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Burley-Olalla options to be discussed

After discussing the intersection for countless years, the state Department of Transportation appears ready to tackle the Burley-Olalla/SR-16 interchange.

In the latest open house — to be held tomorrow at Olalla Elementary School — DOT engineers will offer South Kitsap residents a chance to see the state’s plans for a safer intersection, as well as give those who use the cross-over a chance to offer feedback.

“It’s going to be lots of displays,” said design team leader Jeff Petterson. “It’s not going to have formal organization.”

DOT, which expects there to be a lot of questions about the project, has also asked state troopers and fire personnel to attend the meeting and offer their own perspective.

The Burley-Olalla intersection has been classified a “high-accident location.” Petterson said that means DOT can no longer sit back and wait for the money to launch a major overhaul of the crossing, as was previously planned.

Although most experts agree the safest way to connect Burley-Olalla Road with the highway is to build a full overpass interchange, the $13 million estimated price tag was deemed too costly. The alternate solution being presented at the open house would cost an estimated $700,000.

“It’s a lot less than an interchange,” Petterson said. “We would certainly like to have an interchange, but it’s not in the funding plans, so we need an interim solution.”

The proposed solution removes the hazard of cars crossing all four lanes of the highway — the movement deemed most dangerous by the state. It allows non-crossing merges with the highway and one option for cars traveling south on Burley-Olalla to access the lanes traveling toward Gig Harbor and Tacoma.

While this is not the engineers’ or residents’ favorite solution, DOT officials hope it will help cut down on the number of accidents at the intersection.

Between 1990 and 1998, there were more than 75 injury collisions at the crossing, mostly involving cars attempting to cross the highway. The problem with accidents at that intersection is that a large percentage of the cars involved were struck broadside – known as a “T-bone” collision. Those types of collisions tend to result in serious injury or death more frequently than other types of crashes because most cars have little to no side-panel reinforcement and therefore cannot protect passengers adequately.

Out of those 75 injury accidents, two resulted in at least one death.

“That brings with it responsibilities that Washington DOT do something about it,” Petterson said.

Although optimistic about the proposed changes’ effect on collision statistics along that stretch of highway, some local agencies are still concerned. Fire District 7 Chief Mike Brown was worried the method by which the state was protecting drivers would unintentionally endanger emergency personnel.

Brown said because the district’s fire station distribution — and therefore its zones of coverage — are based on ability to cross SR-16 at Burley-Olalla, the district has insisted DOT leave enough space to allow emergency vehicles to make the cross. However, Brown pointed out, drivers used to the new intersection configuration are not going to expect vehicles crossing the road.

As a result, a fire truck or ambulance responding to an emergency could find itself in the midst of its own emergency if a highway driver failed to see the vehicle crossing.

To help limit the chance of a collision, the district is asking the state to install emergency lights on the highway which would be activated when a district vehicle approached the crossing. Brown said he felt it work well enough until a safe interchange could be funded and built.

“An overpass is going to be the only solution that I’ll publicly support,” Brown said.

Although numerous DOT projects are listed as potential beneficiaries of Referendum 51 — the gas tax slated for the November ballot – the Burley-Olalla project is not one of them.

The intersection revisions are part of the regular DOT budget up for approval during this winter’s legislative session. Although there is the possibility the legislature could strike the item from the budget, Petterson said he didn’t expect that to happen.

If funding is approved, the DOT expects to complete the project design by June of 2003, allowing construction to begin as early as spring of 2004.

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