Passengers prepare to board the Yakima-Ellensburg
Commuter, a new transit service connecting the two cities.
One rider is heading to the hospital for her daily outpatient appointment, thankful that her husband doesn’t have to take time off from work to drive her there. Another is a soldier in the 53rd Ordnance Company, on his way to the training and firing center just outside Selah. Behind him sit two students - one enrolled at Perry Technical College, the other at Yakima Valley Community College, both making their way home after class. The return trip will deliver three students and two professors to the Central Washington University campus. And there’s the rider that just booked a dialysis appointment - he’d been waitlisted at his regular doctor’s office in Ellensburg, but can get in today at a Yakima clinic.
These are just a few of the people enjoying a new option that wasn’t available a month ago, thanks to a brand new commuter transit service between Yakima and Ellensburg. The service is fast becoming a reliable option, meeting the needs of many in two communities not previously connected by public transportation.
On November 25, Yakima Transit and HopeSource unveiled the Yakima Ellensburg Commuter, filling an essential transportation need for both communities. Making eight round trips daily, the service makes five stops between the Yakima airport and the Central Washington campus. According to Yakima Transit Manager Ken Mehin, students and faculty at the three colleges between the two cities favor the morning and late afternoon runs; shoppers shuttling between towns prefer the midday service.
But, Mehin adds, ride along on a given day and you’re likely to share the trip with a number of different people on their way to a wide range of personal and professional business. "As word has spread of the service, the community hasn’t just taken notice," says Mehin, "they’ve responded." In fact, ridership has gone up so fast that Yakima Transit will purchase new, larger vehicles in early 2012 to accommodate the increasing demand.
Because Yakima Transit’s authority extends just past its city limits, so too does its service area. But a strong public-private partnership with HopeSource allowed the idea to move forward. With HopeSource providing drivers and route operation and Yakima Transit providing the vehicles - and with the help of local, state and federal grant funding and investments - the service took flight. Or more accurately, it took to the road.
That level of partnership is one of the things that makes this endeavor so distinct, says HopeSource project manager Geoff Crump. The broad, cooperative approach fostered by a local transit agency and a non-profit organization has caught on fast. “We’re hearing from our drivers almost every day about passengers saying how grateful they are for this service. It means a lot to both of these communities.”
WSDOT’s public transportation grants help provide access, mobility and independence to Washington residents. Made possible by state and federal funds, these grants provide transit services within and between cities, purchase new buses and other equipment, provide public transportation service for the elderly and people with disabilities, and improve public transportation in and between rural communities.
SR 520 tolling starts Thursday, Dec. 29, is if drivers will continue to use the bridge, travel at off-peak times to pay a cheaper toll rate, find an alternate route, take the bus or just stay home.
By guest blogger Emily Pace
We’ve tried to come up with an answer by surveying bridge users and creating traffic forecasts. We’ve collected a lot of data about what people might do once tolling starts, but ultimately, it’s hard to predict what drivers will do.
What can drivers do? Plan ahead and allow extra time.
Without a doubt, it will take a while for drivers to settle into a new pattern after tolling starts – up to six months. Don’t expect traffic to behave the same way every day. While there are other routes around Lake Washington like I-90, SR 522 and I-405-to-I-5, these may be even more congested as traffic reroutes to avoid tolls.
Drivers have several choices when tolling starts:
- Get a Good To Go! pass and save $1.50 each way in tolls when crossing the SR 520 bridge.
- Travel during off-peak periods to pay cheaper toll rates: Get familiar with the SR 520 toll rates online or download the WSDOT mobile App.
- Ride the bus: Take advantage of the 730 daily bus trips across SR 520. King County Metro and Sound Transit expanded service earlier this year in preparation for tolling.
- Share the ride: Visit RideshareOnline.com to join a vanpool or carpool. Drivers are also encouraged to work with their employers to look into compressing or changing work hours and teleworking.
Plan ahead, allow extra time and pack your patience as traffic on all major roadways will be very different after SR 520 tolling starts. You can always get up-to-date traffic information on our website before you leave.
What are we doing to help drivers?
We will closely monitor all of the routes around and across Lake Washington to determine how tolling affects traffic. We will track travel times, ensure signal coordination, and collect traffic volumes on highways and local roads. We’ll also be using our traffic tools like travel time signs, ramp meters and electronic message signs. We’ll even have extra Incident Response Team patrols out on the road to help clear incidents and keep traffic moving.
