Washington’s newest mega project: Fish barrier corrections

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

By Ann Briggs

You've probably heard about our four “mega projects:” Alaskan Way Viaduct, State Route 520 Bridge, Interstate 405 Corridor and the North Spokane Corridor, but did you hear about the newest one? It's called “Fish Passage” and it's currently unfunded.

Statewide, there are about 6,500 culverts on the state highway system. Of those, about 3,200 are in fish-bearing streams. We're required by law to maintain culverts, fish ways and bridges so that fish have unrestricted passage to upstream and downstream habitat.
SR 530 Moose Creek culvert before correction.

A recent federal court injunction requires the state to step up its fish barrier corrections in the northwest part of the state. About 989 culverts are affected by this court action, with 825 of them having significant habitat. To comply with the injunction, we'll need to fix about 30 to 40 barriers each year for the next 15 years.

The amount available for this work in the current biennium is $36 million. Right now we estimate approximately $300 million is needed each two-year budget cycle through 2029-31. The initial estimated cost to comply with the injunction is $2.4 billion at the low end, and likely to go up. As we do more detailed design work on a first round of 34 projects, we are finding that costs are higher than initial estimates for those projects. That's mostly due to limited site-specific information when the initial cost estimates were developed. We anticipate cost estimates for the entire program will stabilize as we learn more about individual site characteristics.

We've been working to improve access to habitat for fish since the 1990s. About 280 fish-barrier correction projects have opened access to more than 975 miles of potential fish habitat.
SR 530 Moose Creek culvert after correction.

Why do we do this? It's part of our agency's goals to protect natural habitat and water quality. It also supports the Governor's goals for the environment and salmon recovery.

So how did we get here? You have to remember that much of our state's infrastructure was built decades ago. Many of these culverts were installed simply for the purpose of conveying water, before we had the science and understanding of the needs of fish.

In some areas, like Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, projects that improve fish passage have improved conditions for other species, allowing deer, bear and other wildlife to cross safely under or over the busy freeway lanes – that's safer for drivers too!

Visit our Fish Passage project website for an interactive map of all barrier locations and project details.

One weekend down, one to go

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

By Doug Adamson

Our crews have knocked out one of two high-traffic-impact weekends on I-5 at the US 101 interchange in Olympia. They return during the weekend of Sept. 19 to complete the effort to replace a troubled bridge joint that’s been hammered by heavy traffic since Ronald Reagan was President of the United States.

Because of the location of the work zone – a key interchange with limited alternate routes – we asked drivers to stay away. Drivers did just that.

We offer immense gratitude for drivers who avoided I-5 in Olympia during the weekend of Sept 12.

We thank drivers for:
  • Avoiding the area.
  • Traveling earlier or later in the day.
  • Using inconvenient alternative routes.
  • Staying focused while driving through the work zone.
We warned of possible 14-mile backups
We saw virtually no backups in either direction of I-5, and minimal backups on US 101 approaching I-5. Why didn’t those lengthy backups develop? It’s because drivers took our advice to heart. Drivers who avoided the area did their part. The substantial reduction in traffic even allowed crews to finish and reopen the northbound lanes 25 hours earlier than scheduled. It also helped keep the roadway open for first responders, police, and medics. 

Green = good! This traffic map image shows that on Saturday, Sept. 13,
at 3:03 p.m., traffic in both directions of I-5 was free-flowing.
WSDOT thanks drivers for responding to our request to avoid the area!
Crews used last weekend to create two separate work zones on northbound and southbound I-5.
The concentration of vehicles in the photo are where crews were excavating
old concrete, removing the old expansion joint and pouring new concrete
in the northbound lanes of I-5. They created a twin work zone
in southbound I-5 and repeated the process.

Crews complete finishing touches after replacing a failing
I-5 expansion joint in Olympia. After the concrete cured
and traffic control was removed, the roadway was
reopened to traffic.
The bridge joint spans 171 feet of northbound and southbound I-5 lanes and US 101 ramps. Crews completed half of the project during the weekend of Sept. 12. They will return to complete the job during the weekend of Sept. 19.

So you have one more weekend?

Half of the expansion joint concrete work was completed over the weekend of Sept. 12. Crews will return again over the weekend of Sept. 19 to finish the job. Because of the pinch point, we’re again asking drivers to avoid I-5 in Olympia.  Unless drivers change their travel plans, those mega-backups could quickly develop. This second time around, an additional restriction will be in place - from late Thursday, Sept. 18, to Monday morning, Sept. 22, the speed limit on northbound I-5 will be reduced to 35 mph through the work zone. Drivers on Friday can expect backups on northbound I-5 as well as on the southbound US 101 on-ramp to northbound I-5. During the weekend, there could be backups in both directions since I-5 will have reduced lanes in each direction both day and night.

