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January 2012

From the Regional Administrator
Keith Metcalf 

Welcome to our January 2012 newsletter. This month we talk about award-winning work, winter road condition reports, and a lost dog story with a happy, and safe, ending.

If you have any questions on items in this newsletter, or other transportation issues, please let me know. Give me a call at (509) 324-6010 or drop me an e-mail at metcalk@wsdot.wa.gov .

Keith Metcalf
Regional Administrator
509-324-6010
metcalk@wsdot.wa.gov
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Award-winning work on Interstate 90

It’s always pleasing to announce more awards for good work. One particularly challenging job has picked up a couple of deserving nods from the Associated General Contractors.

The West Company of Medical Lake, WA will be honored by the Associated General Contractors during their annual meeting in Spokane in early February. West handled the Interstate 90/Altamont-Havana Bridge Deck Repair project in 2011. The contractor completed the complicated job, on the busiest section of I-90 in eastern Washington, in only 20 days-10 days ahead of schedule. In addition, the team of WSDOT engineers from Chad Simonson’s project office, along with the crew from West Company, picked up the AGC/WSDOT Excellence in Contract Administration award for the same project.

Congratulations to the West Company and Chad Simonson’s crew for a job well done.

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Winter driving and road condition information

Winter driving in the Inland Northwest can be a challenge, especially during a major snow event. Our crews are on duty seven days a week and handle over 1,500 miles of state highway sections in seven counties. Many of those highways are in very rural areas. In rural areas such as the Palouse, snowy conditions coupled with the frequent winds can pose a challenge to our crews. Oftentimes, our crews will make their first run of the day, only to have the roadway conditions change within an hour or less, well before they can get back for another pass.
To help motorists in their travel planning, we offer winter road condition reports for the major highway segments in our section of eastern Washington. Those highways include Interstate 90, US 2, US 195, US 395, SR 26, and SR 291. These highways are the heaviest traveled in our area and were selected as representative of the general non-mountain pass road conditions in each part of the region.

The road reports come from the plow operators as they make their first pass of each shift on these selected highways. The reports are called in to our central Transportation Management Center (TMC) in Spokane where they are posted on the WSDOT Traffic alerts web page and the 5-1-1 telephone information service twice each day. We currently provide reports for 22 sections on the highways noted above. We report closures or major restrictions such as drifting, if and when they occur, on all state highways.

While we would like to be able to offer reports for every highway segment, our staffing levels on the road and in the TMC don’t permit it. Our radio operators are responsible for answering the radio and telephone, keeping track of collisions and highway closures, dispatching road crews, operating the variable message signs, and posting information on the internet and telephone systems. The difficulty comes when a major event occurs and staff is busy with incidents and helping to coordinate our crews. Timeliness of posting the reports is important, and unfortunately posting the reports can get delayed during a storm event at our current workforce level. In addition, our plow operators have a hard job trying to keep the highways open during a major event. Plowing safely and talking on the two-way radio makes the job even tougher.

We encourage drivers to make informed decisions as they plan their travels. Keeping up on weather conditions in your area prior to traveling is critical. For example, if snow and a southwest wind are in the forecast, there’s a very good chance that there can be drifting and visibility issues on highways in the Palouse such as US 195 and SR 27. Freezing rain is a sure sign that the highways will be very slick, requiring a slower speed and longer commute. Always allow plenty of extra time for winter travel and carry proper equipment such as chains, a shovel and some basic survival equipment such as food and water. Always have a full tank of fuel during the winter months when traveling on rural highways in eastern Washington or across the many mountain passes in our state.
To access those road reports, dial 5-1-1 on your touch tone phone in Washington State, then go to the highways noted above for the most recent report. These reports are also on the internet at: http://wsdot.com/traffic/trafficalerts/Eastern.aspx

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Safe drivers and a saved dog

We’re especially proud of our crews when the work they do to keep the roads safe has a happy ending.

On Thursday, January 19th, as a result of a collision on Interstate 90 just west of Spokane, a dog escaped from a kennel carried in one of the vehicles. The dog ran off and the owner was unable to coax the pooch to come back. Subsequently, the owner sent the WSDOT a photo of the animal and our plow operators observed the dog along the freeway several times.

Rather than have the dog become a factor in another freeway collision, one of our plow drivers, Kent Reitmeier, noticed where the dog had been sleeping near the accident scene and set out a little food. The owners obtained a live trap from the local animal shelter and it was set up at the spot. The dog was captured and returned to the happy owners.

Our goal in this incident was to keep drivers and the dog owners safe. Rather than have the owners trying to capture the frightened animal along the freeway right of way, we worked with the Washington State Patrol, and the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS) to work toward a safe ending.

We received a heartfelt note of thanks from the family for our contribution to the successful efforts to capture the dog.