Topic: Highway 520 Bridge
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September 30, 2013 at 10:14 AM
A barge carrying a Highway 520 construction crane broke loose Sunday night and floated toward waterfront homes in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, stopping five feet from a dock.
Paul Thelen said he saw the lights of a huge barge carrying the crane, as it was windblown toward his dock, just before 11:30 p.m.
“I was brushing my teeth and looked out the bathroom window. It looked like a spaceship,” he said.
Thelen said he called the police harbor patrol, then walked onto the dock and snapped pictures, using a 15-second exposure to capture maximum light. The barge would have hit the dock, except Lake Washington is only 8 feet deep in that spot, so the structure beached instead. Tugboats pulled it away at around 2 a.m., said Thelen, who is CEO of Big Fish Games.
This crane is being used to build the $22 million West Connection Bridge, to link the new six-lane floating highway to the old four-lane highway, until a future segment reaches the Seattle shore.
The drifted equipment consists of a derrick barge supporting the crane, and two barges attached, said Dave Becher, construction manager for the state Department of Transportation. Normally the barges are held securely by vertical posts known as “spuds,” that are driven into the lake bottom. Three spuds are visible in the photo, suggesting they may have been uprooted. Wind gusts Sunday night were between 30 and 40 mph, the DOT says.
“The spuds are at a certain level. They broke loose, and soon, they’re floating,” said Becher. The west-connection site near Foster Island includes some shallow water, so if spuds came loose, a barge would float for a while in deeper water, until nearing land again, he said.
The state DOT and the west-connection contractor, Mowat-American, will investigate. “This is obviously concerning,” Becher said. “These are large vessels. We wouldn’t want them to hit another barge, we wouldn’t want them to hit the bridge.” Kiewit-General-Manson, the neighboring contractor installing the floating pontoons and decks, was not involved in the incident, but KGM helped in the retrieval, by dispatching an on-call tugboat around midnight, and by allowing the wayward crane to be moored to a KGM buoy mid-lake, said Becher.
The crane barge was re-fastened Monday morning at its jobsite, said Becher. This week the DOT plans another in a series of westbound bridge closures overnight, from 11 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m Wednesday, so Mowat-American can continue pouring concrete for new columns.
September 11, 2013 at 6:48 PM
Six more columns on the new Highway 520 floating bridge are defective, but contractors will replace them at no cost to taxpayers, a state manager said.
Julie Meredith, program director for the six-lane bridge now under construction, disclosed the findings Wednesday while briefing a joint committee of state legislators in Seattle.
These columns are attached to the top of Pontoon W, the giant east endpiece. One column was already broken and rebuilt in December, after the concrete surrounding a steel reinforcing cage was found to be thinner less than the required 1 ½ inches.
The state learned this spring that six more were deficient but didn’t say so publicly. Then on Friday, contractors from the Kiewit-General-Manson team said they would rebuild the columns, rather than brace them, Meredith said. The piece is now moored in the Duwamish River. Column replacement will occur either there or on Lake Washington in the next four to six weeks, she said.
The other three of 10 columns were built correctly, she said.
Meanwhile, cracks in Pontoon W have were sealed this summer at a Harbor Island drydock, Meredith said. The state Department of Transportation is negotiating to reduce a possible $378 million cost of design errors and delays in the $4.1 billion highway replacement.
September 6, 2013 at 4:39 PM
Late-summer construction projects will force motorists to detour in Bellevue, South Seattle, Monroe and across Highway 520 at various times this weekend — and that’s only a warmup for worse congestion likely the following weekend when northbound I-5 constricts to just two lanes passing Lake Union.
- The westbound Highway 520 floating bridge will close from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday while concrete is poured near the west shore of Lake Washington. The foundations are being set for a connection that will link the new floating bridge in 2016 to the old highway near Montlake. Eventually, these temporary lanes will be incorporated into the permanent west connection, as shown in blue below. About 40 trucks delivering the concrete need to use the old 520 bridge to reach the pour site, said spokeswoman Debera Carlton Harrell. The bridge will reopen westbound late Saturday afternoon, helping Sounders FC fans to drive or bus into Seattle.
