Friday, April 28, 2017

Traffic signal changes at I-5 exits in DuPont and Lakewood

By Barbara LaBoe

Recent changes at several railroad crossings in DuPont and Lakewood have caused traffic delays and some confusion about the upgrades. While the changes reduce the risk of collisions between trains, vehicles and pedestrians, we know it has been frustrating for drivers and residents.

Drivers are waiting longer at signals before being able to drive through intersections. Though our intent is to reduce the risk of collisions, we understand the change hasn’t been as smooth as we would have liked and it caught some residents by surprise.
A new traffic signal controller box is installed at the I-5 and Thorne Lane overpass in Lakewood.

Our crews are working to identify possible solutions to this issue and we’ll keep residents updated on our progress.

Why were these changes made?
Upgrading signals and crossings reduces safety risks between drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and train passengers by keeping vehicles from being caught on tracks as trains approach. During our design process for railroad improvements, citizens and city officials identified safety as the top priority for their communities.

Starting this fall, all Amtrak Cascades passenger trains will be re-routed along the west side of I-5 through DuPont, Joint Base Lewis McChord, Lakewood and Tacoma into a new Tacoma Dome station. This is one of 20 projects to improve passenger rail service and add two additional roundtrips daily between Seattle and Portland. Counting the national Amtrak passenger trains, 14 daily trains will use the tracks on the new route, traveling at speeds of up to 79 mph. That change required crossing and signal upgrades at Exit 119 in DuPont, as well as those at Berkeley Street, Thorne Lane, and Bridgeport Way in Lakewood.
The Point Defiance Bypass rail improvement project includes adding new signals in DuPont at Exit 119.

All of these locations have experienced longer wait times in recent weeks, but it’s particularly noticeable at Exit 119 in DuPont. The signal upgrades synchronized all three signals at this intersection, allowing traffic to flow between the JBLM gate, the two highway ramps and the intersection of Barksdale Avenue/ Steilacoom-DuPont Road/Wilmington Drive. Motorists now must wait for the traffic signals to cycle through all three Exit 119 intersections, increasing the wait times for vehicles.

The intent of this new configuration is to keep the railroad tracks clear of vehicles at each crossing, thus reducing the risk of collisions. While this configuration helps address the safety concerns we heard from communities, we understand the issues that longer wait times are causing.
A new railroad crossing signal on Thorne Lane in Lakewood aims to keep traffic clear of the railroad tracks.

What we’re doing
We know the signal change is affecting daily commutes, as well as general travel in the area. We’re working with our partners, including Sound Transit, which is constructing this work, on identifying solutions. In the meantime, you may want to allow extra travel time through the area or consider any alternate routes available.

Some initial timing adjustments have already been made, but backups are still occurring, especially during rush hour. Our traffic and rail engineers are looking at other options, but with complicated, interconnected systems there isn’t an easy, overnight fix.

We’re looking at possible sign changes at Exit 119 from southbound I-5 on to Barksdale Avenue to make it clear vehicles can turn right on red if the intersection is clear. We’ve also already changed the timing to keep the arrow “green” longer, thus easing some congestion.

City leaders have been very proactive in identifying issues and proposing some solutions to help ease the congestion. We are keeping them informed of our work and we remain available to answer questions.
New signals and signage help to ensure safety as part of the Point Defiance Bypass rail improvements at Exit 119 in DuPont.

Longer-term corridor improvements between Mounts Road and Steilacoom-DuPont Road, including the Exit 119 interchange is scheduled for 2021 – 2024 as identified in the 2015 Connecting Washington funding package. Obviously, this is still several years away and won’t help resolve this immediate concern.

Despite the challenges, we remain committed to identifying and examining any adjustments or solutions that will reduce the congestion while still meeting the project’s safety standards.

Please be patient and safe
Despite the delays, please continue to obey all rail crossing signals.

We know waiting can be frustrating, but the dangers at rail crossings are real. While passenger trains aren’t yet using these tracks, some freight trains do occasionally run this route. Additional train testing will also be taking place as we lead up to the new service this fall.

Trains can travel in either direction, so even if you’ve seen one pass, the crossing isn’t safe until the lights and signal arms turn off. Trains often can’t be heard as they approach and are so heavy they can’t stop quickly, even if they do see someone on the tracks.

We thank drivers for their patience during this adjustment. Change can be difficult, and sometimes includes some unexpected bumps in the road, but our overall work will help improve safety at these intersections.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

How do you rehabilitate nearly 22 miles of I-5?

