Transportation – Washington on the move!

What comes to mind when you hear the word transportation? For most it conjures up frustration, waste, overruns, grid lock, lost productivity.

Now when you get specific and talk to folks about the failed tunnel project in Seattle, which met with delay after delay, not to mention incredible cost over runs! total grid lock on I-405 and all of the deferred maintenance, not to mention the still failing bridges you really hear the anger start to come out, and with good reason, the lack of direction and no real plan by Olympia is a real issue and growing by the day.


This photo of the Eells Street/Pacific Highway bridge was taken in 2016, this bent up, damaged, rusting hulk was just south of the Port of Tacoma, (Port cranes visible in the background in photo on the left) this heavily traveled bridge spanned the Puyallup river, this route carries heavy traffic. Fortunately it is in the process of a total rebuild, but what about the other failing bridges around our state?

You might recall back in May of 2013 that the Skagit River bridge collapsed when a oversized load being towed by a truck struck a girder causing structural failure, it appears this bridge in Tacoma was been struck numerous times and 3 years after the I-5 incident this bridge was still in disrepair, this bridge carried an incredible amount of vehicles and trucks per day, one can imagine the economic impact if this bridge had failed, not only to the City of Tacoma but to the state as a whole should commerce be impacted, lack of coordination seems to be an issue between our states leadership and working on important issues such as these examples, this should be of the utmost importance, unfortunately money being squandered on a failed tunnel project and other high cost projects appears to be eating up reserves that could go to help our communities and protect our economic vitality of our current roadway inventory.

When government places a strangle hold on funding through poor planning and ill fated projects we all pay, Republicans and Democrats alike are all victims to the disastrous policy that has plagued the Washington State Department of Transportation, the hard working rank and file that are the backbone of our states transportation system are going without pay increases that would at least keep them in step with inflation, but money is being poured into cost overruns by the truck load and those in state government who support and have supported the ill fated projects are coming back for more. it is time to reorganize this approach, bolster our state workers and move money into preventative maintenance to preserve the inventory of roads that we have if we are going to have any success on funding future projects.

The Washington Office of Financial Management estimates that the state population grew by over 93,000 in 2014-2015, as of 2018 it grew by 117,300 further taxing and exacerbating the transportation system, this influx in new residents largely settled in areas of the Puget Sound.

Road to success 

This may be more than you ever wanted to know about pavement and concrete, however, I want to give an idea of methods available and technology that can be used to maintain our road system, target costs and rely on the talented men and women of the WSDOT to get the job done. My belief is if you are informed on the subject then you will know what to look for when discussing the issue with family, friends and politicians, we need to politically get out of the way and let the WSDOT Engineers and boots on the ground road crews do what they do best, keep our roads open and safe!

As I travel the states roads one thing is very apparent, the amount of deferred maintenance, just the Washington state highway system consists of approximately 7000 miles of asphalt and concrete surfaces, many, many miles of it require maintenance, it appears that we are falling further and further behind in the endeavor. I have experienced many years of oversight of various aspects of pavement and concrete maintenance, so much so that I am confident in saying with todays strides forward in methods to maintain these surfaces we need a redoubled effort to get preventative maintenance under control, if we cannot and do not address this issue the problem will only grow and become incredibly expensive to revive. Couple this with the need to add additional inventory and it represents a monumental endeavor.

Preventative measures 

Fortunately these days technology is on our side where road surfaces can be rapidly scanned with 3D scanning and Light Detection And Ranging (or LIDAR) this equipment helps to quickly scan a road surface and detect areas where targeted maintenance needs to occur, this is important because with this scan method one can target the areas that require maintenance and rapidly evaluate which areas can be postponed. With this method employed fairly precise costs can be developed to target the worst areas first. The ability to be able to estimate for budgeting now comes in to play as the transportation budget is developed, one can gauge with confidence what the preventative costs will be.

WSDOT conducts Pavement Condition Indexing or PCI, the PCI generates a rating on the pavement surface, this PCI coupled with the 3D and LIDAR can give you a pretty conclusive picture of where dollars need to be spent. We need to bring cities and counties in to the mix so that we have a comprehensive and wholistic look at regional transportation needs and not just focus on mega projects and delays, crack sealing, chip seal paving and topical sealants to extend road life will help stretch already thin budget margins.

Road bed stabilization is the foundation to a good road, that is why from time to time you see crack seal operations, the black bands of material that squiggle all over a roadway is intended to reseal the cracks caused be age and wear, this crack seal material helps as a stop gap measure to try to keep water out of the pavement layers and road sub base. if the base is compromised the use of a  environmentally friendly injectable process helps cut the costs almost in half, this method reduces down time of a roadway to a minimum and does not require an entire tear out and rebuilding of a roadway sub base, as an added savings once the road bed is brought back to stability often asphalt overlay costs are reduced due to less material required to rehab the surface course (or wear course)  which comes in to contact with your vehicle.

So, next time you are stuck in traffic look out at the road surface and see for yourself what conditions you see, are there cracks in the pavement or cement? is there missing aggregate creating the start of a pothole? the more informed you are the better the result will be as we reform our priorities to keep Washington moving!


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