Technology helping move freight in Washington faster, more efficiently
- Written by Barbara LaBoe, WSDOT
Truck drivers have new option to bypass weigh stations
OLYMPIA – Commercial truck drivers now have another option for bypassing state weigh stations – by opting into a system that saves time and money.
A new agreement allows drivers in Washington to use the PrePass weigh station transponder, doing away with having to carry several transponders for in- and out-of-state travel. The Washington State Department of Transportation and HELP, Inc., – a nonprofit public/private trucking industry partnership that provides PrePass transponders – reached the agreement in December. Drivers can now register PrePass transponders for Washington weigh stations.
Transponders allow trucks to bypass weigh stations by electronically verifying a truck’s legal weight, safety rating and credentials as the truck travels at freeway speeds. Based on the transponder, and scales embedded in the freeway, drivers receive either a green light to continue driving or a red light indicating they must report to the weigh station for closer inspection. Transponder usage keeps safe and legal trucks on the road and reduces travel time.
Use of the WSDOT’s in-state transponder system saved the industry approximately 111,000 hours of travel time and $12.8 million in 2016. Washington is the second most trade-dependent state in the nation per capita and one of WSDOT’s roles is to support economic vitality, including the efficient movement of freight.
Previously, truck drivers in Washington purchased a transponder from WSDOT that also worked in several other jurisdictions. The WSDOT transponders could be added to the PrePass system – if requested by the driver – but general PrePass transponders could not communicate with WSDOT weigh stations, meaning some drivers had to carry two transponders. The new agreement means drivers can just carry one transponder if they choose. WSDOT will continue to sell transponders.
“The goal is one transponder that will work everywhere,” said Anne Ford, WSDOT’s commercial vehicle services administrator. “We are pleased our partnership with HELP, Inc. helps achieve that goal.”
“We are excited to be entering into this partnership with Washington and look forward to working with WSDOT through this mutual agreement,” said Karen Rasmussen, president and CEO of HELP, Inc. “Safe fleets and drivers appreciate the time and fuel savings of PrePass as well as opportunities for interoperability of their transponders.”
To use PrePass transponders in Washington, carriers should contact the
Washington Road Usage Charge Pilot Recruitment Complete; Project Begins Enrolling Drivers Today
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC executive director
OLYMPIA – Washington drivers are ready to get behind the wheel and test a new way to pay for our roadways. Since active recruitment of drivers began last fall, the Washington Road Usage Charge Pilot Project has heard from nearly 5,000 drivers from every corner of Washington state who have expressed interest in participating. With the recruitment phase now complete, starting today (Tues., Feb. 6) the Washington State Transportation Commission will begin inviting drivers to enroll and fill the 2,000 available spots in this year-long pilot.
“We are thrilled with the strong response and interest in participation from Washington drivers,” said Joe Tortorelli, chair of the Washington Road Usage Charge Steering Committee and Washington state transportation commissioner from Spokane. “It’s exciting to know that so many drivers are interested in this unique opportunity to inform future transportation policy – we hope to see a continued strong response throughout the enrollment process.”
Over the next few weeks, invitations to potential participants will be sent via email until all 2,000 drivers are enrolled. The enrollment goal is for a participant pool that best represents state demographics, including geographic location (rural, urban, and suburban), race, income, and gender. Types of cars driven will also be considered, as the pilot is aiming for a mix of electric, hybrid, and gas-powered vehicles. The 2,000 drivers that ultimately enroll will test a simulation of a road usage charge system and provide feedback on their experience throughout the pilot.
Drivers who are not invited to participate will be placed on a wait list and will remain on our interested drivers list so they can stay in the loop as the project progresses. If participants drop out of the pilot project, or if invited participants do not enroll, drivers on the wait list will be invited to fill the open spots.
The findings from the pilot project will be presented to the legislature and the governor before they make any decisions about whether to enact a road usage charge in Washington. Public participation in the pilot is crucial, as it will inform future decision-making. The pilot will conclude in early 2019 and a report will be presented to the legislature during the 2020 legislative session.
Transportation Commission discusses tolling, road usage charging and Public/Private Partnerships, Jan. 17 and 18
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC executive director
OLYMPIA – Several tolling items, including future tolling for the State Route 99 tunnel in Seattle, are on the agenda for next week’s Transportation Commission meeting in Olympia.