During the upcoming weekend, you can see with this over-simplified
graphic that drivers will encounter closed lanes.
Northbound I-5 traffic will be shifted to the right. Vehicles will travel in an area – called a gore point – that’s generally closed to traffic. Southbound I-5 won’t have a traffic shift, but the lanes will also be reduced. The southbound I-5 exit to northbound US 101 will remain open. Note: both nearby on-ramps to I-5 (Henderson/14th Ave SE on-ramp to southbound I-5 and Deschutes Way to northbound I-5) will be closed through the weekend.

Traffic wasn’t bad at all last weekend
We ask drivers to not become complacent about the upcoming weekend given the light traffic volumes last weekend.  Our advice for the weekend of Sept. 19 remains the same: Avoid I-5 in Olympia. If you must go, travel early in the morning or late at night.

Know before you go
Check Olympia area travel cameras before you leave. Give yourself information about whether you need to avoid the area or take an alternate route.

See the project page for more information: I-5 - Vicinity Tumwater Blvd to Gravelly Lake Dr - Paving

New and improved text messaging….

by Jeremy Bertrand

You asked, and we listened. Using your feedback, we’ve made some upgrades to our text messaging service. Instead of getting a text message from a different number every time you receive one of our alerts, each text will come from one number: 468311. No more getting texts from a different number every time, which will allow you to add that number to your address book and keep those texts more organized on your device. But wait, there’s more.

We’ve also added the ability for you to subscribe and unsubscribe to our two most popular text topics, Hood Canal and 520 bridge openings, by sending a simple text to start and stop the service.

Remember, because the east navigation channel of the 520 bridge is temporarily blocked by construction equipment, we have to open the bridge for marine traffic more often. To make sure you know about those openings, we send two text messages to 520 bridge alert subscribers, the first two hours before the opening and the second thirty minutes before the opening, so that you know when it’s ok to travel across the bridge.

We’ve also made it much easier to manage your 520 bridge alert subscription. To subscribe to texts about 520 bridge openings, send a text with the words “WSDOT 520” to 468311 and you’ll start receiving those updates. To stop, send a text with the words “WSDOT stop” and you will no longer receive them.

The Hood Canal bridge also opens for marine traffic. To be notified about those openings, just send a text with the words “WSDOT hood” to 468311 and you’ll start receiving text updates. To stop getting those updates, send a text to 468311 with the words “WSDOT stop” and you’ll immediately be unsubscribed.

Thanks for letting us know what you wanted from the service, hope you like these improvements!

The I-5 Bridge Joint Repair survival guide

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

 by Cara Mitchell

Whenever we can, we work at night so motorists can get where they need to go during the day. Once in a while, a project comes along that doesn’t allow night work exclusively. Mid-September in Olympia is one of those times.  Mark your calendars, because over the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19, a planned I-5 expansion joint repair near Olympia’s Capitol Lake will require day and night lane and ramp closures. Traffic models show that even with up to 30 percent of motorists going elsewhere those two weekends, we can still expect to see miles-long backups on I-5 and on US 101 approaching I-5.  This work is weather dependent. In the event of rain, the weekend of Sept. 26 is a backup weekend for the work to take place.

The intersection of I-5 and US 101 is the site for the bridge expansion
joint repair project planned for the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19.
Best advice?  Avoid the area!  If you must drive on I-5 through Olympia during those two weekends, come through before 10 a.m. (the earlier the better), or wait until after 8 p.m. (the later the better).  In addition to the backups, expect narrowed and realigned lanes and closed ramps. Closure details can be found on our project website. Here’s why the work must be done.

Construction details
Our construction crews are repairing a 28-year old expansion joint that spans the width of northbound and southbound I-5, and some ramps, near Capitol Lake in Olympia. The concrete surrounding the joints has deteriorated and has already led to some events in which the steel in the expansion joint caused damage to vehicles.  The synthetic rubber seals that are meant to keep the joint waterproof are also broken, allowing water to leak through the joints and cause other concerns. Over those two weekends, we will remove and re-pour the concrete headers around the expansion joint and, in subsequent nights, replace the old rubber seals with a silicone-based seal.

