’Tis the season to plan for snow and ice
- Written by Barbara LaBoe, WSDOT communications
Studded tires allowed in Washington from Nov. 1 to March 31; stud-free winter tire alternatives are legal year-round
OLYMPIA – With some early storms already here and full-fledged winter fast approaching, now is the time for travelers to make sure they’re prepared for winter driving.
The Washington State Department of Transportation urges all travelers to start preparing themselves and their vehicles for winter weather. Drivers can check out WSDOT's winter driving web page for tips and information. WSDOT also asks travelers to always "know before you go" and get the most up-to-date roadway information before heading out.
“Our crews work hard to keep roads clear, but we need the public’s help as well,” said WSDOT Maintenance Operations Manager James Morin. “Most pass closures are due to preventable spin outs or crashes from vehicles driven too fast or not having proper equipment. This year COVID-19 protocols could mean slightly longer road or pass closures, as well as more chain requirements during major storms, so we need everyone to be prepared and stay informed to help keep traffic moving.”
To check conditions and prepare for winter weather:
- Download the WSDOT mobile app.
- Follow WSDOT's regional and pass accounts on Twitter, the agency's Facebook site and online travel alerts.
- Sign upfor email and/or text updates about road conditions – text alerts about Snoqualmie Pass delays is a subscription option.
- Download, print and carry the WSDOT Winter Driving Guide.
- Get your vehicle ready and plan extra time to cross all mountain passes, including heavily traveled routes such as Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and White Pass.
- Carry chains and know current traction and chain requirementsfor mountain passes, which are also available on highway-advisory signs, highway-advisory radio and by calling 511.
- Preset your radio to 530 AM and 1610 AM for WSDOT's traffic-information stations.
Alternatives to chains Although some vehicle manufacturers recommend against the use of tire chains for certain models, that doesn’t excuse travelers from state traction device laws. These requirements exist to help keep all traffic moving safely during extreme winter conditions.
The Washington State Patrol provides an online list of state-approved alternative traction devices on its vehicle equipment webpage under “traction tires” These approved alternatives meet state traction tire requirements. All travelers are reminded to prepare for changing weather conditions and avoid a costly ticket by carrying chains or approved alternatives whenever crossing mountain passes. Failure to obey a tire chains sign can mean a ticket of up to $500. Special chain enforcement patrols will be keeping an eye on mountain passes this winter.
Studded tires By law, studded tires are legal for use in Washington state only from Nov. 1 through March 31. This applies to all vehicles in Washington, even those traveling from other states, and no personal exemptions or waivers exist.
WSDOT estimates studded tires cause between $20 million and $29 million in pavement damage to state-owned asphalt and concrete roadways each year. Motorists are encouraged to visit a tire dealer to learn more about their options, including stud-free, winter tread traction tires. This type of tire is different than an all-season tire, is legal year-round and does not cause the same roadway damage as studded tires. More information about studded-tire restrictions and requirements can be found in the FAQ on the WSP website.
Transportation Commission spotlights future direction for transportation at meeting next week
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC executive director
Topics include Road Usage Charging, COVID-19 impacts, and tolling
OLYMPIA – Planning for future transportation needs is the focus of the Washington State Transportation Commission’s October meeting. Topics to be covered include updates on tolling performance and the state transportation revenue forecast, next steps for the Road Usage Charge assessment, and a continuation of the commission’s year-long series on “The Future of Transportation Post COVID-19.”
The commission meeting begins at 9 a.m. both Tuesday, Oct. 20, and Wednesday, Oct. 21. Due to limitations on the size of gatherings in response to COVID-19, this meeting will be conducted virtually using GoToWebinar. People interested in attending can find registration instructions on the commission’s website. The meeting will be broadcast live on TVW at www.tvw.org.
On Tuesday, the Autonomous Vehicle Workgroup will provide an update on its progress and give a preview of pending recommendations, which will be submitted to the commission at its December meeting. The AV workgroup is charged with identifying policy and regulatory changes to better to accommodate AVs on our public roadways.
An update on the Interstate 405/State Route 167 express toll lanes Low-Income Tolling Study also will be given. The study is assessing the effects of tolling on low-income drivers of the I-405/SR 167 express toll lanes and recommends possible approaches to mitigate impacts. The project team will present proposed criteria for selection of possible low-income toll program options for further assessment and will provide an overview of a survey to be conducted of low-income drivers who use either corridor.