The meeting starts 9 a.m. each day, Wednesday, Jan. 17, and Thursday, Jan. 18, at the Transportation Building, 310 Maple Park Ave. SE, on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.
On Wednesday, the commission will kick off the next update of the statewide transportation plan with a briefing on the suggested focus for the next plan. Commissioners also will discuss the public review and input process that will take place during 2018. The Washington Transportation Plan establishes a 20-year direction for the statewide transportation system, based on six transportation policy goals established by the Legislature related to: preservation, safety, mobility, environment, stewardship, and economic vitality.
Tolling items fill out the rest of Wednesday’s agenda. The Legislature has directed the Transportation Commission to adopt tolls to generate $200 million towards the construction cost of the tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. At 1 p.m., the City of Seattle, King County Metro and the Northwest Seaport Alliance will share their priorities and concerns with prospective toll policies and rates. This input will inform the commission’s toll rate and policy proposal, which it will release in spring for public review and input. Tolls will be adopted in fall 2018 and will vary by time of day to manage congestion on the facility and impacts on surface streets.
In addition, commission and Washington State Department of Transportation staff will present recommended system-wide changes to toll policies and rules with the intent of greater consistency across all tolled facilities. Proposed changes will focus on toll exemptions, and if advanced, the proposed changes will be released in spring for public review and input before changes would be adopted. The commission also will discuss proposed changes to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge policy requiring maintenance of a sufficient minimum balance in the bridge’s account. Action by the commission on this policy is expected.
On Thursday, the commission will get a progress report on preparations for the upcoming launch of the statewide Road Usage Charge Pilot Project. A road usage charge (RUC) is a per-mile charge drivers would pay for the use of the roads, rather than paying by the gallon of gas. The RUC would be a replacement to the gas tax to provide a more sustainable, long-term funding source for transportation infrastructure, in light of growing fuel efficiency of new vehicles. The pilot project will have 2,000 volunteers from across the state testing four different ways to pay by the mile. It will run for the next 12 months to determine how the RUC works for drivers under various conditions and travel behaviors.
Thursday’s agenda also includes a legislative preview of 2018 priorities from city, county, port and transit partners, along with a report from WSDOT on its work exploring partnerships with the private sector that would potentially aid in the funding and financing of ferry terminal facilities, transit-oriented development, and the possible replacement of the US 2 westbound trestle in Snohomish County.
This commission meeting is open to the public and persons wishing to speak to the commission may do so during several public comment periods throughout the two-day meeting.
For more information about the commission and a complete meeting agenda, visit: www.wstc.wa.gov/
Rebounding economy continues to put more drivers on state highways
- Written by Sreenath Gangula, WSDOT multimodal mobility and traffic engineer
OLYMPIA – As unemployment in Washington state approaches pre-recession levels, more drivers hit the road in 2016, and again followed the lead of the local economy.
Between 2014 and 2016, commuters in urban areas throughout Washington saw increases in congestion and delay, due largely to the effects of drivers traveling more miles on already-crowded urban highways. The number of miles drivers traveled on state highways increased 6.4 percent from 2014 to 2016 (to a new high of 34.227 billion), according to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s 2017 Multimodal Corridor Capacity Report.
In addition, 3.2 percent more passenger vehicles registered in 2016 than in 2014. During the same period, the number of licensed drivers increased by 4.3 percent. All these factors combined to add more drivers to Washington state’s already busy roadways.
The number of people riding transit during daily peak periods increased 8 percent on urban commute corridors, from 88,150 in 2014 to 95,300 in 2016. As an example, transit moved 4.5 general-purpose lanes full of cars—equivalent to 52,887 people–on I-5 between Federal Way and Everett during morning and evening peak periods on average weekdays.
Other highlights from the 2017 Report include:
- Of the five monitored freeway corridors in the central Puget Sound region, three (I-5, I-405, I-90) saw congestion increases of 76 percent, 33 percent and 117 percent, respectively, from 2014 to 2016. Tolling and carpooling reduced congestion on SR 520 by 61 percent, while congestion on SR 167 experienced a 4 percent increase compared to 2007 pre-recession levels.
- Travel times are lower and person throughput is higher in High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes as opposed to the general-purpose lanes. An example of this is the HOV lane on I-5 at Northgate where travel times were up to 10 minutes more reliable and the movement of people was about 2.5 times higher than in the adjacent general-purpose lanes in 2016.
