SDOT Traffic Management Center expanding hours, councilmembers told during review of Highway 99 crash closure

Four miles of closure for five hours, six months ago. The June 10th crash/investigation closure of Highway 99 finally got its airing before the City Council Transportation Committee on Tuesday, and the presenters from SDOT and SPD declared that major changes had resulted.

If you want to just watch for yourself but didn’t see it in real time, full video of the discussion is in this Seattle Channel clip, starting 1 hour and 48 minutes in.

If not – toplines follow:

First, the June 10th situation was recapped: Three people seriously injured after a truck and car collided at East Marginal/Nevada (map) in the afternoon of June 10th. The car driver was suspected to have been under the influence, police said. That meant they had to investigate it as a vehicular assault, and potentially – in case someone died weeks or months later – as a vehicular homicide.

One of the biggest questions from the public that day was, why did SPD close Highway 99 all the way back to the Battery Street Tunnel, rather than allow traffic to the stadiums or even the West Seattle Bridge? Traffic Division Capt. Mike Nolan reiterated what had been said before – a Mariners game was scheduled and they were worried about “dumping” cars into the stadium zone.

Another question, why five hours? This answer was new: The Traffic Collision Investigation Squad‘s work was explained in more detail than we’d heard publicly before (along with its baseline staffing – eight detectives, one sergeant). For one, on most major roads/highways in the city, they use photos/video they have already shot of the road/highway in question – but in this case, their pre-existing footage ended just short of the crash scene, so they had to do extra work which added time.

Another factor was a “large debris field.”

The surveying equipment you might have noticed in photos of crash scenes we’ve covered (or any you have seen firsthand) is used to “shoot lines of sight” at crash scenes, the councilmembers were told: “You’re actually measuring every piece of debris, every section of every corner of vehicle(s) involved – the entire roadway curb to curb … so you can do a three-D reconstruction of the entire roadway and entire accident scene …”

If the area near the June 10th scene had been “pre-shot,” TCIS might have needed about three hours, rather than five, police told councilmembers.

Another line of questioning involved assigning officers to direct traffic during major reroute situations like the five-hour Highway 99 closure that day, and what their enforcement duties are while they are handling that responsibility. SPD reps pointed out that unless an officer in that role has backup, if s/he leaves their post to pursue a violator, suddenly the spot where they’re directing traffic is uncovered for 15 minutes or so, and that’s why you might not see an officer peel away in that kind of situation.

Separately, the biggest news to emerge from the discussion was that the SDOT Traffic Management Center is expanding its hours of operation. Though it is “24/7 ready now,” it’s not staffed 24/7, and they’re working to change that, SDOT reps said. They already have 24/7 information available from street-maintenance dispatch.

Right now, they’re up to 16 hours a day of Traffic Management Center on weekdays, 8 hours a day on weekends. (This is most noticeable if you follow @seattledot on Twitter, or if you have noticed information on the illuminated signs along major routes, especially leading to the West Seattle Bridge.) The rest of the time, on-call SDOT employees can “plug in” to the system remotely. Starting in January, someone will be in the Traffic Management Center 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the “remote” capability continuing the rest of the time. (Earlier this year, it only operated 13 hours a day, 6 am to 7 pm.) The phasing-in of longer operating hours is part of what’s detailed in this memo that was included with Tuesday’s agenda; it also includes more information on how agencies are improving their interaction in incidents like the one that sparked this review.

EARLIER COVERAGE: Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the Transportation Committee, had previously questioned/reviewed the incident response in e-mail exchanges with the two city departments included in yesterday’s meeting – here’s our July coverage of the SDOT response, and our June coverage of the SPD response.

5 Replies to "SDOT Traffic Management Center expanding hours, councilmembers told during review of Highway 99 crash closure"

  • Tony S December 10, 2014 (11:53 am)

    I understand the desire to conduct a full and proper investigation, but perhaps there needs to be a few steps taken back to look at the forest and not the individual trees: We’re told the reasons for having a five hour closure is to conduct the investigation to assist in future legal actions and municipal liability (if any).

    How much did the closure, at rush hour, cost the city and its citizens in lost time and productivity: a difficult metric to measure, but significant.

    What was the cost in wasted fuel? Thousands of vehicles idling for hours and hours. This has to be a calculable cost. And it flies in the face of Seattle’s “green cred”.

    And here’s an easier one: what were the impacts emergency services? During the five hours that this went on, there had to have been more than a few medical calls that here heavily effected.

  • Kathy December 10, 2014 (1:12 pm)

    If Seattle had any significant “green cred” there wouldn’t have been so much traffic on the road in the first place. And thanks to our state legislature, only 7% of the transportation budget is for mass transit, biking and walking. So as we continue to support and encourage car culture with our taxes, our roads and highways will increasingly become parking lots, no matter whether or not our car runs on “clean” energy. This just leads to the temptation to build more roads (see Seattle Tunnel). Visit southern California if you want to see where this is headed. A society locked into its own cycle of car dependency.

  • Laura W December 10, 2014 (2:51 pm)

    When I read about dumping cars into the stadium zone before a baseball game I just think, “Who cares?” I was lucky enough to catch the water taxi and get a ride home with a co-worker once we got to West Seattle, but there were people stuck all over the place in traffic for hours. I think that congestion–or even gridlock–around the stadium would have been a fair tradeoff for the nightmare that extended for miles? I wonder, was there any more discussion about that at the meeting?

    • WSB December 10, 2014 (3:24 pm)

      Short answer – no.

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