Tag Archives: Highway 16

No Parking warnings sprouting on Highway 16

The in basket: George Maybe of North Kitsap writes, “I may have just not noticed until recently, but on my commute the other day I noticed signs stating No Parking – Tow Away Zone all along Highway 16 and wonder what the reasoning is for that.

“I haven’t noticed them on Highway 3 except between Gorst and Highway 304 into Bremerton.  Or anywhere else for that matter except where there are narrow shoulders,” he said.

I hadn’t noticed them either, but there definitely are a lot of them, many of them attached to one of the two legs of the large signs listing distances to upcoming locations or identifying upcoming exits. On the downgrade into Gorst, where the shoulders narrow perceptibly. they got their own posts.

I checked them out nearly to the Pierce County line and found them in both directions.

I asked what prompted them.

The out basket: It took a while to sort it out, as my state highway contact was of the misimpression that the State Patrol had requested the signs and the state Department of

Transportation (WSDOT) had simply complied.

Tuesday, Claudia Bingham Baker, spokesman for the Olympic Region of state highways told me, “It appears I was mistaken when I said WSP requested the restriction. I have since been informed that WSDOT initiated this action as part of a larger effort to put the no-parking signs along more of our high-speed urban highways.” They now are in place the length of Highway 16, from I-5 to Gorst

“The reason is that disabled vehicles create a potential hazard, both for drivers traveling on the highway and for those sitting in the disabled vehicles,” she said. “Disabled vehicles also negatively affect the ability of first responders and WSDOT Incident Response trucks to reach highway collisions.

“We do, and did, ask for WSP’s concurrence before making the change.”

What it means for drivers is they have a lot less time to get their vehicle moving again when they run out of gas or it breaks down on a state highway.

Without the signs, troopers have tagged cars on the shoulder and had them towed after 24 hours. Where the signs are now posted, towing can happen within an hour after an officer spots the disabled car.

They have ordered an immediate tow in the past if the car is in a curve, partially in the roadway or presents an obvious hazard, says Trooper Guy Gill of the Tacoma WSP district responsible for about half of Highway 16. Though he said the Patrol didn’t ask for them the length of Highway 16, it supports them for the reasons Claudia set forth.

He also passed along a piece of advice for anyone whose vehicle is disabled on a state highway, whether marked in a tow away zone or not. If parked on the left side of the highway, it’s automatically a hazard and will be towed as soon as possible, he said.

Always pull a vehicle likely to conk out to the right shoulder if at all possible, he said.

It sounds likely we’ll be seeing these signs on other state highways with 60 mph speed limits.


Army uses Highway 16 to train long-haul drivers

The in basket: As I returned from the Tacoma area on July 12, I saw something I’d never seen before. A convoy of four long- haul flatbed trucks, all Army vehicles driven by uniformed personnel, was making its way north on Highway 16 in South Kitsap. Signs reading “Student Driver’ were mounted on the front and back of each truck, none of which was carrying any cargo.

When they reached the Sedgwick interchange, they pulled off, and stopped at the red light at the head of the ramp. But when the light changed to green, they pulled across on the on-ramp and continued toward Gorst. I exited at Sedgwick so was left to wonder how far they went.

It obviously was a training mission, but I also wondered if the Army regularly uses Highway 16 for such things.

The out basket: Not surprisingly, there are too many Army units in the region, from Joint Base Lewis McChord to Army Reserve and National Guard units, for me to pin it down too precisely. I wasn’t smart enough to note the truck numbers on the sides of the vehicles that would have allowed Army public affairs to tell me where the trip originated.

But Col. David Johnson of the Army’s I Corp said trainee drivers of Army vehicles have to leave the bases to encounter freeway conditions, so it’s quite possible Highway 16 is often the site of such training. It may also have been a trip to pick up some cargo at one of the Navy bases in Kitsap County piggy-backed on a training exercise, he said.

Have any of you readers encountered student Army drivers motoring along Highway 16 or other local freeways?

Nalley Valley work impacts speed limits, but not one scary merge

The in basket: Bill Howell wrote Wednesday to say, “I drove Highway 16 today on my way to Seattle and noticed that the speed limit has changed. Eastbound the speed limit is 60 until just before Pearl (in Tacoma). Westbound the speed limit is 60 starting at I-5. Yea!!!”

It’s still 55 eastbound from Pearl Street until you get to the 40 mph construction area at Sprague, he said.

The out basket: That increase from 55 to 60 mph has been on hold at the State Patrol’s request until the work where Highway 16 joins I-5 at Nalley Valley is complete. That milestone was reached almost exactly a year ago for westbound traffic, so the speed limit has just been raised in the entire westbound direction.

