Bus-battered roads, curbs, homes: Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights CC, report #3

(Bus headed southbound on 26th SW, north of Roxbury; watch for the damaged pavement panels after it passes)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

One of the side effects of Westwood Village becoming a de-facto transit center is something that residents just to the south say they’re living with day in and day out, night in and night out – buses rumbling by almost continuously, leaving behind damaged pavement and causing their homes to settle.

More than a dozen residents brought their concerns to last night’s meeting of the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council (as we tweeted during the meeting). WWRHAH’s transportation committee is headed by Chris Stripinis, who lives in the area, and has created a website with a clearinghouse of information about the problem, at westwoodbus.wordpress.com.

In his introduction on that site, Stripinis wrote:

Severe visible road damage – On Barton, 26th Ave. and Roxbury, concrete panels in bus lanes are misaligned, cracked and subsiding under the weight of the buses.

Shaking of homes – Residents of Roxbury, 26th Ave. and Barton have reported significant, earthquake-level shaking in their homes as buses pass by. A seismic sensor designed for monitoring earthquake activity has recorded earthquake-level shaking in one Roxbury Street home.

Pavement Condition Index (PCI) numbers – On Barton and 26th Ave., PCI numbers supplied by SDOT show markedly lower ratings for lanes used for bus travel.

Bus weight waiver – Transit buses are overweight for local roads but operate under federal and state waivers to allow them on surface streets not engineered to handle these loads.

The panels over which the buses travel on 26th, as seen in our video clip above, look like this:


Last night, the problem was discussed with both Metro and SDOT reps in the room:

“The RapidRide is noticeably heavier than the other bus coaches – 7 percent heavier but causes 30 percent more pavement damage,” said Stripinis. He noted that the MoveSeattle levy called for 2021 repavement of Roxbury, but given the damage done so far, that’s too far away. Residents are interested in the road being re-engineered, and they’re wondering how to move the repavement up in priority.

“Did anybody do an Environmental Impact Statement when all the buses were moved there?” asked WWRHAH co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick (who also co-chairs the West Seattle Transportation Coalition). “If there was an EIS done, people on the route might have had their windows done differently, or gotten some mitigation?”

No, was the reply. Why not? was the immediate response.

Helmick pointed out that they want to know when the streets will be rebuilt, not if; she mentioned backstory including the research and the walkabouts done around the transit area, where the streets “are not rated for this type of weight … literally, every curb is sinking into the ground … we have oil from the buses … we have a serious problem and it’s going to take some serious investment into this neighborhood. If you’re going to (keep) the buses here, you have to (fix it).”

The houses aren’t just shaking, but are settling and sinking, said attendees. One said he didn’t think it was going to be as big a deal when the changes were first proposed – but he didn’t realize it was going to be “400 buses going by my house every single day.”

Doug Johnson from Metro didn’t have much to offer in response to the pavement concerns. He said that Metro is working on some other transit-center-related issues such as the design of the lighting project on the north side of Roxhill Park, “pedestrian-level lighting along the layover area,” and rebuilding sections of the sidewalk, since the lighting will be going “onto the sidewalk itself” rather than into Parks-owned ground behind it. They’re hoping for construction/installation in fall, which brought the interjection from Helmick, “It was summer – now we’re looking at fall?” interjected Helmick.

Stripinis pointed out there’s a “slow” reduced-speed-limit advisory now for buses in the area, as of a few months ago, and that Metro “needs to work with (bus) drivers” to make sure that’s respected.

How could this all be quantified, to decide on next steps?

SDOT pavement engineer Benjamin Hansen says they’d probably need to hire a consultant. He said “your situation is not unique – there are streets around the city that have ‘slow orders’ on them that are failing under heavy bus loads. … Even Marine View Drive is in pretty terrible shape, because we’ve routed buses onto roads that were never designed (for this kind of use). … I think fundamentally at some level we prioritized transit service over pavement; we’d rather not have pavement hold us back from transit service.”

