Working to prevent roadside brush fires

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

by Barbara LaBoe

With drought conditions across Washington, the risk of devastating wildfires like those in Wenatchee will continue throughout the summer. In addition to the risk to life and property, when fires like the one in Marysville on Tuesday break out along roadsides, they can snarl traffic as crews work to respond and keep the flames from spreading.

Crews extinguish a fire on eastbound I-90 at milepost 86.
Photo Credit: Washington State Patrol
Summer is the busy season for transportation maintenance work, but we're taking steps to reduce and prevent fire risks.

The first is timing. Every year, we do most of our mowing in early spring or late fall to avoid the hot, dry summer season. We also leave bare ground barriers alongside roadways in many cases to provide extra protection against sparks and other fire risks. This year is no different.

That said, some of our maintenance work can't wait, often because to do so would comprise motorist safety. And work like mowing, grinding or welding carry some inherent risks of sparks that could lead to a fire.

That's why whenever we complete maintenance work during the dry season we take several precautions. We obtain Industrial Fire Precaution Level waivers from the Department of Natural Resources and abide by their guidelines. That includes having water and tools on site to immediately extinguish any sparks or fires that start due to our work.

We also limit our maintenance work, according to waiver guidelines, during the hottest part of the day. Work is done from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m., when it's more humid and less likely for a fire to start. If weather conditions are particularly severe, everything except emergency work is halted.

In the past two years we've also invested $250,000 in additional fire prevention tools such as water tanks, shovels and backpack sprayers. We've also conducted extra fire prevention/safety training at a cost of about $50,000.

On our construction projects, the responsibility to follow fire safety rules falls on the contractors doing the work. Our engineers remind companies of those responsibilities, including working with DNR and others to ensure all work is done safely.

Northbound I-5 in Marysville.
We also need the public's help in preventing roadside fires.

The top causes of brush fires along roads are: drivers throwing lit items (cigarettes, fireworks) out of cars; a blown tire or other malfunction that produces sparks and driving a vehicle onto dry grass or vegetation. The heat from a car's engine can start a fire in dry grass.

Please be safe and smart on the roads this summer. Dry conditions are expected to continue, so we all need to work together to keep the state fire-free.

Five consecutive nights of Deception Pass bridges closures start July 12

Friday, June 26, 2015

by Tom Pearce

We’ve been telling you for several months that we’ll have five nightly closures to repave the Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges as part of our SR 20 Frostad Road to Sharpes Corner paving project. We finally have a starting time and date – 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 12.

Our contractor needs to do this work on five consecutive nights, starting on a Sunday. The schedule is extremely weather dependent. Rain or cool temperatures could delay the start of work a week or more.

Bridge closures
We need overnight full bridge closures because the roadway on the bridge deck is just 22 feet wide. That’s too narrow to allow paving equipment and traffic on the bridge at the same time. The closures will be:
  • Sunday night, July 12, to Friday morning, July 17.
  • Closed nightly from 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.
  • Extra ferry sailings are planned on the Mukilteo/Clinton route, leaving Clinton at 9 p.m., 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. and leaving Mukilteo at 9:30 p.m., 2, 3 and 4 a.m.
  • If there is a delay, we’ll post it on the project website, our Facebook page and on the WSDOT traffic Twitter feed  as soon as we hear about it.

Rehabilitating the bridge
This is critical work to maintain these 80-year-old bridges and keep them open for drivers. It’s been about 20 years since we last rehabilitated these bridges, and the decks are worn out. They have cracks and ruts and minor damage below the surface. If we don’t repair them before there is further damage, the pavement will continue to deteriorate. That could create a safety hazard for drivers or require unscheduled emergency closures with little or no notice to drivers.

During the nightly10-hour closures our contractor will:
  • Grind off the old asphalt
  • Repair the deck
  • Repair the bridge joints
  • Repair drainage
  • Repave the deck
When the bridges are open
The bridges will be open to all traffic daily from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in between the nightly closures. When the bridges are open, the roadway will be very rough and drivers should expect bumps at the expansion joints. Be ready for slower traffic.

Thanks for your patience as we complete this important work. We know it’s inconvenient for some people who rely on the bridge during the overnight hours, and it will be rough for those who will use the roadway in between our contractor’s work shifts. But when we’re finished, the five nights of work will provide years and years of smooth roadway.

A gentler trip for our Hylebos friends

Michael Allende

The small, 90-year-old culvert in the West Fork Hylebos Creek
will be replaced with a larger one that will present fewer
obstacles for migrating fish.
While it would be amazing to see a fish take on a Tough Mudder course, they’ve got enough to worry about so we’re going to help them out. A project starting June 29 will make the lives of Chinook, coho, chum salmon and their friends in the West Fork Hylebos Creek easier.

The creek, which runs under State Route 99 in Federal Way, has a small, 90-year-old box culvert that needs to be replaced. While we’re at it, we’re going to realign the creek to change it from a fast-moving straight-shot for the fish to a gentler, meandering trip. Think of it as changing a water slide from one of those crazy, vertical fright-fests to an enjoyable, calm lazy-river ride.

