Monthly Archives: May 2016

Mileposts every 10th of a mile on the East Coast

The in basket; Last autumn I found myself driving a rental car in Virginia, and saw something that made a lot of sense, but that I’d never seen before.

Rather than a milepost marker every mile, there was one every tenth of a mile. I’d always wondered what chance a motorist has of knowing where he is on an unfamiliar highway when reporting an accident or hazard or calling for assistance, when he’d have to walk one way or the other for up to a mile if he guessed wrong before he came to one.

I finally decided to call Virginia to learn their origin and checked on line, too.

The out basket: It turns out mileposts are officially called “reference location signs” if a mile apart, and “intermediate reference location signs” if they are separated by tenths of a mile. Some include the word “enhanced” if they also show direction and route number.

It seems to be an East Coast thing. Virginia has posted intermediate reference location signs along most of its Interstate network in recent years. There are also online comments about them being in Maine, Delaware and Pennsylvania. A lot of the comment wonders about whether they’re worth the money.

Jason Bond of the Virginia Department of Transportation tells me, “In Virginia, there are intermediate mile markers (one-tenth or two-tenth spacing) on Interstate 81 and Interstate 95, the two major north-south interstates. There are also intermediate mile markers on portions of I-66.

“In 2004, VDOT installed the state’s first tenth-mile markers on I-81 which is located in the western part of the state and extends 325 miles from Tennessee to West Virginia.

“In 2005, some two-tenth mile markers were installed as a pilot on segments of I-95, I-64 and I-195.

“The intermediate mile markers were intended to improve safety for stranded motorists, especially those unfamiliar with the area in which they are traveling, by improving their ability to identify their location for assistance.

“The markers were also installed to help VDOT personnel make better estimates of traffic backups and pinpoint work zone locations,” he said.

“Given the expansion of cell phones usage and GPS navigation, VDOT decided not to install immediate mile marker signs on systemwide basis.  VDOT now only considers installing two-tenth or one-tenth mile markers at interstate locations to address specific operations or safety issues,” Jason concluded.

I don’t know if they’ve been tried anywhere west of the Mississippi. I’d not seen any in the western states.

More on eliminating Narrow Bridge’s toll booths

The in basket: The recent Road Warrior column on why the toll booths at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge remain in service when pay-by-mail (photo) tolling and the Good to Go! electronic tolling would seem to make them unnecessary brought two interesting responses from state senators.

I had surmised that the other two means of collecting the toll allow out-of-state scoff-tolls (hey, I invented a new word) to cheat with little threat of being caught.

State Sen. Jan Angel of Port Orchard wrote, “You hit the nail on the head in that the cash coming through those toll booths is cash into the till. As you have read recently, there have been errors and mistakes and problems with the photo tolling pay by mail. Millions of dollars have gone uncollected.

“I will fight to keep those toll booths open as cash in the register is a certainty and a bill in the mail is a hope of payment. If folks are local we at least have a way to pursue payment by forcing them on to license tabs. You are so correct that if it is a tourist, we may not get paid at all.”

Another local legislator, Sen. Christine Rolfes, had her staff working the same issue at the request of constituent Neil Streicher, who wanted to know if a news report that the toll booths cost $10,000 a day was right.

He figured that would come to $3.5 million a year that could be saved by closing them. He forwarded to me the following response from Rolfes staffer Linda Owens, which she got from bridge officials:

“It does not cost $10,000 a day for toll booth operations. We pay our lane systems vendor, TransCore, approximately $3.2 million a year (roughly $8,800 per day) to operate both the toll booths and the electronic tolling lanes. However, our contract does not break out costs specifically for toll booth operations because there are many shared costs between the booth and the electronic tolling lanes.

“TransCore employs about 30 local staff, to collect tolls and supervise operations. The manager, maintenance personnel, IT support, building, maintenance shop, landscaping, lighting, etc. are all costs that are necessary for both toll booth and electronic tolling operations and which would need to continue even if toll booths were eliminated. An estimate of the costs to operate either function on its own would require additional study, but it is clear that eliminating toll booths would not necessarily lead to higher revenue.

