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November 2012

From the Regional Administrator
Keith Metcalf

Welcome to our November 2012 newsletter. This month we highlight our pavement challenges, the Columbia River Bridge, our Incident Response Team, and a new interchange on US 195.

By the way, now that we have heavy holiday traffic combined with winter weather conditions, here’s a one-stop website for winter travel tips and highway conditions: www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter .

As always, 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
WSDOT Eastern Region

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Pavement challenges

Winter has arrived in the Inland Northwest and with it comes the familiar pavement pothole. Potholes are a result of water seeping through cracks in the pavement followed by the freeze/thaw weather cycles that are typical for this area. In the winter, these are patched with a “cold mix” asphalt product. In warmer weather, when the asphalt plants are operating, we use regular hot mix asphalt. Needless to say, many times these patches are just temporary, with a pothole reappearing weeks, or even days later in the same location.

A major contributor to our pothole problem, and deteriorating pavements in general, is the longer span between pavement overlay projects. The budget for pavement preservation has continued to shrink every year and that means getting more years out of existing roadway surfaces. As the pavements get older, more cracks appear, letting water seep in with the resulting pavement damage.

A good example of this problem is SR 291/Francis Avenue in north Spokane. This roadway was last fully resurfaced in 1997. At that time, we expected to get about 10-12 years of service out of this urban paving job. It is now scheduled for paving in 2013, a full 15 years later.

We are starting to see more examples of pavement deterioration as resurfacing work is deferred to accomodate reduced budgets. Asphalt pavement sections of Interstate 90 in Adams and Lincoln Counties are starting to show their age, as well as portions of US 395 north of Spokane. As the available funding continues to decline, pavement projects will be pushed out even farther. Our maintenance team, already struggling with very tight budgets, is being saddled with even more repairs as a result.

With more efficient vehicles on the road, and gas tax revenues declining, the pavement funding picture is getting dimmer. Every other year the Legislature grapples with the ever increasing pavement needs of Washington State’s highway system and not enough dollars to go around. This coming legislative session will bring with it some tough decisions to meet this challenge.

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US 395/Columbia River Bridge project wrapping up

Just before Thanksgiving our contractor wrapped up major work on the Columbia River Bridge project near Kettle Falls in Stevens County. Some minor items and cleanup work still need to be completed. Razz Construction began work on this roadway deck repair project in mid-August. We’re pleased that the work was completed before any major winter storms hampered progress. It was a tough project that involved numerous traffic delays plus a very long detour for wide loads. The 60 mile detour was also used when the bridge was fully closed for concrete pouring. We’d like to thank everyone for their patience over the past three months during this work.

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US 195/Cheney-Spokane Road Interchange

Our next big construction project is this new Interchange on US 195 just south of downtown Spokane. The project was awarded to Selland Construction of Wenatchee with a construction bid of $6,408,374. The new interchange will eliminate all of the turning conflicts with the high-speed freeway traffic. We expect that construction on this job will start in the early spring. The work should be completed in 2013.

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The WSDOT Incident Response Team and Transportation Management Center

The WSDOT Incident Response Team (IRT) in the Spokane metro area consists of two vehicles and two operators that assist drivers in need and provide traffic control assistance along Interstate 90 in the Spokane metro area. The service is scheduled to coincide with the heavy commute periods with at least one of the IRT units on duty weekdays from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.

IRT crew members can assist with disabled vehicles by providing a jump start, change a tire, or maybe provide a small amount of fuel to get the vehicle off the freeway to the nearest gas station. The team assists an average of 300 to 400 motorists a month.

The Spokane Regional Transportation Management Center (SRTMC) works closely with the Incident Response Team members. TMC operators monitor dozens of cameras along the freeway and can alert the IRT when and where incidents occur. Since 4 to 10 minutes of traffic congestion can result from every minute a lane remains blocked, incidents must be detected and cleared as fast as possible to minimize the impact on congestion, especially during peak periods.

The average Washington motorist spends two weeks of every year stuck in traffic, so it's easy to see why the Incident Response Team (IRT) serves a crucial role in keeping Washington moving.

You can check traffic and cameras in the Spokane metro area on the Spokane Regional Transportation Management Center website at:
http://www.srtmc.org/ . Also, WSDOT web cameras are available statewide at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic .