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North Central Region Newsletter - November 2013

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November 2013

Welcome to our first North Central Region WSDOT monthly newsletter. This issue tells about a successful bridge replacement project, some unusual weather, and shares some kudos.

You were chosen to get this initial outreach effort by us and if you want to see one show up in your in-box at the end of every month, do nothing. If you want to “unsubscribe”, there’s a link to do that at the bottom of the email.

If you have any questions on items in this newsletter, or other transportation issues, please let me know. Give me a call at (509) 667-3001 or send me an e-mail at: sarlesd@wsdot.wa.gov .

Dan Sarles
Regional Administrator
WSDOT North Central Region

October began with snow and “approved traction devices advised” on Stevens Pass. A week later, we were basking in what turned into almost three weeks of “Indian Summer” with 70+ degree day time temperatures and sunshine. It was welcome weather for contractors on several projects that had seen cold and wet conditions cancel plans for striping and prompting fears they were going to have to wait until next spring. The month also saw the annual closure of the Blue Lake Rest Area on SR 17, which typically happens when the deer season ends, usage drops dramatically and the temperatures there get cold enough to freeze the drain field. The October temperatures caused the foliage to color and both Stevens Pass and the North Cascades attracted crowds with cameras (and jackets!) This year, we were kept busy trying to answer all the calls from those who wanted to visit the North Cascades trying to get information on campgrounds and trailheads while the federal government shutdown stopped the information flow from the Forest Service and Park Service. The communications tools for highway incidents (web pages, email lists, 5-1-1, etc.) were all called into service to confirm that the highway (if nothing else) was open.

NCH Mudslides

Speaking of unusual weather - Heavy rain, hail and high winds caused eight mudslides that closed SR 20, west of Rainy Pass back in August that covered the highway with slides up to 25 feet deep and a quarter mile long. Nine Days and 30,000 cubic yards of debris removal later, the gates opened and the barricades came down. Then just 17 days later another storm generated more mudslides that closed the North Cascades Highway again. Six slides, the largest about 6 feet deep and more than a hundred yards wide, came down in the same area. This time the boulders that came down presented the challenge. The largest rock was 10 feet high, 35 feet wide and 25 feet deep. Our Avalanche control technicians had to blast it to pieces (along with a lot of smaller ones that were still too big to move). That closure lasted 7 days occupying a crew of 18 operating 11 trucks, 3 excavators, 3 loaders, a Vactor and a D-8 Caterpillar.

I was struck by two things that these unprecedented events demonstrated: (1) the amazing work of the maintenance crews and (2) the payoff of the installation of summer closure gates at Granite Creek and at the Pacific Crest Trail (Rainy Pass) which allowed the Methow and Skagit Valley businesses to continue to operate.

Tumwater Canyon Bridges

After two years of construction, an $8.1 million (9-1/2 cent gas tax - Transportation Partnership Account) project to replace three old bridges west of Leavenworth had entered its final stage, requiring the only significant highway closure during construction. US 2 between Leavenworth and SR 207 at Coles Corner was closed for six days in September to remove and replace the last one – the Drury Canyon Creek Bridge in Tumwater Canyon. The new bridges now in use include Drury Canyon, seven miles west of Leavenworth, the replacement for the 100-year-old “Green Bridge” two miles further west at the top of the Canyon and the new Chiwaukum Creek Bridge less than a mile farther west from there.

Work disassembling and removing the old green bridge will occur next year, but the other two have been removed.

A huge effort went into the outreach to all the user groups to alert them in advance of the closure and minimize the impacts. We were able to test a new tool - Electronic KIOSKs with the detour map and all the project details. One was placed at the Nason Creek Rest Area and another at the Leavenworth Visitor bureau. If you saw and used one –What did you think? Expect to see the KIOSKs show up in other places in the region to help us communicate about upcoming projects.

Other Projects

Here’s an update on the status of big and little projects in October that you may not have heard about:

They’re still working on it, but the merge from Mission St. onto the Sellar Bridge is gone!

The second year of work on the slope stabilization project on the west side of Stevens Pass was shut down for winter. The majority of the first three of the four slopes are finished and the last one will only take a short time to complete next summer.

We completed a one-day “emergency” job scaling some newly identified loose rock off a slope in Tumwater Canyon by arranging for those pros from the Stevens job to stick around for an extra day. Talk about good fortune!

A new LINK bus stop at US 2 and Easy Street at Monitor was completed.

Our maintenance folks installed a new traffic impact absorbing attenuator on the end of the barrier in the median on US 2 at Lower Sunnyslope Road.

And, there’s a new refuge lane in the US 2 median across from the Old Monitor Road intersection so vehicles can cross two lanes of traffic at one time, instead of four!

Fish Passage work

By order of a federal judge, about 800 fish un-friendly culverts have to be replaced in the greater Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula areas. There are deadlines in the order and our region is joining the effort to meet them. We have committed to nearly $5 million dollars of Fish Passage design work in this biennium. Thus our workload will keep us very busy delivering projects for at least the next two years.

Winter weather on its way

As it gets colder outside, I’ll close with this - WSDOT wants you to “know before you go”:

  • Download our Winter Driving Guide (pdf 975 kb)
  • Download our mobile app for your smartphone
  • Sign up for news and social media tools
  • Get you and your car ready
  • Find out the current traction and chain requirements from our website, by calling 5-1-1, watching for the electronic highway signs and tuning in our highway advisory radios at 530 AM and 1610 AM

On some cars you can’t use chains. The State Patrol has a list of alternative traction devices  they accept instead.

When chains are required, drivers who don’t chain up face a $500 penalty.

Happy Thanksgiving!