- HOV lanes accounted for 42 percent of person miles traveled on central Puget Sound region freeways in 2016 while accounting for 24 percent of the region’s lane miles.
- WSDOT Incident Response teams responded to 25.4 percent more incidents (58,235 total) in 2016 than in 2014, with average clearance times around 12 minutes for both years. Proactive work by Incident Response teams resulted in $88 million in economic benefit in 2016, an 18.1 percent increase from 2014.
- WSDOT Ferries annual ridership increased 4 percent from 23.2 million in 2014 to 24.2 million in 2016.
- Amtrak Cascades annual ridership increased 5 percent from approximately 700,000 in 2014 to 735,000 in 2016.
To learn more about WSDOT’s performance or to review the 2017 Corridor Capacity Report, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/Accountability/.
DOT statement on Amtrak Cascades derailment
- Written by Ann Briggs, WSDOT
Today’s (Monday, Dec. 18) tragic derailment of the Amtrak Cascades southbound train has significantly impacted the lives of many this morning. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this event and their families.
We are working closely with multiple partners, including Washington State Patrol, Sound Transit, Amtrak, Pierce County, JBLM and local emergency responders to assess the situation and render assistance. After emergency response is complete, and the National Transportation Safety Board has released the scene, the train will be removed from the interstate right of way. We anticipate this will be a lengthy process due to the severity of the incident and the size and weight of the train cars. WSDOT is working with other agencies on any rerouting of traffic during the investigation.
The Amtrak Cascades train service is jointly owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Amtrak operates the service for the two states as a contractor, and is responsible for day-to-day operations. Amtrak Cascades runs trains from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon.
The tracks, known as the Point Defiance Bypass, are owned by Sound Transit. The tracks were previously owned by BNSF and were used for occasional freight and military transport. WSDOT received federal grants to improve the tracks for passenger rail service. As owners of the corridor, Sound Transit managed the track upgrade work under an agreement with WSDOT. Funding for the upgrades was provided by the Federal Railroad Administration, which reviewed work throughout the duration of the contract.
Today was the first day of public use of the tracks, after weeks of inspection and testing.
Smooth holiday travel requires planning, patience
- Written by Barbara LaBoe, WSDOT
Help make your travels less stressful by leaving early and using WSDOT tools to prepare and stay up-to-date
OLYMPIA – No matter what your holiday plans, being prepared for winter conditions and holiday traffic will help make your trip smoother. The Washington State Department of Transportation urges all travelers to “know before you go” and plan ahead for smoother travel.
Three-day Christmas weekends are rare – the last one on a Monday was in 2006 – but traffic analysts have used historical data to produce travel time charts predicting this year’s heaviest travel times. One note: WSDOT traffic analysts warn that winter weather is unpredictable, so be prepared for snow and ice no matter where you travel and know that a sudden snowstorm can affect the travel time projections.
The agency provides several other tools to help plan holiday travels:
- Check out online tools, including mobile apps, traffic cameras and email alerts.
- Visit our online traveler information about traffic, weather and ferry schedules.
- Follow WSDOT’s social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook.
- Pre-program 530 AM and 1610 AM to vehicle radios for highway advisory radio alerts.
- Carry chains and other winter driving essentials.
- Check current chain and traction requirements on the WSDOT passes website or by calling 5-1-1, and watch for highway advisory signs.
- Leave extra time for holiday and winter travel, slow down and drive appropriately for conditions. Often crashes or pass closures are due to drivers going too fast or traveling without proper equipment.
In the mountains, State Route 123 Cayuse Pass (elevation 4,675 feet), State Route 20 North Cascades Highway (elevation 5,477 feet) and Chinook Pass (elevation 5,430 feet) are closed for the winter.
On Snoqualmie Pass (elevation 3,022), you can receive text alerts for pass delays 30 minutes or longer – text “wsdot snoqualmie” to 468311 to subscribe, and “wsdot stop” to unsubscribe.
In the Puget Sound, the State Route 520 bridge will have weekend toll rates on Monday, Dec. 25. Travel is free on the Interstate 405 express toll lanes on Christmas day, returning to normal toll and HOV requirements from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 26. I-405 express toll lanes are always free on weekends and evenings. Out-of-town travelers can learn about toll roads and short-term account options on the Good to Go! visitors page. If renting a vehicle, check with the rental agency about their tolls policy and fees.