Revamping West Fork Hylebos Creek will slow the
water flow, giving wildlife a gentler trip through
the waterway.
Reshaping a creek isn’t easy, and it’s going to require a full weekend closure of SR 99 between Southwest 356th Street and South 373rd Street. About 100 feet of roadway has to be removed to install the new culvert. So during the closure, drivers will be detoured to I-5. It’s about 6-mile detour that will add about 10 minutes of travel time. A shuttle will also be available to take pedestrians and cyclists around the roadblock.

Part of our responsibility in building and maintaining roads is being sure that the environment around those roads is also being cared for. In this case, the culvert is just 6 feet by 6 feet, making it difficult for fish to maneuver through as debris regularly creates obstacles. We’ll be replacing that culvert with a 10 feet-by-20 feet one that will give fish more space to swim through and cut down on the cost of maintenance from having to clear out debris.
Frogs, fish and other wildlife are clearly eager to try out the
re-aligned West Fork Hylebos Creek.

At the same time, we’re going to slow down the water flowing through the stream by realigning and re-grading the creek. Water rushing through has scoured some of the creek bed, creating significant drops that make it impossible for fish to migrate through. This work will create a gentler slope and will open up access to five additional miles of stream, allowing fish to eventually make their way into the West Hylebos Wetland Park.

Finally, we’ll be doing a bit of gardening. We’re going to remove the non-native trees and shrubs in the area and replace them with native species like Oregon ash, Sitka spruce, western red cedar, black twinberry, Indian plum, red osier dogwood and salmonberry.

We’re testing portable rumble strips to reduce distracted driving

Thursday, June 18, 2015

View Video: WSDOT tests portable rumble strips
on US 12, west of Yakima.
By Summer Derrey

Work zone crashes occur every 14 minutes across the nation. Each year, about 600 people are killed in roadway work zones. Washington state averages 950 work zone injures every year. The culprit?  It’s mostly distracted driving and speeding.

Our traffic engineers are coming up with solutions to help drivers pay attention.

We are currently testing portable rumble strips on Yakima area highways to determine if they are effective in combating driver inattention. We hope it increases safety for the drivers and the workers.

View Video: A WSP car drives over
the rumble strips at a higher speed
with no issues.
The strips are placed before construction zones making a loud ka-thud, ka-thud sound as motorists drive over them. It doesn’t rock your car too much – just wakes you up a bit.

Portable rumble strips have been proven in other states to increase driver awareness and are safe for motorcycles, automobiles and semi-trucks. California, Texas, Utah and Florida are required to use them when blocking lanes for work on state highways.

And this is just one idea to increase highway safety. What are your ideas?

Adding some friction to Bellevue, Everett ramps

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

By Michael Allende

As Morning Guy on our @wsdot_traffic Twitter account, I regularly advise drivers to watch their speed, especially on ramps and overpasses which can become slick in inclement weather. Still, every time it rains I watch our traffic cameras and I see vehicles spin out going down a ramp, which isn’t good for the driver or for traffic.

This summer, we’re revamping two ramps in Puget Sound with some of the highest percentages of wet weather related collisions. We will be using a process called high friction surface treatment, which is basically a robust sand-like substance that will be applied to the existing pavement with industrial strength glue to increase traction. The ramps getting the treatment are:
  • The 148th Avenue Southeast on-ramp to westbound I-90 in Eastgate interchange in Bellevue
  • The eastbound SR 526 on-ramp to southbound I-5 in Everett
Drivers on the 148th Ave SE Ramp to Westbound I-90
Drivers on the 148th Avenue SE ramp to westbound I-90 will
benefit from a high friction surface treatment on the ramp
that will help prevent spin-outs in inclement weather.
Both of these ramps have challenging S-curve designs and a downhill grade. And on a rainy day when some drivers overlook the posted advisory speed or just aren’t paying attention, we see crashes. By adding this treatment we expect to see a significant reduction in the number of collisions on these two ramps. The added traction improves both steering control and braking ability.

Drivers shouldn’t notice much difference in driving over the enhanced ramps. The asphalt will look basically the same, there won’t be any additional noise and it shouldn’t feel any different driving over for passenger vehicles or motorcycles.

High Friction Surface Treatment Appearance
WSDOT is adding a high friction surface treatment like
this to two ramps that have seen a high number
of spin-outs during wet weather.
Data shows that using this kind of roadway surface treatment reduces weather-related collisions by 60-85 percent and has been successful in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, South Carolina and California, among other states. We’ll monitor and test how it works on our two ramps and if results are as good as what we think they’ll be, we may implement it on other ramps in the area.

The ramp in Bellevue will also be closed from 10 p.m. Thursday, June 18, to 5 a.m. Friday, June 19. Drivers should expect a full weekend closure of the ramps starting Friday night, June 19, until 5 a.m. Monday, June 22. Crews plan to get both ramps finished in just one weekend. However, the work is weather dependent and could get pushed back.

The treatment won’t completely eliminate collisions on these ramps – it’s still up to drivers to recognize and adjust to roadway conditions – but it will go a long way in improving safety in those areas.

Featured Flickr Photo

SR 501 - Gee Creek Br Vic to S 56th Pl. paving
SR 501 - Gee Creek Br Vic to S 56th Pl. paving

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