As part of the commission’s on-going work related to the statewide 20-year transportation plan “Washington Transportation Plan 2040 and Beyond,” Washington State Department of Transportation staff will provide a briefing on the development of the department’s Highway System Plan. The Highway System Plan is a component of the 20-year plan and serves as the basis for the six-year capital highway program and WSDOT’s two-year budget request to the State Legislature.
Tuesday afternoon, staff from WSDOT and the Office of the State Treasurer will provide an update on the performance of the state’s tolled facilities. They will highlight the effects the COVID-19 pandemic is having on traffic volumes and revenues for each tolled facility and discuss possible approaches to addressing toll revenue shortfalls. Staff will also provide a briefing on the September 2020 state transportation revenue forecast, addressing the current financial status of state transportation funding, and providing insight into what the future may hold for state transportation revenues and toll rates.
Tuesday’s meeting concludes with a briefing on the next phase of work for the Road Usage Charge assessment. A RUC is being assessed as a possible replacement to the gas tax. The commission has conducted several years of research and a year-long pilot project with 2,000 drivers from across the state. In January 2020, the commission made recommendations to the Legislature for implementing a small RUC program statewide. An overview of the next phase of research will be provided. This research is fully funded with a grant from the Federal Highways Administration.
The focus of Wednesday’s meeting is on the commission’s year-long series: “The Future of Transportation Post-COVID-19.” A panel of experts and industry leaders will speak to several topics, including:
- New considerations and approaches for future transportation infrastructure investments
- A proposal on the development of the “Cascadia Innovation Corridor” running from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland, Oregon
- New approaches to promoting changes in travel behavior, equitable mobility, and employer participation
- The challenges and impacts of the pandemic on businesses statewide and implications going forward
Allow extra time if traveling this Labor Day weekend
- Written by Barbara LaBoe, WSDOT communications
Plan ahead, use WSDOT tools to stay in the know before and during trips
OLYMPIA – Whether taking in the great outdoors or staying close to home, the last holiday weekend of the summer typically brings additional traffic, so planning ahead and allowing extra travel time is crucial as Labor Day approaches.
For those who are traveling, consulting the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Labor Day weekend traffic volume charts can help determine best times to travel on key routes. (Due to closure of the US-Canadian border to non-essential travel, there will not be travel charts for the border crossing.)
While some traffic volumes have dipped due to the pandemic, traffic to popular outdoor areas can still be heavy. If possible, altering travel to less busy times can improve individual trips and help keep all traffic flowing more freely. Staying close to home, limiting non-essential travel and having a backup plan if your location is already crowded also will help reduce travel stress as well as slow the spread of COVID-19.
Know before you go
Those venturing out on land or sea can use several WSDOT tools to keep updated throughout the trip:
- Check WSDOT’s mobile app, Facebook page, multiple Twitter accounts and online toolsfor traffic information and ferry schedules. (When driving, have a passenger check online updates or pull over to safe place before using electronic devices.)
- Call the 511 travel information hotline. For out-of-state callers, it’s 1-800-695-ROAD (7623).
- Pre-program vehicle radios to 530 AM and 1610 AM for highway advisory radio alerts.
- Carry extra water, snacks and other supplies in case you’re delayed along the way.
Statewide construction halted, but expect holiday travel delays -- especially on passes
To ease congestion statewide, WSDOT suspends most state highway construction work during the weekend, starting Friday, Sept. 4, through Monday, Sept. 7, though some larger construction zones and detours may remain in place. Traffic is always heavy over Interstate 90’s Snoqualmie Pass on summer weekends, so travelers should allow extra travel time or consider traveling during non-peak times, typically early in the day or later in the evening.
In the Puget Sound, weekend toll rates will be in effect on Monday, Sept. 7, on the State Route 520 bridge and the SR 99 tunnel. The Interstate 405 express toll lanes will be free and open to all drivers on the Monday holiday. Travelers can learn about toll roads and rental car tips on the Good to Go! visitors page.
People boarding a state ferry by vehicle should prepare for long waits and plan to remain in their vehicle throughout the sailing as much as possible due to the pandemic. Some routes are operating on reduced sailing schedules. A face covering and proper physical distancing are required for all walk-on passengers.