We’re working with local governments around the lake to share data because we know it’s not just about highways but also local streets. We will share what we learn about the effect of tolling on traffic with the public, local governments, the Legislature and the Transportation Commission.
What will be the new “normal” after traffic adjusts?
It will take time for drivers to adjust to a new “normal” after tolling starts. When people settle into new routines after six months or so, we anticipate more traffic will return to SR 520 as drivers find paying a toll for a more reliable trip across the bridge is worth it.
After several months we expect to see the following changes in travel speeds during peak periods:
- Westbound SR 520 morning commute: 20 mph faster
- Westbound I-90 morning commute: 5 to 10 mph slower
- Westbound SR 522 morning commute: 5 mph slower
Are we going to toll I-90?
Not at this time. Legislative authorization is required to toll any new corridors, including I-90, and tolling I-90 would also have to be coordinated with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Even with approval from legislature and FHWA, starting tolling on I-90 would be years away. Time intensive work such as developing environmental studies, designing the toll system and starting the contract bid process would still need to be completed.
|A drivers-eye view of the new ramp from |
eastbound SR 522 to eastbound US 2
Heading east out of Seattle and Bothell, State Route 522 gives drivers a shortcut to central Snohomish County and US 2. Unfortunately, that shortcut ends at one of the busiest locations on US 2: Monroe. Drivers often get stuck in congestion on both highways, and have to wait through a sometimes-lengthy stoplight to reach US 2. Delays can be especially tough during morning and evening commutes, and during busy summer and winter weekends.
But congested drives and long waits at stoplights could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new flyover ramp that opened at 7 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. Now, drivers headed east on SR 522 can connect to eastbound US 2 via a new direct ramp. The new ramp allows drivers to skip the stoplight and get on to US 2 a half-mile farther east. That means no more waiting at a signal to turn left, and less congestion through town.
About 17,000 vehicles travel through the SR 522/US 2 interchange every day. This new ramp will help smooth traffic flow by giving drivers two options to head east on US 2. The existing loop ramp will remain in place for drivers heading west on US 2 and drivers who want to access local businesses north of US 2 from Kelsey Street. Drivers using the new ramp can access local businesses beginning at Chain Lake Road.
In addition to the new ramp, crews added one new lane in each direction of US 2 – eastbound between Chain Lake Road and SR 522, and westbound between SR 522 and Cascade View Drive. The additional lanes will help improve traffic flow in and out of Monroe.
This is the first phase of a two-stage project to widen SR 522 to four lanes between US 2 and the Snohomish River Bridge. Construction began on the second part of the project in July and is expected to be completed by late 2014.
|The popular sticker pass is about the size of a band-aid.|
Tolling on the SR 520 Bridge is starting Dec. 29. Last week we asked everyone to send us their questions on SR 520 tolling. Here are the top 10 questions we’ve received and answers.
- I got my pass at the store. I’m set, right?
You’re almost set. If you purchased your pass at one of our retail partners (Fred Meyer, Safeway, Costco or QFC) you will need to:
- Go online to set up and put money in a Good To Go! account and activate your sticker pass
- Install the sticker pass on your vehicle per the instruction accompanying the pass. Don’t forget to do this before Dec. 29!
- I only cross once or twice a month, so why would I get a pass?
Getting a Good To Go! pass and setting up an account will save you $1.50 in tolls each time you cross the bridge – the $5 sticker pass pays for itself in just four crossings (that’s $6 saved). By setting up a pre-paid account with $30 your tolls will be automatically deducted. So the real question is; why wouldn’t you purchase a pass and open an account?
- How much are the tolls?
- Toll rates vary depending on the time of the day you cross the bridge, but two points are always the same: drivers spend less by driving during off-peak times, and you can save money in tolls with a Good To Go! pass.
- For those with a Good To Go! pass, toll rates range from $1.60 to $3.50 during the week and $1.10 to $2.20 on the weekend. Rates are $1.50 higher for vehicles without a pass.
- How did you come up with these rates?
The Washington State Transportation Commission recommended toll rates and the Legislature approved them.
- Where is this money going, and how much of this is going to pay for the bridge?
