Web tool may help you schedule your ferry trip

Anyone who’s taken a ferry across the Puget Sound during the holidays knows it can involve a long wait.

To help drivers work around the rush, the state ferry system’s website now provides estimates of available space on each vessel before sailing.

The new information supplements tools already available, including camera views of holding lanes and approach roads, and GPS tracking of boats to show their exact locations and projected arrival times.

The ferry system calculates the approximate number of available car spaces for each sailing by taking the vessel’s capacity and subtracting the number of vehicle fares collected at the toll booth. For routes that accept reservations, including Coupeville-Port Townsend, the number of reserved spaces also is subtracted. Any vehicles that may be waiting on approach roads are not counted.

It’s a pilot program. Customers are encouraged to provide feedback at tinyurl.com/omxoqh3, which will be used to refine the travel tool in the coming months, officials said.

It’s hoped the added information will help inform drivers of the likelihood of making their planned sailing; encourage drivers to travel during less-busy times, thus lessening congestion at the terminals; and promote use of the reservation system on the routes on which they’re accepted.

Street Smarts note: Last week a reader asked about the depressions in the pavement on freeways. The state’s answer, as it turned out, did not address the matter to which the reader was referring. Today we run the question again with the correct response.

Lois Bradbury of Marysville writes: On both I-5 and I-90 there are stretches of road that have small, parallel rectangular depressions in the pavement of the slow lane. What is the purpose of these?

Tom Pearce, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, responds: The parallel rectangular depressions are from dowel bar retrofits. While people may think of highways like I-5 as a ribbon of concrete, in many places highways are composed of concrete panels, typically 15 feet long and 12 feet wide. This creates thousands of joints or seams where the panels meet.

When cars and trucks, particularly heavy ones, pass over these seams, the panels move with a rocking motion. Imagine a 2-by-4 board lying flat on the ground. If you step on one end of it, the other end will lift slightly. It’s the same when vehicles cross concrete panel seams, except the rocking is so slight you can’t see it. Over time, these microscopic movements add to the wear and tear on the road.

When many of the freeways were first built, as much as 60 years ago, this type of rocking motion wasn’t taken into consideration. It wasn’t until many years later that the problem began showing up as the highways aged.

To reduce the rocking motion, in the 1990s we began retrofitting the panels with dowel bars to tie them together, typically in the right lane where the heaviest use occurs. The dowel bar is a piece of steel 18 inches long, 1.5 inches in diameter and coated to prevent corrosion. During a retrofit, crews cut three parallel strips spanning the panel seams, insert the dowel bars and then set them with concrete. That process creates the three parallel lines you see. By tying the panels together, it prevents the rocking motion and helps extend the life of the pavement.

Since 1992, the Transportation Department’s standard practice has included building the dowel bars into the concrete panels as they’re made. You don’t see any evidence of them, but they’re there.

Finally, we want to acknowledge that we provided another answer to this question earlier. We appreciate the opportunity to present the proper answer.

E-mail us at streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your city of residence.

Look for updates on our Street Smarts blog at www.heraldnet.com/streetsmarts.

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