- Sign up for ferry email alerts.
- Check terminal conditions and WSF’s COVID-19 travel updatesbefore leaving.
- Make a vehicle reservationfor the Anacortes/San Juan Islands or Port Townsend/Coupeville routes.
Other travel considerations
Travelers planning to avoid highway congestion by traveling via train, personal aircraft or transit also should factor the holiday into their plans and check ahead to see if there are any COVID-19 restrictions or requirements:
- Amtrak Cascades passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets early and should plan to arrive at the station 30 minutes before departure. Book now or call 800–USA–RAIL for details.
- Check the status of state-operated airports online or by calling 800-552-0666.
- Check with local public transit agencies for any holiday schedule or service changes, including some Dial-A-Ride and fixed-route service that may not run on holidays.
WSDOT helps locate pilot in plane crash near La Push
- Written by Christina Crea, WSDOT communications
LA PUSH – Rescuers were able to successfully locate the pilot of small airplane that crashed in difficult terrain near La Push thanks to quick teamwork by several agencies.
At 1 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, Washington State Department of Transportation Aviation Emergency Services received a report of a downed Cessna 150 aircraft after neighbors called 911 to report a possible airplane crash.
WSDOT obtained a good radar track from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center that helped searchers locate the aircraft in a hilly and heavily forested area on the east side of La Push.
Darkness hampered ground search efforts, but after sunrise, a rescue helicopter from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island joined the mission and located the pilot who was alive and in critical condition.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will be doing a full investigation.
New initiative opens some low-speed state roadways to healthy uses
- Written by Barb Chamberlain, Department of Transportation
Temporary lane reallocations provide opportunity for physical distancing and economic recovery
OLYMPIA – With the arrival of summer and more counties relaxing restrictions under Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan, the Washington state departments of Health, Commerce and Transportation have joined together to provide more access to public roadways in support of active, healthy communities and business recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This virus has hit people and businesses hard, and we need creative solutions to mitigate the virus while also resuming necessary economic activity. In most cities, a quarter of all its land is taken up by streets,” Inslee said. “I applaud the agencies’ work to ensure this land has flexible uses that can improve health and safety, and jumpstart the economy.”
The Safe, Healthy and Active Streets Program allows temporary lane reallocations on some state roadways to allow walkers and cyclists more space to maintain physical distance, and to provide greater access to businesses along “main street” highways. This temporary change to some traffic lanes could let towns increase space for people walking or biking, or create outdoor seating for restaurants and sales areas for retailers, while maintaining physical distance to help reduce exposure to the virus.
“Active transportation, like walking and biking, supports physical, mental and emotional health,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “Providing this extra public space encourages people and families to get outdoors and participate in more physical activities, which is especially important today to help cope with the stress of COVID-19.”
“Opening up portions of roadways will help retailers, restaurants and other businesses adapt to new operating requirements by giving customers greater access at their locations,” said Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “These steps strengthen communities and let people experience their main street and downtown commercial neighborhoods in new ways.”
“A number of communities across the state have already approached us about opening parking areas or lanes in their city’s commercial district for increased open space and business access,” said Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar. “We’re pleased to collaborate with them to find safe solutions that work for all users of the roadway.”
The Washington State Department of Transportation will work with requesting cities and counties to evaluate roadway segments that meet criteria for lane reallocation that is safe for all users. Eligible state highway locations will be on roadways with 35 mph speed limits or lower and within population centers with demonstrated lack of space for physical distancing for walking, bicycling or other forms of active transportation. The duration of temporary lane reallocations will be for up to 90 days, but could vary depending on the agreement with each city.
WSDOT asks interested local jurisdictions to ensure that they’ve communicated with the people and businesses affected by the changes and that they report on how the roadway changes work. Towns could use this reallocation to test and learn from changes they might want to consider implementing in the future.
COVID-19 effects on transportation the focus of Transportation Commission meeting, July 7
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC Executive Director
OLYMPIA – The June transportation revenue forecast, reflecting the impacts of COVID-19 on state transportation revenues, will be one of the topics at a July 7 meeting of the Washington State Transportation Commission. The meeting will also kick off a year-long series of discussions on the future of transportation post-COVID-19, with the goal of identifying potential challenges and opportunities for change in the areas of transportation policy, planning, and investments in Washington state.
