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Burley-Ollala interchange to be previewed

While construction on the dangerous intersection will not begin for another nine months, Washington State Department of Transportation officials will be in Olalla on Wednesday night to present the final design for a long-awaited interchange that will safely connect the communities of Burley and Olalla across State-Route 16.

John Romero, the design team supervisor for the SR16/Burley-Olalla Interchange Project, said his team will talk about the road work at the quarterly meeting of the South Kitsap Improvement Council Wednesday night at the Olalla Grange.

“We have spoken to the group twice before,” Romero said, explaining that next week’s presentation will describe both the safety and environmental improvements included in the project.

“That section of the highway has people crossing through 50-mile-per-hour traffic,” Romero said, describing the planned interchange as very similar to the one in place further north at Mullenix Road, which re-routed traffic underneath the highway instead of across it. “This was purely a safety project; our duty was to reduce, or eliminate, those T-bone collisions — some fatal — that were occurring there.”

Romero said the project has been discussed as a need for 30 years, but the delay “has always been an issue of funding. Now with the Nickel Project, we finally got the funding source.”

He said construction is “on-schedule” to begin next July, and once completed the interchange will have four lanes over Burley-Olalla Road. Since the median will be left open, he said there will be the potential for adding both a fifth and sixth lane in the future.

In addition to the safety improvements, Romero said the project will also include the removal of “two fish-passage barriers” that have been in place since the highway was built in the 1960s.

“We will be removing two culverts and replacing them with two fish-passable concrete structures, allowing those fish to access several hundred feet of spawning habitat that they haven’t been able to use for 40 years,” he said, explaining that while living fish may not know to use those areas, as soon as future salmon are born there they will be able to return there.

Jay Spady, president of the SK Improvement Council, said the WSDOT has an “open invitation to come and speak to the group,” which he said is particularly interested now that the design has reportedly been finalized.

“Our primary focus has always been better roads and transportation,” Spady said, explaining that the group is the local arm of the Washington State Good Roads and Transportation Association, which reports its mission as to “promote and foster construction, maintenance, and general improvement of good roads and transportation infrastructure throughout the state of Washington.”

In 2003, the state legislature provided $14.9 million, through the Nickel Project List, to design and build the interchange. Last year, the WSDOT requested another $10 million, citing “new hydraulic requirements, new wetland mitigation requirements, and market increases in construction material costs since 2003.”

Romero said the extra funds were approved by the legislature earlier this year, a move he said “indicates to me a pretty strong commitment on the part of the legislature to complete this project.”

In the meantime, in 2004, a $1.3 million-dollar interim fix — that many residents feared would spell doom for a permanent one — was completed by WSDOT. Designed to prevent the most dangerous movements across the highway, the work included adding signs and striping to warn drivers that dashing across the highway or certain left turns were no longer allowed.

The fix also added an acceleration lane (westbound Burley-Olalla to Tacoma), lengthened the deceleration lane (Bremerton to eastbound Burley-Olalla) and improves the existing right turn corner (northbound SR 16 to eastbound Burley-Olalla) with minor widening and the addition of a painted traffic island.

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