Friday, December 15, 2017

SR 520 Trail: WSDOT maintenance plays a key role in upkeep

By Steve Peer

On December 20, 2017, WSDOT will celebrate a major milestone NOT involving cars or other motorized transportation. That day will be the first time bicyclists and pedestrians from the Eastside and Seattle’s neighborhoods will be able to connect using the new SR 520 trail. Crossing the lake on the north side of the bridge, people walking and rolling will have unprecedented views as they trek from the Eastside to Seattle or vice versa.  Our traffic engineers estimate that about 1,000 riders and pedestrians will use the path on a daily basis.

The Eastside half of the floating bridge path has been opened for more than a year but has only been an “out and back” experience on the floating bridge.  Now that the project that connects westbound lanes from the floating bridge to Montlake is built, WSDOT is ready to unveil the new cross-lake path. Before opening it, one of the final steps will be a fresh sweep of the path to get it in shape by cleaning the leaves and other debris that collected on the path since the first half opened last year.

Large enough to clean the highway yet small enough to clean the SR 520 Trail, Broom Hilda is part of WSDOT’s important maintenance fleet.

Enter Broom Hilda: the SR 520 sweeper. 
About two years ago, @WSDOT_520 Twitter followers named the sweeper just before we opened the floating bridge. Large enough to sweep travel lanes on SR 520 and small enough to sweep the adjacent bike and pedestrian trail, the cute but capable sweeper has found a place in WSDOT’s maintenance fleet. Since we opened the floating bridge, Broom Hilda had been relegated to cleaning SR 520 lanes and the path east of the floating bridge. Once the trail opens, the sweeper will literally clear the path for non-motorized users to cross nearly three miles over Lake Washington between the Eastside and the Montlake neighborhood. Broom Hilda’s initial run across the trail this week will be tough – this time of the year nature throws a lot of debris our way.

Broom Hilda will continue to be a workhorse for the SR 520 corridor. The sweeper is scheduled to clean the SR 520 lanes once a month (75,000 vehicles a day use SR 520 and create quite a mess) and the shared use path three times a year: spring, summer and fall.

Trees the root of other trail challenges 
Tree roots continue to be a challenge for the path east of the floating bridge. Living in the northwest, we are constantly trying to balance the benefits and of trees and our desire to be near them.

Because the path is adjacent to trees, it’s often a victim of roots that want to force their way through the path, creating an uneven surfaces. We do our best to stay on top of them – often repairing parts of the path punctured by them. This year our crews spent four days repairing a section between West Lake Sammamish in Redmond and 148th at Overlake. There are still more sections that need to be torn up and repaved so we’ll continue to do that work as time and funding permits.

What you can do
If you see problems with the path, please let us know. We’ll pinpoint the problem and do our best to address it. Your best bet to let us know is to snap a picture and e-mail it to

We’re excited we are continuing to add trails that connect communities. Happy trails to you!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

How your express toll lane dollars are spent

By Ethan Bergerson
New financial numbers for the I-405 express toll lanes show that they have raised $44.5 million dollars in their first two years. As directed by the Legislature, money raised on I-405 is used for only two purposes: to cover operating expenses and, most importantly, to invest in improvements to I-405. Of the total, $28.8 million is being used to relieve congestion and improve travel for the people who use I-405 each day.

Let’s take a look at how that money is being spent and what investments we’re planning for the future. And if you’re interested, you can see the full financial reports here.

Most of the toll money goes to improve I-405
When you pay a toll, you’re probably thinking about how much time you’ll save, not how much money tolls are raising for future highway improvements. Two-thirds of the money from every toll is going to help improve performance on I-405.

In April, we invested $11.5 million to build the new peak-use shoulder lane from Canyon Park to Lynnwood. Toll revenue also paid for other improvements, such as a new merge lane in Bothell, which gave drivers space to merge in and out of the express toll lanes without slowing traffic behind them.

