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Nov. 6, 2009

County heads into winter with new snow plans, better tools
& more equipment to keep residents informed and moving

Video VIDEO: Kevin Desmond explains Metro Transit's snow plans

Video VIDEO: Linda Dougherty explains Road Division's snow plans

On the heels of one of the worst winters in memory, King County is introducing some big changes to help keep people moving this season – whether they’re on a Metro bus or on a county road.

“We all know what a small amount of snow can do to our daily commute. Add a mix of snow and ice spanning several days and travel can become a nightmare,” King County Executive Kurt Triplett said. “So this year, both Metro Transit and the county’s Road Services Division will be trying some new approaches to combat snow while keeping residents better informed of impacts to bus service and road conditions.”

Click to enlarge
When snow begins to fall, bus riders should check Metro's new map to see the service status for their area. [Click photo to enlarge]

New tools to keep Metro riders informed
One of the biggest challenges Metro faced last year was keeping riders informed of service disruptions. The ability to provide real-time bus information won’t be available this winter, but Metro is introducing some new tools designed to speed the flow of customer information.

This season, customers will be able use the Internet to quickly see which buses in the Metro system are on snow route based on “geographic area.” Just as congestion is measured by color on congestion flow maps, the use of green, yellow or red on Metro’s new online snow map will give riders a snapshot of bus operations in each of seven geographic areas of the county. Green will indicate buses are operating on normal routes, yellow will signify minor reroutes (primarily in higher elevation areas), and red will alert customers that buses in the entire geographic area are on snow route or are being significantly impacted by snow.

If a major snowstorm spanning several days strikes, Metro will activate a newly designed Emergency Service Network for its fleet. When the network is activated, Metro’s regular routes will be replaced with 70 pre-identified “priority” snow routes across the county designed to be reliable in severe weather conditions. Metro will make every attempt to keep service operating on these routes as long as transportation service providers are able to keep roads passable.

Also new this season is an improved Metro Online website with better design and easier navigation to keep riders connected to transit information. Customers are also being encouraged to sign up online for enhanced Metro Transit Alerts being launched today that will deliver email or text messages about widespread service disruptions or weather events impacting their individual bus route.
Metro is also producing a booklet highlighting snow route maps and details about its new Emergency Service Network. The booklet will be available on buses and at Metro kiosks in early December.

Improved operations and coordination
Based on lessons learned last winter, Metro has revised and simplified snow routes and has closely coordinated with other public works and transportation agencies to make sure bus routes are identified as priorities for plowing and sanding. Agency leaders also negotiated a separate agreement with the city of Seattle to exchange staff during weather emergencies for improved coordination and to help the city plow streets, if necessary, in an effort to keep buses moving.

Metro is experimenting with a new mud/snow tire on up to 100 of its low-floor buses.
In addition to the technology and operational changes, Metro is experimenting with a new type of mud and snow tire on 65 of its standard 40-foot coaches. Based on testing, Metro believes the new tires will significantly increase performance on slick pavement.

Keeping county roads clear
The county’s Road Services Division has also been busy preparing for snow and ice removal on roads in unincorporated King County. Over the past several months, staff has been coordinating with other jurisdictions and transportation agencies to identify priority snow routes for plowing and sanding, which will benefit Metro as well as motorists.

The Road Division has worked with the state and several local cities to develop a snow route map that prioritizes snow and ice removal on major arterials, public and school bus routes, emergency corridors leading to hospitals, and access to highways.

Road Division staff has also enhanced the online Road Alert website to reflect both King County and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) road closures. During times of adverse weather, the online map and email alerts are a valuable tool for motorists.

Snow Plow
The Road Division also has more specialized equipment this season. The division will have four additional anti-ice applicators, four new devices that pre-treat the sand before it is applied to roads for extra traction, and five dump trucks upgraded to carry both snow plows and sanders. That gives the county a total of 45 vehicles dedicated to keeping roadways passable during winter weather.

The division has also doubled its supply of anti-icing material and purchased additional storage tanks to have more on hand in more locations. The additional tanks will allow crews to refill the trucks more quickly and get the anti-icer out on the roads faster. And, it has increased its stockpile of bulk salt through a cooperative purchase with WSDOT. Not only did that get the county a better price on the salt, but the bulk quantities will also speed up operations when crews are mixing sand and salt together.

Also new this year, the division will be testing a GPS tracking application on some of its snow plows aimed at more quickly deploying crews where they are most needed. This pilot project will also help the division track and measure the effectiveness of its storm response.

These road and transit weather products are on Metro Online, and at the Road Services Division website.

Metro Transit riders without Internet access can also pick up a newly produced Metro & Snow brochure available on buses and at Metro kiosks throughout King County.

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