By Tom Pearce

A few years ago my family and I were traveling through rural western Illinois on Interstate 88 when we came across a construction zone. The highway was reduced to one lane; the other lane and shoulder were torn up all the way down to dirt to rebuild it. This went on for 20 miles!

That is one long, continuous stretch of roadwork to drive through, believe me.

Well, we just started the first of two projects that will rehabilitate nearly 22 miles of northbound I-5 from Kent to the Ravenna neighborhood in Seattle and while it’ll take three years, don’t worry, we’re not going to reduce I-5 to one lane for months on end.

Instead, by working at night and on weekends, we’ll use different methods to #ReviveI5:

Panel replacement: After the concrete panel is removed, the ground is compacted to provide a stable base for the new panel.

Replace broken concrete panels
Concrete panels will eventually break – hundreds have between Kent and the Duwamish River. To replace these, one night we use a big circular saw to cut the concrete. The next night we dig out the panels and pour new ones. In the past we’ve found we can typically do about three to six panels a night.

It’s the same with the section between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Northeast Ravenna Boulevard in Seattle. Along one three-mile stretch between the West Seattle Freeway and Seneca Street, all of the panels that aren’t part of bridges will be replaced.

SB paving: After the concrete is cracked and seated (compressed), 8 inches of asphalt will be paved on top of it.

 Asphalt repaving
In SeaTac and Tukwila, we have too many broken concrete panels to replace them individually – it would take years. Instead we’re going to repave with asphalt using a process called crack, seat and overlay, just like we did last year on southbound I-5 in the same area. This allows us to repave a large section much more quickly.

Eliminating ruts
If you put pressure on something for long enough, it’s going to wear away. That’s what car and truck tires have been doing to I-5 for more than 50 years. Now we have ruts in the concrete lanes, which can collect water and reduce traction. To get rid of the ruts, we grind off a thin layer of the higher, unworn part of the concrete, leveling the roadway.

Expansion joints
These metal connectors on bridge and elevated sections of the interstate allow the roadway to expand and contract as the weather changes. They wear out after a couple of decades. It’s better to schedule replacement during off-peak hours than have them break, say, in the middle of a peak commute, which requires emergency repairs. We’ll replace 37 expansion joints in Seattle, mostly between the West Seattle Freeway and Seneca Street, and eight at Interurban Avenue and the Duwamish River Bridge in Tukwila.

The next several years will be a challenge as we #ReviveI5. In the end, we’ll have a lot of renewed interstate to see us through the next several decades. And unlike what I saw in Illinois, we won’t reduce I-5 to one lane for several months to do it.

This is the second in a four-part series on highway preservation work starting this month on northbound I-5 from Kent to Seattle. Part one covers the history and development of these projects.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Good To Go! website improvements coming soon

By Laura Johnson

On Saturday, April 29, we’ll launch a new version of the website. Not only will the site look completely different, we’ll also be launching a host of improvements to make Good To Go! work better for you.

Say goodbye to this old school Good To Go! look:
The original Good To Go! website was launched in February 2011. We all know how much technology can change in six years – back then VCRs were still being made and sold. We’ve come a long way and the time has come for us to unveil a new website up to date with today’s standards.

We’ll have a new look for computer and phone browsers:

The biggest improvement is a mobile-friendly version of the site that you can easily access on your cell phone or tablet. Other improvements will allow you to perform tasks online that you had to call customer service for before:
  • For Pay By Mail customers, we’re providing a clearer summary of what you owe and when it is due.
  • Managing your account will be much simpler, with fewer steps needed to update contact information or preferences.
  • We’ve removed barriers that prevented users from completing certain tasks online, such as making a payment when you have a negative balance.
We’re looking forward to unveiling this new site to you, but we’re still testing it to make sure everything works the way it should.

We’ve been listening to the feedback you’ve provided over the years about our website and unfortunately, we weren’t able to address everything in this round of improvements. There are still things you won’t be able to do online, but all of our customer service representatives will be ready and happy to assist with anything that comes up. We expect our phones will get pretty busy next week, so remember you can always send us a private message on Twitter and Facebook for some quick help.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Happy 1st birthday to the world’s longest floating bridge

By Ashley Selvey
Happy birthday to the new SR 520 floating bridge!

In the predawn hours of April 25, 2016, a few early-bird commuters made history when the new SR 520 floating bridge greeted their vehicles and opened to traffic for the first time.

