Monthly Archives: December 2009

Those “Severe Side Wind” warnings at Narrows bridges

The in basket: John Veatch of Bremerton writes, “One of my pet peeves is the habit by the state to claim there are severe high winds on the (Tacoma) Narrows Bridge when there is barely enough wind to make the wind sock jiggle. 

“I feel they shouldn’t turn on the ‘Severe Winds’ sign until the velocity is up to at least 15 knots.  Do you know what their policy is and how it is triggered?  The way it is results in my thinking it’s just another false alarm and grow to ignore its importance.”

I had noticed the same thing.

The out basket: Well, John and I in our passenger cars aren’t what you might call the key demographic for whom those messages are intended.

Hal Weiblen, Traffic Management Center supervisor for the state, replies, “Wind warnings at the Narrows are activated by either of the two criteria.

“One, the TMC operators notice that the wind socks on either end of the bridges are extended, or two, when notified by the WSP that wind conditions are being reported or experienced that may cause a concern for motorist or truckers crossing the bridge.  

“There are no weather instruments located at the bridge deck (where the traffic is) to indicate wind speed at that level, only the wind socks,” Hank said. “It should also be noted that wind will often be indicated by the socks at one end of the bridge, but not at the other, but motorist must cross both ends of the bridge (we hope).  

“As such, we always want to err on the side of safety,” he said, “as no one can tell us what an appropriate wind speed would be for activating the alerts.  A mild breeze barely felt by a motorist in a car, could be quite severe for a semi-truck, or for someone on a motorcycle, so the wind warning message is activated upon a visual observation, and allows the motorist to at least be prepared to encounter an unusual driving condition. 

“Years ago, we did a survey with the trucking industry to try and determine what a wind speed criteria would be for trucks, and the responses I got back were across the board, which basically came back to me as ‘What is the cargo?’  

“A truck carrying a load of  (plastic) foam cups will be much more negatively impacted then a cargo of iron anvils.  So you can see there is no clear-cut answer to the question of what speed to activate such messages.” 

What happens if one Tacoma Narrows span is blocked?

The in basket: Mike McKinney asks “If one of the (Tacoma) narrows bridges is closed for an extended period of time, are there plans that would open one bridge both ways?”

The out basket: Yes, says Tony Leingang, the state’s freeway operations engineer:

 “The bridge ends were designed with improvements to facilitate crossing traffic and putting two-way traffic on one bridge,” he said. “The traffic control plan that goes along with that provides for easily identified cross-over detour alignments and storing traffic control devices at the bridge site for expedited response. 

“Steel traffic swing gates were designed into bridge end barrier protection so that cross-over detours could be quickly established. Depending on the collision, the time estimated for a complete bridge closure would be weighed against the time needed to implement two-way traffic on one bridge.”

Plans still alive for LED lights on new Narrows bridge

The in basket: Glen Adrig says in an e-mail, “In 2007, a citizens group had an agreement with (the state) regarding installation and maintenance of decorative and low cost LED lighting on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge suspension cables.

“I was looking forward to seeing Christmas lights displayed on the bridge this year,” he said, “but there seems to be no progress on getting the lights installed.” 

“Looking for the website associated with the organization ( results in an expired domain name. Is the organization and agreement  gone, and will the new Narrows Bridge ever get the decorative LED lighting installed to make it a real attractive and seasonal landmark?”

The out basket: It’s an ongoing effort, and the Web site comes up on my computer. Glen may have made a typo on the address when he tried.

Chris Keegan, the state’s bridge expert, said his staff will meet with the contractor for the Narrows lighting project and look at the plans sometime in January “to make sure they are heading in the right direction.”

Chris said the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development has awarded Narrows Bridge Lights $1.5 million, and all concerned hope it will be enough to get the decorative lights on the new bridge.

Desa Coniff of Narrows Bridge Lights says, “We have been working out the details of the contract with (the state)  for about 18 months and have come to an agreement.  Our energies have been focused in this direction.  

“Once the design plans are approved, we will focus on the next phases and future fundraising. We needed to come to an agreement with DOT prior to any other activities being accomplished. 

“Thus I do not have an update other than this at this time. But tell people that we continue to work diligently, we have not given up and are determined to bring some color to the bridges!” 

They’ll move on to get money and authorization to light the old bridge once the new bridge is done, she said. 

“This is a unique project run entirely on volunteer time.  We have endeavored for three years to make this project happen, and it appears we are very near.”