Other travel alternatives
Travelers planning a trip by ferry, train, personal aircraft or bus also should make plans to avoid holiday delays:
- Please plan ahead for heavy holiday ferry traffic and consider purchasing tickets online to save time. The longest lines are expected westbound Friday afternoon and evening, Dec. 22, and eastbound throughout the day Monday, Dec. 25, and Tuesday, Dec. 26. Reservations are recommended on the San Juan and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes. Some ferry routes run on Saturday schedules on the holiday, check the Washington State Ferries website or call 888-808-7977 for details.
- Amtrak Cascades passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets early and should plan to arrive at the station one hour before departure. All Amtrak Cascades trains require reservations and trains fill up quickly during holidays, though two new daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland starting Dec. 18 will offer travelers more options. Visit amtrakcascades.com/ or call 800–USA–RAIL for details.
- For information about traveling via state-operated airports, visit wsdot.wa.gov/aviation/airports/Amenities.htm or call 800-552-0666.
- Check with your local public transit agency for any holiday schedule or service changes, including some Dial-A-Ride and fixed-route service that may not run on holidays
Transportation Commission to review I-405 Express Toll Lanes performance and begin work on SR 99 toll rates at Dec.12-13 meeting
- Written by Reema Griffith, WSTC executive director
OLYMPIA – The Washington State Transportation Commission is reviewing several tolling items during meetings Dec. 12 and 13. Topics include a two-year review of the I-405 Express Toll Lanes, initial consideration of traffic and revenue analysis for the State Route 99 tunnel under Seattle and options to maintain current toll rates on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
The meetings start at 9a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 12 and Wednesday, Dec. 13, at the Transportation Building, 310 Maple Park Ave. SE, on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. These meetings are open to the public. Those wishing to speak to the commission can during public comment periods after key agenda items during the meetings.
On Dec. 12, the Washington State Department of Transportation Toll Division will present initial traffic and toll revenue projections for the tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct portion of SR 99. The Washington State Legislature has directed that tolls raise $200 million toward project construction costs over time. Although the commission will not adopt toll rates until fall 2018, the data will be used to determine how toll rates will vary by time of day to manage congestion on the facility and impacts on surface streets.
Two additional toll facilities are also on the agenda Dec. 12. at 1 p.m., WSDOT will report on the performance of the I-405 Express Toll Lanes between Bellevue and Lynnwood, which have been in operation for two full years. The briefing will include data regarding use of the I-405 Express Toll Lanes, changes in corridor congestion, net revenue collected and results of a survey of public reaction and attitudes. Officials from two of the transit agencies using the lanes will report on their travel times and ridership before and after ETL implementation.
The Tuesday, Dec. 12 meeting concludes with an update on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge financial plan, followed by a report from a work group the commission led to assess options for providing long-term toll payer relief for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The work group recommendations will be delivered to the legislature in January 2018.
During the Dec. 13 meeting, the commission will hear a progress report on planning for the Road Usage Charge Pilot Project prior to launch early in 2018. A road usage charge (RUC) is a per-mile charge drivers would pay for the use of the roads. It is under consideration as a potential replacement for the gas tax drivers now pay on a gallon of gasoline. A RUC may provide a more sustainable funding source for transportation infrastructure, in light of growing fuel efficiency of new vehicles, which consume less gas. The pilot project will engage 2,000 volunteers from across the state to test the concept and shape how it might work.
The Dec. 13 meeting agenda also includes a report from WSDOT on the work it is doing to prepare for connected and autonomous vehicles in the state.
For more information about the commission and a complete meeting agenda, visit: www.wstc.wa.gov/.
Bipartisan Congressional Bus Caucus launches, co-lead by WA U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen
- Written by Justin D. Leighton
“As someone who uses public transportation every day, I understand just how critical safe and reliable bus systems are for working Americans,” said Larsen. “With more than 195 million passenger trips in Washington state annually, I am thrilled to co-chair the Congressional Bus Caucus – robust investment in buses and transportation will keep the economy thriving.”
The purpose of the Bus Caucus is to give a stronger voice to more than 1,100 bus transit systems across the country, 31 in Washington State, and highlight the need for adequate federal funding of bus transit programs.
As federal spending for public transportation has been limited, transit agencies have expressed frustration that there is not enough money to fund the needs of both heavy rail systems and bus agencies.
