State road officials appear to be rejecting a request from several businesses and the fire district to add a stop light or roundabout at Cameron Road and Highway 525 in Freeland.
The chorus of voices say the intersection’s awkward orientation has long been a problem, especially for large trucks or fire district vehicles coming from the south side of the highway. But, it’s become increasingly dangerous in recent years due to unprecedented employments levels at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders.
The shipyard’s staff roster now numbers about 600, according to Vice President Matt Nichols. That’s about twice the company’s usual employee complement. It’s resulted in an increase in traffic, but also forced some workers to find parking elsewhere. They’re often seen walking along the road and crossing the highway during breaks in traffic.
“It’s definitely needed,” said Nichols of a light or roundabout. “There’s no question.”
“It’s downright dangerous.”
Nichols Brothers submitted a formal letter to the state Department of Transporation in May. Letters were also sent from the fire district, Freeland Country Store and the Freeland Chamber of Commerce. The businesses claimed long wait times for merging cars, and increased accidents. The chamber also advocated for a light or roundabout at Harbor Avenue and Highway 525 due to jaywalkers who cross the street illegally from Sunny View Village, an affordable housing complex on Scenic Avenue.
Todd Carlson, a planning and engineering services manager with the state, addressed some of the concerns at a recent chamber luncheon, but confirmed Thursday that the agency likely won’t put in a light or roundabout at either of the requested intersections. The department uses an accident and wait-time metric to determine when intersections in rural areas need a traffic improvement. Cameron and Harbor Avenue, he said, simply don’t make the cut — not by a long shot.
“They’re not even close,” Carlson said.
When evaluated, intersections are assigned a value or grade based on the above criteria. Those that fail get the attention and improvement. Cameron and Harbor Avenue have “A” or “B” grades, he said.
He added that changes in an area, such as swelling employment at Nichols or the new Freeland Trail, may make problems seem worse than they actually are. It’s often a matter of perspective, he said.
“They may wait for 20 seconds and they think the world is ending,” Carlson said. “You wait 20 seconds in Seattle and you think you’re blowing through the intersection.”
Carlson acknowledged that the Cameron Road intersection does have geometric problems, but that they’ve been there for “eons” and that, “most people know how to navigate them.” In the fire district’s letter to the state, Chief Rusty Palmer indicated the intersection may be trickier than people think. It’s particularly problematic when vehicles on both sides of Cameron are trying to merge onto the highway.
“Because the intersection is offset, drivers are often unsure who should go first,” he wrote. “As a result, we have seen many near misses and conflicts.”
He added the district has seen an increase in the number of collisions at the intersection during the past five years. Though he didn’t provide a number, Rick Gauger, manager of Freeland Country Store, estimated in his letter that “at least eight accidents” had occurred there since 2012. Wait times are also excessive, he said.
“Trying to exit Cameron Road onto the highway in the summer is very hectic,” he wrote. “You just have to dive into traffic trying to fit into a space because you get tired of waiting for over five to 10 minutes.”
“A traffic light or roundabout would ease congestion at this intersection and probably save someone’s life soon.”
While a major improvement is a matter of dispute, pedestrian safety at both intersections is a recognized problem, and the department is considering alternatives. Though crosswalks by themselves are not being considered — data shows standalone crosswalks result in a high number of rear-end collisions — they may appropriate if coupled with a high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon, or HAWK beacon. They resemble traffic lights, such as those on Fish and Highway 525, but are placed mid-block away from intersections.
They are only activated when a pedestrian initiates the light by pushing a button.
The department is looking at light or roundabout at one intersection in Freeland, and that’s at Bush Point and Honeymoon Bay roads. Carlson said a roundabout was initially favored, but that funding is a significant hurdle. A cost estimate topped $4 million, and the state Legislature only funded $1.5 million for the project. The agency is expected to begin looking at the issue in detail later this summer, said Carlson, meeting with the public and exploring funding solutions or alternatives.