Work remains to be done in the eastbound direction, but Lisa Copeland, spokesman for the Olympic Region or state highways, says, “We have begun to raise the speed limit on SR 16 at the request of the public and with support from the WSP.

As I worked on Bill’s e-mail, I came across an earlier inquiry about the Nalley Valley work from Michael Drouin of Bremerton, sent in February. He said, “The on ramp for I-705 and Pacific Avenue to I-5 South merge at the same point that southbound I-5 drivers are attempting to exit I-5 to SR16. This location is always extremely dangerous to navigate. Are there plans for the Nalley Valley interchange (work) to eliminate this hazard?”

I share Michael’s unease when trying to move right into traffic entering I-5 from downtown Tacoma, especially if it’s dark and rainy. I hadn’t occurred to me until I was talking with Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state DOT’s public affairs staff, but it’s probably just as scary for those coming up that on-ramp wanting to merge left and continue south on I-5.

Alas, that “weave,” as engineers call it, will remain as it has been after all the Nalley Valley work is done, Claudia said. Work scheduled for 2020, however, will provide a safer route from I-5 to westbound Highway 16 for one stream of traffic – high occupancy vehicles traveling southbound on I-5..

HOV lanes will be built there in both directions on I-5 in 2020, and a flyover bridge will be built to provide a protected route for those HOVs southbound to Highway 16, she said. Otherwise, any driver in the southbound HOV lane would have to merge right across both general use southbound lanes to get to the flow heading to Highway 16 and then merge into that.


Poor soils bedevil Highway 16 near Sedgwick

The in basket: Two readers have suggested that the condition of Highway 16 in both directions just north of the Sedgwick interchange needs work.

Nelson Lanchester wrote some weeks ago, “When is the state going to admit and fix Highway 16 westbound north of Sedgwick interchange where the highway starts to go up the hill.

“When they constructed the additional two lanes back when, they used sawdust as a fill instead of earth/rock,” Nelson said. “After this many years the sawdust has deteriorated and the highway is sinking.”

Then this month, Vivian Henderson had this to say about a spot on the other side of the highway.

“There is a huge patch of asphalt that appears to have been put down hastily long ago and never improved.  It has been there for years, covers both lanes extensively as well as the highway shoulders.  It is breaking down and is getting rougher and rougher to drive over. I’m wondering if it poses a hazard to drivers not expecting the surface of the road to change so abruptly; especially at night. Why doesn’t the state fix it?”

The out basket: Well, the state does fix it, intermittently and temporarily, with what local Maintenance Superintendent Duke Stryker calls a “grader patch.”

A grader spreads a layer of asphalt over the surface to compensate for whatever subsidence has occurred. I recall it last being done two years ago, when the patch got noticeably wider. Dke said “the Integrity of the structure of the road wasn’t compromised,” so the grader patch was sufficient..

That entire area suffers from poor soils and both problems stem from subsidence that results.

That spot Vivian mentions is fairly obvious, but the dip in the lanes heading toward Gorst is more subtle. I’d never noticed it until Nelson mentioned it. It’s just past the end of the on-ramp from Sedgwick.

Frankly, neither problem seems to me to be a hazard to motorists.

The state does have some repaving planned this summer in the lanes bound for Gorst, Duke says, but not on the highway heading the other way.

Duke was surprised by Nelson’s description of the construction of those lanes with sawdust, saying that just isn’t a material acceptable to the state. But it has been used.

Mel Holgerson, state project engineer when the Gorst-bound lanes were built, said they used sawdust to minimize the weight of the roadway. The alternative would have been to dig  out and replace marshy soil to a depth of about 35 feet and they feared that the other two lanes, built years before, might give way because of the digging that close to them, Mel said.

When Kitsap County extended Sedgwick Road west from Sidney Road years later, it did dig out a lot of the bad soil but still needed a membrane fabric to support the roadway, former assistant public works director Ron Yingling tells me.

And I recall reporting on the use of wood chips years ago as the base for the repair of Highway 166 just west of Ross Point when it was called Highway 160. The roadway had simply dropped away toward Sinclair Inlet. It was a variation on the problems along that highway that usually involved slides from above covering the asphalt.

The idea was to use a lightweight fill material to keep the base below the asphalt from giving way again. And so far, it hasn’t, though I’ve been watching a subsidence that Duke’s crews patched last year around the point on the Port Orchard side.

That’s not where the wood chips went, though.


Arrow and Yield sign puzzle drivers at Tremont interchange

The in basket: Dave Dahlke and Katie Ruley has questions about the Tremont interchange on Highway 16 in Port Orchard.