Tolls on SR 520 expect to raise $1 billion to help fund the $4.64 billion SR 520 bridge replacement and HOV program. The target date to open the new bridge is 2014.
- What kinds of vehicles are exempt?
The only vehicles exempt from SR 520 tolls are registered vanpools, transit, emergency response vehicles (such as police, fire and ambulances) on bona-fide emergencies, Washington State Patrol vehicles assigned to the bridge, tow trucks authorized by the Washington State Patrol to clear a blocking incident, and bridge maintenance vehicles. Carpools and motorcycles are not exempt.
- What other routes can we take?
While there are other routes around Lake Washington like I-90, SR 522 and I-405-to-I-5, these may be even more congested as traffic reroutes to avoid tolls. We encourage SR 520 drivers to get a Good To Go! pass and save $1.50 on each toll when they cross the bridge. Drivers can also share the ride and take advantage of carpools, vanpools, transit and work with their employers to look into compressing or changing work hours and teleworking.
- Is this really, truly going to happen?
Yes. Tolling will start at 5 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 29 and we are ready. When we encounter issues we will work to solve them as quickly as possible and keep the public updated. Drivers can help and save money in tolls by getting a Good To Go! pass and setting up an account on line as soon as possible to avoid the last-minute rush. Don’t have online access? Just call Good To Go! customer service at 1-866-936-8246 for other payment or pass options.
- How many people are going to change their travel routes?
Every driver is different and it’s going to take a while for travel patterns to shake out. Once people get settled into their new habits we expect to see slightly more traffic on I-90 and SR 522 during rush hour. We also expect to see more traffic return to SR 520 and a more reliable trip across the bridge as drivers find paying a toll for a more reliable trip across the bridge is worth it. We will closely monitor all of the routes around Lake Washington during this transition.
- What should visitors from out of the area do to cross the bridge?
No pass? No worries. Your out-of-town guests don’t have to do anything – a photo will be taken of their license plate and we will bill them by mail at a higher toll rate. You can also call customer service within 72 hours of crossing to pay the toll by setting up a Short Term Account. But those who want the lowest rate possible should check out the pass options online.
We get great questions from time to time that are worth having a bigger conversation about. Dr. David Parks recently asked, "Why are you doing "rolling slowdowns" on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass even on weekends? This last Saturday, the roads were totally clear (no ice, no snow, no avalanches, no construction), and I encountered a 20 minute "delay" behind your wonderful DOT trucks traveling 20 mph down the road?"
Our Assistant Maintenance Superintendent for the North Bend to Vantage area, Harry Nelson, took the time to answer his question:
We generally experience high traffic volumes on the I-90 corridor, ( 15,000 to 40,000 vehicles daily ), and sometimes during peak travel times more. They also average 75 plus mph on any given day unless weather will not allow, even then some still attempt this speed. With these high volumes, and fast pace, emergent work, (potholes, debris, disabled vehicles, etc.), can become quite a challenge for our crews.
Rolling Slow Downs are a safe way for us to accomplish our emergent work with little impact. It appears that our vehicles are just holding you up for no reason. I assure you that is not the case at all. What you did not see is the emergent work ahead of our trucks being done on the roadway. This could have been a pothole, or any other incident that would cause damage to a vehicle, cause an accident, or be a safety issue to the traveling public. As you stated “they hold you back at 20 mph,” when the work you do not see ahead of you is complete, they get out of your way and let you go and you may never see the workers ahead of you that were doing the emergent activity. These slowdowns average 5 to 8 minutes. These slowdowns are designed for short duration work, so not to delay the public and keep our crews and the public safe. While you are traveling 20 mph behind our vehicles, our crew is doing this work without anyone driving through their work zone.
Safety is our #1 priority.
If we were to close a lane to do this short duration work, the traffic delays would be significantly longer, maybe even 1 to 2 hours longer added to your travel time in peak traffic situations. Instead we prefer the 5 to 8 minute delay, as you can understand why, less inconvenience to you, and safer for our crews. I hope this helps you understand that what looks like wasted time, may prevent an accident, unnecessary damage to a vehicle, or bodily injury either to the public or our workers.
Again our main concern is SAFETY to all, and not to inconvenience anyone.
So if you see one of our trucks or crews out there on the road, be sure to take the time and give them a brake.
Other studies show that when roundabouts replace intersections with or without signals, there’s a 30 percent reduction in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and a 30 percent drop in fuel consumption.
