Haugen tours Whidbey danger spots

"Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen toured Whidbey Island Tuesday. It was a tour fraught with peril, especially on South Whidbey.Haugen, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, traveled to the island specifically to see some of the most dangerous intersections and stretches of road on Whidbey Island. The purpose, she said, was to get a better idea of what kind of work needs to be done to make the island's highways safer.We're trying to find our priorities for the budget, Haugen said.Along for the trip were two Washington Department of Transportation officials and three state troopers, including patrol Captain Helmut Steel, who gives Haugen full credit for improving traffic flow at the Clinton and Mukilteo ferry docks.She's been instrumental, Steel said of the Camano Island senator, noting that his troopers are having an easier time keeping drivers under control as they jockey for position at the ferry approaches. Our office is getting less complaints.The group of officials stuck to the Highway 525/20 corridor during the tour. At several stops along the road from the Clinton ferry dock to Sharpe's corner on Fidalgo Island, Haugen saw where numerous accidents have taken place and where several people have been killed recently. Included were uncontrolled intersections at Bayview Road and Fish Road on South Whidbey, and at Arnold Road and Banta Road on North Whidbey. In all, Haugen's itinerary included 14 stops, many of which were denoted with short phrases in her press release such as terrible intersection, accidents and fatalities. Though state road workers will install a new traffic light at Fish Road in Freeland this year, relief for the other sites may still be a ways off - as much as four or five years in some cases. The only one that is close at hand is a stoplight planned for the Bayview-525 intersection. Leif Larson, a Department of Transportation traffic engineer traveling with Haugen Tuesday, said the state will install that light next year. But other traffic safety projects have been put on hold due to transportation budget cuts caused by the passage of Initiative 695, the car tab initiative, last November.These are the projects we need to put pressure on (the Department of Transportation) to get done, Haugen said.At some stops, local residents were waiting. That was the case at the turnoff to Admiral's Cove in Central Whidbey where three community members laid out a long list of concerns and complaints about the highway-widening project the department completed last summer.They created problems, said resident Clarice Tingley. Neighbor Lynn Sterns agreed, saying access to and from Admiral Drive is now more treacherous than it was before. He said lighting and signs were removed and never replaced, and a too-long passing zone permits drivers to pass through the intersection.But the biggest problem, neighbors say, is that they weren't consulted at all prior to construction. If they had been, said Sterns, the department would have known that the most critical need was for a northbound left-turn lane into Admiral Drive. Throughout construction, neighbors believed such a lane was being created, but it never was.Now we're told we'll get a left turn lane but not until the next biennium, which is 2003. Waiting for 2003 is waiting for an accident to happen, Sterns told Haugen. In fact, he said, three to six accidents have already taken place at the intersection since the project was completed.Department of Transportation planning manager Robert Josephson told the residents that help would be coming soon for the lighting problem but requests for better highway signs and additional guardrails were not likely to be filled.Josephson admitted that communication between the department and local communities has not been good but added that new procedures are in place that should make things better. Haugen said she was getting an earful on the tour.It's a lot more than I anticipated, she said, noting that the tour was already about an hour behind schedule halfway up the island.When asked whether she considered Whidbey's highways to be generally safe or generally dangerous, she responded quickly.If it's a member of your family who's killed, it's a dangerous highway, she said.Haugen sampled one other aspect of Whidbey Island's transportation system on her way down the island. Instead of driving to the Mukilteo ferry to start her tour, she drove to Deception pass and hopped aboard an Island Transit bus. She rode the bus all the way to the Clinton ferry landing.It's a delightful experience, she said of the bus system, which recently saved its I-695-crippled budget through a special sales tax levy.Staff reporter Matt Johnson contributed to this article."

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