The meeting starts at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, July 7. Due to limitations on the size of gatherings in response to COVID-19, this meeting will be conducted using GoToWebinar. People interested in attending can find participation instructions and a link to register on the commission website.
The commission will hear an overview of the June 2020 Washington State Transportation Revenue Forecast, as well as additional presentations specific to the revenue forecasts based on tolling traffic and ferry ridership.
Commissioners also will hear from experts offering insights into the future of transportation. The purpose of this session is to establish the big picture of potential impacts and changes to transportation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This discussion will kick off the commission’s year-long plan for assessing the possible ways in which the transportation system will evolve at all levels in Washington state, such as potential changes in shared mobility, mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian access, teleworking, and congestion management.
The commission will first hear from the principal futurist at Seattle-based Teague, who will explore what the future of transportation might look like through the lens of technology and the passenger’s experience.
An expert panel will share their perspectives on various aspects of the new future for transportation. The panel will be moderated by Sabrina Minshall, executive director, Spokane Regional Transportation Council. Panel speakers include: Former Governor Chris Gregoire, currently the CEO of Challenge Seattle; Chris Mefford, CEO of Seattle-based Community Attributes; Mark Hallenbeck, director, University of Washington Transportation Center; and Dr. Susan Shaheen, professor, UC Berkeley, and director, Resilient and Innovative Mobility Initiative.
The panel will address such topics as: what travel data is telling us; what the foreseeable impacts will be to shared mobility, transit, and social equity; what the broader, long-term economic considerations are for COVID-19, including private sector impacts and anticipated shifts; and, opportunities for re-focusing long-term transportation system planning and re-inventing the “commute.”
For more information about the commission and a complete meeting agenda, visit: www.wstc.wa.gov/
Governor appoints Spokane’s Kelly Fukai to the State Transportation Commission
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC Executive Director
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed Kelly Fukai to serve on the Washington State Transportation Commission. A lifelong resident of Spokane, Fukai has worked in the aviation, energy, electrical and electronic manufacturing fields, and is currently the manager of Public and External Affairs at Spokane International Airport.
Fukai’s six-year term starts on July 1, joining the commission during unprecedented times with tremendous challenges facing our state and transportation system. With the life-changing disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic comes an opportunity for state leaders to begin shaping a transportation system for the future that reflects a new era of transport. Fukai is poised to take that on and assist in advancing a new vision for our state’s transportation network.
“Our transportation system is in the midst of transformational change. I am excited to work with our elected officials, agencies, and communities to address the opportunities and challenges in the evolution of transportation.” Fukai said.
Fukai brings over 20 years of experience in leading and working with diverse groups in the development of collaborative and comprehensive plans and policies that grow necessary infrastructure, enhance economic and workforce development, and support community interests.
She joins six other commissioners from around the state who are charged with state transportation policy development, assessing how the entire transportation system works across the state, and issuing the state’s 20-year Transportation Plan. The commission also serves as the state tolling authority and leads special projects directed by the Legislature, such as the Road Usage Charge Assessment, and the Autonomous Vehicle Work Group.
“Transportation is the heart of our community’s health and economic vitality. It connects us to our family and friends, provides access to necessary goods and services, and broadens our perspectives through exposure to new places and experiences,” Fukai said. “I am honored to work alongside our communities to ensure the resiliency of our future transportation system.”
Fukai replaces former commissioner Joe Tortorelli who served two terms on the commission.
Goals for under-represented firms established for federally funded projects
- Written by Jackie Bayne, Office of Equal Opportunity, WSDOT
WSDOT to host virtual public meetings and teleconferences July 6, 8, and 10
OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Transportation is proposing new overall goals for disadvantaged business participation on all federally funded projects and is accepting written comments on the proposals through Friday, July 24.
The purpose of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program is to create a level playing field for firms owned and operated by disadvantaged individuals wanting to participate in federally assisted highway, transit, and aviation programs. To qualify as a DBE, a firm must be a for-profit business that is at least 51 percent owned by an individual or individuals who are women, part of a federally recognized racial minority group, or otherwise socially and economically disadvantaged. Qualifying firms must be certified by the Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises to participate in the DBE program.
