Seattle mayor launches rapid response team to quickly clear traffic incidents
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan launched on Wednesday a new response team that would activate immediately following a serious traffic incident in the city.
The goal is to avoid an extended road closure, something that’s happened many times before. When a big crash happens, especially during rush hour, the result is often major gridlock.
One such incident was when a fish truck overturned on the Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2015. The closure lasted nine hours. About a year later in almost the same location, a truck full off crab overturned. That incident was cleared in four hours.
“We have a very fragile system here and the incidents, both last year and this year, were complicated,” said Norm Mah, with the Seattle Department of Transportation, that day in April 2016. “It’s not a simple vehicle collision where you can have the vehicles move on their own or have a tow truck help out.”
Durkan wants to avoid that happening again by launching the rapid response team.
“As we build a better city, we must do all we can to prepare for a new era of tough traffic in Seattle and to limit the impact on commuters, residents, and employers,” Durkan tweeted on Wednesday. “That’s why we are taking urgent action and launching a new response team to help during this challenging time.”
City crews will have access to five new specialized trucks with tools that can clear debris and vehicles quickly. The trucks will be equipped with tow ropes; traffic cones; fluorescent pink incident warning signs; saws to clear tree limbs; absorbent material to clear spills; fire extinguishers; jacks to change flat tires; battery jump starters; and GoJaks.
The team will be crucial with the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in January before the new SR 99 tunnel reopens and more drivers will likely pack surface streets.
“It is going to be a challenging time, and it will take all of us working together as we take some important steps to build a more vibrant city of the future,” Durkan said in a news release.
Weeks after the fish truck crash, former SDOT Director Scott Kubly said the department and the Seattle Police Department had different protocols for a major traffic situation. The police department had prioritized property above traffic. An insurance adjuster was at the scene of the crash.
Five months following the Fish Truck Incident of 2015, a 63-page report with recommendations detailed what the city and the Seattle Department of Transportation could do to improve traffic flow. Among them was sending “qualified personnel (from SDOT and/or SPD)” to a major collision scene to direct the cleanup process.
“Major decisions should not be left to the towing operator,” the report said.
“One minute of backup can create four to 10 minutes of delay. That adds up. Our SDOT Response Team helps keep people and goods moving during incidents, while reducing the risk of secondary collisions,” SDOT Deputy Director Rodney Maxie said in a news release about the new incident response team.
A four to 10 minute delay is also what the Washington State Department of Transportation reports. WSDOT also has incident response teams with the goal of clearing highway traffic incidents within 90 minutes. It estimates its teams “saves the economy of Washington state more than $65 million per year in lost time and fuel.”
KIRO 7 contributed to this report.