Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Whoa! We’re halfway there on our I-405/SR 167 project

By Victoria Miller

If you drive on Interstate 405 near the State Route 167 interchange in Renton, then you have probably noticed a lot of activity throughout the past year. Since breaking ground in September 2016, we’ve been hard at work, making progress and reaching many milestones for the I-405/SR 167 Interchange Direct Connector Project.

The Direct Connector will be a flyover ramp connecting the HOT lanes on SR 167 with the carpool lanes on I-405, which will reduce weaving and improve traffic flow at this heavily congested area. Our contractor is scheduled to complete the project by mid-2019, but as of Jan. 1, the project is already halfway complete in terms of the milestones it has met.

Let’s dig a little deeper into what exactly our crews have finished so far and what they have left to complete.

Shifting into place: Reconfiguring traffic to create safe work zones

Back in May, our crews shifted traffic on southbound I-405 to the inside of the freeway and reconfigured the Rainier Avenue South and SR 167 exits. This was necessary to create safe work zones for construction crews to begin building the future flyover ramp.

There are still two other traffic shifts left for crews to implement so they can safely finish work for the project. We have tentatively scheduled the second major traffic shift, which will push lanes of SR 167 and I-405 toward the outside of the highway, for this January and February.

Moving a noise wall and planting trees

In the spring and summer of 2017, crews finished relocating an existing noise wall about 100 feet south on a large hillside in the Talbot Hill neighborhood. In early July, they began hauling 80,000 cubic yards of dirt to make room for the future flyover ramp, which is enough dirt to fill almost 70 Boeing 747 airplanes! Crews moved the dirt from the Talbot hillside to the loops at the I-405/SR 167 interchange on and off-ramps.

During this time, they also planted trees and shrubs on the hillside across from Renton City Hall, but they still have to complete the landscaping work on the Talbot hillside. As part of our policy, we must follow rules about replanting trees after removing them for construction projects. Now that they have moved the dirt from the Talbot hillside, they can plant trees and shrubs in that location too.

Helping fish to “just keep swimming”

In the late summer through early fall of 2017, crews began working on other parts of the project that were not as dependent on good summer weather but just as important. We have been required to improve creeks and streams in the region by rebuilding fish barriers in addition to restoring and relocating the creeks and streams so the fish in those waterways can swim more freely. We call this work “fish passage,” and we typically divide the construction into three stages for our projects. For the Direct Connector Project, the first stage began in mid-September next to the northbound side of SR 167. Crews will be replacing a fish barrier with a passable culvert to help fish swim more easily through Rolling Hills Creek.
A culvert is replacing a fish barrier to help fish swim more easily through Rolling Hills Creek as part of our Direct Connector project.

We’ve completed the first stage of fish passage work, but still need to complete the second and third stages, which is when we will relocate and restore the stream for the fish culvert. This work will wrap up in August with a weekend closure of one direction of SR 167 in the area near the culvert construction.

Making the grade: Paving and widening SR 167

This past June, crews began strengthening the pavement on both northbound and southbound I-405 in the project area. They did this by installing dowel bars, which are short bars made of steel, in between the concrete panels of the freeway. These dowel bars help transfer vehicle weight evenly between the concrete panels.

In August, workers began grading, which means they flattened the ground to make it smooth and level before they could repave the roadway. Then they took advantage of the continued dry weather by starting and completing a significant stretch of paving in six weeks. They repaved 10.2 lane miles of southbound SR 167, which is equal to the length of about 89 Space Needles! When crews repaved the freeway in this area, they also widened it to make room for where the flyover ramp will begin or end on SR 167, just south of the I-405 interchange.
In 2017, crews repaved and widened more than 10 miles of southbound SR 167, and strengthened the pavement by adding dowel bars which transfer vehicle weight evenly.

Bridges: The Abridged Version

We have made huge progress on building new bridges alongside both directions of I-405 at the Talbot Road South exit. We’ve completed the substructures for the bridge on both directions of the freeway and have placed the girders, which are the main horizontal support of bridges. All that’s left to do is pour concrete for the bridge deck on the southbound side of I-405.