- Reduced delays by 62-74 percent, saving 325,000 hours (37 years) of motorists’ time annually.
- Decreased fuel consumption by about 235,000 gallons per year, for an annual savings of $587,000 (assuming an average cost of $2.50 per gallon of regular gas).
- Caused fewer emissions and pollutants to be released into the atmosphere.
Many drivers believe traffic signals are the better choice simply because that’s what they’re used to. But from safety, societal cost and environmental standpoints, the roundabout wins hands down.
by guest blogger Noel Brady
|This chunk of the Viaduct showed up on Ebay|
When we razed the southern portion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in late October, several shrewd spectators turned to eBay to recycle their pieces of Seattle history into cold hard cash. One chunk of concrete went for at least $16.50, minus shipping.
WSDOT and viaduct contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) saw opportunity in recycling too; they turned viaduct rubble into cold hard building materials. Our transportation engineer Amjad Omar said nearly 100 percent of the old concrete and rebar from this portion of the viaduct in Seattle will be recycled and reused.
From October’s demolition alone – about 25 percent of the total viaduct structure – crews hauled 3,500 truckloads of concrete rubble to Terminal 25. There, the concrete was crushed to be reused for the new SR 99 Tunnel that will replace the viaduct, and the rebar is being prepared for transfer to a local recycler.
Not only does recycling save us on the cost of materials, but it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions from hauling rumble to a far-off disposal site, producing new materials and hauling it to the work site. Recycling old bridges and other transportation structure is nothing new for us. Last spring we recycled 100 percent of the NE 12th Street Bridge that spanned I-405 in Bellevue.
The state does not require recycling in bridge demolition, but it is becoming the norm as the market for recycled materials grows. Our engineers routinely write construction specifications to ease the future recycling of materials.
by guest blogger Emily Pace
|Toll Division Director Craig Stone presents the|
start date for tolling on the SR 520 Bridge
Tolling on the SR 520 Bridge starts Thursday, Dec. 29. We recommend you open a Good To Go! account now to avoid the inevitable last-minute rush before tolling starts.
To pay the lowest toll rate, it’s important to set up a Good To Go! account now to make sure you receive your Good To Go! Pass before tolling starts. The longer you wait, the longer the lines will be – either on the phone, in the store or online.
You can buy a Good To Go! Pass at retail stores, online at www.GoodToGo520.org, in-person at a customer service center, or by calling 1-866-936-8246. If you choose to order your pass online, we recommend you do it soon to allow plenty of time for delivery before tolling starts.
If you’ve already got your Good To Go! Pass and it’s sitting on your counter, don’t forget to activate it (if you bought it at a retail store) and install it in your vehicle. You should also make sure all your account information is up to date.
To prepare for the expected high volumes of customers registering and activating accounts this month, WSDOT has extended call center hours, added capacity to the phone lines and Good To Go! web page and hired extra customer service staff.
Knowledge is power. We want drivers to become experts on the topic of SR 520 tolling: know your travel options and know the rates. To help you get a start, we’ve gathered the top five things drivers should know. Check ‘em out and feel free to ask us any other questions that come to mind.
Top Five Things to Know About SR 520 Tolls:
- A Good To Go! Pass is the cheapest, easiest way to pay the toll. If you travel the SR 520 Bridge at least once a month, we recommend opening a Good To Go! account. You’ll save $1.50 in tolls each time you cross the bridge with a Good To Go! Pass.
- Toll rates vary by time of day. Toll rates vary by time of day to help improve traffic. Toll rates are most expensive during peak travel times and cheaper during off-peak periods. As some drivers shift their drive times, we expect traffic to improve during peak hours.
- There will be no toll booths. All tolls will be collected electronically. With a pre-paid Good To Go! account, tolls are automatically deducted without stopping or slowing down.
- There’s more bus service. To give drivers an alternative to paying the toll, King County Metro and Sound Transit have added 130 daily bus trips to routes on SR 520 for a total of 700 every weekday.
- Tolling helps pay for a new SR 520 Bridge. The revenue generated from toll helps build a new, more reliable and safer bridge. The target date for opening the new bridge is 2014.
by guest blogger KaDeena Yerkan
Why did you spend money creating a “museum” in Pioneer Square? That question, and variations of it, is one we’ve heard a lot in the past few days, ever since we opened Milepost 31, an information center devoted to the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program and Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood.
