Tag Archives: Fife

Mistaken “Blue Alert” seen (briefly) on I-5

The in basket: I was passing through Fife on I-5 at 8:30 a.m. on April 26 when the traffic suddenly slowed in all southbound lanes, the ones I was in. Nothing new there, I’m almost never on I-5 between Tacoma and Seattle when that doesn’t happen at least once.

The slow motion processional crawled beneath one of those overhead electronic signs that had just two words on it – Blue Alert. A short time later, traffic returned to normal speed.

I’m also used to seeing nothing on the roadside to explain the various slowdowns. If “Blue Alert” was intended to be an explanation, it was lost on me.

When I got home I asked Google what a Blue Alert is.

It said it is to  “help Law Enforcement speed the apprehension of violent criminals who kill or seriously injure local, state, or federal law enforcement officers.”

Whoa, I said to myself. What had happened? There was nothing on the news about an officer being killed or badly hurt.

The out basket: Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for state highways, said, “Today’s blue alert message was posted in error. It was immediately removed, but apparently not quickly enough for you not to see it.”

I asked if it had ever been posted intentionally, and she said that would be better answered by the State Patrol.

Trooper Russ Winger, my contact for all thingsWSP, said RCW 10.108 authorized creation of “a voluntary, cooperative system to quickly disseminate crucial information through broadcasters, cable systems, the Department of Transportation, local, state and tribal (police) and other interested participants to enhance the public’s ability to assist law enforcement  in the apprehension of person(s) suspected of killing or seriously injuring law enforcement officers. There is no requirement to send a Blue Alert and the decision to activate a Blue Alert rests solely with the investigating agency or its designee.”

He said it appears that no actual valid Blue Alert activation for its intended purpose has occurred here yet. “This in no way means (to us) it is not a valuable asset for Law Enforcement to have at disposal if and when the need arises,” he added.

 

Road Warrior’s tragedy leads to some answers

The Judybaker, my wife of nearly 20 years whose observations and questions often enhanced the Road Warrior column, won’t be gracing it any longer. She was taken from me June 20 by a grotesque abdominal infection that grew out of a June 9 surgery.

Her suggestions and contributions to Road Warrior are just a tiny part of what I miss about her.

I want to thank all of you who learned of her death and sent expressions of condolence and sympathy.

A couple of columns I had finished before she died have appeared since her death but this is the first one I’ve tried to write with her gone.

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The in basket: My visits to the hospital the week following the initial June 9 surgery, done in Federal Way, made me realize how much harder getting around is between there and Tacoma compared to what we Kitsappers imagine to be traffic congestion. Every day, seemingly at any hour, from the Tuesday of the surgery to the following Saturday, it was miles of vehicles crawling southbound on I-5. Fortunately, I mostly got to see it from the northbound lanes after fighting my way past equally bad backups of those trying to get from Highway 16 onto northbound I-5.

I wondered if what I saw is just the day-to-day norm there, or if something unusual caused it all. And while all the construction on I-5 near the Tacoma Dome certainly will make it easier to get from Highway 16 onto northbound I-5, it isn’t obvious how it could help the southbound jams.

I asked State Trooper Guy Gill of the Tacoma my first question, and Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state Department of Transportation my second one.

The out basket: Guy told me the southbound congestion comes and goes and it doesn’t take much to get it started.

“We have our normal little fender-bender crashes, and when we have one in that corridor past the Tacoma Dome down into Fife, we are seeing people going to the shoulder with tow trucks and everyone likes to look at that stuff. (Backups) will set in from a crash like that and it will take hours to filter out.

“We ask folks to move both vehicles completely off the freeway, find a parking lot or and let us know where you are. If you can steer it, clear it.

“At least clear the lane. It’s up to the trooper to figure it out. Troopers will ask you for a written statement.”

He also put in a pitch for keeping the smart phone out of sight when driving, or you might cause one of those fender-benders.

Claudia replied, “The HOV lanes we are building will help both directions of I-5 traffic. We have two construction projects underway at present; one will add an HOV lane in the northbound direction between Portland Avenue and the Port of Tacoma Road; the second one will add HOV lanes in both directions between M Street and Portland Avenue.

“We have yet more construction coming down the pipeline after these two projects are complete that will add a southbound HOV lane between Portland Avenue and Port of Tacoma Road and an HOV roadway and ramp connections at the I-5/SR 16 interchange.

“These projects are all very large and take several years to complete. We are using the opportunity to not only expand I-5, but to rebuild all lanes of I-5 within each project. I-5 was built in the 1960s and the concrete needs to be replaced. The result is many traffic shifts and realignments that cause construction-related slowdowns.

“So the answer to your question is yes, the current construction will help traffic flow better through Tacoma when it is complete,” Claudia said.

I wish I had greater confidence in the worth of HOV lanes to reduce congestion, but I’ve also learned that the state’s traffic engineers have a good track record in solving problems (not counting the driving surface of the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton) so I’ll take their word for it.