The direct connector flyover ramp will consist of 20 columns, which make up 10 piers. The flyover ramp will also have two abutments, which support the ends of a bridge or ramp. As of Jan. 1, crews have drilled 13 shafts and formed 11 columns, making up 5½  piers of the flyover ramp. They have even begun installing platforms on top of some of these columns in which crews have already placed concrete to form two crossbeams.
Platforms to hold the new SR 167/I-405 Direct Connector flyover ramp have started to be constructed.

Once they implement the next traffic shift, crews will continue to drill seven more shafts to build the foundations for more columns. They will also construct the abutments for the bridge, pour concrete for the rest of the columns, place crossbeams and pour the bridge deck.

While we have reached plenty of milestones in just a year, we still have many left to reach before we open the Direct Connector to traffic. We realize construction can be an inconvenience for nearby residents and motorists, but we hope you can share in the excitement of the major milestones we have reached for this project. Once our contract crews have finished building the ramp, it will help vehicles move more smoothly at this critical interchange. In the meantime, check out our photos showing the construction progress on the project, stay tuned for more information about the upcoming traffic shift in February and the weekend road closure scheduled for next summer.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Which WSDOT Twitter account should I follow?

By Ally Barrera

Imagine it’s 8 in the morning and you find yourself rushing to get out the door to make it to work on time. You’ve got your keys and a bagel in one hand, a thermos full of fresh coffee in the other. What is the next thing that goes through your mind before you head out the door: “What’s the traffic like?”

Social media sites like Twitter have become a popular place to get real-time traffic information. We’ve had great success connecting with the public across our 12 traffic Twitter accounts and every day more and more people are turning to our accounts to help #KnowBeforeYouGo.

Wait, 12 accounts? That sounds a little overwhelming. But remember, this is a big state and traffic patterns differ greatly from place to place. We felt by localizing accounts for particular parts of the state would help people find the information they’re looking for in as easy a way as possible.

Each account represents a different area of the state or state highway system and is run by our Public Information Officers (PIOs). Combined, we have more than 875,000 followers on Twitter, and our @WSDOT_Traffic and @WSDOT accounts are the two most-followed DOT accounts in the country. People who follow us recognize that they can turn to us for updated, accurate traffic info and can get their questions answered quickly.

Not a Twitter user? That’s OK! If you download our mobile app, we have a section that compiles all of our Tweets so you can follow along without actually being on Twitter.

So which of our Twitter accounts should you follow? It all depends on where you live and what information you’re looking for.

@wsdot

The flagship of our Twitter arsenal. This account provides important messages and helpful tips for commuters statewide. Unlike our other accounts, @wsdot usually stays away from tweeting about traffic-related incidents unless there is something happening on our highways that will have a major impact on commuters – for example, if a mountain pass were to close. Instead, this account helps point people in the right direction if they have a specific question another account may have more details about, as well as providing agency- and state-wide information.

@wsdot_traffic

The most popular DOT account in the country with more than 452,000 followers, it covers the traffic happenings of King and Snohomish counties.

The @wsdot_traffic Twitter account is the most-followed DOT
account in the country and provides info for King and
Snohomish counties.
@wsdot_north

This account keeps an eye on the traffic in Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.

@wsdot_tacoma

Don’t let the name “Tacoma” in the handle fool you. This account covers our Olympic Region, which includes the South Sound, including Tacoma and Olympia as well as JBLM, all the way to the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas.

@wsdot_sw
This account covers our Southwest Region – blanketing Lewis, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Cowlitz, Skamania, Klickitat and Clark Counties, including the Vancouver area.

People traveling to and from Oregon follow our @wsdot_sw
account for traffic information from the Vancouver area.
@wsdot_east

Our East Region stretches from the Cascades all the way to the Washington-Idaho border, meaning @wsdot_east has a lot of roads to watch over. To make sure everything is covered effectively, the region is broken up into three sub-regions: North Central, South Central, and Eastern. But all tweet under this handle.

Drivers on the east side of our state should follow @wsdot_east
for information like the slow-moving landslide near Yakima.
@SnoqualmiePass

With I-90 Snoqualmie Pass being our state’s most heavily trafficked east-west highway, this is the best way for travelers to stay up-to-date with road conditions, travel delays and possible closures on that route.