Hansen said that most vibration studies point to a level that’s “a nuisance but is not damaging to the structure,” while acknowledging that it depends on where the monitoring equipment is placed. He thinks that before such studies, on Barton, Roxbury, 35th, they’ve done some spot repair projects to “try to mitigate all this,” but have not done much on 26th SW, “and there’s a reason for this … you pointed out that Puget Sound Energy has made a bunch of repairs in the street, and when I went out there and looked at the pavement condition, I found that some of the worst in terms of vibrating and cracking were some of the new panels Puget Sound Energy put in. … so we have (those) panels out there that are failing, and some older SDOT panels that are failing, so what I was hoping to do was get PSE to come out and fix their panels and coordinate with (SDOT work, at the same time) … I think if we replace some of the worst panels out there, it will help.” However, that’s not all worked out yet – Hansen said the city brought the issue to PSE and they “immediately kicked it over to their lawyers and now the City Attorney’s Office is involved.”

But that’s not the only problem, Helmick pointed out – it was all marshland before it was paved over (Longfellow Creek still goes beneath).

The meeting had to be cut short because of library hours, but SDOT’s engineer promised “we’re going to make (repairs) happen.” City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, in attendance at the meeting, asked, “Is there anything more that we can do to help you?” The engineer said citizens already had gone above and beyond – he’d never had a citizen go as far as Stripinis had, in terms of collecting a study.

Helmick returned to the issue of an Environmental Impact Statement.

And for Hansen, the big picture was how much of the city’s road network needs repairing. The MoveSeattle levy only pays for 25 miles of repaving a year, while the city overall, he said, has more than 500.

The Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council meets on first Mondays, 6:15 pm, at Southwest Library.

27 Replies to "Bus-battered roads, curbs, homes: Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights CC, report #3"

  • KT March 8, 2016 (6:59 pm)

    Doug Johnson from Metro didn’t have much to offer in response to the pavement concerns.”…SDOT pavement engineer Benjamin Hansen says they’d probably need to hire a consultant.”…”SDOT’s engineer promised “we’re going to make (repairs) happen.””  BUT, I would not hold your breath waiting.

  • dsa March 8, 2016 (7:38 pm)

    The panels sound loose.  Pavement jacking type repair material should be considered instead of replacement for stabilization.

  • Alan March 8, 2016 (8:01 pm)

    I wonder if they would consider using dowel bar retrofit, as they do on the freeway to solve the same problem from trucks. The pads start rocking a little, then water gets under the gap and then pumped out when weight goes over them. If you can stop the rocking with the retrofit, you can prevent the pumping/teeter totter/ vibration creating noise.

    I have seen rebar connecting sections downtown, so maybe they do that everywhere. In that case I would have to say “nevermind”.

  • Gina March 8, 2016 (8:33 pm)

    See 48th SW from Erskine to Beach Drive for years of damage from the 37 back when it ran 24/7. 

  • Hello March 8, 2016 (9:01 pm)

    Delridge is pretty horrible too. Seems like this needs to be fixed to. 

  • Chris Stripinis March 8, 2016 (9:28 pm)

    Gina and Hello  –

    Do you know if residents of 48th Ave. and Delridge are also having problems with their homes shaking?

  • dsa March 8, 2016 (10:35 pm)

    Chris, I noticed you wrote this on your blog page: “… Bus weight waiver – Transit buses are overweight for local roads but
    operate under federal and state waivers to allow them on surface streets
    not engineered to handle these loads…”  Don’t forget the garbage trucks operate under a similar waiver.   And the newer trucks are bigger than the older fleet.   Damage being blamed on transit could easily have been caused by refuse and not noticed until the more constant use by transit especially considering the differences in speeds and sound (noise) levels.