The Bus Caucus seeks to highlight the benefits of investing in bus systems, the challenges accompanying aging bus fleets and facilities, and encourage innovation in a rapidly changing transportation climate. The Caucus will raise awareness on Capitol Hill by holding occasional events to highlight the importance of transit agencies striving to deliver reliable service and meet a state of good repair.
“There is a mountain of need by every transit agency in our state for expansion and replacement of their fleets and facilities so we are pleased to see Rep. Larsen take the lead on the Bus Caucus as our agencies and passengers need a strong voice on Capitol Hill,” said Justin D. Leighton, WSTA Executive Director, which represents every transit agency in Washington State.
“As President of The Bus Coalition and General Manager of Link Transit, I see how funding cuts at the federal, state and local level are impacting bus systems of all sizes,” said Wenatchee transit executive Richard DeRock. The Bus Coalition is a transit industry advocacy group focused on issues specific to bus agencies.
“Many agencies are struggling to keep up with aging fleets and crumbling transit facilities. We know when systems age and service is cut, the rider experience suffers and ridership declines. That’s why I’m so excited about the formation of a new Congressional Caucus that will shine light on the needs of the bus transit community and give voice to a transportation asset that is so important to our local and national economy,” DeRock said.
Rep. Denny Heck (WA-10) joins Larsen as a founding member of the Bus Caucus. A total of nine members of Congress have joined.
“We encourage the remaining members of the Washington State Congressional Delegation to join their colleagues in this effort,” said Leighton. “This issue is vitally important to Washington’s transit agencies and their customers.
Celebration planned for new roundabout in Chelan, Nov. 29
- Written by Jeff Adamson, WSDOT
Officials join WSDOT in ribbon-cutting event
CHELAN – Chelan Mayor Mike Cooney will participate with Washington State Department of Transportation staff and local residents 10 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 29, in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening of a new roundabout on SR 150 at No See-Um Road.
The roundabout is one of several Connecting Washington transportation projects completed this year, bringing safety, economic, environmental and mobility improvements to local areas throughout the state.
Construction began in April and includes a roundabout, local road improvements, a shared use pedestrian and bicycle path, new bus stops and major improvements to water and sewer lines.
The ceremony will be on the shared use bicycle/pedestrian path in the southeast quadrant of the new roundabout.
Parking will be available at Don Morse Memorial Park with a shuttle, starting at 9:30 a.m., to the site.
If there is heavy rain or snow, the event will be held in the Chelan City Council Chambers, 135 East Johnson.
Washington state’s multimodal 4-year program of transportation projects available for review
- Written by Nancy Huntley, local programs engineer, WSDOT
WSDOT seeks public input on the draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, Nov. 21 – Dec. 20
OLYMPIA – For those who want to know what transportation projects are in store for their community, now is the time to find out. The Washington State Department of Transportation has released a statewide listing of upcoming local and state transportation improvement projects scheduled in the next four years.
WSDOT is asking for public review and comment starting today, Tuesday, Nov. 21, through Wednesday, Dec. 20, on the draft 2018-2021 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.
The online program of projects have been identified through state, metropolitan, regional, tribal and local planning processes, and are the highest priority for the available funding to preserve and improve the state's transportation network.
About the STIP
The STIP is a multimodal, four-year, fiscally constrained, prioritized program of transportation projects compiled from local transportation programs, metropolitan and regional transportation improvement programs. Federally funded projects must be included in the STIP before the Federal Highway Administration or Federal Transit Administration can authorize the expenditure of federal funds.
More than 1,400 statewide transportation improvement projects using $3.5 billion in federal funds are included in the 2018-21 STIP. The projects include state, tribal and local roadway, bridge, safety, bicycle, pedestrian and public transportation (transit) improvements, funded with revenues from federal, state, tribal and local sources.
The STIP is developed annually by WSDOT in coordination with statewide metropolitan and rural transportation planning organizations. This collaborative effort ensures that projects are consistent with local, regional and state long-range plans. Several projects may carry over as they move from design, to permitting and, finally, to construction. Some county projects are not included in the draft STIP because state law requires counties to complete their transportation programs by the end of the year; those projects are amended into the final STIP in January.
The current 2017-20 STIP can be viewed online and a similar, searchable database of the 2018-21 STIP will be created in early 2018, following FHWA and FTA approval.
How to comment
The comment period is the final step of the community engagement process that began locally. Comments received will be sent to the local or regional planning organization for their consideration.