Technology the way to go, says state transportation chief

Information about the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River was available to truck drivers on the state’s website before the May 23 accident in which a truck struck the span, causing part of it to fall into the waterway.

This information might not have been as accessible as it could have been, however, transportation secretary Lynn Peterson told a meeting of the Washington Clean Technology Alliance, a trade association, in Seattle on Wednesday.

It was on an 11-by-14-inch PDF file, in tiny type.

By contrast, apps are available that can provide verbal cues to drivers, such as, “You are approaching a bridge you may want to pay attention to,” she said.

Improving the flow of information to drivers is a primary challenge for the state in improving its road safety and capacity in the near future, Peterson said.

“We’re going to have to amp up what we’re talking about in terms of technology,” she said.

The topic of Peterson’s talk was the future of transportation in the state. She and other transportation experts from the region participated in a panel discussion after her presentation.

Peterson was appointed to her position earlier this year by Gov. Jay Inslee, replacing Paula Hammond, who retired.

The state’s priorities in the coming years will be to “maintain what you have, finish what you’ve started and keep it safe for all modes,” she said.

Apps such as OneBusAway,in which the nearest bus can be located quickly on line, and 520//I-90,which provides a moment-to-moment comparison of traffic on the Lake Washington bridges, are only as effective as the information they get from the state, she said.

“So we’re going to have to figure out, “how do we make sure our data is smart?’”

Currently, the transportation department responds to accidents or blockages by watching road cameras and sending out its incident response team.

There might be a better way, Peterson said. For example, people are using a GPS-based navigational tool called Waze to help them find the quickest travel routes.

“Right now, everything that we do is kind of one dimensional in terms of our traffic control,” she said.

Finishing current road projects that have already been funded will help, she said. She cited the $3.1 billion Seattle waterfront tunnel project as an example.

In Snohomish County, close to $1 billion in road projects are currently underway.

“We need to use the capacity that we have. That’s going to be a mantra as we move forward at (the transportation department), and really for the rest of the United States,” Peterson said.

Funding for transportation also is going to have to become more technology based, she said. The gas-tax model is becoming obsolete.

The trick will be to develop a way to charge drivers based on road use electronically — a user fee similar in spirit to the gas tax — without becoming overly intrusive in tracking their whereabouts.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a rough conversation,” she said.

It’s already happening with electronic tolling on the Highway 520 bridge, toll lanes on Highway 167 in south King County and planned toll lanes on I-405, she said.

Encouraging use of smaller vehicles that use alternative fuels could help reduce energy costs and road wear, which in turn could help the state’s economy and better preserve the road system, speakers said.

As far as mass transit is concerned, Peterson said, the state’s rail plan was written years ago to give priority to freight trains.

Passenger trains can’t travel on the same tracks at the higher speeds that will make them more attractive to travelers, Peterson said.

Improving rail service will require side tracking, more bridges over roadways and tracks and other spendy work, she said.

“We are going to have to think about how to improve the speed of passenger rail and how we’re going to pay for it,” she said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

Julie Timm
Sound Transit’s $375K payout to ex-CEO didn’t buy help

Board members said Julie Timm would give professional advice to them or a future CEO after leaving, but she hasn’t been called upon.

FILE -- An engine on a Boeing 767 jet aircraft, at a Boeing facility in Everett, Wash., March 7, 2012. The Boeing 737 engine that failed on Southwest Flight 1380 is not the only one that has caught the eye of regulators: Engines on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and 767 have also failed, prompting questions about their design and inspection procedures. (Stuart Isett/The New York Times)
Boeing 767, built in Everett, gets 5-year lifeline from Congress

Boeing would have been forced to end production of the 767 Freighter in 2027 due to new emissions rules if not for the extension.

Snohomish County Jail. (Herald file)
Inmate, 51, dies at Snohomish County Jail

Around 3 p.m., corrections staff called 911 about an inmate, who became unresponsive as firefighters arrived. He died at the scene.

With the Olympic mountains in the background, Boeing's 777x lifts off from Paine Field on its first flight, to Boeing Field in Seattle, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
1 dead, dozens injured after turbulence on Boeing plane

A Singapore Airlines flight from London was diverted to Bangkok, where more than 70 people were being treated for injuries.

Two people fight on the side of I-5 neat Marysville. (Photo provided by WSDOT)
Idaho man identified in fatal trooper shooting on I-5 near Everett

The deceased man was Marvin Arellano, 31, of Nampa, Idaho, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

State Sen. Mark Mullet, left, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, are both running as Democrats for governor in 2024. (Photos provided)
Did Bob Ferguson go too far responding to fellow Fergusons?

Ferguson wanted the secretary of state to redo the ballot. Mark Mullet, a Democratic rival, says such a move would’ve broken the law.

Photo by Gina Shields of GM Photography
Whidbey Island to salute the fallen for Memorial Day

All are invited to honor those who have fallen at three events on Whidbey Island.

Boeing firefighters and supporters hold an informational picket at Airport Road and Kasch Park Road on Monday, April 29, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Boeing union firefighters to vote on new contract proposal

The company made the offer after “a productive session” of bargaining and reported the amended contract includes an “improved wage growth schedule.”

Catholic Community Services NW Director of Housing Services and Everett Family Center Director Rita Jo Case, right, speaks to a man who asked to remain anonymous, left, during a point-in-time count of people facing homelessness in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Homelessness down nearly 10% in Snohomish County, annual count shows

The county identified 1,161 people without permanent housing, down from 1,285 last year. But lack of resources is still a problem, advocates said.

Snohomish County Deputy Prosecutor Craig Matheson on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 in Everett, Washington. Matheson retires this month after 35 years in the prosecutor's office. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
For decades, he prosecuted Snohomish County’s most high-stakes cases

“When you think of a confident prosecutor, you see a picture of Craig (Matheson) in the dictionary.” Or in the thesaurus, flip to “prepared.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.