Chris Keegan said the group’s contractor is to install the lights, with state supervision.

Cliffs between Bremerton and Gorst to be stabilized

The in basket: Years ago, so long that I have no record of who it was, someone asked about the stability of the rock cliffs overlooking Highway 3 between Gorst and Bremerton. 

I never addressed the issue, but when Kevin Dayton, regional administrator for the Olympic Region of state highways, spoke to the Port Orchard Rotary in December, he told them that work is coming to make sure two spots along those cliffs stay put. 

He told me it’s difficult to see where from the four-lane highway beneath the cliffs, but the two locations can be spotted from across Sinclair Inlet. 

Doubting my ability to tell a questionable rock face from a solid one, I haven’t tried to identify them, but I asked for information about what the work will mean to drivers. 

The out basket: Steve Howell, from the state’s geology engineers, said the two spots are approximately 7/10s of a mile and 1.1 miles from the Highway 304 interchange as one travels toward Gorst. They are each about a tenth of a mile long. 

“These slopes  will be stabilized utilizing slope scaling, rock bolting and the installation of wiremesh/cablenet slope protection,” he said.  “Lane closures will be required for this work but no decision has been made as it relates to day or night work.”  

The slopes are included in the Unstable Slope Mitigation Program because they meet the current criteria of having a numerical rating of 350-plus on a scale that goes up to  891 and rates the impact of a slope failure. 

I guessed that the fact there is virtually no detour whenever that stretch of Highway 3 is blocked played a key role in landing it on the list of slopes in need of work, but Steve said that’s only partially correct. Available detours is just one of 10 risk factors used in rating slopes. 

I also asked if something had just moved those two spots up over 350 on the rating scale, and again he said no, they weren’t evaluated until 2006 or 2007 and placed on the list at all until 2008. 

Kevin Dayton said the work may be bid as early at next July, but the department’s schedule says only that the work is set for the 2011-13 biennium 







Are two big state projects in SK done?

The in basket: Sharon Demianiw asks “Who is responsible for removing road work signs and black plastic environmental fencing along finished road work/improvement areas?

“Assuming the road work is completed on Highway 16 at the Olalla/Burley intersection area.” she said, “and along Sedgwick where the road was widened between Jackson Avenue and Highway 16, ugly, black plastic fencing remains along the side of the road. 

“On Highway 16,” she said, “going north towards the new overpass area are signs warning of road work ahead. After going through this intersection, signs representing the (state) and contractor thank drivers for their patience while driving through this work area.

“Are black, plastic environmental fencing and road work signs required to remain for a specific amount of time after work is completed, or did the responsible parties forget to remove these items?”

The out basket: Road Work Ahead signs and Thank Yous from the contractor typically remain up until the state or other governmental entity signs off on the work as complete. Also typically, there is what’s called a “punch list” of small things to be done before that final approval, which keeps the contractor working for a period after the job appears to be done. 

Brenden Clarke, project engineer for both jobs, says, “On the Burley Ollala project, we need to complete the tree plantings, and on  (Sedgwick), we need to remove silt fence after the slopes are proven to be stable.”

The “ugly black plastic fencing” Sharon described probably is the silt fence Brenden mentions, and it will all be removed, he said. But it will stay in place until the disrupted slopes from the work have proven stable. 

Sometimes it’s never removed. I still can see some of it lining Salmonberry Creek at Howe Farm Park, left from the widening of Mile Hill Drive two years ago.

Updating Silverdale’s newest street, Greaves Way

The in basket: Patricia Evans and Peter Wimmer have commented on the still-to-open Greaves Way that soon will link Old Frontier Road and the Silverdale interchange where highways 3 and 303 meet.

Patricia says she travels Old  Frontier Road to Bangor every day and has her doubts about the new left turn created where Old Frontier and Greaves Way meet.

“When making a left turn after stopping at the new stop sign, a person is not able to make the complete turn without going onto the double yellow line toward the oncoming traffic,” she asserts .”It is a very tight turn even with my GEO.”

She doesn’t think a large truck or a school bus can make the turn without breaking the law.

Peter wonders why the county leaves what he considers the overly fancy street lights  on all night when no traffic is allowed on the road yet.

“I can understand the need for some lighting, but really isn’t that a bit much?” he wrote. “And a bit fancy? How about fixing ones that are not lit before they light  up an unopened stretch of road?  Are we not trying to save money in the budget?”