Together, these recent improvements have had a positive effect on the northbound afternoon commute. Traffic is flowing more smoothly across all lanes and toll rates went down. Now more people can get home faster whether or not they choose to pay a toll.

What comes next for I-405?
The remaining money is being kept in a dedicated fund specifically for more I-405 improvements, and the Legislature has asked us to study two future projects.

At the Legislature’s direction, we’ve begun working on some early design concepts to reduce congestion between Bothell and Lynnwood by rebuilding the SR 522 interchange. We are also analyzing construction of a new express toll lane in each direction up to SR 527. Ultimately, the Legislature will decide whether toll money should be used to build this project.

Breaking down the operating costs of the lanes
While two-thirds of the revenue generated by the express toll lanes will be invested back into I-405 improvements, the remaining third covers operating costs. Here is a breakdown of the expenses:
  • Seven percent went to customer service
    Our customer service centers, phone line, and online support are based in Puget Sound and help an average of 15,000 people a day. This work is done by Electronic Transaction Consultants, a private vendor based in Texas which employs 120 people in Puget Sound for Good To Go!
  • Four percent for the toll equipment
    This is the cost to operate and maintain the toll equipment. That includes dozens of high-speed infrared spectrum cameras, laser scanners, and radio frequency identification antennas to recognize vehicles. This work was done by Kapsch, an intelligent transportation system design firm which specializes in tolling.
  • 10 percent paid for administrative costs
    About 50 people work in our offices around King County to oversee statewide tolling operations. We manage toll finances, calibrate the traffic management computer system, plan system improvements, communicate with the public, and manage the customer service and toll equipment vendors. This cost is shared between all toll roads, including I-405.
  • Seven percent helped enforce the rules of the road
    About four percent helped pay for Washington State Patrol’s troopers enforcement of the rules of the express toll lanes. Three percent went to the Office of Administrative Hearings which hears disputes from drivers contesting unpaid tolls.
  • Seven percent covered things like credit card fees, postage, and Good To Go! passes
    These costs are only associated with certain transactions, like buying a new pass or a Pay By Mail fee paid by drivers without a Good to Go! account.

How we measure I-405 express toll lanes results

By Ethan Bergerson

A lot has changed in the Puget Sound region since the I-405 express toll lanes opened in 2015. With a new driver moving to the area every six minutes, the population boom poses a huge challenge to all of our roads. Before the express toll lanes opened, there was no way out of traffic on I-405 but now people have a choice for a faster trip when they need it. While I-405 still experiences daily congestion, the express toll lanes are providing a more dependable option than the old HOV lanes could and even people in the regular lanes are moving faster in most areas than they were two years ago, despite there being more vehicles on the road than ever before.
I-405 is moving more people than ever before
The population boom means more vehicles are using every major Puget Sound highway, and none has seen as rapid a growth as I-405 between Bellevue and Bothell. Traffic volumes in this area have increased twice as fast as on I-5 through Seattle, and this section of I-405 is carrying 10 percent more vehicles a day than it did two years ago.

But even with more people, this portion of I-405 is now moving as fast or faster across all lanes than it was two years ago.

How's this possible? We've made dozens of improvements to I-405 since 2015, and we're getting extra mileage out of them because express toll lanes are more efficient than regular lanes when traffic is at its worst. At the height of the peak commute, each express toll lane is carrying 20-30 percent more vehicles than a regular lane in some places, which helps the entire highway flow more smoothly. And when drivers choose to leave the regular lanes to use the express toll lanes instead, they free up space for the other drivers around them. That all means that we're getting a lot more benefit from the new lanes we built in 2015 than if that space had been used for regular lanes instead.

Express toll lanes are working well in many ways
For most parts of I-405, there is no question that the express toll lanes are working a lot better than the old HOV lanes which came before them.

Every day, more than 60,000 drivers choose to use the express toll lanes for a faster trip. About two-thirds of those people are choosing to pay a toll, and a third are riding in the lanes for free in a carpool, motorcycle, or bus.
Support for express toll lanes has also increased. When we surveyed I-405 drivers this summer, about two-thirds of people agreed that they liked the option to use the express toll lanes and believed they reduce congestion for some trips in the regular lanes.

