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North Central Region Newsletter - January 2014

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Welcome to the January North Central Region WSDOT monthly newsletter. This issue tells about our coming construction season, roadside memorials, new traffic cameras on our website and an update on the winter our maintenance crews on the passes are dealing with.

If you have any questions on items in this newsletter, or other transportation issues, please let me know. Call me, (509) 667-3001 or e-mail:

Dan Sarles

WSDOT North Central Regional Administrator

The upcoming 2014 construction season will begin as weather allows.  Among the jobs scheduled this year is the largest chip seal project ever done in this region. This week, we awarded the contract for $15.5 million to Central Washington Asphalt of Moses Lake which was just over (+1.5%) our engineering estimate. This Roadway Preservation project seals 238 miles on 10 highways in Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties. This project presents an opportunity to talk about what is among the most emotion-generating activities that we do. Many people hear "chip seal" and immediately think chipped windshield. While that can happen, there's much more to the story.

"Chip Seal" is the slang term for what engineers call a BST (Bituminous Surface Treatment). In simplest terms, a tanker truck sprays oil (asphalt) onto the roadway and a spreader pulls a dump truck full of "chips" (gravel), then the chips are "spread" and stick to the "tar" (again, that's a term an engineer would never use because there are more than a dozen different types of asphalt materials that could be used). Next it's all compacted and after it has cured, loose gravel is swept off, the temporary speed signs come down and a crew will come back and install new stripes, arrows, stop bars and rumble strips.

Why do we chip seal instead of paving with asphalt or concrete?

Cost is a significant factor - A BST lasts an average of six to eight years at a cost of about $40,000 per mile, while Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) lasts about 13 years but costs $260,000 per mile. Portland Cement Concrete (PCC) can cost five times more than that! Both HMA and PCC are stronger and handle higher traffic volume, but BST is the better choice for many lower volume rural highways:

• A BST is more flexible than asphalt and concrete - resistant to cracking when temperatures range from below zero to over 100 degrees from winter to summer.

• A BST fills and seals cracks and raveled surfaces on the old pavement.

• A BST keeps water from penetrating down into the load bearing road structure.

• A BST provides a highly skid-resistant surface, particularly when wet.

Here's the technical description of The Chip Seal Process:

1. First, asphalt is mixed with about 30% water. This emulsified mixture is then applied to the road. As soon as it hits the road, the water starts to evaporate.

2. Immediately after spraying this asphalt, a layer of crushed gravel is applied by a spreader. The "chips" may range in size from 3/8 up to 1/2 inch, again, depending on the roadway.

3. Next, the gravel is compacted and embedded into the asphalt by rubber-tired rollers. However, even with the high pressure rolling, some gravel will not become embedded in the asphalt.

4. A newly sealed surface can require up to two days to cure properly. Hot, dry weather helps speed up this process in which all of the remaining water in the emulsion evaporates and the asphalt hardens. Traffic can pass over this surface at reduced speeds during the curing process and that actually aids compaction. To control speed through the work zone during the curing process, more and more often we are using pilot cars in addition to the reduced speed signs and State Troopers.

5. After curing, the loose gravel is swept off.

From the time the gravel goes down to when the excess is swept away, the speed limit is reduced to 35 mph. At that speed, there is less of an issue with flying rocks. Vehicles at higher speeds create dust, limiting visibility and break gravel loose from a fresh chip seal creating flying rock. Those rocks then crack windshields and chip paint. More seriously, flying rock could injure pedestrians, bicycle riders or motorcyclists.

What should you do if your vehicle is damaged in a work zone?

• File a claim. (Remember to note the day, time, and location and even take a picture with your cell phone as determining the exact source of rock chip damage can be very hard to identify).

• Most claims are handled by the contractor’s insurance carrier. Showing negligence on the contractor’s part can be difficult when the culprit was a vehicle driving too fast in the opposing lane.

• You can find out more when you call our WSDOT Risk Management Office at 1-800-737-0615 or by visiting the Office of Financial Management Web page. Please be patient. Traveling at the posted speed limit in construction zones will ensure your safety and that of highway workers. It's also the law. Traffic fines are doubled in construction zones. Obeying warning signs and flagging personnel instructions benefits all of us.

While dealing with an angry driver with a chipped windshield is unpleasant, there's another situation we have to face that is far more difficult - roadside memorials.

Often when someone dies in a wreck, loved ones erect crosses or other memorials on the shoulder of the highway where it happened. As much as it may grieve us to have them removed, they are a safety hazard. We've seen vehicles damaged and people at risk when friends and family members have parked on a busy highway shoulder to visit the site they erected. We've even had areas in the right of way burned by candle lit memorials. There are some memorial signs or markers that are legal such as the black and white DUI signs that can be ordered. However, we had to begin the removal process for three unapproved memorials this week and I'm using this opportunity to let you know the policy we have to follow. When roadside memorials appear within highway right of way and don’t present a safety hazard - a “30 day removal notice” is staked nearby. This allows the grieving family time to contact the traffic office and request permission to allow the memorial to remain at that location for a period of one year from the date of the accident.

WSDOT maintenance staff is required to remove a memorial when:

• it is a traffic hazard.

• it is within federal Interstate highway right of way.

• it is illuminated.

• it requires landscaping or maintenance.

• contact with the traffic office has not been made within 30 days of the posting of the removal notification.

• the memorial has been in place for over a year and has not been removed by the family before the agreed year extension has expired.

When memorials are removed they are stored at a nearby WSDOT maintenance shed for 60 days to allow the family time to retrieve it.

On a happier note:

The last few weeks have seen the addition of four new Wenatchee area traffic cameras - three on the west end of the Sellar Bridge and one on the new Eastmont Avenue extension, constructed by Douglas County. The Sellar cameras went on line the week before Christmas, marking the end of four years, 3 projects and $65 million of construction work to improve mobility on the busiest section of highway in the entire region. Those new cameras cost $93,000. The Douglas County camera went on line Christmas Eve. It's at the intersection of Eastmont and Fancher Field Road.

This last item is an update on the winter we're dealing with:

The last two winters were “El Nino's” with snow early (the ski areas were all open for Thanksgiving) and snow late (we did avalanche control into the last week of March) and we had lots of snow (45+ feet compared to about 35 feet on average). This winter was forecast to be "typical". It might better be called "won’t follow any predictable pattern" - and so, the snow pack at Stevens Pass was way below normal due to very few snow storms since before Christmas (3 feet of snow fell this December compared to 18 feet last December!) Last week, we saw almost 4 feet of new snow fall in four days leaving us with about 15 feet total for the season so far, and about 5-1/2 feet on the ground, right now. The snow on the ground drew a record ski crowd and the season total brought us back up to within 2 to 3 feet of "normal". What's coming for the rest of the season? The forecasters aren't prepared to guess yet. It’s interesting to note that we have done no avalanche control at Stevens yet this winter and that this recent new snow has finally filled the chutes to the point our avalanche crew is sighting in the Tye Valley howitzer this week so it will be ready to use when more snow does come. If you are one who wants more information, we have a link to the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) on the Stevens Pass page.

Happy New Year,

Dan Sarles