Dave wonders what the arrow at the downhill end of the northbound Highway 16 off-ramp there is supposed to mean.

“I see left-  and right-turn arrows in center turn lanes,” he said. “I see left-turn arrows and right-turn arrows signifying what I believe to be only those turns allowed in other lanes. What  (is) the purpose of a straight-ahead white arrow on the pavement on the off-ramp from Highway 16 to Tremont? “Makes me wonder if any out-of-town drivers assume the only option is to drive straight ahead which puts them  back on Highway 16 via the on-ramp.”

Katie is perplexed by the position of the Yield sign that assigns right-of-way to left turners coming off Tremont to head toward Gorst on the freeway, over right turners using the same on-ramp.

“If I am waiting to turn left into oncoming traffic to enter the highway,” she said, “it would seem to me impossible that I would have the right of way, but yet people do! And now there is a yield sign? This makes no sense.”

The out basket: The white arrows on that off-ramp and many others, which I had never noticed until Dave asked, are designed to tell drivers what not to do, not what to do.

They are a visual cue to anyone who has turned from Tremont onto the off-ramp that they ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY!! It hopes to keep them out of the high speed highway traffic.

You’ll also see them on the mainline of Highway 16 near Haven of Rest Cemetery in Gig Harbor and in Gorst in front of Navy City Metals. Both are near places where drivers have a way to get headed the wrong way on a divided highway.

As for the Yield sign, I told Katie that a right turner  certainly doesn’t have to yield to a car that is waiting for traffic to clear to begin the left turn. But when the two traffic flows actually conflict, right of way must be assigned to one or the other.

In this and similar cases, says Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olympic Region of state highways, giving the left turner the right of way “is more safe for all involved.

“The right turner is in a protected spot and can safely wait for the left turner to pass by. The left turner, if he has already begun his turn, may be blocking a lane if forced to wait for the right turner. This could cause traffic on the through road to make  sudden stops or swerve to avoid hitting the blocking vehicle.”

What’s with the sharp corner on new Sprague Avenue off-ramp?

The in basket: Gary Reed and Ronda Armstrong both wonder about the reasoning behind the L-shaped angle at the top of one of the Sprague Avenue ramps in the Nalley Valley project where I-5 and Highway 16 meet in Tacoma.

“I noted the new Sprague Avenue exit from leaves 16, goes up the twice-built ramp, and quickly goes into a 90-degree left turn,” said Gary. “I’m wondering if the WSDOT engineers have a pool going as to how long before the first accident occurs at the end of the ramp.

“I can envision a person steaming up that ramp, at night, rainy and icy, and smashing into the barricade at the top of the ramp, or, maybe even flipping over the barricade and plunging down into Nalley Valley,” he said. “I’m wondering why the sudden left turn, and not a smooth transition? I suppose the 40 mph signs are the deterrent? Or maybe the money was spent on correcting the poor ramp build? Twice?”

The out basket: Lisa Coleman, spokeswoman for the Olympic Region of state highway says that part of the interchange won’t be finished for more than a year, when it will have traffic signals.

“We considered leaving the exit closed until the eastbound project is done in 2013 but opted to open it in the interim, in the ‘L”’ configuration (eventually it will be  a ‘T’).  It will close for some time during eastbound construction.”

Bids on the remaining work are to be opened Aug. 24. You can get an idea what the finished project will look like online at www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/piercecountyhov/sr16_ebnalleyvalley/.

There is a video depiction online that runs a couple of minutes but it could really benefit from some narration rather than just the musical background it now has.

If you call it up, use the pause button to give yourself time to grasp what you are seeing. It appears there will be separate eastbound ramps to go north or south on I-5 from the existing structure with the 90-degree corner.

Damaged Olympic Drive overpass due a fix

The in basket: Mike Pizzuto says he’s noticed some damage to the concrete that comprises the Olympic Drive overpass on Highway 16  in Gig Harbor.

“When eastbound, you can see exposed rebar and missing concrete,” he said in late May, when he estimated he first noticed it two months earlier.

“It looks like someone westbound hit that overpass,” he said.

The out basket: “Back in January,” says Kelly Stowe of the state Department of Transportation, “an over-height vehicle struck the Olympic Drive overpass. A girder was damaged and needs to be replaced. This project is expected to go on

advertisement next month with work beginning in August or September.”.


Part of Highway 16 is missing!!

The in basket: Pat Davison of Bremerton writes, “Being a stickler for accuracy, I recently noticed that the mileage markers on Highway 16 are WAY off!