    • Chris Stripinis March 9, 2016 (8:43 am)

      DSA – Thanks for your comment on the garbage trucks.  The difference with those is that they have dual rear axles (http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/kplu/files/styles/x_large/public/201208/photo%282%29_0.JPG), which distribute the weight more.  18 wheelers, tour buses, dump trucks and other vehicles also have this dual axle configuration.  Although those vehicles are quite heavy, they don’t have the same single-axle point load causing damage that the transit buses have. 

      I believe that the state/federal waiver specifies a standard 20,000 pound single axle load limit.  Some of the buses exceed 22,000 pounds for the rear axle when empty and can reach 24,000-27,000 for the rear axle when fully loaded.  Keep in mind that pavement damage increases roughly to the fourth power with weight increases, so a 10% increase in weight translates to a 46% increase in pavement damage.

      For more details, you can see tables for bus axle weights at the end of the report at https://westwoodbus.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/wwrhah_sdot_pavement-public.pdf.

      • Chris Stripinis March 9, 2016 (9:39 am)

        Also, if garbage trucks were causing significant damage, we would expect to see more even damage across the lanes.  On Barton, for example, which had no bus traffic before 2012, the eastbound bus lane is in significantly worse shape than the non-bus westbound lane.  (Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 76 (Satisfactory) for westbound vs. 57 (Fair verging on Poor) for eastbound.)  

        Similarly, on 26th Ave., the southbound lane handles three-quarters of the bus traffic and has a PCI of 53 (Poor) vs. 59 (Fair) for the northbound lane.

        The garbage trucks have operated on all lanes in both directions on these streets for a long time, so I would expect there to be more damage visible in the non bus lanes if they were significantly contributing to pavement damage.

    • Bill March 10, 2016 (9:02 am)

       Garbage trucks maybe a dozen a week — buses maybe a dozen an hour at full speed — no equivalence

  • Hello March 9, 2016 (1:06 am)

    I’m not sure. I don’t live on Delridge but travel it often. The roads are constantly bad with potholes near the northern end of Delridge. I know there is frequent bus transit there also. 

  • uncle loco March 9, 2016 (6:06 am)

    This is from a lack of  maintenance and years of neglect. SDOT has been focusing their efforts on painting the streets rather than repairing them. Why did they re stripe Roxbury over that crumbling road surface? By the way, why would a pavement engineer need to “hire a consultant”? Shouldn’t the DOT of a city this size have experts within the department? I know this sounds like a rant but I feel like these are legitimate questions.

    • wsn00b March 9, 2016 (11:23 am)

      Right. That engineer has a very specific title – Pavement Engineer. And he needs a consultant for a pavement problem. As they say, you have one job… 

      This crapshoot is going to continue for decades now. Spend 2 years getting a levy and then fix things a decade later. 

      • Chris Stripinis March 9, 2016 (12:55 pm)

        I would like to say that SDOT Pavement Engineer Ben Hansen has been among the most responsive and helpful public employees I have come across in this process. 

        Also, realize that the type of vibration analysis needed for homes in this situation is a specialized process.  Before the First Hill Streetcar went in, a Noise and Vibration Report was conducted for adjacent structures by an outside firm with that expertise.  (http://seattlestreetcar.org/about/docs/sepa/Appendix%20D%20-%20Noise%20and%20Vibration%20Discipline%20Report.pdf)

        Even though this issue involves pavement, I would imagine that the forces acting on pavement differ from the forces on vehicles hitting potholes which differ from the seismic forces translated to adjacent buildings.

  • bolo March 9, 2016 (9:09 am)

    “Do you know if residents of 48th Ave. and Delridge are also having problems with their homes shaking? ”

    Yes, and settling also, but not only from buses. Most recently from 100’s of high-capacity dump trucks/trailers hauling soil up from the Murray CSO excavation project. And the 100’s of cement trucks bringing in cement to fill it in.

