Study to examine Kitsap traffic

Anyone who’s lived in Kitsap County for an extended period of time — from five years to 50 — will have their own story about how traffic is so much worse than it used to be.

What once took 15 minutes now takes 45, and even the shortcuts are becoming congested as more people discover them.

And since the congestion increase was a gradual development, its solution won’t occur overnight. As evidence, the Washington State Department of Transportation is beginning a sub-area study of two intersecting corridors, from State Route 3 south from Silverdale to Shelton, and on State Route 16 south from Gorst to Mullinex Road.

The year-and-a-half study is now in the funding stage, with the most optimistic guess having it presented to the 2009 legislature.

The study’s estimated cost is $700,000, with $500,000 already allocated. The remainder will be raised from various sources by the Port of Bremerton.

"We are well on our way to raising this amount from several jurisdictions," said Port CEO Ken Attebery. "It will provide us with a potential solution for the Gorst interchange and identify other projects that we will develop as needed."

The studies generally follow a certain path, including an analysis of conditions from a congestion and safety standpoint, an estimate of expected growth and a series of computer-modeling exercises determining what the area will look like as the different solutions are implemented.

Even though the cost of the study is under control, however, there can be no estimation as to the price tag for the actual improvements. The work cannot be done all at once, and the most important projects must be completed first.

Still, the study will provide a roadmap for all the necessary improvements.

Beyond this, the source of that funding, according to WSDOT Capital Program Management Director Chris Picard, has yet to be created.

“We have seen some pretty significant gas tax increases recently,” he said, “but all of that money has already been earmarked. So any improvement funds will need to come from a new source.”

The impetus for the study originated from a 2004 transportation forum held in Bremerton, and was intended to grease the skids for construction of the South Kitsap Industrial Area.

It was then determined that SKIA is in the middle of a development Catch-22; no company will commit to moving in without smooth access, but such access is unlikely to be constructed if there are no companies at the destination.

Traffic flow was also a contentious issue underlying the proposed construction of a NASCAR facility in South Kitsap. But since that project never moved past the theoretical stage, those details were never addressed.

It was hoped NASCAR would pay for some of the needed improvements, but the deal stalled.

One essential element of the improvement could be a bridge across Sinclair Inlet that would bypass Gorst. This idea is supported by South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel, who notes, “The area surrounding Gorst is all rock, and would be impossible to cut into.” And Port of Bremerton Commissioner Bill Mahan feels, “There is no alternative but to build a bridge.”

Picard, however, predicts construction of a bridge won’t occur in the next 20 years.

Another essential improvement is the widening of SR-3, which needs to become four lanes all the way to Shelton — a move that would bring Mason County into the mix.

This is complicated by the 30-mile stretch’s current perilous, winding condition, as well as the long-discussed Belfair bypass.

“We’ve always had only one way to get to I-5,” Angel said. “If we want SKIA to work, we’ll need to find other ways to move freight.”

All this gives commuters something to contemplate as they sit in their cars. Soon there may be a four-lane path through Shelton to provide a more accessible route to the southern part of the state, and a bridge over Sinclair Inlet would solve the Gorst logjam.

Even if these two improvements are implemented in the next decade or so, however, Silverdale’s growth would certainly create another bottleneck. Additionally, the State Route 305 corridor in North Kitsap is as jammed up as Gorst on most afternoons.

But even with all these seemingly insurmountable problems, matters could be much worse. And it is worse, in a county not so far away.

“Kitsap County has several choke points,” said Picard. “But if you compare it to the level of congestion in parts of King County, there it is clear there are other areas that have a far more significant traffic problem.”

If Picard has the most realistic — some might call pessimistic — view of the traffic problem, he concedes that nothing is set in asphalt. At least not until the study is presented.

“Sometimes a data-driven study has led to funding,” he said. “The State Road 99/Pacific Highway South corridor is an example. Once the study is completed and the needs are outlined, they can find a way to cobble together state dollars to fund the project.”

“I think this is grand,” Attebery said of the study. “We will have a documentation of all our needs. Nothing can give you more credibility than to have your projects on a list that has been thought through and approved by a detailed stakeholder process.”

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