One year later, the new span – certified by Guinness World Records as the longest floating bridge on earth – is carrying about 77,000 cars, trucks and buses per day across Lake Washington. That's about 30 million trips over the past 12 months!

The new, 1.5-mile-long bridge can boast other superlatives as well. On a clear day (yes, we have those now and again), the bridge affords breathtaking views of Mount Rainier to the southeast or the Olympics to the west. And with its Next Generation Concrete Surface, the bridge is also one of the quietest highways to travel on.
Sunset over Seattle, looking west from the SR 520 floating bridge.

A bridge comes of age
Well over a decade of public discussion and planning about SR 520's future, followed by five years of construction by more than 1,000 workers, preceded the new bridge's historic opening. The result was a structure that will provide the Central Puget Sound region safer, more reliable travel for the next 75 years or more.
The new bridge is bigger and stronger than its structurally vulnerable, four-lane predecessor. With more than twice as many pontoons and heavier anchors, it is designed to withstand much stronger winds and waves than its 1960s-era ancestor. The new bridge also has HOV lanes, which improves transit options, whether it's for daily trips across the lake to work or a weekend jaunt to events on either side of the lake.
At the grand opening of the SR 520 floating bridge in April 2016, visitors experience the bicycle/pedestrian path for the first time.

Another first is that travel across Lake Washington will be possible later this year for pedestrians and bicyclists thanks to a new 14-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian path.

What's next
In coming years, travel between the floating bridge and I-5 will experience a similar transformation.

This summer the West Approach Bridge North is scheduled to open to traffic. This 1.2-mile-long bridge, supported by fixed columns, will carry SR 520's westbound traffic from the floating bridge to the eastern shore of Montlake. It also will extend the bicycle and pedestrian path across the lake.
The new floating bridge carries six lanes of traffic across Lake Washington.

In 2018, crews plan to break ground on the Montlake Phase, which will give rise to a partner bridge, the West Approach Bridge South, to carry eastbound traffic from Montlake to the floating bridge. This project also will construct a landscaped lid over SR 520 in Montlake to further improve connections for transit, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Looking east over Seattle's Montlake neighborhood and out to the West
Approach Bridge North, scheduled to open in late summer 2017.

Looking to the next chapters of the story, teams are actively planning for the replacement of SR 520's Portage Bay Bridge between Montlake and I-5, and adding a second drawbridge over the Montlake Cut just south of the University of Washington.

Want to learn more about the SR 520 floating bridge?
Want to know more about the new bridge? Open this online booklet to find information on the background, planning, construction and opening of the new SR 520 floating bridge.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A summer toolkit to help navigate around construction on I-90 between North Bend and Ellensburg

By Meagan Lott

If you're hitting the road this summer, you're going to want to utilize our travel toolkit to help you plan and prepare for construction-related delays and closures along I-90.

A number of road-improvement projects start this week and will continue throughout the summer as we build new lanes, build and repair bridges and fix cracked sections of pavement between North Bend and Ellensburg.
The I-90 construction season is getting underway and there are plenty of
resources drivers can use to stay updated on what’s going on.

It's a difficult challenge as much of what we need to do requires dry weather, which on much of I-90 is tough to depend on outside of a few months in summer and early fall. Unfortunately that's also when people are doing a lot of their traveling, and it's a tough balance of needing to get this work done in a limited timeframe while also wanting to help people get where they want to go with as little delay as possible. We hope these tools will help.

  • I-90 Text Message Alerts
    A new tool in our toolkit to alert you about delays, backups and closures on I-90 between North Bend and Ellensburg. Just text the phrase “WSDOT Snoqulamie” to the number 468311 to start receiving your text message alerts.
  • Webpage
    Our What's Happening on I-90 webpage provides a day-by-day look of what construction activities are taking place and the location to help you prepare for delays and slowdowns.
  • Twitter
    Follow us on Twitter @snoqualmiepass or @wsdot_east to find out the latest information about backups, delays and closures this summer.
  • Email Updates
    Every Friday we send email updates about the following week's traffic impacts on I-90 to help you prepare and plan your trip.
  • Highway Advisory Radio
    Turn to your AM station and tune into 1610 AM or 530 AM while on the road to hear the latest information about construction-related delays and backups on I-90.
Now that you have the toolkit, choose the best communications tool or tools to help you navigate across I-90 this summer. We are also teaming up with the Washington State Patrol to keep our work zones and you safe. You will see a lot more troopers along the I-90 corridor looking for speeders and distracted drivers. So please be safe out there for the sake of each other and all the road crews working to keep this important highway in good shape.