesday
  • 8,700 fewer (36 percent) traveled Thursday
  • 16,600 fewer (50 percent) traveled Friday
  • 14,200 fewer (38 percent) traveled Saturday
  • 11,900 fewer (24 percent) traveled on Sunday

US 2, Stevens Pass
For Wednesday through Sunday 17,100 vehicles traveled US 2 over Stevens Pass. This was a decrease of 14,200 vehicles (or 45 percent) compared to 2009.

  • 2,100 fewer (38 percent) traveled Wednesday
  • 1,500 fewer (41 percent) traveled Thursday
  • 3,400 fewer (48 percent) traveled Friday
  • 3,900 fewer (52 percent) traveled Saturday
  • 3,200 fewer (44 percent) traveled Sunday

I-5, Bellingham to Canadian border
For Wednesday through Sunday, 139,800 vehicles traveled I-5 between Bellingham and the Canadian border. This was a decrease of 200 vehicles (less than one percent) compared to 2009.

  • 607 fewer (2 percent) traveled Wednesday
  • 5,000 fewer (23 percent) traveled Thursday
  • 600 fewer (2 percent) traveled Friday
  • 2,900 more (10 percent) traveled Saturday
  • 3,100 more (11 percent) traveled Sunday

I-5, Olympia to Tacoma
For Wednesday through Sunday, 522,000 vehicles traveled I-5 between Olympia and Tacoma. This was a decrease of 35,600 vehicles (6 percent) compared to 2009.

  • 24,500 fewer (18 percent) traveled Wednesday
  • 4,800 fewer (5 percent) traveled Thursday
  • 7,900 fewer (7 percent) traveled Friday
  • 700 more (1 percent) traveled Saturday
  • 1000 more (1 percent) traveled Sunday