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Burley-Olalla fix seen as cure that kills

The hordes of residents who packed the Olalla Elementary School gymnasium Thursday night had two things in common — they all use the Burley-Olalla/SR-16 intersection daily and they all apparently hate the state Department of Transportation’s proposal to improve it.

“They’re going to kill kids at the high school — that’s what they’re going to do. Brand new drivers,” said Burley resident Wendy Boyd.

Boyd came to the DOT-sponsored open house to see the state’s plan for improvement first-hand. She stayed to voice her disgust with the proposal and explain in detail what was wrong with it.

The DOT, in an effort to reduce the number of collisions at the interchange, has proposed eliminating all highway-crossing movements except one. The plan allows drivers traveling south from Burley to cross the highway and enter the lanes bound for Gig Harbor and Tacoma. This, presumably is to make matters easier for those who live in South Kitsap and commute to Pierce County for work.

All other crossing movements would be impeded by a painted median.

However, as many residents pointed out, Pierce County isn’t the only place South Kitsapers work.

Pete Madsen, who lives near the corner of Bandix and Burley-Olalla Roads, said the state’s plan would cause him major headaches in the evenings. Because Madsen works in Bremerton, he crosses SR-16 every evening coming home. With the DOT’s proposal in place, Madsen would have to get off at the Mullenix interchange and take back roads down from there.

“This is really going to screw up my commute,” he said.

Shannon Wagner, who lives in Olalla, said she crosses SR-16 several times a day shuttling kids and doing errands. With the direct crossing movement prohibited, Wagner said there would be no way for her to keep to a schedule while having to detour through Mullenix.

Wagner, along with many others, believed the real problem with the interchange was not crossing cars, but visibility.

She proposed moving acceleration and deceleration lanes into the grass median to give drivers more flexibility and better reaction times.

Currently, there are turn lanes only at the intersection — cars must slow down to stop and speed up to highway speed using the regular highway lanes.

Resident Larry Boltz said he believed most accidents were caused because people couldn’t see where other cars were, got angry and took chances. Boltz said adding acceleration and deceleration lanes in the median would go a long way to improving visibility.

“If you take away the lateral visibility problem, it’s going to take away a lot of frustration,” he said.

State Patrol Trooper K.H. Hitchings, who attended the open house to help answer questions, disagreed with Boltz’s assessment.

“Almost all collisions have been cause by a failure to stop or yield,” he said.

Another main cause for concern was the proposed modifications that would allow emergency vehicles to cross normally. Although Fire District 7 officials have spoken vehemently in favor of allowing emergency vehicles through, residents were upset by the unintentional consequences such a provision might have.

Wagner pointed out there was nothing preventing reckless drivers, particularly teenagers, from simply using the emergency lane illegally.

Boyd, after making her comment regarding the probability of teenage fatalities, went on to point out that at least now highway drivers expect crossing cars. After the change, illegal crossers will literally come out of nowhere, resulting in even more devastating collisions.

“This is going to make a bad situation worse,” she said.

The DOT and the state patrol officials, however, believe doing something is better than letting things go the way they have been. Petterson pointed out the sheer number of collisions which involved one car broadsiding another. Eliminating crossing traffic would make a big hole in the number of such “T-bone” crashes and would reduce the number of fatalities.

Petterson said the state is willing to take residents’ input into consideration, but said there’s no way the DOT can simply give up on the interim plan.

“This intersection has safety problems and we have to do something to reduce the accidents,” Petterson said.

Many residents were still concerned spending money for interim modifications would only make it easier for the DOT to put off constructing a full overpass interchange. Petterson pointed out even if the money — an estimated $13 million — were available right now, it would still take another five years to get the interchange built. The proposed solution, which will cost an estimated $700,000, could be finished by 2004.

”There are near misses every day,” Hitchings said. ”Something has to be done.”

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