WSDOT volunteers educate fairgoers

By guest blogger Mike Westbay

There’s nothing quite like the Central Washington State Fair for getting reacquainted with old friends, sharing deep-fried foods and viewing exhibits.

For at least ten years, our volunteers have hosted two fair booths in Yakima, both inside the Sundome and outside among the vendors and food booths. Large, full-color posters of highway construction and maintenance projects always attract attention and help get conversations started.

Our fair booths are a personal way to show and tell what we do and how drivers benefit from the gas tax they pay at the pump.

Tanya Martinez and Chris Kroll, WSDOT volunteers,
greet fair booth visitors at the Sundome in Yakima.
This year our fair booth volunteers talked with fair visitors from all walks of life about how the featured projects (I-90, SR 410 and US 97) affect their families, their businesses and their commutes to work and school.

The most often asked question about the projects is “When will it be done?” Some were disappointed to hear that the US 97 Satus Creek Bridge replacement and US 97 wildlife crossing bridge projects would take another season to complete because of delays due to high fire danger. But many were pleasantly surprised to learn that the new section of SR 410, around the landslide in the Nile Valley, was already completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

Opening the new section of SR 410 around the landslide is a popular topic. This leads to conversations about where people were and what they were doing when the landslide buried the highway, destroyed homes and flooded farms. Cabin owners expressed appreciation for opening the new route ahead of schedule and for shortening their drive to the nearest store and restaurant from 15 to six minutes.

Most booth visitors wanted to know how we are planning to replace the old snowshed on I-90 where most of the avalanches happen. Many were interested to learn the contractor is proposing to save long-term maintenance costs by building bridges instead of a larger snowshed so that avalanches can slide underneath the highway.

Fairgoers visit the WSDOT fair booth at the Yakima Sundome.
Concrete pavement was also a hot topic. Most comments were about how nice and smooth the new pavement is near Easton and how rough the old pavement is. Funny and far-out guesses were offered again and again about the mysterious “three slots” in the wheel paths of the right lane on I-90 and I-82. Of course, the brief answer of “dowel bar retrofitting” was not acceptable.

In-depth explanations of how and why polymer-coated steel dowel bars strengthen the old pavement were necessary. Even after much debate, one gentleman stuck to his idea that uranium fuel rods were being placed in the roadway to melt the snow.

Attendance at the fair was down at first, likely due to the thick smoke in the air from nearby forest fires. As the smoke cleared, fairgoers came streaming in and in the end, attendance surpassed last year’s count.

Conversations are the key to this effort’s success. This year, the comments were mostly positive about our work nearby and across the state. Many visitors took time to stop and thank us for a job well done.