@wsdot_passes

This account’s sole job is to inform commuters of the road conditions on all of our mountain passes – from Blewett to Stevens to White. Automated tweets go out every few hours or so to make sure you stay on top of how things are looking on those major highways.

Since it is an automated account, it won’t reply to any of your questions. Instead, send your inquiries to either @wsdot, @wsdot_east, or @SnoqualmiePass, depending on which pass you want to know about.

@wsdot_520

This is the account you’ll want to follow for updates on the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program.

The project is currently in its final phase of construction, called the West Approach Bridge North. Sometimes this project will require either directional or full closures of the floating bridge. Any time one of those is going on, you’ll see it on this account first.

@GoodToGoWSDOT

Stay on top of what’s going on with our state’s tolling system on the I-405 Express Toll Lanes, the SR 520 Floating Bridge, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the SR 167 Hot Lanes.

@wsferries

Whether you’re a frequent ferry commuter or the occasional waterway traveler, this account is for you. The ferry folks provide travel information as well as special ferry-related news and announcements.

@BerthaDigsSR99

Interested in seeing how the new SR 99 tunnel is coming along? This account provides updates and really cool videos on how the project is doing.

Now that you know about our different Twitter accounts, what are you waiting for? Go out and follow them!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Crews monitoring land movement on Rattlesnake Ridge near Yakima

Interstate 82 remains open but safety measures being put in place

By Summer Derrey and Meagan Lott


UPDATE Wednesday, Jan. 17

Two of the most common questions we’ve received in regard to the Rattlesnake Ridge slide are:
  • What is a “slow-moving” slide?
  • Why can’t you just blast the hillside and be done with it?
Good questions!

When we say “slow-moving” slide, we mean it could take months before it stops moving. Geologists currently monitoring the slide don’t expect it to release in one large mass. How do we know? The data we’ve collected shows it moving at a rate of 1.6 feet a week.

Which brings us to blasting. From the outside, it makes some sense. Drop some charges, trigger the slide and then clean it up. But, it’s not quite that simple.

If we start removing material or blasting it from the hillside, it will actually make the area more unstable, creating fissures in other areas and would likely release larger amounts of debris in an uncontrolled manner. For some perspective, we’ve spent the past several years blasting rock from the hillsides along I-90 as part of the project to stabilize rock slopes and add more lanes. When we blast, it’s in very small sections and then we excavate any loose material after the blast. Over the past five years we’ve removed a little more than one million cubic yards of material – or about 200,000 cubic yards every construction season (April through October). The Rattlesnake Ridge slide is made up of about four million cubic yards of material.

Also, blasting an unstable hillside simply isn’t safe. In order to do a controlled blast, crews need to drill into the hillside about 20 to 40 feet to put live charges into the hole. With the hillside moving, being able to drill accurately while also not causing more instability would be incredibly challenging. Even if the holes were drilled accurately, there’s the possibility that the charges won’t go off, meaning the crews would then have to sort through millions of cubic yards of debris looking for live explosives that could go off. It’s just too dangerous of a situation to put workers in.

So for now, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. Workers continue to monitor the hillside, gather data and make preparations for when debris begins to come down.



UPDATE Friday, Jan. 12


We’ve joined with the Department of Natural Resources to select Wyllie & Norrish, Rock Engineers Inc., of Seattle as our third-party geotechnical firm. They have a combined 80 years of experience in  specializing in rock slopes, landslides, tunnels, blasting, foundations and rock falls. The firm has already started analyzing data and will provide a summary with their conclusions later this month.



UPDATE Wednesday, Jan. 10


Last week our geologists began using 3-D Terrestrial LiDAR on the western slope of Rattlesnake Ridge to increase our monitoring of the landslide. Results from that monitoring are consistent with what we have been seeing with the movement of the landslide, and the new information helps us better understand the slide and its expected behavior.

With all of the information available, including the new 3-D LiDAR, we not only expect to see small rocks coming from the western slope but also large amounts of debris to sluff off. This amount may or may not be of sufficient quantity to reach Thorp Road. A visual change in the western slope doesn’t mean a change in the behavior of the landslide. It conforms with the current expectation for this specific slope.

