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DOT seeks Burley-Olalla solution

The state Department of Transportation (DOT), in an effort to get public support for the proposed changes to the Burley-Olalla/Highway 16 intersection, is taking another tack and setting up a steering committee to help decide how best to temporarily make the intersection safer to use.

The last open house the DOT held on the issue was less than successful, DOT officials said. At that meeting, held at Olalla Elementary School Oct. 17, residents who attended were overwhelmingly critical of the proposed traffic revision, which would have altered all but one highway crossing movement. Although the DOT was happy to have the feedback, officials said, the critics didn’t offer many feasible alternate solutions.

“One of the comments we heard loud and clear is anything short of a full-blown freeway interchange is not acceptable,” said DOT spokesman Lloyd Brown. “That was an initial fatal flaw walking into that meeting.”

He continued: “A lot of residents would rather have us do nothing because there’s the fear the temporary solution will be perceived as a permanent solution by the legislature and the overpass will never get built.”

“We can’t build an overpass,” Brown concluded. “There’s just not enough money to do that.”

The interim solution discussed at the October open house largely consisted of a few additional acceleration and deceleration lanes. Currently, cars turning into the median pass-through prior to continuing on Burley-Olalla Road have only a short turn lane in which to wait. Cars must slow to a stop while still in the regular highway lanes and, when rush hour backs up cars at the intersection, waiting vehicles spill onto the highway and interfere with the flow of traffic.

The particularly controversial aspect of the plan, however, was the elimination of three out of four crossing movements. Currently, cars can access either side of Burley-Olalla from any highway lane and vice-versa. Cars can also cut straight across all four lanes of Hwy 16 to continue their trip on Burley-Olalla.

This, said officials, is the movement primarily responsible for the intersection’s horrible reputation for accidents, particularly fatal accidents.

The proposed change would permit only one crossing movement — the one from westbound Burley-Olalla to southbound Hwy 16. All other highway crossings would have to be done at the Mullenix interchange or at an interchange in nearby Pierce County.

Residents who attended the open house were very upset about losing their ability to cross the highway there. Many frequent intersection users said the detour to Mullenix would take them 10 or more miles out of their way and make it difficult to keep to their daily schedules. Many residents were also concerned the detour would back up traffic on narrow rural connecters such as Bethel-Burley and Olalla Valley roads.

“The majority of them weren’t real happy for one reason or another,” said Jeff Petterson, design team leader with the DOT.

The committee the DOT plans to set up will be expected to find a compromise of sorts — an interim solution which solves the safety issue and takes into account the needs of residents while at the same time falling within the project’s budget, estimated at $700,000. Even though the DOT plans to offer possible solutions — developed mostly from input offered at the open house — rather than ask the committee members to come up with something from scratch, the department wants to keep the committee to 10 people or less for manageability’s sake.

Of those 10-odd members, Brown said half will be made up of local officials — representatives from Kitsap County, State Patrol, Fire District 7, South Kitsap School District and so on. The other five or so positions will be filled by local residents.

Brown said the DOT has asked local officials and community leader to suggest potential appointees, but he said interested residents are more than welcome to volunteer.

“They can give us a call and let us know,” Brown said.

The committee will only meet once — possibly some time in December. However, the DOT plans to leaflet the area this week with information flyers to let everyone know what’s going on. The meeting will also be open to the public and audience members will be given a chance to comment at the end. The purpose is, Brown said, to maximize public input in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible.

“It’s going to be a $700,000 project,” Brown said. “So we can’t spend $700,00 deciding what we’re going to do. We need to reserve as much money for building this structure.”

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