Expansion joints are a critical part of a bridge’s infrastructure. The joints allow the bridge to move and flex with changing traffic and weather conditions. Around the state (most recently, in the greater Seattle area) we have been working hard this summer to repair or replace failing bridge expansion joints. As with our highways, the expansion joints are aging and need attention.  If ignored, failed expansion joints can result in emergency lane closures at very inopportune times.  We want to repair these joints under scheduled closures before they fail.

Keep traffic moving

We are asking motorists to avoid this area of I-5 and US 101 in Olympia.  Over a typical Saturday and Sunday, this stretch of I-5 is traveled by more than 276,000 vehicles. Mix in multiple lane closures in both directions, with motorists trying to get to sporting events, concerts or even a quick trip to the mall, and suddenly  too many vehicles are traveling on too little pavement. The outcome is - you guessed it -gridlock resulting in miles-long backups.

We need your help during the weekends of Sept. 12 and 19. At the risk of repeating ourselves, avoid using I-5 and US 101 in Olympia.  If you must go, plan ahead. If you know the back roads, take them, but keep in mind local side streets around the work zone will see an increase in congestion too. If you’re traveling from south of Olympia north to Tacoma or Seattle, look at alternate state routes such as SR 12, SR 7, SR 702, US 12, or US 101. If you must take I-5, plan on traveling before 10 a.m. or after 8 p.m. to avoid lengthy backups. If you’re heading south to Portland, or to the coastal beaches, the same advice applies.

Our goal with every project, including this one, is to get the construction work done as quickly and safely as possible with the least effect on the traveling public. This particular type of work requires that concrete be removed, re-poured and cured in the same timeframe. After careful consideration, we determined that condensing the work into two admittedly difficult travel weekends was still the best work method that would have the least impact on traffic.

What if I can’t change my travel plans?
Let’s be frank – things are going to be rough. In addition to exploring alternate routes or taking alternative modes of transportation, expect to sit in long backups for both north and southbound I-5, and eastbound US 101 in Olympia. Make sure your gas tank is full or your battery fully charged before heading out. If traveling with kids, be prepared to hear the classic question, “Are we there yet” multiple times. Pack your patience and avoid road rage.

We will have additional Incident Response Teams pre-positioned in the work zone to clear any collisions that might occur. The Washington State Patrol will also be on scene to keep an eye on things.

Stay engaged with road conditions over both weekends. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to WSDOT’s GovDelivery to receive information via email or text on current traffic conditions.

Visit our I-5 Olympia Expansion Joint Repair website to learn more information.

Another major closure in the books

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

 By Lynn Peterson

What a summer.

Wildfires, flash floods, tornados. Our state has faced no shortage of unplanned challenges recently. In addition to causing more serious repercussions, these challenges strain our transportation system, particularly when they hit during a busy season of planned construction closures. Add it all up and you end up with a predictable outcome: delays and frustration for travelers trying to reach their destination.

New SR 99 at Broad Street
Today, as scheduled, we wrapped up a four-day closure of State Route 99 in Seattle that included two rare weekday closures of the highway. Before the closure started, we asked you to do your part to help. We suggested you plan ahead, change your travel mode or revise your commute, among other measures aimed at reducing congestion. As you did during major lane reductions on I-90 last month, you delivered. Traffic was more challenging than usual, but we expected that. And had you not heeded our suggestions, things would have been much, much worse.


Of course when you’re sitting in traffic, it’s easy to forget that the headaches we’re enduring have tangible benefits. In the case of the four-day SR 99 closure, we came away with plenty to show.

Most notably, crews building the future north portal of the SR 99 tunnel demolished and replaced the section of SR 99 that crosses above Broad Street in Seattle. It looks easy in this time-lapse video, but completing this work and reopening the highway in four days was no small feat. 

During the weekend portion of the closure, crews replaced 81 concrete panels on SR 99 south of downtown, repaired an expansion joint at the Seneca Street off-ramp from northbound SR 99 and cleared ivy from the Alaskan Way Viaduct to make future maintenance of the structure easier.

With more than 18,000 miles of highway under our care, we’re always getting ready for the next big push. There will be more closures, more travel challenges. But please be assured that we spend a significant amount of time and energy coordinating our work in advance, and doing everything we can to minimize delays for the traveling public.

When the next big closure approaches, we’ll again ask for your help. Let me say in advance, on behalf of your fellow travelers, thank you. Your help, and your patience, benefit everyone as we work together to maintain and improve our state’s transportation system.

Featured Flickr Photo

see caption
Construction continues westward on SR 520

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