Road will keep island traversable if highway is blocked

Island County commissioners’ decision to spend $4 million to build a short road off the beaten track on Central Whidbey was a wise investment.

That foresight might save a life someday.

Plans for the road began more than a decade ago. The idea is to have a connector between Houston and Race roads that will be an alternate route if State Highway 525 gets shut down for some reason.

Imagine if an ambulance is blocked from going to the hospital in that section of the highway. The cause could be something that would take a while to clear a path through, like a serious accident or downed power poles. Currently there is no way around.

The ambulance would have to wait, as would emergency vehicles coming the other way. It’s a recipe for disaster.

It’s a scenario that has happened at least once, according to Island County officials. An accident blocked both lanes of travel up and down the island for several hours a little over a year ago. The lack of an alternative route for commuters, delivery vehicles and others became quickly apparent, and obviously untenable.

The 1.5-mile, paved road will be modern and environmentally friendly, with a unique rain garden median, a roadside system to treat and filter road runoff and a retaining wall to protect nearby wetlands.

It will be named, appropriately, Oakes Road after longtime Public Works Director Bill Oakes, who’s coaxed along the project all these years.

The project encountered opposition from residents who live in the area of the new road. It’s understandable that people would hope to preserve the relative isolation and rural nature of their area as much as possible, but public safety is the greater concern.

Those who want to learn more should attend a project open house. It is set for 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, June 27 at Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue Station No. 53, 1164 Race Road, Coupeville.

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