During peak commute times, the average toll is about $3, which typically saves drivers 10-15 minutes (or more when tolls are higher). On average, the express toll lanes move 19 mph faster than the regular lanes going southbound in the mornings, and 23 mph faster than the regular lanes heading northbound in the evenings.

How do we measure success?
One way that we measure success is to look at the percentage of time during peak periods when the express toll lanes are able to move at 45 mph or faster. That's roughly the speed when the system is flowing most smoothly and carrying the greatest number of vehicles at a time. When the express toll lanes opened, the state legislature set a goal that they would move at this speed 90 percent of the time.
By that measurement, the express toll lanes are flowing at least 45 mph about 95 percent of the time in most places. That's a success in most locations, however the area between Bothell and Lynnwood is a bit more complicated. This section of highway has fewer lanes, and when the express toll lanes first opened, they struggled to keep up with population growth in this area. Today, drivers are experiencing a much smoother commute northbound heading home in the afternoons since we made several changes to give drivers more space to merge, improve access points, and build a new peak-use shoulder lane.

But the southbound morning commute from Lynnwood to Bothell is still a big challenge. This area only moves at 45 mph about 63 percent of the time. Moreover, this challenging section brings the overall average for the entire system down to 85 percent, just short of the 90 percent goal. The old HOV lanes only met this standard 56 percent of the time in 2015, so this is a still an improvement compared to two years ago despite all the new cars on the road.

What does this mean for future travel on I-405?
When the express toll lanes were authorized, the Legislature provided two metrics by which to measure the lanes' success during the first two years of operation: that the lanes pay for themselves, and that traffic moves at 45 mph 90 percent of the time during peak travel times. The lanes are meeting the first measure easily, and are coming close to the second. Now that the lanes have been operating for two full years, we're working with legislators to determine the next steps for the express toll lanes.

Changes ahead as new Amtrak Cascades service, Tacoma Dome Station and the Point Defiance Bypass launch on Monday

By Barbara LaBoe

After years of work planning and constructing almost $800 million in passenger train improvements, we're excited to be just days away from saying “All Aboard!” to our new, expanded Amtrak Cascades service.

Starting Monday, Dec. 18, we'll have additional trains running each day and travelers will use our new Amtrak Cascades Tacoma Dome Station in Freighthouse Square for the first time. If you can't wait to see the station, you can watch a video of the station construction online. Our work didn't just take place in Tacoma, though: it involved 20 projects that stretched from Blaine at the northern border of the state all the way down to the Port of Vancouver on the southern border. Tracks and signals were upgraded, stations improved or built, eight new Siemens Charger locomotives purchased and landslide catchment walls added to keep debris from reaching tracks and stopping train service.
Crews install the large, historical interpretive display about Tacoma's train history that is featured in the walkway of our new station. It was developed in conjunction with the Citizens Advisory Committee, which helped develop
the design of the station featuring large windows, wooden beams and terrazzo flooring.

New service = More travel options
The improvements are all geared toward making passenger train travel in Washington more convenient and attractive, including allowing us to add two more daily round trips between Seattle and Portland. This makes it easier to plan day trips on Amtrak Cascades -- whether for business or fun. The improvements also cut travel time between Seattle and Portland and help improve on-time reliability. We, along with the Oregon Department of Transportation, fund and oversee the Amtrak Cascades service, contracting with Amtrak to run the trains on a day-to-day basis. You can learn more about the new times and schedules online, as well book your next trip. You can also book by phone at 1-800-USA-RAIL.
This map of the Point Defiance Bypass -- in orange -- shows the route passenger trains will take in and out of Tacoma starting Dec. 18, including areas that will parallel I-5. It's one of many improvements along the Amtrak Cascades corridor in Washington.