We are still confident that the material coming down will not impact I-82 and the highway is still safe for drivers to use.



Partner agencies also providing updates:



A slow-moving landslide east of Yakima has put many on high alert, including drivers traveling along I-82 adjacent to the landslide. There are several agencies working together to investigate, research and plan for this situation, and each has specific roles in preparing for the slide.

Our job is to protect the highway and make our best effort to help motorists avoid any obstacles on it. As the landslide moves, rocks could potentially fall onto the roadway. So far we have not seen any debris reach I-82. At the first sign of more movement or increased frequency of falling rock, we will close the highway. However, when dealing with Mother Nature, it’s hard to predict when this may occur. This is why we are working with local agencies as well as our crews to keep an eye on it.
Contractor crews install freight containers along Thorp Road as a precautionary
measure to keep rocks from hitting I-82 east of Yakima.

Should you take alternate routes right now?
We would close the highway if we felt it was unsafe. At this time those monitoring the situation have deemed the highway safe for travel and many of us are continuing to use it for our commutes. That said, everyone should make their own decision.

What would be the detour route? 
If I-82 closes, several detours will be established. The local highway detour will be along US 97 from Granger to Union Gap and I-82 would be closed from milepost 58 to 37 until officials determine it is again safe for travel. Also, depending on the amount of debris that comes down, it’s possible that just the westbound section of I-82 would be temporarily routed along US 97. We’re preparing for all possibilities at this point.
In order to weigh down the freight container, concrete barrier is placed inside of each container.

What is WSDOT doing?
We are taking proactive steps to minimize impact to the highway and to drivers, including:
  • Placing portable signs along I-82 to caution drivers of the potential for rockfall. So far, no rocks have fallen onto I-82, but we are monitoring the area closely.
  • This week, our crews are installing a number of large conex/freight containers between Thorp Road and I-82 to provide rock-fall protection. Although each box weighs six tons, it won’t stop a landslide, but will protect against rocks.    
  • At the first sign of excessive movement or increased frequency of rockfall, I-82 will shut down as a precaution and traffic will be diverted to the detour routes. 
Where can you get information on the landslide activity?
You can view updates on the Yakima Valley Office of Emergency Management webpage and Facebook account. You can also call their office at 509-574-1900 and choose option 1.

While there are certainly a lot of unknowns with this landslide issue, multiple agencies with the appropriate expertise are working to monitor and prepare for all situations with public safety as our number one priority.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ferries maintenance facility hires two apprentices with future in mind

By Justin Fujioka

Two new apprentices are learning tricks of the trade at our Washington State Ferries' Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility. That's where more than 100 employees keep the ferry system functioning by repairing and maintaining our vessels.

Celia Brooks and Jules Hadley were recently hired to serve a three-year apprenticeship shadowing and working alongside journeymen at the complex, which is home to 11 different trade shops. The goal is that apprentices will be ready to move up to full-time employment when they complete the program.

With many of the facility's employees approaching retirement soon, we have been working to secure funding for apprenticeships for several years now. We finally got the OK for two positions in April 2017.

Both apprentices know how important their apprenticeships are for the future.

"We have to soak up as much as we can from them and we need more people to do it," Celia said.
Celia Brooks is learning about our ferry electrical systems as an apprentice
in the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility electrical shop.

But attracting candidates has been challenging, an issue facing employers across the maritime and industrial landscape. Celia was the only person to apply for her spot in the electric shop. Jules was one of eight candidates – including three women – for her position in the pipefitter shop.

There are a variety of factors that make recruitment complex, but one is surprisingly simple.

"A lot of (students) don't know about the trades," Jules said. "Having more apprentices would be a great benefit."

R.J. Kelly, Eagle Harbor's general manager, said he is looking to go against that trend, eventually recruiting for apprentices to join his other eight shops – machine, sheet metal, weld, lock, radio, carpenter, insulation and shore maintenance.
Jules Hadley, one of our new apprentices at our Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility,
speaks with some of the journeymen who work at the facility.