    • Chris Stripinis March 9, 2016 (9:45 am)

      Bolo – That sounds very possible.  Even thought the dump and cement trucks have dual rear axles to distribute the load better than the single-axle buses, they are still a heavy vehicle load for city streets likely not engineered for that kind of weight.  You could try requesting Pavement Condition Index (PCI) numbers for 48th, as that would show over time if there has been a significant decrease in pavement conditions since work on the Murray CSO facility began.  (SDOT only takes PCI numbers every three years, so be sure to ask for updated recent PCI numbers if it has been a while so you can compare.)

  • Born on Alki 59 March 9, 2016 (9:56 am)

    Good post Chris. Legal weights in Washington are 20k single axle and 34k for tandem axles. Garbage trucks can only exceed legal by 4k via permit. They seldom exceed this unless fully packed. Who the hell designs busses to grossly exceed federal bridge law limits and why? 27k on the rear axle explains alot of road damage. The busses should be required to make legal weight….period.

    • Chris Stripinis March 9, 2016 (1:12 pm)

      Born on Alki 59 – Municipal transit bus weights have crept up over the years, as things like wheelchair lifts, 3rd doors, dual hybrid capacity and other features have been added. 

      I asked Metro if rear dual axle buses could be purchased instead but they explained that there are essentially no manufacturers for such buses. 

      In California, recognition that overweight vehicles cause the vast majority of pavement damage have led to movements to remove the waiver for overweight transit buses.  (http://caltransit.org/advocacy/key-issues/bus-axle-weights/)  If this happens and the massive market that is California requires lighter buses, some think that manufacturers may start creating  lighter vehicles to meet that demand.

  • dsa March 9, 2016 (10:09 am)

    Chris, your GVW link did not work for me, but assuming you are correct, Metro would be the major culprit in your location.  What I do know is the current fleet of refuse haulers is causing more damage than what we have had in the past.

    • Chris Stripinis March 9, 2016 (1:01 pm)

      DSA – That’s odd about the link.  It worked when I just clicked on it above.  Do you remember what it said when it failed to connect?

      At any rate, if you can get on the http://www.westwoodbus.wordpress.com site, the second page contains the link for the March 2015 report that has all that bus axle weight information, at the end of the report.  Keep in mind that those charts are from 2006, so the Rapidride, for instance, has even higher weights.

  • Mike Mahanay March 9, 2016 (10:40 am)

    Those poor people who now have hundreds of buses going by their houses each day. The “Transit Center” should be at White Center where it was in the past. Westwood Village has sen an influx of crime since the buses were moved from White Center. Buses should use main corridors and not neighborhood streets. 

    • Chris Stripinis March 9, 2016 (1:18 pm)

      Mike – I believe that Barton and 26th are both designated as “arterial” and not “residential” streets (although there are residences along them), thus making them open to transit bus traffic.

  • j March 9, 2016 (1:03 pm)

    35th and Roxbury now have double the traffic traveling in the one lane. The street will degrade twice as fast. Is paving scheduled twice as often? Of course not. 

    • AMD March 9, 2016 (1:07 pm)

      The buses on those streets always used the same lane when there were two.

      Can we please just have one discussion where every ill in the city ever isn’t blamed on the road diet?

      • Chris Stripinis March 9, 2016 (1:16 pm)

        If anything, the road diet helped the situation by shifting half the bus weight over a few feet onto more stable panels that didn’t have bus traffic before.  This will likely be but a brief reprieve, though.

  • Delridge resident March 10, 2016 (8:43 am)

    Chris – I live on delridge and our house does shake when these 18 wheelers and the 120 pass by

    • Chris Stripinis March 11, 2016 (9:22 am)

      Delridge resident – Just out of curiosity, do you live in a single family home or in one of the newer multi-family structures?  I’ve often wondered whether the small single family homes are more susceptible to the shaking than the larger structures like townhomes and condo buildings and such.

      At any rate, you might want to let SDOT and Metro know about that.  There are plans to convert the 120 line into a Rapidride line in the future.  If this is done, the Rapidride coaches are about 7% heavier but cause about 30% more pavement damage, so you could expect stronger shaking in the future if the road conditions aren’t dealt with.

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