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November 2013

From the Regional Administrator
Keith Metcalf 

Welcome to our November 2013 newsletter. This month we talk about winter and the latest North Spokane Corridor project.

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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Winter driving-Know before you go

Since the mid 1990’s the WSDOT Eastern Region, based in Spokane, has offered “lowland” winter road condition reports for the major highway segments in our section of eastern Washington, the seven northeastern counties north of the Snake River and east of Moses Lake. In the early years, this was a recorded telephone message. With the advent of the internet, the 5-1-1 system, and text updates, these reports are now available on your laptop, tablet device, or cell phone.

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. We report closures or major restrictions, such as drifting, if and when they occur on all state highways.

The road reports come from our maintenance personnel as they travel their sections throughout their work shifts. 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 as conditions change.

In the early weeks of winter, roads conditions are posted as needed and when they change. Beginning around Thanksgiving we start updating this information at least twice per day as our crews transition into two-shift per day, seven day per week coverage. When all the crews finally transition into the winter coverage by the first week in December, they report all conditions for the highways listed above, including bare and dry or bare and wet.

To access road conditions on your personal computer or tablet, go to: www.wsdot.com/traffic/trafficalerts/Eastern.aspx This brings you a closer view of information in our part of the state. The list on the right side of the page contains the highest priority items in our segment of eastern Washington. (Just going to the main Travel alerts page is a full statewide view and the major freeways in Puget Sound show up as the highest priority.)

To get connected to alerts on your smart phone, go to our website at: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ and click on the “Email/Text updates” link in the upper right corner of the page. When you open the link, you can set up an account for your email address or wireless phone. Once you’ve done that, hit the “Go” button and you’ll see a full menu of all the updates you can subscribe to. The updates are listed under the “Eastern Traffic” section. Just click the box for the updates you want to receive then click on the “submit” button at the very bottom of the full list. Some of the reports are updated several times per day and as incidents occur. Be aware that you may receive more alerts as the season gets busier and conditions change.

Spokane Area and Keller ferry updates are also available on Twitter by following “@SRTMC” or via Facebook by searching for and friending “Spokane Traffic.”

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.

Complete winter driving information and tips are on the Winter Travel page. Pass conditions are available on the Mountain Passes web page.


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Tow plow ready to take on winter

A new tool for battling snow and ice on inland northwest highways will make its debut this season. The Eastern Region maintenance crew will be using an innovative “tow plow” on several highway sections this winter.

A tow plow is a secondary plow system that is mounted on a trailer that is pulled behind a standard truck-plow. When the operator needs to plow two full lanes the tow plow is activated and maneuvered over to the right. The trailer wheels shift to skew the trailer at an angle then the blade drops down, doubling the width of the plowing operation.

This saves time and fuel by being able to clear two lanes, or a lane and shoulder, in a single pass with one vehicle. The tow plow also has a hopper and spreader that can place sand or solid de-icer chemical at the same time.

The new unit will be based in the Spokane area and primarily used on Interstate 90, US 395, and the North Spokane Corridor. This is the first tow plow operated by WSDOT.

Tow plow photo
Here's what a tow plow in action will look like.


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Next NSC project underway

On November 15, we opened the NSC/Francis Bridge to traffic. There’s still some work to do on that structure, but now that Francis Avenue traffic no longer needs to use the temporary diversion route, our contractor can get moving on the next project. Crews from Apollo, Inc. of Kennewick, WA have now started work on the NSC BNSF Railway Realignment, Structures, and Trail Extension project in northeast Spokane.

This project realigns about seven miles of BNSF track in the Hillyard area. This includes the mainline and several spur track sections that serve the business and industrial area between Wellesley and Lincoln Road. The work includes construction of two bridges that will take the freeway lanes over the railroad.

Also part of the project is an extension of the “Children of the Sun” bicycle/pedestrian trail. The new section of trail will extend from the existing trail terminus near URM, cross Freya and the rail line, then parallel the rail into Hillyard. This new segment of paved trail will end near the intersection of Market Street and Columbia Avenue.

Due to the complexities of the railway work, the $16 million project is expected to be completed in 2015.