“Toll booths are a very popular method of payment among drivers, which more than cover their own cost,” the response said. “The cost to collect at a toll booth is about 62 cents higher than the cost to collect with a Good To Go! pass due to the labor cost of staffing the toll booths. Twenty-four percent of customers find cash payment convenient enough that they are willing to pay $1 higher toll rate.  “Compared to a Good To Go! pass, cash payment at the current toll rates produces higher net revenues per transaction which, on Tacoma Narrows Bridge, implicitly subsidize frequent users who pay a lower Good To Go! rate.”

That 24 percent figure is hard to believe. I have never been through the toll booths, having used a transponder since the new bridge opened. But in passing by, I’ve never seen backups that looked like they’d translate to one vehicle in four using the toll booths.

Yet back in 2011, when the impact of cashless toll collection was studied for the Legislature, the study found even more, 29 percent, paying cash.

Whatever, the thinking seems to be that the toll booths subsidize the other forms of payment.

 

What is Highway 303 work accomplishing?

The in basket: Ray Smith writes, “For the last month or so there has been construction on sidewalks at the corners of many of the intersections of Highway 303 (in and near . It appears that the construction is to make for easy access for the handicapped.

“At a number of the sites it appears that there is really no change to the sidewalk, Are the changes that subtle or does the concrete need to be ripped up for access to wiring that controls the crosswalk signal or for some other reason.”

The out basket: Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for the Olympic region of state highways, says,

“To answer (these) questions, it helps to know that ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines for accessibility are strict. If an existing ramp does not meet standards, which address items such as the slopes of the ramps, locations of junction boxes and locations of pedestrian push buttons and displays, WSDOT must bring those ramps up to standard when we have a construction project that goes through those crosswalks.

“In this case, we have a paving project that will take place next year. To realize cost savings with economies of scale, we decided to bring all the ramps up to standard this year in a separate project prior to the paver. We also included a few ramps on SR 3 and SR 310 (Kitsap Way) that will be affected by a paver later this year.

“Here are two more advantages to doing the ramp work separately: 1) (It) simplifies the two upcoming paving projects, which we expect will mean more efficient paving at a lower cost; and 2) because the ramp work alone is a smaller construction project than a combined ramp/paving project would be, it provides a chance for smaller contracting firms to bid on the ramp project as a prime contractor,” she said.

The project  is online at  http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr3/bremertonadaimprove/ Click on the ‘when and where’ link in the status box, and you’ll see the progress to date, Claudia said.

Tree on a phone wire got quick action

The in basket: Carolie Graddon wrote Monday to say, “On the Bethel-Burley Road, about 2/10 of a mile south of the Burley Store, there is a large evergreen tree leaning over the road at a nearly 45-degree angle.  It is leaning on/dragging down power lines and someone has put up caution tape hanging from the lines.  This looks like a dangerous situation as the tree looks ready to fall across the road at any moment.”

Later in the day, she wrote, “Never mind!  I drove by there this afternoon and a company called North Sky was taking the tree down.”

The out basket: Between her e-mails I had inquired of Kitsap County Public Works and their spokesman Doug Bear, though I wasn’t sure the tree in question wasn’t in Pierce County, and Doug said, “The tree is on a telephone line. County crews do not cut trees entangled in wires. Century Tel (the utility responsible for the line) is sending a crew today to cut the tree off the line. County road crews will be standing by to clear the roadway.”

I must assume North Sky is a Century Tel contractor comparable to Potelco for Puget Sound Energy.

Why such big gaps in street address numbers?

The in basket: John Paasch is puzzled by how house numbers are determined in assigning addresses in Kitsap County.

“The numbers start low and go up to 99 real fast in a block or more,” he said. “For example, in my area it starts at 7205 and the next house is 7221 then skips another 20 numbers or more and the next house the same and so on and this is for just eight houses. This is all in about a block and a half.

“I see this all over Kitsap County.  What happened to just going from 2 or 4 or so instead of jumping up to the real high numbers real quick?”

