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October 2013

From the Regional Administrator
Keith Metcalf

Welcome to our October 2013 newsletter. After several months on temporary assignment in Olympia, I am back in the Eastern Region as regional administrator, while continuing statewide responsibilities as deputy chief engineer.

This month we talk about an upcoming event for the Francis Avenue Bridge, a completed roundabout project, a cooperative project in Harrington, and share some kudos.

Don’t forget to plan ahead for your winter travels. We’ve reprinted a news release below from our Olympia Headquarters that contains a wealth of winter driving information.

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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New Francis Avenue Bridge will open to traffic

Over the past year, Graham Construction and Management of Spokane has been building the new Francis Avenue bridge structure. We are pleased to announce that the detour over the railroad tracks is coming to an end soon as Francis Avenue traffic will begin flowing over the new bridge in mid-November. Contractor crews are scurrying to wrap up critical items of work before winter weather blankets the inland northwest.

We will have a short ceremony at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, November 15th to celebrate the occasion and traffic should begin flowing across the bridge a few days after that.

The new 455 foot-long Francis Avenue Bridge replaces the old 160 foot structure enabling future construction of the North Spokane Corridor (NSC) highway lanes, rail tracks, and pedestrian/bike trail to pass under the structure. Some of the bridge project items remaining include pedestrian fencing, permanent signal systems at the Market/Francis and Freya/Francis intersections, final paint striping, curbing, and sidewalks on Market. Over the winter, traffic on Francis Ave. and Market Street will be one lane in each direction. That will give the contractor room to work while still allowing traffic to use the bridge. Some left-turn restrictions are still needed on Market Street at Francis until the job is done.

Moving traffic over now also clears the way for the next construction contract—realigning the BNSF tracks under the bridge to make way for the future freeway lanes.

The contractor will return in the early spring to put the finishing touches on the new structure. The project will be fully complete by the summer of 2014.

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Harvard Road roundabout opened to traffic

We had a big crowd on hand on Friday, October 25th when we celebrated the completion of roadwork on the Harvard Road roundabout in Liberty Lake. The new roundabout will cut the wait time at this busy intersection by eliminating the long queues that frustrated motorists exiting the freeway or turning into the many businesses on Mission Avenue. This should smooth out traffic flow at this busy location.

This project demonstrated the great partnership we have with the City of Liberty Lake and Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC). The project was designed by WSDOT. Partial funding for the construction came through a federal grant that was approved by SRTC, with the City contributing a substantial local match.

We need to extend special thanks to the area business owners and their customers for their patience over the last couple of months. We’ve tried to keep the impacts to drivers to a minimum, but this project consisted of a lot of work in a confined area and it was tough to keep traffic flowing smoothly all of the time.

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Harrington Rest Area now open

We were pleased to partner with the Town of Harrington on their rest room facility along State Route 23. The new facility provides a public rest room for drivers on SR 23 and nearby SR 28. WSDOT was able to contribute $5,000 to the project. Residents and businesses in the town also joined in the effort by purchasing donor bricks and a large rock with engraved names of major sponsors.

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Flyaway pet bird rescued at Rest Area

Our headquarters maintenance operations office in Olympia received a thank you call in mid-October. It was from Marilyn S., a recent visitor to the westbound Interstate 90 Sprague Lake rest area. She started the conversation with a description of her visit, and how, while out walking her dog, her very exotic bird flew away. Marilyn went on to say that the two fabulous, extraordinary, wonderful, and brilliant employees who were working at the rest area, jumped into action, and were able to corral the bird up a tree, where they helped the owner re-capture the lost pet. Marilyn was so very grateful, she said that she wanted to take them to lunch, or give them some kind of a reward. But of course, the WSDOT rest area attendants just smiled and declined, saying that it was all in a day’s work.

We would also like to thank our two exceptional employees who demonstrated a true “above and beyond” spirit. Their extra efforts made a real impact on the members of the traveling public, and your great customer service reflects well on all of us. Thank you.

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Winter weather on its way; time to trade those sunglasses and sandals for ice scrapers and chains

As state highway crews shift into winter gear, they have a few words of advice for drivers: be prepared and slow down.

Those simple words of wisdom could be the difference between a long wait on the highway or more time for family and fun.

“The last thing we want to do is see a car in the ditch,” said Mike Krahenbuhl, maintenance supervisor on Interstate 90 at Hyak. “That usually means the driver was going too fast or had to avoid someone else going too fast.”

Krahenbuhl has spent more than 40 years clearing snow and ice from Washington’s roadways. He said it takes just one person driving too fast or forgetting to prepare their vehicle for cold weather to cause a chain-reaction collision.

And it’s not just in the mountains, said Monty Mills, snow and ice program manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation.  “Prepare your car and prepare yourself for the conditions you will be driving into,” said Mills. “When the temperature drops, drivers all over the state need to be ready. We’re working to keep the highways open but need drivers’ help.”

WSDOT asks drivers to always “know before you go” and get the most recent roadway information, winter-driving tips, car-preparation advice and information on the department’s winter driving Web page.
Here’s what drivers can do to prepare for wintry roadway conditions:
• Download, print and carry the WSDOT Winter Driving Guide.
• Download the WSDOT mobile app for smartphones.
• Sign up for news and social media tools, such as Twitter at www.wsdot.wa.gov/inform.
• Get your car ready and plan extra time to cross all mountain passes, including heavily-traveled routes such as Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and White Pass.
• Carry chains and know current traction and chain requirements. Mountain-pass traction and chain requirements are available on the WSDOT website, highway advisory signs and highway advisory radio.
• Preset 530 AM and 1610 AM on your vehicle’s radio before traveling.

Some vehicle manufacturers recommend against the use of tire chains. The Washington State Patrol provides a list of approved, alternative traction devices that are acceptable when chains or traction tires are required.

Studded tires are legal for use only between Nov. 1 and March 31 in Washington state. Motorists are encouraged to visit a tire dealer to learn more about tires that provide traction and are legal for year-round use.

The WSP also reminds all drivers and freight haulers that state law requires commercial vehicles and combinations of vehicles more than 10,000 pounds (GVW) rating to carry sufficient tire chains between Nov. 1 and April 1, including some larger passenger trucks, SUVs, recreational vehicles and trucks hauling trailers. Failing to carry chains could lead to a $124 fine for heavy-truck drivers.

When highway advisories call for chains, drivers who don’t chain up will face a $500 penalty. The WSP will have a special chain-emphasis patrol to ensure drivers are carrying the appropriate number of chains, including spares.

Hyperlinks in this story:
WSDOT winter preparedness checklist
WSDOT winter driving website
WSDOT mobile application 
WSP list of alternative traction devices