Figuring Out What the Future Holds: SDOT and Coordinating Construction

By the time you encounter a construction project, it will have been years in the planning. In addition to the more obvious construction-related planning such as design, funding, and how it will be built, the lesser known side of planning involves coordinating the construction traffic closures and required detours that are critical to building a project. SDOT makes every effort to reduce the impact of construction on the driving public. That may sound relatively simple, but it’s much like a game of chess. Every shift of traffic can alter traffic somewhere else, sometimes in a totally unrelated area. As noted by SDOT Construction Coordinator Abby Rudell, work on I-5 can shift traffic so as to cause impacts as far as I-405, east of Lake Washington.

 

Abby Rudell, a construction coordinator for SDOT, points to a map she recently created to help commuters visualize routes to take in order to avoid construction-related delays.

 

By the time you encounter a construction project, it will have been years in the planning. In addition to the more obvious construction-related planning such as design, funding, and how it will be built, the lesser known side of planning involves coordinating the construction traffic closures and required detours that are critical to building a project.  SDOT makes every effort to reduce the impact of construction on the driving public.  That may sound relatively simple, but it’s much like a game of chess.  Every shift of traffic can alter traffic somewhere else, sometimes in a totally unrelated area. As noted by SDOT Construction Coordinator Abby Rudell, work on I-5 can shift traffic so as to cause impacts as far as I-405, east of Lake Washington. 

Rudell, who creates maps and releases weekly construction updates to aid motorists in finding their way through traffic detour routes, is working on what might be called the mother of all construction planning headaches.  Right now she’s involved in planning the timing and detours for traffic in the SODO area where there are no less than four major projects already in progress  or about to begin this month:  SDOT’s Spokane Street Viaduct Widening continuing until Spring 2012; WSDOT’s on-going  SR 99 S Holgate to S King Street Viaduct Replacement Project ; the Port of Seattle’s East Marginal Way Grade Separation which began on June 3 ;  and SDOT’s East Marginal Way at Horton Bridge Rehabilitation getting underway today, June 6.  The weekly SODO construction update/map can be found here.

The ideal tool for coordinating construction might well be a crystal ball.  Rudell says some construction planning she’s involved with won’t actually break ground until more than five years from now.   The bigger the construction project, the longer the construction traffic and detour planning timeline required.  If construction must take place in a key location, such as Mercer Street, that too requires long-range planning. 

In addition, consideration of construction of multiple projects in a given area, such as the situation in SODO, adds the additional factor of the cumulative effect.  When impacts from multiple construction projects combine, the cumulative effect can delay project schedules and further impact the traveling public.  Careful planning is needed to mitigate this cumulative effect to keep people and goods moving while also allowing construction to progress. Coordination requires consideration of not only traffic patterns and the impact a closure will have on that traffic, but when the weather will be optimal for the work to be accomplished.  Another factor taken into consideration is the occurrence of traffic-generating events.  In the SODO area, for instance, there is a steady stream of sports and special events happening at the two stadiums all year round, but especially in the summer which, of course, is also when the best weather for construction occurs.  Furthermore, and very importantly, a construction detour route must follow standards set by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; for example, a detour must maintain traffic at safe speeds, and provide axle length and turning radii required by trucks for safe turning movements.  In fact, safety is the number one priority – construction detours must not only provide safe movement for cars and trucks, but for all modes of travel, including transit, walkers and bicyclists.

To see what is being planned in your neighborhood, visit the Planned Construction Map for a one year outlook of planned work.  To view construction traffic closures happening today, visit SDOT’s Travelers map.