While there are no additional apprentice positions currently available at his facility, R.J. said he encourages anyone looking to get into the maritime trades to contact the Metal Trades Council or Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters. Both serve as apprenticeship program sponsors. Those interested in shore maintenance can get their start by applying with us as an ordinary seaman or get training from schools like Seattle Central College's Maritime Academy.

Celia Brooks
It's Celia's love of ferries that got her into the marine side of electrical work at Vigor Industrial in Seattle, then at ACI Boats in Port Townsend. She started her career in the Job Corps, working as a residential and commercial electrician.

Celia's first day at Eagle Harbor's electric shop was Nov. 16. This shop handles all things electrical on the ferries and at the terminals. She's already worked on things like generators, pumps and vessel steering. Celia said she would one day like to move up to management, possibly doing electrical inspection work.

Jules Hadley
Jules started at the pipefitter shop on Dec. 5, following six months in South Seattle College's Welding Intensive for Maritime & Manufacturing Environments program. She's already worked on vessel inspections, checking that carbon dioxide and sprinkler systems go off properly in case of emergency.

As a regular ferry commuter, Jules said knowing the ins and outs of something you take daily is always important to know about.

"Hopefully when I'm done with my program I end up an employee here teaching someone else the same thing that they're teaching me now."
Celia Brooks (left) and Jules Hadley were hired as new apprentices at our Ferries' Eagle Harbor
Maintenance Facility, where they'll learn how to keep our boats operating.

Women in trade
Celia and Jules join only a handful of women who work at the facility. R.J. said he wasn't specifically looking for women to fill these apprenticeships, but they are a welcome addition to a workforce that better reflects the population we serve.

While R.J. said he recalls having only one woman apprentice in the past, his two apprentices both seem to be fitting in well and co-workers are excellent about answering questions and making sure they get the hands-on experience they need to improve.
"A lot of people think the blue-collar guys would be rough and rugged, but these guys are just like a family," Celia said.

Celia and Jules both said that more women counterparts would be a refreshing sight.

"This isn't a man's world anymore," Celia said "We all are strong-willed and we have hands that work just as well, brains that work just as well."

"Don't stop dreaming," Jules added "If it's your goal, go for it. Don't have anyone stop you. If it's something that you love to do, don't just settle for something that someone else thinks you should be doing."

Friday, December 22, 2017

Response to questions about curves on rail lines

With the recent derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train, we wanted to talk a bit about the Point Defiance Bypass and our agency’s work to develop it for Amtrak Cascades passenger train service. Our thoughts remain with the passengers and families involved in the tragic Monday, Dec. 18, derailment and we want to answer questions that have arisen about the tracks where the train derailed.

Long-range planning to develop these tracks for expanded passenger rail service began more than a decade ago and was initially conceptual – looking at all possible options. The long-range plan referenced in recent media stories states it was developed “without financial constraints” and goes on to explain “as a result, the plan’s ‘building blocks’ with the operational benefits are intended to be implemented incrementally.”

As a transportation agency, we must always balance providing service goals with funding and schedule constraints. Our goal with our recent improvement project was to provide better reliability and six Seattle to Portland roundtrips. The work done on the Point Defiance Bypass – and the rest of the tracks from Blaine to Vancouver, Washington – achieved those goals, allowing us to continue to travel at the same maximum speed as before – 79 mph – but improving the reliability of our service and giving travelers two additional options for daily roundtrip service.

The track configuration as it exists today meets all Federal Railroad Administration requirements.

The bypass tracks have a reduced speed limit before the curve where the derailment took place to inform engineers to decrease their speed to negotiate the curve. The maximum speed limit decreases from 79 mph to 30, with signs posted two miles before the speed zone and just before the speed zone approaching the curve. Amtrak is responsible for ensuring all engineers on this specific set of tracks are qualified. It is common for railroads to have areas of reduced speeds due to curves or other factors, as found along the entire Cascades route.

Trains successfully ran the bypass track numerous times in the past few months during track testing, locomotive testing and engineer qualification on the tracks, and the ceremonial train ride with passengers on Dec. 15 during the new station dedication.

The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will determine the cause of the derailment and we cannot speculate as to what caused it while the NTSB conducts its important work. We’ll continue to share updates and any information we can while the NTSB investigation continues.