For months, islanders have been hearing about the big paving project set for this summer and had their first experience with it last week, when crews began work in town and then moved toward Center. This week, work is expected to continue southward to the Tahlequah ferry. Once that stretch is complete, the crews will work back up to the he north-end terminal, although two stretches of highway were paved in 2009 and will not skipped this year: from SW Bank Road to SW 156th Street and from just north of SW 140th Street to SW 132nd Place.
Several days last week were hot, and there were reports that some tempers flared accordingly, as drivers faced delays. Doug Hoffmann, of D & R Excavating, one of the local contractors working on the project, said that crews started at the most difficult spot — the heart of town — and when the work is completed at Center, islanders should feel like the project is getting easier to contend with. He repeatedly requested that drivers understand the importance of patience and safety.
“Please pay attention to the flaggers, and please pay attention to the signs,” he said, adding that the pilot cars are also in place for a reason.
As with the flaggers and signs, he stressed that people need to stay out of closed lanes.
“You might not see anyone in the lane, but that does not mean you go in the lane. You might meet a sweeper truck or a dump truck. … We do not expect anyone to be in that lane,” he said.
A few people last week reported waits at the work locations of 20 minutes or more. King County’s Brent Champaco, public information officer for the Department of Transportation, said that waits for a pilot car can vary, but crews are trying their best.
“The wait time is monitored and every effort is being made to keep wait times manageable,” he said.
This week, scheduled work is grinding and paving the southbound lane of Vashon Highway from just north of Cemetery Road to SW 266th Street, a bit south of Inspiration Point. Alternate routes are encouraged between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
This is a large project for the island, and King County Roads officials previously stated that it is the first comprehensive paving project in nearly 25 years. Along with delays on the highway, ferry travel is affected as well, with many trucks traveling to and from the island. On Monday, Washington State Ferries announced that 40 to 50 asphalt trucks are expected on the south-end ferry each day this week between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
King County officials said they were trying to move trucks on the sailings with the least number of cars. Hoffman also stated that moving the trucks on and off the island has been a challenge, with ferries’ weight limits also a factor in which vessels they could travel on.
A lifelong islander, Hoffmann said this is the first time this many trucks have been needed to haul asphalt to Vashon, as the last time such a project was done, a portable asphalt plant was brought for the purpose. This was not possible this time around for a variety of reasons, he added.
It is not clear yet just how many trucks will be coming and going over the course of project, Champaco said. One of the variables is if crews will be doing night work, which has not yet been determined. In an email last Friday, he said that officials are still evaluating the production levels that can be achieved during the day, with weekly updates planned for the community online at kingcounty/gov/vashonhighway.
Hoffman also reviewed the steps involved in a paving project — grinding off the old asphalt, taking those millings away, spraying a coat on the surface, overlaying that with new asphalt and then painting it. Hoffman and four other island contractors are hauling the millings away, taking some to King County’s Mileta Pit near the golf course, and will be reselling them.
With the holiday next week, no work is planned for Tuesday and Wednesday, July 3 and 4. Work is slated for July 2, 5 and 6.
Champaco also said that work schedules can change based on several factors and people are encouraged to visit the website and sign up there for alerts to help plan island travel.