- The northbound ramps from I-5 to the West Seattle Bridge, lower Spokane Street, and to Beacon Hill via Columbian Way South will close from 7 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday for repair of expansion joints between bridge spans.
- In Monroe, the onramp from Main Street to westbound Highway 522 is closed so a new ramp can be built en route to a future roundabout, at 164th Street Southeast. The closure runs until 5 a.m. Monday.
- And in Bellevue, the state will close up to three lanes of northbound I-405 from 8 p.m. Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday so that concrete road panels can be repaired.
Besides the urban detours, the North Cascades Highway and Chinook Pass are closed by mudslides, as is Icicle Road near Leavenworth.
Friday the 13th will bring much harsher congestion when the state closes two lanes of northbound I-5, from Olive Way to Lakeview Boulevard East, to repair expansion joints and broken concrete. That closure will start Friday night, Sept. 13, at 9 p.m. and continue until 5 a.m. Monday, Sept. 16. At the same time, Highway 520 will close in both directions from Montlake to I-405 while workers set more concrete foundations and shift the road lanes from 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, until 9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 15.
Below is a state Department of Transportation diagram showing the work phases on western Highway 520.
May 22, 2013 at 11:08 AM
The cost of crossing the old Highway 520 floating bridge will increase by 11 cents each way on July 1, to $3.70 at peak times.
The Washington State Transportation Commission says it approved the change Wednesday morning, while meeting in Port Townsend. This sort of annual boost has been in the fiscal plan for years, and is prescribed by state codes.
State officials are calling this an across-the-board 2.5 percent increase, but the current peak rate of $3.59 will actually rise 3.1 percent. That’s so because the commission rounded to the nearest nickel. Tolls are collected electronically via the Good to Go system, so motorists do not fumble for pennies.
The old four-lane bridge is being tolled as a traffic-management experiment, and to give the state a head start on funding a $4.1 billion, six-lane highway replacement from I-405 to I-5.
The peak rate applies from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The midday toll will rise from $2.31 to $2.35, or 1.7 percent. Drivers without a state account are charged by mail, with a surcharge of either $1.55 or $1.60. Below you’ll find the new rates, but there are several other rates; the entire matrix can be found here.
(By the way, for five more weeks, Highway 520 is believed to be the only U.S. tollway that charges its customers a prime number.)
March 14, 2013 at 1:05 PM
OLYMPIA — New state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson has ordered a review of three megaprojects: a new Interstate 5 bridge crossing the Columbia River, and the new Highway 520 floating bridge and the tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.
Each project costs billions of dollars.
Peterson said Thursday the assessment would be led by a program manager for the CH2M Hill engineering company, Ron Paananen. He’s the former DOT project director for the Seattle tunnel project.
His review is due by the end of September. He’ll recommend ways to clarify lines of decision-making, resolve disputes and hold down costs.
February 6, 2013 at 2:12 PM
A skeptical crowd is expected at Wednesday night’s forum on designs for half the future Highway 520 bridge landing in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood. This part, formerly known as “Lake to Land,” now is officially named the West Approach Bridge North, because it will build the new lanes only for the westbound direction. The federal government recently awarded the Washington State Department of Transportation a $300 million low-interest loan. This allows DOT to construct a segment from the floating section on Lake Washington to the Montlake Boulevard Exit in 2014-16.
But payments on the federal loan are structured to “wrap around” the state’s initial 30-year bonds in a way that locks toll-paying drivers and the state into debt through 2051. This does not count any future state bonds that might be required to complete the eastbound lanes and the Portage Bay Bridge, which may or may not be bailed out by tolls on Interstate 90.
Now, about those designs, linked here. They include a 14-foot bike and pedestrian trail, connected to the Washington Park Arboretum, and trail belvederes where people can step out of bike traffic and savor the view. The “ramps to nowhere, from an earlier unbuilt project, will be removed. More traffic will land among residential houses at a southbound exit near the old Museum of History and Industry site, because a direct ramp into the Arboretum will be removed.