The out basket: The answer comes from Ashlie Brown, the county’s addressing project lead. “The reasoning behind the fast jump in numbers is based upon the distance between the houses,” she said. “If the houses are less than an acre apart there is to be a minimum of 12 numbers in between each house. If the houses are more than an acre but less than 2.5 acres there is to be a minimum of 18 numbers in between, and lastly If the houses are over 5 acres apart there are to be a minimum of 30 numbers in-between the houses.

”The reasoning behind this is to prepare for any possible growth in the future. This will allow  us to easily address any new houses or dwelling units without having to re-address the entire street or block etc. If we did not use this method and a new house was constructed, everyone on the street (might) be forced to have a new address to simply accommodate one house. With this method we can avoid this happening.”

Entering via a designed exit

The in basket: A Road Warrior column in April that questioned the legality of turning left across the double yellow lines on Lund Avenue/Tremont Street in Port Orchard into the shopping area that includes Auto Zone brought a response from Robert Martin, who noted that the exact same alignment exists across that street at the Puerto Vallarta restaurant.

Drivers turn left across the double yellow lines going in both directions, where they meet a right-in-right-out alignment that makes it easier to turn into the half of that alignment intended for cars that are leaving.

Is that legal, he wondered.

The out basket: I wrote at the time that left turns are legal across double yellow lines unless there is a raised barrier, a yellow line 18 inches wide or wider, cross-hatching between the lines, or signs saying No Left Turn. None of those thing exist in either direction at that spot on the street. The turns, though often difficult and risky, are legal.

I wasn’t able to learn then whether turning into a roadside access designed to be an exit constitutes a traffic infraction.

So I asked again.

Commander Dale Schuster of Port Orchard police replied, “Both of these access driveways are on private property so there is no traffic violation, hence no infraction.”

The answer would be different where the access is publicly owned, which  is hard to determine when in motion. So those who do it risk a ticket in some locations, just not those two.

Why keep the bridge toll booths?

The in basket: Tom Brooke of Poulsbo writes, “The state was considering raising the Narrows Bridge tolls but did not, which is good. But why are the toll booths still manned by toll takers?

“If they can use Good to Go! passes and photo license plate cameras then why do they still need takers? It seems this would be a logical place to cut expenses and eliminate the need to raise more in the future.

The out basket: My guess was that it would greatly reduce the number of out of state drivers who would pay the toll. But the state toll division says, “In 2011, at the direction of the state Legislature, WSDOT completed a study on removing the toll booths at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and switching to all-electronic tolling.

“In the study, WSDOT recommended additional analysis after implementing the Pay By Mail options to help determine whether to move to all-electronic tolling on the bridge. WSDOT would need additional direction from the Legislature to further evaluate the removal of the cash toll booths.”

Gorst culvert work explained

The in basket: The impending work to replace the culverts that run beneath highways 16 and 166 in Gorst to allow Anderson Creek to flow better seems likely to be a traffic headache perhaps less than what has been happening in Seattle and Snohomish County, but significant.

I wondered exactly where the creek passes beneath the highways, knowing that the state had to unplug a culvert a few years back just on the Port Orchard side of the turnaround for those wanting to go back to Gorst. And, of course, I wondered how the state hopes to get that many cars through a work zone that will, of necessity, involve digging up the pavement.

The out basket: My recollection of the culvert east of the turnaround just clouded the issue, as the creek is west of there, on the other side of the turnaround. I notice there are even signs on the shoulder saying “Anderson Creek.”

Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for the Olympic Region of state highways, says, “In this project, crews will replace culverts that run under SR 16, SR 166 and Anderson Hill Road near Gorst. The existing culverts, which are each about 5 feet in diameter, will be replaced with three 3-sided 18-foot-wide concrete box culverts.

 

“The work will take place between June and October, and the contractor is proposing to do the work in three stages.  Each stage will have a concurrent detour route.

 

“We expect the contractor to first tackle the culvert that runs under SR 166,” she said. “That work will require a several-week total closure of SR 166. We will detour traffic onto Tremont Street and Port Orchard Boulevard.  Local traffic will still be able to use SR 166, but only to the physical closure point.” That’s the same detour used whenever a slide closed 166 in the past.

