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December 2, 2013 at 1:32 PM
UPDATED 4:20 P.M | The West Seattle Bridge reopened this afternoon, following nearby crashes that were blamed by police on road de-icer.
Three cars spun out on the curve next to the Nucor steel mill, where eastbound traffic turns downhill toward the high bridge, said Steve Pratt, road-maintenance director for the Seattle Department of Transportation.
The crashes happened shortly after a midday application of salt solution de-icer.
“The only thing I can assume is, perhaps the (road) deck is a little too warm,” Pratt said.
Pratt said the city was trying to treat the bridge corridor before tonight’s Seahawks game and afternoon rush hour, and SDOT was hearing reports that a cold front would reach the city by 1 p.m.
He was thinking about Nov. 22, 2010, when freezing rain stranded cars on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and road crews couldn’t salt the road decks because the stalled traffic was blocking them. So on Monday, he said he wanted to get a jump on the forecast freeze.
“I’m going to put this in the category of ‘no good deed goes unpunished,’ ” he said.
City officials also blamed high car speed for the wrecks. The posted limit is 40 mph near the steel mill and 45 mph on the bridge.
Pratt, who was doing other work in West Seattle at the time, said he drove onto the high bridge from the Delridge Way onramp, trouble free. But when crashes began, the police closed the entire high bridge route, including the Delridge onramp, as an apparent precaution.
SDOT has used salt solution for more than three years and has never had a problem like this.
The de-icer used Monday is called FreezGard, an opaque brown liquid containing magnesium chloride. It takes five to 10 minutes to crystallize on the pavement, said Pratt. Meantime, it goes on slightly slippery, “particularly if vehicles are exceeding the posted speed limit,” said SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan. Many years ago, the curve at the steel mill wasn’t treated at all, so that when vapor from the steel mill condensed, a sheet of ice invariably caused spin-outs on any frosty morning.
Usually, the city applies salt solution overnight. Just before noon Monday, the air was 43 degrees and the road deck 38 degrees, said Pratt.
He said the city will think twice before applying salt solution in the daytime. Another idea that’s been discussed is a rolling slowdown, where a vehicle behind the de-icing truck slows the drivers behind it for several minutes.
Crashes occurred between noon and 1 p.m. The bridge reopened to traffic in both directions around 3 p.m., after crews dropped sand to improve traction.
The city has applied liquid salt compound since December 2009, following the city’s slow ice response in December 2008 when SDOT under then-mayor Greg Nickels avoided salt, and some streets took days to thaw.
November 21, 2013 at 7:34 PM
North Seattle light-rail supporters, many of whom are cramming into 70-series King County Metro Transit bus lines, are eager for a new subway to open as soon as possible linking Westlake Station, Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.
Two months ago, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl said she would look into whether the official Sept. 24, 2016 start date could be accelerated, given that construction has gone smoothly so far, as described in this news story. Earl planned to confer with contractors about what’s doable.
And it turns out, the agency said Thursday it will indeed trim six to nine months off the schedule — and open in first quarter 2016.
Light-rail director Ahmad Fazel told the transit board during a presentation Thursday that with the $1.95 billion, three-mile tunnel 79 percent complete, the project still has 169 days of leeway in the construction schedule, known as “float.” And it’s trending $107 million under budget, raising a possibility that savings can be some day applied toward construction farther north. To attain the early start, transit executives say they’ll try to finish train and signal testing in 90 days instead of the customary 180 days.
Trains are expected to reach Northgate in 2021 and Lynnwood in 2023. Also on Thursday, the transit board endorsed a preliminary north route, for environmental studies, that would avoid blocking access to a Latvian church near Northgate, and seek to bypass wetlands and apartments in Lynnwood, said spokesman Bruce Gray.
November 21, 2013 at 11:56 AM
A proposed union contract for 4,200 transit workers would defer next year’s raise, to help King County Metro survive funding problems over the next several months.
