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Burley-Olalla bill looks primed to move

Sen. Bob Oke’s (R-Port Orchard) and Rep. Lois McMahan’s (R-Olalla) joint attempt to speed up construction on the proposed Burley-Olalla interchange may bear fruit by the end of the month.

Both legislators have introduced similar bills calling for the interchange to be completed about the same time the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opens in 2007.

Current timelines attached to the Nickel Package — a group of transportation projects funded through the recent increase in the gas tax — put Burley-Olalla at the bottom of the list, with a projected completion date beyond 2010.

Oke’s bill, which was forwarded to the Senate Rules Committee last week, appears to stand the best chance. McMahan, who nonetheless is not about to give up on her bill, admits legislative clout has as much to do with getting a bill like this passed as the actual merits of the legislation do.

“The senator has more seniority than I do,” she said.

In its current form, Oke’s bill calls for construction on the interchange to begin around 2007, with a projected completion date in 2009. Although this technically conflicts with the opening of the new bridge, Oke said it will take several years for the bridge to have any impact on South Kitsap traffic.

For starters, he explained, the opening of the new bridge is expected to be followed immediately by the old span closing for renovation. As a result, the lack of significant net gain in travel lanes combined with problems caused by renovation-related rubbernecking will probably make the bridge less popular for at least the first year or two.

“The first year it opens, it’ll be a nightmare there,” Oke said. “People are just going to have to learn to be patient.”

By moving up the interchange construction, the chaos on State Route 16 will stay confined to the two years following the bridge ribbon-cutting. In addition, Oke said, the project will save about $500,000 by avoiding several years of inflation.

Most importantly, Oke’s plan does not call for rearranging the Nickel Package project lineup, a controversial move that would have significantly reduced the bill’s chances for success. He plans to use money left over in the bridge’s contingency fund to cover most of the estimated $15.2 million cost of the interchange.

Later, when the Nickel Package money becomes available, the funds borrowed from the bridge fund will be repaid.

“Even with interest considered, there shouldn’t be any loss,” Oke said.

McMahan’s bill, which appears unlikely to make the move to Rules, makes only one significant change. Her proposal calls for planning on the project to begin this year, allowing bidding to commence even earlier than under Oke’s proposal.

However, McMahan still doesn’t expect construction to begin until 2007, even with her accelerated timeline.

“Of course, that’s been my goal all along to have that Burley-Olalla intersection done before the bridge opens,” she said.

Both McMahan’s and Oke’s proposals do call for the controversial temporary fix to go forward as planned, however. The state Department of Transportation has been trying to reduce the incidence of collisions at that intersection for years, and finally got a plan tentatively approved by a citizen’s advisory committee last year.

The plan, which will reduce crossing movements on the Burley side of the intersection, has raised eyebrows from local residents who worry the fix will reduce accidents to the point that the state feels it can afford to put off a full interchange indefinitely.

Port Orchard resident Jay Spady, who sat on the committee and currently serves as president of the South Kitsap Improvement Club, said he was horrified to hear that the intersection had this year dropped from the top of the state’s most dangerous intersections list to a spot in the 150s.

Spady said the fault of the sudden drop lies with the state’s system of basing rankings on the last two years of data. He said using such a short time period ignores the major collisions that seem to hit the crossing every four years or so.

Spady is worried the ranking system, combined with the DOT fix, will push Burley-Olalla out of the public eye.

“Give me a break,” he said. “It needs to be a three-year period at least, but it should really be a five-year period. You miss what’s going on with the intersection.”

Nonetheless, Spady said he is happy with the work Oke and McMahan are doing. He hopes the passage of one of the bills will give Burley-Olalla a more secure spot on the state’s to-do list and offset any risks associated with its location on the dangerous intersections list.

“We really appreciate (their) leadership,” Spady said.

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