Transit highway changes ruffle nearby residents

State Rep. Norma Smith, assistant regional  administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation Todd Harrison and resident Roger Eelkema talk about proposed changes to the  intersection of Highway 20 and Parker Road.  - Nathan Whalen / The Record
State Rep. Norma Smith, assistant regional administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation Todd Harrison and resident Roger Eelkema talk about proposed changes to the intersection of Highway 20 and Parker Road.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen / The Record

Residents living on the edge of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve are concerned proposed changes to an intersection will make driving conditions on Highway 20 even more dangerous.

About 20 people, including local residents, state and county transportation officials and State Rep. Norma Smith, met Monday afternoon near the intersection of Highway 20 and Parker Road.

Island Transit is planning to alter the triangle-shaped land that comprises the intersections of Old Smith Prairie and Parker roads with Highway 20. The agency plans to close the two separate intersections and build a new road that bisects the triangle. Plans also call for the addition of a “bike and ride,” several parking spots and a kiosk informing visitors about Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Nearby resident Roger Eelkema is concerned that the alterations lack the installation of a turn lane that will allow people to safely turn left from the busy highway onto the new Parker Road.

“We’d just like Island Transit to be a good neighbor and provide a left turn lane,” said Eelkema, a motorcycle enthusiast, during the meeting.

Other residents at the meeting were concerned the additions, along with improved access to nearby trails, will add more congestion to the area.

Rep. Smith, R-Clinton, said she organized the meeting after receiving numerous calls from constituents about the plans at the intersection. The meeting was held near the intersection of Highway 20 and Parker Road adjacent to the Island Transit expansion project.

Joe Sheldon, who lives near the intersection in question, was concerned that the berm and tall grass in the area of the curve “obliterates” the view trailing vehicles presently have of someone making a left turn at the proposed intersection.

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes expressed concern there will likely be more rear-end collisions in the stretch of road known for rear-enders.

Island Transit is undergoing a $17 million expansion project that will give the agency, famous for its free bus rides, expanded maintenance and administrative buildings. That project is funded by a federal grant. It also received $896,000 in state funding for intersection improvements.

Martha Rose, Island Transit director, said in a telephone interview after the meeting that a secondary entrance to the transit property was required for the expansion project. The intersection improvements were needed to reduce congestion.

Rose didn’t attend the meeting that started at 2 p.m. She said she didn’t hear about the meeting, organized by Rep. Smith, until about an hour before it started and she is currently vacationing with family on the Olympic Peninsula.

State transportation officials have examined and approved of Island Transit’s plans for the intersection.

“It’s a safer design than what exists today,” said Todd Harrison, assistant regional administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation. He said the proposed changes give a nice perpendicular intersection for motorists with good sight distance.

As for the desired left-turn lane from Highway 20 onto Parker Road, he said traffic data dictates it isn’t needed.

“We cannot tell Island Transit that you have to put in a left-turn lane because the traffic numbers don’t support it,” Harrison told the skeptical crowd Monday afternoon.

Harrison said the state has to use limited transportation dollars for higher priority projects. For Highway 20 between Jacobs and Morris roads, the highest priority project is widening the shoulders and installing a left-turn lane from Highway 20 to the solid waste station located west of the Island Transit headquarters. He said the wider shoulders are needed to give motorists a safe place should they need to pull off the road. That project is scheduled to take place in 2014. The department of transportation has $3.3 million set aside for the safety improvements.

Coincidently, as the meeting was wrapping up, a motor home appeared to have gone off the road across the street from the solid waste transfer station.

If another project took place before a higher priority one, the state could be liable for any accidents at the solid waste station, Harrison said.

Rose said that a left-turn lane at Parker Road would be a Department of Transportation project and not an Island Transit project. She was skeptical that such an addition would happen, because it’s tough to obtain funding for something that the traffic data doesn’t support.

No decisions were made during the outdoor meeting. Smith said that it would be best to have another meeting to see if any different improvements can be made. She wants the meeting scheduled by the end of August because construction is underway for the new transit buildings.

The stakeholder meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29 at the Pacific Rim Institute located at 180 Parker Road.

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