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County seeking federal funds for roundabout on Highway 525 at Freeland

Island County is hoping to get money from the federal government to pay for a $3.9 million roundabout at Highway 525 and Honeymoon Bay-Bush Point Road. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Island County is hoping to get money from the federal government to pay for a $3.9 million roundabout at Highway 525 and Honeymoon Bay-Bush Point Road.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

It’s a roundabout way of saying they could sure use the dough.

To take advantage of available federal funds for road projects, Island County has dusted off a 10-year-old proposal for a circular intersection at Highway 525 and Honeymoon Bay Road-Bush Point Road.

Popular in Great Britain, Europe and elsewhere, roundabouts are road configurations that route traffic around a circular or oblong structure, allowing vehicle entry and exit without a flow-stopping traffic-light system.

Randy Brackett, assistant county engineer, said this week that federal road officials are in favor of the concept whenever possible, and that a roundabout would be ideal for the growing Freeland area.

County officials are urging Congressman Rick Larsen’s office to push for the $3.9 million project.

“We’re squeezed for money, so we don’t miss an opportunity to throw our hat in the ring,” Brackett said.

He said the project was originally to be a state-local job, but the state hasn’t come through.

Brackett said there’s no way the county can do the project on its own, especially in light of the more than $3 million it will require to repair sucker-punched Glendale Road where it was destroyed by a flood earlier this month.

The intersection north of Freeland has become more and more bothersome for drivers attempting to enter or cross the increasingly busy highway.

“Growth in the Freeland area has increased delay at this intersection,” Island County Commission Chairman John Dean wrote in a letter last week to Larsen, D-Everett. “As congestion increases, the potential for accidents increases as well.”

“Roundabouts have been proven to dramatically reduce serious crashes,” Dean added. “Especially fatal ones.”

Brackett said the intersection has already reached its maximum level of service, meaning further Freeland development may be hampered until the traffic situation is remedied.

“The state has acknowledged the problem, but it hasn’t been forthcoming,” Brackett said.

Brackett said the county still has $200,000 in federal money received from the earlier proposal, but needs to be granted all of the remaining money if the project is to be completed.

Bracket said the intersection is well-suited for a roundabout, given the sight distances involved and the steep incline heading toward Freeland.

“It would create an efficient traffic flow,” he said. “Instead of T-bone accidents, you would have less-serious ones because of people yielding and merging.”

While there are no other roundabouts on Whidbey Island, a couple have worked well in the La Conner area, as has one on Highway 20 near Anacortes, Brackett said. He said if the roundabout is built, it might follow the lead of others and be landscaped in the center of the circle, “but we’re nowhere near that level of planning.”

Meanwhile, county officials also have applied to the same federal fund to build a 1½-mile bypass road along Highway 525 where it becomes Highway 20 south of Coupeville.

The road would parallel the highway and keep traffic flowing in the event of a collision or other highway closure, Brackett said.

It would be built in the vicinity of Houston and Race roads at an estimated cost of $5.4 million.

“There’s currently no other means to go north or south if the highway is closed,” Brackett said.

He acknowledged that chances of getting federal funds for the two projects in the current climate of a limited amount of money and many, many requests “is iffy at best.”

But he added: “You can’t play if you don’t set the table.”

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