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Doubts remain about Burley-Olalla 'fix'

Perhaps government officials expected now that the Burley-Olalla/State Route 16 interchange is on the list of projects to be funded by the brand-new 5-cent gas tax, local residents would fold their tents, pack up their bullhorns and go home.

Those officials are due for a major disappointment.

“I know how easily these thing can change,” said Rep. Lois McMahan (R-Gig Harbor) “Nickel lists, despite what you have heard, are not in legally binding language.”

“That’s why we’re here, because we can’t trust it” she continued, addressing a gathering of the Burley-Olalla Citizens Advisory Committee last Wednesday night. “We have to ride (our legislators).”

The Citizens Committee members, which earlier this year managed to sort of agree on a potential short-term fix for the highly hazardous intersection, were incensed Wednesday when they found out the proposed start date for the long-awaited Burley-Olalla interchange had been moved back three years to 2010. They were even angrier when they talked about the projects that made the top of the “nickel list” — improvements at Waaga Way in Silverdale, among others.

Tish Culp, an Olalla resident who has been the main force behind keeping the committee active, said the state was going to have a hard time selling people in a shirt-term fix and the promise of a long-term solution when immediate safety concerns like Burley-Olalla were being bumped in favor of shopping mall access roads.

“The perception is of gross government negligence and wasting of funds,” Culp said.

The interim fix the committee on Wednesday officially voted to support closely resembles the original Department of Transportation proposal that was universally panned by the public last year. The big difference is that it allows one side — Olalla — to make left turns across the highway in both directions. Burley residents will only be able to make right turns off and on the highway; other crossing movements must be done at the Purdy or Mullenix interchanges.

Of course, simply because the committee members have endorsed the proposal doesn’t mean they like it all that much. Apart from the likelihood the new interim solution will be totally unpalatable to Burley residents, many committee members also complained the so-called “fix” appears to make problems worse in some areas.

Although lingering problems with visibility were mentioned, the committed zeroed in on the conflict between those leaving Olalla bound for Tacoma and those coming from southbound SR16 trying to cross in Olalla. The current crossing has two spaces in the median — one for each direction. The proposed fix, however, does not separate incoming and outgoing cars, leaving the potential for near-head-on collisions as crossing cars jockey for the right-of-way.

“What we all don’t want to see is a fix that creates a greater potential for accidents,” Culp said. “We don’t need visitors coming to our county getting into wrecks at the very gateway to our county.”

The committee still hopes the legislature will bump the Burley-Olalla project up to the top of the list and do away with the temporary fix. However, that looks unlikely because the state is scheduled to go out for bids on the temporary fix this February, with construction commencing the following summer.

The current price tag of the temporary fix is estimated at $1.2 million, slightly over previous expectations of cost.

The DOT engineers who attended the committee gathering also promised to continually improve the intersection, even after the fix goes in, as a way of addressing unanticipated problem that may develop.

“Once we build the intersection, if there’s something we find confusing or in need of tweaking, we’ll be there to do that,” said DOT engineer Ron Landon.

Be heard

The state Department of Transportation will hold an open house from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17 in the Olalla Elementary School gymnasium. The new proposed short-term “fix” for the Burley-Olalla/SR 16 intersection will be available for review and comment. DOT officials will also be on-scene to answer questions about the temporary fix and the proposed full interchange that will eventually replace the intersection.

For more information, call 360-570-6602.

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