If members approve, cost-of-living increases would be 0, 2 percent, and 2 percent over the next three years, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced at a morning news conference, along with local union President Paul Bachtel. If new revenue sources are found to prevent service cuts, the third year would add 1.67 percent that would be skipped in the first year, Constantine said.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 approved a similar deal right after the recession — making this the second contract in a row to propose a first-year wage freeze.
Veteran, full-time bus drivers earn about $30 per hour excluding overtime, and experienced mechanics can earn more.
Constantine announced the proposal today just before state lawmakers hold afternoon committee hearings on a $12 billion highways and ferries package. County officials want the state to grant the authority to to send a car-tab tax to the ballot for buses and local roads. The union proposal would show lawmakers the county is taking every possible step to run transit efficiently, supporters said.
County Councilmember Larry Phillips of Magnolia said “time is running out,” and the county will craft its own revenue-raising ballot measure if lawmakers won’t help Metro in a special session by the end of 2013.
Metro is currently in a ridership growth phase, serving an average 412,000 weekday passengers in October.
November 15, 2013 at 5:41 PM
A Sounder commuter train has struck and killed a pedestrian near Auburn, prompting the transit agency to stop three trains and cancel three more trips on the south line.
The 4:12 p.m. train leaving Seattle was involved in the collision, which happened around 4:52 p.m., said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray. The next two trains heading south have been halted, while the 5:12, 5:42 and 6:12 p.m. commuter trains were canceled. A northbound train from Tacoma to Seattle is stopped at Sumner Station, he said.
“Special buses will be provided from King Street Station to all southern stops up to Tacoma Dome,” a Sound Transit statement stated. “Buses are arriving at King Street Station at approx. 5:30 pm to service riders South. The buses will be at the Amtrak Station Loading Zone. Riders going to South Tacoma and Lakewood will need to transfer at Tacoma Dome to other special buses that will be waiting.”
Efforts are under way to send buses to Tukwila Station, Kent Station and Auburn to carry stranded Sounder customers, Gray said. It’s unclear yet whether enough buses will converge soon enough to accommodate all stranded passengers. People are also being encouraged to take Sound Transit, Pierce Transit or King County Metro Transit routes to the South End suburbs and beyond.
The incident follows a morning collision in which a freight train struck and killed a pedestrian in downtown Edmonds. That incident tied up the north commuter rail line and blocked access to the Washington State Ferries terminal.
November 15, 2013 at 3:34 PM
While elected officials consider billions of dollars in new taxes, the people of Washington state say the top priority should be to maintain the highways, bridges, transit and ferries that we already have, a survey says.
The Voice of Washington Survey found that 60 percent were willing to pay higher taxes, compared with 51 percent in 2012. But the number is likely skewed upward by a rewording in this year’s question that added the phrase, “for those transportation elements you feel are important.” When asked about 12 such elements, the top three were maintaining roads and bridges; operating and maintaining ferries; and expanding public transit service.
The Washington State Transportation Commission on Friday released the survey, to which 5,673 people responded in close to an even split among city, suburban and rural residents. Though not using a random sample, the agency recruits a diverse group, and the survey panel was twice as big as last year, said Reema Griffith, executive director.
As for priorities, maintenance nosed out safety, capacity, new options and environmental protection when people were asked to compare goals.
But maintenance has been secondary in political packages. Elected officials here and in other states tend to spread exciting, ribbon-cutting projects to their districts, while listening to wish lists from freight, road building, business and in some years from green-transportation groups.
The latest $12.3 billion plan from Senate Republicans allocated only $1 billion to highway maintenance, and House Democrats this past spring suggested even less. Neither the two parties nor the state Department of Transportation has proffered a proposal to replace and re-deck 60-year-old Interstate 5 through Seattle, since 2008.
Only 20 percent of respondents rated Washington’s transportation system above average, a 6-point drop since 2012.
Full survey results can be found at this link.
