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After tweak, Burley-Olalla design good to go

After one last tweak, the long-awaited final design for the Burley-Olalla/State Route 16 intersection’s interim fix is complete. And the state Department of Transportation isn’t asking for any more public comment on it.

Following another volley of criticism at another open house on the matter, held earlier this month in Olalla, the DOT engineers took one last crack at fixing the interim fix design. Although the citizens’ advisory committee assigned to aid the DOT did actually vote to back the design unveiled at the open house, significant concerns remained.

To begin with, many committee members and Burley/Olalla residents were still unhappy with the visibility at the intersection, which is listed as one of the most dangerous in the state.

Even though the newest design eliminated nearly half the crossing movements at the intersection, restricting Burley cars to right-in/right-out turns on and off the highway, many said accidents would persist because turning cars still couldn’t see where they were going.

There were also significant complaints about the alignment of the median lanes that allowed Olalla cars access to Tacoma-bound lanes of SR-16. Many protested that the DOT had actually made matters worse by making it impossible to tell who had the right-of-way when crossing the highway to and from Olalla.

A full interchange is eventually planned for the intersection, but construction on that isn’t scheduled to begin until nearly 2010.

DOT design project engineer Neal Campbell admits the crossing and visibility problems were still critical issues following the open house, which is why the DOT opted to change its draft design yet again.

“There was really no way to figure out whose turn it was in the median,” he said. “If you think it’s your turn and you go and someone’s in your spot, you’re a sitting duck.”

The amended design takes out the crossing paths and reverts to a median design more like the one there currently. Instead of crossing paths in traffic, the turning cars pass each other in the median, allowing vehicles to come to a complete stop before continuing forward.

An acceleration lane into Tacoma-bound traffic and a set-back deceleration lane out of Bremerton-bound traffic have also been added in order to improve visibility.

“By making that right-turn corner (into Olalla), we can bring people who are turning out closer to the roadway,” Campbell said.

Now that the design is finally finished, the DOT will be going straight to the bid and construction process; the latter is scheduled to begin in summer 2004.

The estimated cost ended up a bit above budget. The DOT technically was only given $1 million to do the entire project and it will likely end up costing $1.2 million instead.

Nevertheless, Campbell is confident the state will take care of the $200,000 difference.

“As far as I know, we’re OK with this amount,” he said.

As for the citizens committee and the rest of the Burley and Olalla residents, Campbell said he didn’t see any reason to go back to them with the last bunch of alterations. He said he will be sending courtesy copies of the design out to those who have demonstrated interest, but won’t do anything more formal than that.

“The committee seems most interested in accelerating the interchange and that’s their right,” Campbell said.

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