 

“We think the next culvert will be one that runs under westbound SR 16,” she said. “During that work, we’ll detour westbound SR 16 traffic into the highway median with a reduced speed limit (of 35 mph) and we’ll keep the westbound direction of the SR 166 detour in place.

 

“We expect the last culvert to be replaced is the one that runs under eastbound SR 16 and Anderson Hill Road.  That culvert will require eastbound SR 16 to use the highway median, again at a reduced speed limit (of 35 mph) and a closure of Anderson Hill Road.

 

“Specific dates for all this work and the roadway closures will be forthcoming as the contractor gets mobilized on site” she said “Initial detour maps and other information about the project can be found on our project web site:  http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr16/andersoncreekfishbarriers/

That Web site says work will begin in mid-July and says, “All in-stream work will occur in late summer through Oct. 15 to meet environmental requirements and accommodate fish windows.

“In 2013, a federal court injunction required the state to significantly increase the state’s efforts in removing state-owned culverts that block habitat for salmon and steelhead,” the site says.

It’s a $9.5 million project.

“Note the order of work and schedule are still preliminary and subject to change,” Claudia said.

 

How long must a motorcyclist wait at malfunctioning signal?

The in basket: Bruce Brockett of Poulsbo writes, “I ride a motorcycle early most mornings when traffic is light. I travel north through Poulsbo on Highway 305, and make a left turn onto Bond Road from the left turn lane at the traffic light.

“Many times I am the only one in this lane, or first in line, to turn. The traffic control (either a camera or the pressure sensor – both are there) doesn’t recognize me. I sit through several light changes, then finally have to run the red light.

“Fortunately, the traffic is light. I have tried stopping at different positions in the lane. Eventually, sometimes, someone will line up behind me in an auto, but still won’t trigger the turn signal unless they pull up tight behind me, which most are reluctant to do.

“I know it is legal for me to go through the red in some situations, but would prefer that the light be corrected. Also, sometimes I use this signal at times when it is very busy, and it is not comforting to try to guess where the next car is coming from.”

He said he isn’t clear on the circumstances and/or duration of the signal malfunction that permits passing through the red under a change in the state law (RCW 46.61.184) made a year or two ago.

The out basket: The duration is one complete cycle of the light, in which all movements controlled by the signal would have had an opportunity to turn green. That’s not much help if only one direction stays green and no traffic approaches from a direction where it would be expected to trigger the light.

And the law has a vexing condition that makes use of it chancy. It essentially says if it’s an intersection without vehicle detection, or you conclude the light isn’t working, and you’re wrong, that’s not a defense against a ticket for running the light.

The law applies to bicycles and mopeds as well as motorcycles. It also requires the vehicle come to a complete stop before proceeding.

State Trooper Russ Winger said, “I think following the first segment of the law is most important, waiting a cycle. It then amounts to the rider to make a good decision on when to proceed, yielding properly and safely to traffic with right of way. I don’t think this occurs that commonly ‎but it can be done safely.

“Riders could get into trouble if they start running lights because they get tired of waiting for long duration timing signals during peak traffic time.”

I referred Bruce’s complaint to my state contact and asked that she make the district signal shop aware of it.

Another chip seal problem

The in basket: Doug White writes, “I live on Olympic View Road near the intersection of Illich. Last ‘season’ the county did an extensive rehab of Illich, Lester and Page. The work concluded with a chip seal coating.
Page still looks great and is wearing well. Illich has some bare areas where all the chip (gravel) has already worn off. Lester is even worse off; I would estimate 25 percent of the surface has no remaining chip. Any idea if the County intends to redo/repair the chip seal where it has failed?”
The out basket: It seems like one or two of the chip seal jobs done here each summer has this outcome, with the rock not staying in the oil mixture on which it is poured to allow traffic to imbed it.
I wouldn’t say Lester looks much worse than Illich. Both have many patches of bare surface with the gravel no longer there. Both have long stretches where the gravel adhered properly, interrupted by the bare patches.
I don’t know to what degree the gravel plays a part in the effectiveness of a chip seal. The county says only that “We will take a look at it during our chip seal season this summer.