Burley-Olalla has one last, loud hearing

Tensions ran high at Olalla Elementary School Wednesday night as Washington State Department of Transportation officials collected input one last time about the best way to approach a temporary fix for the Burley-Olalla/State Route 16 intersection from many local residents who loudly proclaimed they did not want it at all.

At the meeting, WSDOT officials planned to present the final design for a temporary re-configuration of the hazardous location designed to decrease accidents — which occur on average 15 times a year — and improve movements through the intersection before construction on the “permanent fix” can begin in 2010.

However, exactly what the interim fix — a project scheduled for next spring costing $1.2 million — will look like had yet to be decided. And though the project’s designer, Neal Campbell, said he was collecting opinions on which option residents preferred, most residents seemed more willing to give their opinions on why the temporary fix should not happen at all.

“Do the permanent fix now, or don’t fix it at all,” said Diane Unruh, an Olalla resident since 1987, explaining she has to use the intersection to get to and from her house. “What this is, is a Band-Aid, and frequently when you get a Band-Aid, you’re stuck with it.”

Outspoken Burley-Olalla Citizens Advisory Committee member Tish Culp echoed Unruh’s concerns, saying that although the committee officially voted to support the temporary fix last month, many are concerned it could prevent the permanent fix from coming through.

Most of all, however, Culp said, to her the fix just doesn’t seem like that much of a fix at all.

“Most of the changes are in the form of paint stripes and signs, and who pays attention to that?” she asked. “I don’t think it will prevent accidents, and will it reduce accidents? I don’t know — it may be confusing and make it worse.”

Fire District 7 Chief Mike Brown also served on the committee, and recently expressed concern about the direction the committee is headed.

“The committee originally supported the proposed interim fix, but now the committee is trying to say, ‘Don’t do it,’ ” he said at a recent meeting.

Brown said the interim fix will be safer for responding emergency vehicles, and will significantly reduce the risk of a major accident.

The two options currently being considered for the intersection both add an acceleration lane and a painted island, lengthen a deceleration lane and widen the roadway.

Where they differ is how traffic moves on and off SR 16, especially cars coming from Bremerton to turn left onto Burley-Olalla road, and cars attempting to turn left from Burley-Olalla Road to go south to Tacoma.

The least likely scenario of the two, Campbell said, has cars entering and exiting the highway facing each other and needing to gauge each other’s movements and the movements of two lanes of highway traffic before attempting to cross.

The other option — called Channelization Option No.1 — has traffic from both sides crossing each other in a median separated from the highway lanes, so drivers only have to tackle one problem at a time.

The biggest drawback with that scenario, Campbell said, is that trucks longer than 40 feet would not be able to fit in the median, but that it is not uncommon for trucks of that size to have to find alternate routes.

Campbell said he would be collecting input from Wednesday’s meeting and would be consulting with his staff to determine the best option sometime next week.

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