We didn’t decide on a whim to spend money on this information center. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires agencies to take into account the effects of their projects on historic properties, such as those in the Pioneer Square Historic District. Replacing the viaduct is going to have impacts on Pioneer Square, and we were required to create a plan that mitigates them. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have received federal approval to build the SR 99 tunnel. No mitigation plan, no tunnel – it’s as simple as that. And Milepost 31 was created at no additional cost to state taxpayers, since mitigation funds were already included in the project budget.
So, why include something like Milepost 31 in the mitigation plan? This was the result of negotiations with neighborhood and historic preservation organizations brought together as part of the Section 106 process. Everyone agreed that an information center could offset construction effects in Pioneer Square by reminding people that neighborhood businesses are open during construction and by encouraging visitors to the area.
Advocates of such an information center included the city of Seattle, the state Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, the Alliance for Pioneer Square, national and local preservation groups, and local tribes. “Milepost 31 has already become a vital asset to the neighborhood. It gives people another reason to visit Pioneer Square during the holiday season, which is a crucial time for retailers and other businesses in the neighborhood,” said Leslie Smith, executive director of the Alliance for Pioneer Square.
So, we hope the controversy doesn’t steer you away from visiting Milepost 31, located at 211 First Ave. S. in Seattle. It’s a one-of-a-kind place for a one-of-a-kind project. Visitors to the center will find historic artifacts, 3-D models and pieces of tunneling equipment. Interactive exhibits show how Seattle’s landscape and shoreline have changed during the past 20,000 years, and how crews will build the massive tunnel that will replace the viaduct and reshape the SR 99 corridor. And, if you have questions about it, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Tacoma Narrows Bridge electronic tolling|
- Pay By Mail - $5.50 If you travel across the bridge without a Good To Go! account or stopping at the toll booth, the registered owner of the vehicle will be sent a Pay By Mail toll bill. These drivers previously would have received a $52 infraction notice for not paying the toll.
- Good To Go! Pay By Plate - $3.00 Add Grandma’s license plate to your Good To Go! account and pay for her trip to your house for the holidays. Simply add their license plate and vehicle information to your account. You don’t need a pass.
- Good To Go! Short Term Account - $5.00 You can set up a Short Term Account within 72 hours of traveling across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. A Short Term Account is valid for up to 14 days and then it automatically closes. Each day’s toll transactions are charged directly to your credit or debit card.
By guest blogger Alice Fiman
Well, that may have been it anyway. we, unlike travel companies, measures how many vehicles cross its traffic sensors. We just don’t know the reason – but when looking at the numbers and other factors, we have our theories. Such as how there was a significant increase in traffic on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass for 2011. This was most likely due to favorable weather as anyone who was around last year knows Thanksgiving 2010 was white and cold. Same deal with US 2 Stevens Pass. Another hypothesis includes ski area openings. Traffic fluctuates depending on if they are open or not.
In any case, traffic increased on I-5 from Bellingham to the U.S. Canadian border for 2011. It was the Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) southbound traffic that showed a notable bump, with what we believe were Canadians traveling to Washington stores for 2011 Black Friday shopping specials. Between Wednesday and Sunday, 157,500 vehicles travelled northbound and southbound on I-5, an increase of 17,700 vehicles (11 percent) compared to the same period in 2010.
|Thanksgiving travel graph|
I-90 Snoqualmie Pass
For Wednesday through Sunday 152,300 vehicles traveled on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass. This was an increase of 25,800 vehicles (20 percent) compared with the same period in 2010.
I-5, Olympia to Tacoma
That same 2010 winter storm most likely kept folks off I-5 in Pierce and Thurston counties. More than half of a million (560,500) vehicles traveled I-5 between Olympia and Tacoma over Thanksgiving weekend 2011, an increase of 38,100 vehicles (7 percent).
US 2, Stevens Pass
And yes, there was snow and ice on US 2 for Thanksgiving 2010. Almost 30,000 traveled over Stevens Pass between Wednesday and Sunday of the Thanksgiving 2011 holiday while the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday traffic was only 17,100 vehicles. This year, the day after Thanksgiving was especially busy on Stevens Pass. Since the coldest day in the Skykomish area was Friday, it was most likely a travel day for skiers.