Clinton community wants the state to act on traffic issues

Phil Bakke -
Phil Bakke
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CLINTON — A decade of broken promises by the state Department of Transportation about fixing traffic problems in Clinton has some residents hot under the disc brakes.

That is what a group of people told representatives from the department during a meeting last week that included a large and vocal variety of Island County officials and members of the Clinton community.

Last month, the Washington State Department of Transportation released a draft report that identified a number of issues the department wanted to study further, such as traffic calming methods to slow traffic down.

While the report included a speed study that said nearly 70 percent of drivers drive faster than the speed limit through Clinton, the draft report raised the ire of many by calling such issues “perceived problems” along the busy stretch of Highway 525.

The report also did not mention additional crosswalks for pedestrians to get across the busy state thoroughfare in town.

Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke, who represents the South End, said many residents were displeased with the draft report. As a result, he wrote a letter to the Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond.

Bakke later invited Hammond, the top official in the state transportation department, to witness pedestrian safety herself after an Economic Development Council meeting next week.

At last week’s meeting, some pressed the state to take a long-term look at Highway 525.

Larry Webster of Clinton said the issues surrounding Highway 525 had been well documented in the past.

“When we did intrinsic analysis studies for the Whidbey Scenic By-way, we recognized this was a gateway community,” he said.

“We agreed in many discussions that whether everything could be funded or not, there needed to be a long-term plan for Clinton over time,” Webster recalled.

Webster said the state wants to study those issues. Again.

“We don’t ever move toward a solution. We just talk about it,” he said.

Jack Lynch, a Clinton resident and a member of the Clinton Advisory Team, would like to see more crosswalks installed on Highway 525.

“Another crosswalk has been a part of the discussion on this program for more than two years,” he said.

“It’s obvious that the crosswalk at Deer Lake Road is not enough. At least a second one is needed. People are crossing anyway,” Lynch said. “Just because someone hasn’t been killed yet is not a very satisfactory answer.”

“We were told that ‘Yes, when the repaving happens, everything would be in place,’” added Lynae Slinden of Clinton.

“You’re basically telling me what you told me 10 years ago. It wasn’t done and I am personally angry to be blown off that way.”

“Every time we’d have a community meeting about this, I would be told to ‘Calm down. Don’t worry. We’re going to take care of it when we repave. Don’t worry.’ Well guess what — it’s not done,” Slinden said.

Larry Biershenk of Clinton agreed.

“It seems like you spend your time defending the repaving. That’s fine,” he said.

“But the striping is the issue and how it’s laid out. And you guys just kinda steamrolled right on through and did what you wanted to do and didn’t take into consideration what the community needed,” Biershenk said.

Webster then asked why the speed limit was not just 35 mph all the way through Clinton.

“Why don’t you take some time and deal with these issues,” Webster asked. “These issues were not even addressed in this issue paper.”

“Everything that people have said,

I totally agree with,” said Todd Carlson, who works as manager of the planning and services section of the state’s Department of Transportation in the Mount Baker.

“We are part of the solution, part of the community here and part of what’s going on here,” he added. “We want to make it as safe as possible, as livable as possible within our means as a department of transportation.”

There are limits to what the state can do, Carlson said.

“We don’t have the money to pay and the department is so strapped for funds with things we control, with all the projects we’re working on,” he told the crowd.

Bakke said after the meeting that the county will continue to press the state over needed improvements.

Another partnership meeting will happen after the draft report is revised, he said.

“It was important that the Department of Transportation agreed to have another partnership meeting,” Bakke said.

State officials had said earlier that it expected local governments such as Island County to tackle some of the unresolved safety issues on Highway 525. Bakke said that didn’t seem to change much after the recent meeting.

“There was a lot of ‘I understand your feelings and frustration,’” he said. “But not a lot of ‘We’re going to do something about it.’”

Bakke has planned to talk with other county officials about what the county can do to help out.

But ultimately, the highway is a state-owned road, Bakke said, and the county does not have a lot of money either to spend on its transportation network.

“I want to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease,” he said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at

221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbey

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