A deeper problem is the mega-project strategy itself. As Fran Conley of the Coalition for a Sustainable 520 has said, Lake to Land could afflict the Montlake neighborhood with traffic arriving on the new westbound bridge before the state can find money to finish the entire Seattle side. That means there could be five or 10 years of road operations without a park-like lid and noise-deflecting barriers on the sides and undersides. “If they go ahead and build this thing, we should get the noise mitigation immediately,” Conley said Wednesday. Pavement on old sections should be replaced with quieter surface, she said, and a 45-mph speed limit should be enacted.
The Montlaker Blog breaks down the highlights and lowlights here, and urges DOT to preserve a chicken coop. Here is the state project website. The forum is at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, at 2100 Boyer Avenue East, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Here’s a state diagram:
December 12, 2012 at 7:41 PM
State officials on Wednesday said they are negotiating with 520 bridge contractors about schedule changes that could delay completion until early 2015.
That’s a sudden softening of earlier statements by the Washington State Department of Transportation that it could keep its goal of finishing the floating section on Lake Washington by the end of 2014, after problems in the first batch of six pontoons cast this year.
Project leaders had insisted that despite a three-month delay in the Grays Harbor casting basin, the crews from Kiewit-General would make up lost time. An interior corner of a large pontoon broke apart in May, forcing a retrofit of similar corners at other pontoons. In addition, errors in concrete curing led to more cracking than predicted. Many cracks have been filled, and others were recently mapped by a dive team for repairs early next year.
Program administrator Julie Meredith mentioned to the Transportation Commission on Wednesday that talks are under way with Kiewit about the schedule. Strictly speaking the contract already allowed for mid-2015 completion — but when Kiewit and partners won the bridge construction job, they proposed a date of December 2014 — an early finish that would win them $2.5 million in incentive pay.
That optimistic timeline has been consistently publicized by the state. Back in 2009, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she expected the floating section to be done in 2014, citing the old 1963 bridge’s risk of sinking in a windstorm or earthquake.
Suanne Pelley, a WSDOT spokeswoman, said Meredith’s remarks Wednesday did not amount to a schedule change, and WSDOT wouldn’t make such a change at a quiet commission meeting.
It’s unclear how a few months’ slippage would affect motorists and transit, if at all. Even after the floating part of the new bridge is finished, traffic must go through detours and bottlenecks at the west side, until the Seattle landings and Portage Bay bridge are replaced in phases.
Kiewit spokesman Tom Janssen sent this comment early Thursday:
We are at the front end of a large complex project. Kiewit is committed to the safe, timely completion of a quality, structurally sound bridge that will serve the region for generations. We are working with WSDOT to address the project’s challenges and potential impacts to the schedule.
July 18, 2012 at 1:27 PM
The Washington state Department of Transportation will get $2.4 million in discounts from its tolling contractor to compensate for delays in launching Highway 520 floating bridge tolls last year — and in return, the company will keep the inside track for future contracts, as tolls extend to the Highway 99 tunnel and other congested areas.
Dallas-based Electronic Transaction Consulting Corp., which processes about one-third of all tolls in the U.S., is now handling about 70,000 daily tolls on the bridge with “99.9 percent” accuracy, says Craig Stone, state tolling director. “When you look at the overall system, it is operating and giving us the product that we want,” he said.
Under the deal announced Wednesday, ETCC’s contract will be extended four years, from 2014 to 2018, for around $29 million before discounts. But the value would grow if tolling proliferates. To get the extension, ETCC must meet performance standards and finish a few improvements, including a Spanish-language website, he said. The state says it already withheld $1.5 million in payments on the existing $23 million contract.
The state and the company announced their settlement Wednesday morning. Tolls began Dec. 29, a year after the WSDOT hoped, and 24 weeks after a contract deadline. There were also some errors at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, where ETCC took over from another contractor and hundreds of citations were dismissed by a judge.
By Stone’s reckoning, ETCC caused 21 weeks of the delay. The existing contract called for $300,000 in liquidated damages per week, for a $6.3 million total. The company, and outside experts, say the state contributed to delays by demanding an unprecedented amount of detail.