Be alert for changing views
Part of the new service is made possible by trains taking a new route in and out of Tacoma – one that eliminates sharp corners and a single-track tunnel along Point Defiance. The new Point Defiance Bypass route starts in Nisqually and continues into South Tacoma, paralleling Interstate 5 in several areas near DuPont, Lakewood, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Tacoma.

Drivers will see the trains along the west side of I-5, so be prepared for the changing views and any other drivers who may be distracted by the passing trains. If you use intersections near I-5 like the Thorne Lane, Berkeley, 41st Division/JBLM Main Gate or Steilacoom-DuPont Road, you'll also want to be alert for signals and crossing arms when trains come through, and you may want to leave a little extra travel time while everyone adjusts to the change.
New Charger locomotives, like this one seen at Seattle's King Street Station, will power the enhanced Amtrak Cascades service. They will run the entire Amtrak Cascades corridor, from Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon.

Stay back from the tracks
As always, please be safe and extra alert around any train tracks. Trains often run in both directions and today's newer engines can't always be heard as they approach. We need motorists and pedestrians to stay off tracks for everyone's safety. Here are some general tips:
  • Do not walk on or near tracks.
  • Do not stop your vehicle on railroad tracks while waiting for traffic.
  • Obey all signals at all times – for both pedestrians and drivers.
  • Wait for crossing arms to go up and/or lights to stop flashing before entering a crossing; trains travel in both directions on the tracks and one may be coming from the opposite direction of another that just passed by.
Need more tips for staying safe near tracks? Doug Baldwin of the Seattle Seahawks has you covered – take a look at the train safety video he partnered with us to create as well as a train safety adventure video. Our Stay Back from the Tracks webpage has even more safety information.

Please follow these tips to keep yourself and everyone else safe near train tracks. And starting on Dec. 18, enjoy our expanded service and new station!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ferries crew recognized for water rescue

Jason Rossi and Wayne Reed shuttle an overturned kayaker to safety in Edmonds on Oct. 20
by Mike Allende

Jason Rossi and Wayne Reed say it was no big deal. Just what they train for and part of their job. OK, that may be true. But, still, it is a big deal.

On Oct. 20, Rossi, Reed and the rest of the crew of the ferry Spokane had just arrived at the Edmonds terminal when the emergency alarm sounded. The alarm alerts crew that a rescue is needed. And indeed, a kayaker had overturned and was in trouble.

The crew sprang into action and Rossi and Reed took their places in the rescue boat. Other crew members helped get the boat lowered into the water. Rossi and Reed then motored to the kayaker, getting him into the rescue boat and taking him to waiting aid crews on shore. The kayaker was treated for hypothermia but was otherwise OK. The entire rescue took about seven minutes.

For their efforts, Reed and Rossi were awarded a Life Ring Award during a ceremony aboard the Spokane on Dec. 7.

"It’s what we train for," Rossi said. "We had great teamwork. You’re always glad when you can help someone in need."

Wayne Reed (left) and Jason Rossi prepare for a water rescue training drill aboard the ferry Spokane.
"We were just doing our job," Reed added. "The rescue we did, it was like second nature because we train for it all the time."

Every ferry crew in our fleet trains every week for a variety of emergency scenarios, including water rescues, fires and medical emergencies. New employees go through a variety of training before they ever begin a shift, everything from first aid to firefighting certification. This year, our ferry crews have responded to 81 rescue/medical emergencies.

"Safety is job No. 1 for us, both for the public and our crews," Assistant Secretary for Ferries Amy Scarton said. "(Secretary of Transportation) Roger Millar and I both went through the training so we saw first hand what our workers go through."

Our ferries crew do a great job of getting the 25 million people who ride every year to their destinations safely, and we’re especially proud of them when they step up and put their safety training into action by helping someone in need. Great job Jason, Wayne and the rest of the Spokane crew!
Assistant Secretary for Ferries Amy Scarton congratulates Jason Rossi (right) and Wayne Reed on receiving Life Ring awards for their effort in rescuing an overturned kayaker in October