These surveys inform a small part of the decision-making by state officials, staff and legislators. To that effect, the commission’s webpage headline Friday was, “Majority of citizens willing to pay more for transportation.”
November 14, 2013 at 11:00 AM
The Highway 99 tunneling machine “Bertha” is on the move again, after a rest stop to undergo adjustments and receive a new set of cutting teeth.
Dark, wet soil tumbled off the tall conveyor belt and plopped onto the deck of Terminal 46, to be trucked or barged away. The moving dirt was visible Thursday morning from the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Bertha had stopped beneath South King Street for about two weeks, after advancing 430 feet since opening day July 30. As planned, two dozen sharp, disc-shaped cutting tools (out of nearly 300 on the 57.3-foot-diameter rotary cutter) eroded after they scoured through a concrete wall and grout-infused soil near the Sodo launch pit.
These were replaced by rectangular teeth, suited to the wet, abrasive glacial soil just ahead.
The machine will now creep along the Elliott Bay shoreline for a couple months before what is arguably the most risky part of the 1.7-mile trip — a passage under the viaduct and past Pioneer Square’s brick buildings. The viaduct will close several days, and the buildings are covered with monitoring devices to detect any soil movements to a fraction of an inch.
In related issues, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) says negotiations are continuing in the labor dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which insists on doing four muck-loading jobs per shift at Terminal 46 — jobs currently allocated to building-trades workers. Two weeks ago, deputy project director Matt Preedy said his goal was to settle the impasse by this week.
Also, the DOT says it’s still working on a legal review and possible solutions, for the failure of contractors to hire enough minority- and female-owned small businesses, such as trucking firms. The Federal Highway Administration’s civil-rights division blasted both Seattle Tunnel Partners and state DOT in a recent investigation, and the feds mentioned they might withhold money for the project if things don’t improve.
KaDeena Yerkan, DOT spokeswoman for the tunnel, said Wednesday that Seattle Tunnel Partners this week solicited a new set of proposals from trucking companies. Those could bring a boost in minority hiring, but Yerkan said details weren’t immediately available.
November 13, 2013 at 3:35 PM
The crew of the ferry Hyak could have avoided a Sept. 13 crash with a small boat between Lopez and Orcas islands, according to a post-crash inquiry by Washington State Ferries.
The collision is blamed on a lack of “situational awareness” in a news release that accompanied the report Wednesday.
While approaching Harney Channel, heading northwest, Capt. Patricia Whaley chose a path between the Tasya and another sailing vessel, believing there was ample room to pass, the report said.
Though fog covered much of the Puget Sound region that week, visibility was at least one mile, shortly after 1 p.m. The second mate was at the helm as the Hyak left Lopez Island, the report said. The report says the captain was relying on radar.
As the ferry closed in on the Tasya, at 18 knots, the second mate informed the captain, who ordered her to steer left, and sound the whistle if needed. But the mate, who was relatively new to the route, set the rudder the wrong direction, and didn’t sound the whistle, the report says.
“I knocked the second mate out of the way and went full astern,” Capt. Whaley recalled in a statement to an inquiry board. About four seconds later, the 2700-ton Hyak overtook the 25-foot Tasya, puncturing its left rear.
Jack Gray, 68, of Chimacum, owner the Tasya, and his dog, Pablo, were rescued by another boat. The Tasya, which was equipped with both motors and sails, sank while being towed to shore. A week later, Gray told the Port Townsend Leader the impact “sounded like a volcano going off, and everything got really dark, just black.”
Ferries chief David Moseley said this was the only ferry-versus-boat collision during his six years in charge of the agency. He called the report “thorough, complete, and exhaustive.”
The captain and second mate are on paid administrative leave, until WSF’s operations and human-resources managers review the investigation and decide on potential discipline, Moseley said.
The WSF inquiry recommends a navigational refresher course for crew officers, and that the ferry system consider installing voyage data recorders. Only two ferries have VDRs now, because they travel internationally to Sidney, B.C. Still, the inquiry included speed, audio, and position data.
