We’re not crying wolf - some work is weather-dependent whether we like it or not

by guest blogger Lisa Copeland

A lot of behind-the-scenes planning goes into highway work zones that will have a significant impact to traffic. There are meetings, phone calls, e-mails, written drafts, corrected drafts, and eventually final drafts of news releases, all of which are sometimes pretty much washed down the drain by the whims of Mother Nature.

We can plan all we want, but in the end, a lot of the materials we use to improve our highways are weather-sensitive, which makes it difficult to pinpoint exact schedules.

A good example of this is the upcoming I-5 Clover Creek Bridge Deck Project in Pierce County.

Overlaying the bridge’s deck and replacing approach slabs requires two extended weekend closures (up to two lanes closed Friday night through Monday morning), and two weekends of Friday and Saturday night lane closures.

That’s four weekends of construction. It was scheduled to begin in April, which has five weeks, so the work could have be all done by May, right? As you saw with April's weather, it didn't match what we needed to get the work done. The work, which includes overlaying the bridge deck with a modified concrete that has rapid-cure latex in it, requires at least 45 degrees and no rain. So, as April showers continue into May, we could be in for even more delay.

But what makes some projects subject to weather while others march forward like the U.S. Postal Service through rain, sleet and snow?

If all or even a portion of a project requires dry weather, then that’s exactly what’s needed to get the job done so that the significant investment of tax dollars results in the long-term performance we expect.

It’s also why no one paints the exterior of their house in the rain. Some projects here are very similar to this – paint striping, concrete placement, asphalt paving, compacting embankments, and even putting down traffic buttons all use materials that need certain temperature and moisture conditions to ensure success. Concrete and asphalt don’t cure or compact well if temperatures are too cold and painting or putting down traffic buttons in the rain generally makes a mess, which is a waste of time and money.

Our job is to get the word out so travelers can plan ahead and defer as many trips as possible during high-impact construction projects and minimize the backups. We alert the media, post notification throughout our website, make hundreds of phone calls and send numerous e-mails asking drivers to avoid the impacted area.

We try to provide as much notice as possible and monitor weather forecasts like nervous brides planning an outdoor wedding prior to the event, but even with our best efforts, sometimes work is cancelled late in the game because of last-minute changes in the weather.

So, what can you do to help us out and still get where you need to go? Be flexible if your summer plans include travel through upcoming work zones. All of the planned highway summer construction is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/construction/2011. A weekly look at impacts is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/construction.

If rescheduling your trip is not an option try to find an alternate route. If travel through an impacted area is unavoidable, allow yourself plenty of extra time to reach your destination, check our website for the BEST time to travel and get the latest highway information by calling 511.