DOT preparing to unveil Burley-Olalla 'compromise'

After three months of virtual silence, the state Department of Transportation has finally announced a firm date for the next Burley-Olalla/State Route 16 open house — Sept. 17, 2003. “That was the soonest we could get something like that and get all the materials ready for the public,” said DOT spokesman Lloyd Brown.

Granted, the open house was expected to take place long before September.

The Burley-Olalla Citizen’s Advisory Committee made its final recommendation back in March.

The recommendation, a temporary solution designed to reduce collisions at that intersection until a permanent interchange could be constructed, called for most of the traffic reductions to be done on the Burley side of the highway.

Under the proposed intersection revision, only Olalla-side drivers would be allowed to make left turns on and off the highway.

Burley-side drivers would only be allowed to make right turns — nothing else.

The main theory behind the proposal had to do with access. Burley residents have a relatively straight shot to alternative highway access points at Mullenix and Purdy via Bethel-Burley Road. Even though the majority of accidents were recorded on the Olalla side of the intersection, Olalla residents pointed out there were no other ways for them to get on and off the highway, short of backtracking all the way to Olalla Valley Road.

Between January 1999 and December 2001, 22 crashes were recorded in the Olalla-side lanes of SR 16. During that same time period, eight collisions were recorded in the Burley-side lanes. Twenty of those 30 total crashes were T-bones — a type of accident that frequently results in serious injury.

Even with the presumed compromise — it is unclear whether Burley and Olalla residents will be as pleased with the proposal as the committee was — some controversy still linger.

Many members of the citizen’s committee found it absurd that the DOT was funneling approximately $1 million into a temporary fix when the state Legislature just approved $15.2 million for a full interchange. The committee in May sent to the DOT a letter saying as much and asking DOT officials to re-route the temporary fix money into the interchange project.

“We believe that these interim changes are no longer appropriate, and urge you to reallocate these funds in whatever way feasible to begin design for the full interchange as soon as possible,” read the letter in part.

The DOT, however, disagrees with that assessment.

Brown pointed out the $1 million was allocated specifically for some sort of temporary fix and cannot simply be moved into another fund. In addition, the DOT is not prepared to sign off on the intersection until work on the interchange starts — now scheduled for the 2007-2009 biennium.

“The accidents out there for the next seven years aren’t going to get better unless we do something in the interim,” Brown said.

The open house is expected to take place at Olalla Elementary School. A time has not yet been set for the event.

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