The out basket: I’m glad they asked, as it’s about time for an update on Greaves Way, which was days from its Nov. 16 ribbon cutting when it was all put on hold.

The reason, Project Manager Jacques Dean tells me, was that the cross-arm on one of the supports for the new traffic signal at Greaves and the realigned Clear Creek Road arrived bent. 

The company that provided it took it back, cut it, welded it and galvanized it. It was brought back Monday and installed, he said..

If the light was the only problem, the road might open next week. But some of the roadway has settled up at the top of Greaves’ hill, Jacques said. The contractor is trying to diagnose the problem.

Silver lining-wise, the postponement Nov. 16 is a good thing, or they’d be dealing with the pavement problem with traffic passing by. 

Whatever they learn, and whenever the road opens, the ribbon cutting won’t be until after the first of the year, he said.

As for Patricia’s concern, I told Jacques it does seem like a tight turn, even in a  passenger car. Another car sitting in the left turn pocket waiting to go east on Greaves (when it’s open) could present a long vehicle turning across its path with problems.

He looked at it Tuesday and says it follows the design, which meets turning radius criteria. A truck or motor home driver who pulls into the intersection before starting his turn won’t have problems, he said. 

The stop sign that halts traffic before making that left turn to continue on to Bangor will be removed. Southbound Old Frontier will become the stop street then and northbound Old Frontier and Greaves will appear to be one street.

Jacques said he hadn’t considered the possibility of disconnecting the street lights until the road opens. They are activated by darkness, but all of them can be disconnected at just two spots. He’ll look into whether labor or permitting issues to unhook them and then hook them up again would offset any savings from letting them come on at night until the road is open, he said.

As for whether the lights are too fancy, Jacques said, “This project can be considered one of the ‘gateways’ into Silverdale.  It will be a significant area of growth in the future and the county and community wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing, thus the ornate light standards, boulevard design, and extensive landscaping. 

“The light standards that were chosen are actually cheaper to purchase and install, including to maintain and replace, than standard light poles and luminaires,” he said,. “The number of light poles is based on standard parameters for a four-lane roadway and necessary disbursement of light.”

Arriving at which ‘destination?’

The in basket: I don’t use the state ferries much, but in recent trips to Seattle on the Southworth run, I noticed that the once-awkward welcome-aboard speeches, which include safety instructions, have been turned over to tape recordings done by Seattle radio personalities. Crew members used to do them and they frequently weren’t confidence inspiring. It’s an improvement.

When we arrived in Vashon, there was another recorded message, but the speaker didn’t identify himself, and the message began, “You are arriving at your destination.” Return to your cars and make sure you have all your belongings, he instructed.

I knew that I wasn’t at my destination, of course, but it seemed like a stranger to the ferries, going to Fauntleroy, would hurry to his car and fret about still being aboard when the boat left. Shouldn’t the recorded announcement specify which destination you are arriving at when there’s more than one, I asked myself.

The out basket: Then I asked Susan Harris-Heather, long time spokesman for the ferry system. She said she’d never had a complaint from any ferry system newbies who were misled and discomfited by any confusion about where they were, caused by the recorded messages. 

Putting different messages aboard the boats on the tri-corner Southworth run, as in the multi-terminal San Juan Island run, would be difficult because the boats move around so much from route to route that there probably would be more confusion, not less, she said.





Yes and no on thaw-related weight limits

The in basket: I recall from my early days as a reporter here (in the 1960s and ’70s) that a predictable story in the winter was the imposition of temporary weight limits on some county roads when a long hard freeze, such as we have just experienced, ends. 

As I recall, the restrictions were most common when heavy rain accompanied the thaw, and when the freeze hadn’t been preceded by a snowfall. 

It kept school buses, garbage trucks and other heavy vehicles from their usual routes, as the thaw, plus the rain, turned roadbeds on the less sturdy roads to mush, susceptible to breakup of the pavement.

I asked Kitsap and Mason County public works if we might see a return of the practice this weekend.

The out basket: Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works says Kitsap expects to escape any weight limits, as the thaw is predicted to be gradual. 

“Heavy vehicle traffic is lighter on weekends, and provided the thaw occurs as scheduled we don’t anticipate weight restrictions, he said.” They monitor the situation as thawing occurs and have measured the depth of the frozen ground. “If we do place weight restrictions, we will send a release and post those restrictions to the county’s Web site,” he said. That’s 

Mason County Engineer Bob Thuring said they do expect to impose weight restrictions on some of their roads. which will require propane trucks and garbage trucks to travel those at half-load. School buses will not be restricted, he said. 

