FOLLOWUP: Why did it take so long to clear traffic-blocking vehicle off Viaduct? The traffic

(October 2nd photo by WSB reader Brian)

Two weeks ago today, a crash on the northbound Alaskan Way Viaduct sparked a van fire that resulted in more than two hours of morning-commute trouble. We brought you updates during our morning traffic coverage that day. As noted there, the vehicle that burned was a van belonging to Cupcake Royale, which said its driver was unhurt. The fire, while briefly big, as the photo above shows, was out before too long – SFD was dispatched at 6:14 am and the last engine left at 7:13, according to the incident log – but the burned van blocked a lane on the Viaduct for another hour and a quarter.

Given the commitment to clear key routes quickly, we asked what happened. Seattle Police, which handles incidents on the Viaduct though it’s a state structure, pointed us to the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, which oversees the city’s towing contract. FAS deputy communications director Cyndi Wilder researched it for us:

Initially, it appeared to be a breakdown in communication that caused the towing response time. However, we’ve reviewed information from SPD and Lincoln Towing’s dispatch data, and we determined that the response time to clear the incident was due to delays in retrieving the flatbed truck SPD requested.

SPD had requested three tows, which included the request for a flatbed truck. The City’s tow contractor, Lincoln Towing, dispatched two line trucks to the scene and sent a third to Lincoln’s Aurora Avenue North location to pick up the flatbed truck. The line trucks arrived on the scene at 6:58 a.m. and 7:05 a.m. Due to heavy traffic to pick up the flatbed truck and return to the incident scene, the flatbed did not arrive at the scene until 8:15 a.m.

Although Lincoln Towing’s response times met the performance standards of the towing contract (excerpts from the contract are below), we are working with Lincoln Towing on ways to improve response times for future incidents. When special equipment is requested (like a flatbed truck), we’ve asked Lincoln Towing to reach out to its subcontractors to determine if they have the requested equipment in a location where they can respond to the scene more quickly.

Here are the excerpts Wilder provided from the city’s towing contract:

5.a.ii- Minimum Performance Standards

With an officer standing-by or inside the Downtown Traffic Control Zone (DTCZ), Vendor will respond within 30 minutes when a Class A tow truck is needed to perform a tow. When a Class B, Class C or Class E tow truck is needed to perform a tow, Vendor will respond within 60 minutes.

7.a.ii-Exemptions to Minimum Performance Standards

……The following subsections describe situations when the City will grant an exemption
Two or more Tow Trucks Requested to One Impound Site: When two or more tow trucks are requested at one impound site, the first arriving tow truck will be held to the response time standard. SPD will grant an exemption for each tow truck arriving, provided the second tow truck arrives at the location of the impound within 60 minutes.

Back in 2015, after the notorious “fish-truck crash” blocked southbound 99 for nine hours, a variety of policy changes were recommended. Looking back at that, we’re seeing fodder for another followup.

8 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Why did it take so long to clear traffic-blocking vehicle off Viaduct? The traffic"

  • coffeedude October 16, 2017 (4:28 pm)

    This is no surprise to me.  Given the horrible work SDOT does, I’m actually surprised it didn’t take longer.  The current mayor should oust the Director and find someone pronto!  

    • WSB October 16, 2017 (4:34 pm)

      SDOT had nothing to do with it. SPD is accountable (as mentioned in the story) – they called for the tow in a timely manner, but the tow company had trouble getting there. The information came from FAS because they hold the tow contract.

  • newnative October 16, 2017 (4:50 pm)

    Ironic to have this story today after the horrific traffic jam that held up people heading northbound to Seattle for hours. I was surprised to hear about it when I got to work. It took my coworkers several hours to get in from Federal Way because of the diverted traffic off the I-5.

    • WSB October 16, 2017 (5:15 pm)

      If we covered the south-end (south of Seattle) troubles, it would be a full-time job. Every morning I get up and check traffic-watchers (WSDOT, SDOT, etc.) and it always seems to be something awry in Tukwila, Kent, Federal Way, and/or Tacoma … North too. Sometimes my eye catches a mention of Highway 99 and it turns out to be in Snohomish County …

  • Rick October 16, 2017 (5:11 pm)

    What we need here is a towing czar!

  • KT October 16, 2017 (6:25 pm)

    As usual.  Things never change.

  • Blinkyjoe October 17, 2017 (2:30 pm)

    City should buy one Sikorsky S64 skycrane with the water-drop  option. Hover over the vehicle, drop water to extinguish the flames. Then hook up the sky crane and lift the smoking hulk out of the way. Elapsed time should be 10 minutes or less. Would’ve worked on the trailer full of fish that tipped over last year on 99 also.

    • ltfd October 17, 2017 (9:19 pm)

      Approximately $25 million for the helicopter (Sikorsky S64), at least $150,000 per year for a helicopter mechanic (salary & benefits). A certified rigger would also be required to prep the vehicle for the lift, after the fire department extinguished the fire- dropped water flows off of a vehicle, not through a roof or engine hood. 

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