Besides the $2.4 million in discounts, the state says it will receive licensing rights to use ETCC software worth $4 million, in the event a different vendor takes over someday. The actual value of software six years from now is debatable, but Stone argues ETCC has created a successful system with the unique ability to track and assign toll payments to the individual highway projects, unlike other states.
A bigger issue is the state’s future tolling empire. Highway 99 is to be tolled in 2016, while state officials have considered tolls on the I-90 bridge, the I-5 express lanes, and for solo drivers to enter the carpool lanes of I-405, to fund high-occupancy or toll (HOT) lane expansions there.
“We believe this is a fair and equitable agreement and we are pleased to have the opportunity to continue to partner with WSDOT in the future growth of the statewide Good To Go! program,” said ETCC’s chief executive, Tim Gallagher, in a statement. By making the settlement, the state avoids court costs, and the risk of errors or expense if it changed toll contractors again.
July 5, 2012 at 1:40 PM
In a move to help drivers on the Highway 520 floating bridge, the Coast Guard has changed its boating regulations to limit when boats can pass through the drawspan on Lake Washington.
In recent weeks, bridge traffic frequently halted near the start or end of commuting time, so that drivers either wound up paying a $2.80 toll (now $2.87 just before peak times) to stop their cars on the deck, or had to drive around using I-90. There were a total 59 drawspan openings in April, May and June, says the Washington State Department of Transportation. The public has been making suggestions and complaints not to DOT but also to state legislators.
Starting today boaters are banned from passing through on weekdays between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. A drawspan opening can take 30 minutes, so the last early morning passage begins at 6 a.m. and the last early afternoon passage at 2:30 p.m. Also, boaters must give two hours notice to request an opening.
Previously, the drawspan openings were banned weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The new rules were published Tuesday in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Local Notice to Mariners.
“We greatly appreciate drivers’ patience while we gathered the information and worked with the Coast Guard to find a balance between drivers and the boating community that is allowed access on public waterways,” said a statement by Julie Meredith, 520 program manager for state DOT, who announced the change Thursday with Randall Overton, regional Coast Guard bridge administrator.
The state has posted a video here .
Construction of a new, six-lane floating bridge has blocked the usual boat access below the east highrise, which has room for vessels up to 64 feet tall to pass below. Boats taller than 44 feet now require a drawspan opening because they are too tall to pass beneath the west highrise. The rules are in effect until August 2015, but the construction barges will be moved out of the way for special weekends, such as Seafair in early August, to allow more boat travel.
June 7, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Five senior staffers will be suspended without pay for allowing beer to be consumed in an administrative office of the Highway 520 floating bridge project, contracting company Kiewit announced this morning.
The suspensions are “more than one day,” said Tom Janssen, spokesman for the Omaha-based company, which is partnering at four worksites to build bridge columns, pontoons, anchors and road decks. Two senior project managers, a senior vice president, and two employees of partner Manson Construction Co. will lose pay. Lower-ranking office employees who possessed or consumed alcohol will receive “letters of counseling,” and approximately 55 employees in the Bellevue office will attend training sessions with one or more expert speakers.
Hundreds of others, including workers building the pontoons at Grays Harbor, are being reminded about the company’s no-alcohol policy, Janssen said. State and company officials say there is no evidence of alcohol use in construction zones.
Janssen didn’t use the word deterrent, but the high-level suspensions seem intended to prevent a lax attitude from spreading into safety-critical portions of the bridge replacement. “We want to make sure the citizens of Washington know they can be confident in the quality and safety of this important project,” the statement concludes.
Kiewit’s investigation found that alcohol was usually bought with personal money, but a few times with company funds for special events. Drinking usually happened after work, but some had beer during “end of day office administrative tasks” such as returning e-mails or filing time cards, the firm said.
The inquiries were sparked by a report by KOMO television news, using hidden-camera footage, that showed employees drinking beer in the office.
The state Department of Labor and Industries is investigating, and commentary by the state Department of Transportation can be found here.
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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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