Moseley estimates the VDRs will cost $250,000 or more per vessel, and that the extra training would take several months.
November 13, 2013 at 1:50 PM
The Sodo ramps of Highway 99 will close at various times this weekend, so contractors can remove steel and timber beams that supported construction of the new South Atlantic Street overpass — which will help trucks cross from the stadium area to Terminals 46 and 30.
Ramps and lanes will be reopened in time for fans to reach Sunday’s Seahawks game against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field, where the kickoff is 1:25 p.m.
- Southbound — The right lane of southbound Highway 99 past the stadiums, and the Sodo offramp at South Atlantic Street, will close from 10 p.m. Friday until 11 a.m. Sunday.
- Northbound — The onramp from South Royal Brougham Way, northbound toward the Alaskan Way Viaduct, will close from 7 a.m. Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday, so workers can install drainage and move a power pole, says the state Department of Transportation.
November 12, 2013 at 2:55 PM
Light-rail is 10 years from reaching Lynnwood and Overlake, yet Sound Transit is already seeking public comment for a possible next round of rail projects.
People who attend public forums can even have themselves filmed inside a video photo booth, talking about what kind of transit the region should build.
Information will be used to update the region’s long-term transit plan, which is required by law, and which would be studied by officials when they consider future projects. The work is beginning now so there would still be adequate time for environmental studies and decisionmaking by the transit board, in the event leaders decide to offer “Sound Transit 3″ to voters as early 2016.
New taxes would be needed, since the agency’s bond debt payments will likely extend until 2040 or later to build the first 50 miles of light rail, plus express buses, park-and-ride garages and Sounder commuter train service, approved by voters in 1996 and 2008.
An online survey encourages people to pinpoint two corridors they believe deserve high-capacity transit, and rank their priorities (frequency of service, park-and-ride access, environmental sustainability, etc.) One question tilts toward rail, listing the alternative as “focus on express bus and Bus Rapid Transit services with lower construction costs, but lower capacity and increased vulnerability to rising congestion without investments in dedicated or priority lanes.”
Presentation materials explain that “high-capacity transit” in state law means vehicles which run mainly in their own lanes. Yet after the 2008 plan passed, Sound Transit provided $134 million for Seattle to design and build a First Hill Streetcar that will run in mixed traffic next year. Spokesman Bruce Gray said the agency considered the streetcar a “mitigation package” for canceling a deep First Hill light rail station, rather than true high-capacity transit.
Some areas commonly discussed as ST3 destinations include Everett, Federal Way, downtown Redmond, Issaquah, Ballard, West Seattle, or a crosstown Ballard-Wallingford-University line.
The first forum, with presentations and public comment, will be Tuesday night at Seattle University, followed by five more in the next nine days. “It’s going to be fun to look at where transit might go, way down the road,” Gray said.
November 8, 2013 at 7:15 PM
Drivers and bus riders, be warned: Highway 99 in central Seattle, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct, will close all weekend for construction near each end. Afternoon congestion is likely to increase on Interstate 5.
Northbound lanes of Highway 99 will close from South Spokane Street to Valley Street.
Southbound lanes will close from the Battery Street Tunnel to South Spokane Street.
And southbound traffic will be reduced to one lane from south Queen Anne Hill to the Denny Way exit.
All three restrictions last from 10 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday.
Workers in Sodo will be removing steel and timber beams, exposing the concrete shape of a new overpass — known as “little h” — that will help trucks get from the stadium area to waterfront Terminal 46.
To the north, city contractors will install an east-west sewer line alongside the new Mercer Street West underpass, and grind pavement in the southbound lanes of the Battery Street Tunnel.
About The Today File
The Today File is a general news blog featuring real-time coverage of Seattle and the Northwest. It is reported by the news staff of The Seattle Times and edited by Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza.
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