All the rain in November has added to need for limits, he said. “When you freeze,  water  expands and opens up the subgrade under the road,” he said, “so heavy traffic rolling over the road surface (push) soil grains apart, and you wind up with pavement damage.”

Snow is a two-edged sword, he said. It insulates the pavement so the frost doesn’t go as deep, but adds water during the thaw.

Newer county roads built to stricter standards won’t be restricted. State highways rarely if ever need the extra safeguard.

Information on Mason’s  limits will be posted on the county’s Web site, 

Weight limits aren’t rare in Mason, he said. They’ve had them the past two years and often before that. The difference from Kitsap, he said, is that more Mason County roads remain as they were built in the middle of the last century, without the rebuilt subgrades that can withstand heavy traffic during a thaw.



Left on red from Loxie Eagans to Highway 3 is legal

The in basket: Marilyn Painter wonders if there is anything about the left turn from Bremerton’s Loxie Eagans Boulevard onto the Highway 3 on-ramp to go north that doesn’t qualify it as a place a person can make the turn against a red light, after stopping fully and yielding to other traffic. 

” I often see people stopped (there) unwilling to go against the red light,” she said.

The out basket: There is no sign prohibiting it, so yes, those left turns are legal if done correctly. The fact that a red ball light stops would-be left turn traffic, rather than a red arrow light, makes no difference.

Readers who have missed all the previous Road Warrior columns describing this law probably are shaking their heads saying, “What is he talking about?”

It’s a peculiarity of Washington law that left turns onto a one-way street can be made against a red light, but only after making a complete stop and without endangering any other traffic.

This particular intersection is very close to the state patrol headquarters, so there’s a good chance an officer will see you if you do it, so be sure you do it right, stopping fully and yielding to anyone with the green light. I also noticed that it’s a little harder at that spot than others to be sure the two lanes of oncoming traffic also have a red light, which is cause for an extra measure of caution.

One-way streets are sufficiently rare in Kitsap County that the freeway on-ramps are among the few places it can be done. And I find that if I’m not first in the left-turn line, it might as well not be legal, because no driver ahead of me will do it. 

And as a November column on the subject noted, a police officer new to the state might not be aware of the law and cite you for it. It’s in RCW 46.61.055 if you ever need to look it up. It’s in the state Driver’s Guide too.

I’ve had no success finding out what led to this odd exception to normal driving laws, which has existed for years and probably decades. Do any of you readers know?


Ferry line cutters citable even if just a few cars are waiting

The in basket: Bob Metcalf said he’d had contrasting experiences when trying to catch the ferry in Bremerton and Bainbridge.

In both places he was in the left lane of the approach when a sign told him he had to be in the right lane to board the ferry. He had no problem getting over in Bremerton, but when he merged right on Bainbridge, a woman ferry patron honked at him. 

When they were both through the toll booths and stopped, she got out of her car and walked over to his, scolding him and saying that had an officer seen what he did, he and the person who let him into the line could be cited for violating the state law enacted a couple of years ago to discourage cutting into the long lines at ferry terminals, like those at Bainbridge and Kingston.

Bob said the line wasn’t long on that day on Bainbridge, though. He guessed there were only three cars behind the woman he merged in front of. 

The out basket: The woman was half-right, says Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the state patrol here. 

The driver of a car heading for a ferry who cuts into the line of waiting cars is subject to a $124 fine, regardless of the number he or she may have passed before moving right. 

“They will also be (told) to go to the back of the line of cars waiting for the ferry,” she said. But the violation must have been seen by the citing officer, and would not become a part of the motorist’s driving record.

Susan Harris-Heather of the ferry system said a driver who cuts into line can wind up paying a price in inconvenience even if an officer doesn’t see it and issue a  citation.

The WSF ticket sellers are empowered to order a driver to the back of the line (without a citation) if two other drivers from the line-up say the first driver cut in back in the queue, she said.

“The driver who allowed the vehicle to merge in would not be cited for anything,” Krista said. 

And those with preferential loading (vanpools, buses, bicyclists, motorcyclists) can bypass the line. Those with disabled plates or placards usually can’t, Krista said.

“Typically, a driver with a disabled placard would have to wait in line like everyone else.  There are exceptions, however, such as a legitimate doctor’s note explaining the medical emergency or a physician-approved medical waiver.”