The proposed overall DBE goals are available at:
- Federal Highways Administration funded projects (pdf 233 kb) – 19% DBE participation
- Federal Transit Administration funded projects (pdf 211 kb) – 4.8% DBE participation
- Federal Aviation Administration funded projects (pdf 236 kb) – 10.4% DBE participation
The goals are for projects from Oct. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2023.
WSDOT is inviting contractors, labor and trade organizations, small and disadvantaged businesses, and others interested in working with the agency to attend one of its upcoming informational meetings regarding the proposed DBE goals.
Comments on the proposed goals will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday, July 24, and can be mailed to:
Title VI & Equity Analyst
WSDOT, Office of Equal Opportunity
P.O. Box 47314
Olympia, WA 98504-7314
Transportation Commission to hold virtual meeting to consider COVID-19 impacts on transportation, May 19
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC executive director
OLYMPIA – As people have stayed home in efforts to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, traffic volumes have dropped significantly on highways and ferries. During an online virtual meeting, the Washington State Transportation Commission will hear about traffic impacts from the virus across the world, in other states, and in Washington.
The meeting starts 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 19. Due to the governor’s Stay Home – Stay Healthy Order issued on March 23, this meeting will be conducted using GoToWebinar. People interested in attending can find participation instructions and a link on the commission website to register.
The commission will hear from INRIX staff, who will share data on worldwide, national, and Washington state’s traffic demand changes and trends due to the COVID-19 virus. A Kirkland-based company, INRIX analyzes traffic data from road sensors and vehicles.
Staff from the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Toll Division and the Office of the State Treasurer will report on reductions in traffic volumes on the state’s toll facilities, as well as how reduced traffic has affected toll revenues and plans to assess implications of the revenue loss.
Commission staff will update commissioners on the progress of a legislatively directed study to assess the effects of tolling on low-income drivers of the Interstate 405 and State Route 167 express toll lanes, and determine possible approaches to mitigating such impacts.
Traffic volume on Washington State Ferries also has dropped significantly due to the COVID-19 virus. WSF staff will brief the commission on service changes made to maintain safe and efficient ferry service and will provide preliminary estimates of how reduced traffic has affected WSF revenues. Commissioners also will hear an update on the 2020 Ferry Riders’ Opinion Group survey schedule.
All presentations will be available on the commission’s website before the meeting. For more information about the commission and a complete meeting agenda, visit: www.wstc.wa.gov/
Studded tire removal deadline further extended to May 15
- Written by Barbara LaBoe, WSDOT communications
OLYMPIA – The arrival of spring typically means drivers in Washington have until March 31 to remove studded tires. However, this year the Washington State Department of Transportation is further extending the deadline to Friday, May 15, due to COVID-19 virus concerns and Gov. Jay Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order to help reduce the spread of the virus by limiting social interactions. This extends the previous April 30 deadline.
“Washington is experiencing some extraordinary challenges with COVID-19 right now and we recognize this is not a time for ‘business as usual,’” said WSDOT Maintenance Operations Branch Manager James Morin. “People are dealing with a lot of concerns – and this further extension means getting tires changed by the end of April doesn’t need to be one of them.”
Studded tires are legal in Washington from Nov. 1 to March 31. State law gives WSDOT authority to extend the deadline when circumstances call for it, most commonly when a forecast indicates widespread snow and ice. With most residents asked to stay home through Monday, May 4, removing studded tires before the previous deadline could be difficult for some.
Because the COVID-19 event is rapidly changing, WSDOT will re-evaluate the situation near the end of the new extension period. If no new extensions are granted at that time, the May 15 deadline means that starting at midnight on Saturday, May 16, drivers with studded tires face a $136 fine.
WSDOT encourages drivers to remove studded tires prior to the deadline, if possible. Studded tires damage pavement, so removing them promptly after winter has passed helps preserve state roadways. Tire removal services can get crowded near the removal deadline, so please plan accordingly.
Crews continue to monitor roads, passes and forecasts, and work to quickly clear any late season snow or ice. Travelers are always advised to “know before you go” by checking road conditions before heading out and staying up-to-date on changes by using WSDOT’s social media and email alert tools or calling the 5-1-1 road conditions report.
Other states may have different studded tire removal dates, but the Washington law applies to all drivers in the state, even visitors. No personal exemptions or waivers are issued.
More information about studded tire regulations in Washington is available online.