“Leaving I-5, headed towards Bremerton, milepost 5 is just before you cross the Narrows Bridge and 3/4 of the way across the bridge, the next post is milepost 8! Therefore,  approximate difference between the actual mileage and posted mileage is off by about 2  1/4 miles all the way to Gorst!

“I know it may not seem like such a big deal to some,” said Pat, “but I just thought I’d let you know of this discrepancy.

The out basket: This was first brought to my attention in 1996, the first year the Road Warrior column appeared in The Sun. And there’s an explanation.

After Highway 16 was established, its route was changed several times on the Tacoma side. It used to follow various city streets, then Bantz Boulevard past Cheney Stadium comprised the bulk of it, and finally it was a continuous freeway from I-5. That all made it shorter, and ultimately it was 2.2 miles shorter than it used to be.

Since all the state’s accident reports and various other records rely on the milepost to identify where something occurred or was done, changing the location of all the mileposts from the bridge north would have led to mass confusion in interpreting those records. So they absorbed the missing 2.2 miles at the bridge, leaving the mileposts elsewhere where they were.

Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olympic Region of state highways, hasn’t been around long enough to know whether it was was done in one move or in stages, but he guesses it was a one-time change made in the 1970s.

The mileposts are shown at each even mile by a short green sign on the highway’s shoulder, though various records break locations down by decimals, such at MP48.35,  to identity a location to within a hundredth of a mile. The milepost is identical in both directions.

Roundabout in Purdy is a possibility

The in basket: Someone (I can no longer find the inquiry) asked me if there was anything new in efforts to ease the rush-hour backups at the Purdy traffic signal for traffic trying to get to Key Peninsula after pulling off northbound Highway 16.

The lines of vehicles, which have caused the state to allow shoulder driving on Highway 16 to get exiting cars out of the through lanes at the Purdy exit, remain long, the inquiry said.

The out basket: It turns out there has been a lot of progress, though the most immediate change will address morning backups in the other direction. But there may be a roundabout in place of that over-worked Purdy stop light within three years.

Karen Boone, assistant project engineer in the Olympic Region design shop, said the most recent gas tax increase of 9 1/2 cents per gallon has provided $6.65 million for work in or near Purdy, to be done in two phases.

A lot of it in both phases will be devoted to Highway 302’s intersection with 118th Avenue well west of Purdy. Turn lanes and guard rail to improve safety are planned there.

But by Christmas this year, a new signal controller and optical traffic detector in Purdy will turn the left-turn light green for traffic coming east over the Purdy Bridge whenever the backup to turn left (about 10 cars) blocks those who want to turn right from getting to the turn. More reflective signs also wlll be installed.

In 2012, a contract is scheduled to be let for work to include other improvements in Purdy, Karen said. One option being studied is building a roundabout there.

She said preliminary traffic studies say a roundabout would be a partial fix for the long afternoon lines, not a complete one. “It won’t be the silver bullet,” she said.

One complication that often works against roundabouts – the need to buy a lot of right of way – is not a problem in Purdy, she said. The state owns enough land there to build a roundabout, though some of it is leased to businesses at present.

Another complication, for all projects – money – could be decisive. The $6.65 million might not stretch to cover a roundabout.

If the state decides against the roundabout, the only other option identified so far doesn’t sound like a major help. That would be putting in a second northbound lane at the stop light to let traffic wanting to go straight rather than turn left onto 302 get out of the left-turn queue. Karen couldn’t say what percentage of the traffic goes straight, but suspects it’s a minority.

Karen said such a second lane couldn’t be too long, or it would run into some fish barriers uphill. If they disturbed them, they’d have to bring them up to code, which could consume all of the available money and then some, she said.

Another traffic obstacle in Purdy, the narrow bridge, is on the state’s list for replacement, she said, but that would be a long time in the future.

Rough bounce on freeway bridge is repaired

The in basket: Cheryl Larson wrote in early August about the seams on the west end of the Sedgwick Road freeway bridge over Highway 16, saying, “The area where the road butts up to the bridge seriously needs to be repaired. The cars in both directions, on the end of the overpass going west towards the Albertson’s bumps really hard and its hard on the car.

“Both my husband and I travel that route several times a day and the wear and tear it is putting on our cars suspensions is ridiculous. The east side of the overpass isn’t so bad if you straddle the normal  tire wear area, but the other side of it is bad.”

The out basket: I passed her complaint along to my contact in the state Department of Transportation, though I had trouble finding the problem until I drove it in my 18-year-old pickup truck rather than my 2008 Mazda 3.

The state agreed with Cheryl and thanked her for bringing the jolt to their attention. They fixed it Sept. 9, said Lisa Copeland, the state contact.