Burley-Olalla bill dead in the water

Despite constant prodding from state Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, his Burley-Olalla interchange bill — a measure that would have moved up construction by two years — failed to even garner a hearing in the state House of Representatives.

Oke, who rallied nearly unanimous support for the bill in the Senate, was not pleased.

“You know, I just don’t have the opportunity to go over and befriend those people,” he said, half-jokingly calling for four-year terms for local representatives.

Oke cites personality conflicts as a possible reason the bill died unheard.

He said a similar measure sponsored by Rep. Lois McMahan (R-Olalla) also failed to get out of the transportation committee and said there appeared to be some friction between McMahan and the transportation chair.

While bills remain in committee, it is completely up to the discretion of the chair whether a bill is heard or not.

“We tried everything we could to have that bill brought before the committee and brought up for a vote,” Oke said.

McMahan agreed that politics — not the bill’s merits — seemed to be the reason it failed. She said the committee chair, a Seattle Democrat, “stepped outside the bounds of House protocol” when commenting on her legislation and was “not polite” to her.

McMahan said she was very disappointed with the whole proceedings and how the results will affect her South Kitsap constituents.

“That’s a shameful thing, in my opinion, to politicize this,” she said.

Now that the bill is officially dead, Oke said he would turn his attention to a transportation budget item that would salvage something of his bill.

The item, which was preliminarily approved as part of the Senate’s draft supplementary budget last week, would use $1 million in excess transportation funds to start work on the Burley-Olalla interchange one year, four months ahead of schedule.

Oke’s bill would have used excess contingency money from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge fund to help accelerate the project.

Later, the money would have been paid back to the state through the Nickel Package gas tax funds originally earmarked to build the $15.2 million interchange.

The substitution is not perfect, Oke said, but he feels it’s the only chance he’ll have to move up the project’s estimated completion date, now slated for 2011.

“That will assure me, as much as I can be assured, that the project will get done,” he said.

Although the intersection of State Route 16 and Burley-Olalla Road has been the site of numerous serious accidents over the years, its priority has always fallen just below other hazardous crossings.

No one has been killed there for years and, although fender-benders and non-fatal T-bone collisions occur on a relatively regular basis, area residents are worried the crossing is losing its reputation for danger.

For that reason, a $1 million interim fix planned for the site this year is not overwhelmingly popular in Burley and Olalla. Even though the fix would eliminate a few of the many crossing movements now allowed at the intersection, residents are concerned a further drop in the number of collisions would be just the excuse the state needs to delay construction of a full interchange even longer.

There is historical backing for their concerns. Local historians note that Burley-Olalla has twice before been promised an interchange by the state, only to have horrifying crashes at other crossings along SR 16 push it back onto the back burner.

Oke is also worried by this trend. Although the Nickel Package list of transportation projects has been firmly established, there’s nothing to prevent future legislators from amending the document and possibly bumping Burley-Olalla off. Oke hoped that by expediting construction, he could ensure the intersection wasn’t forgotten about.

“The project is firmly on the Nickel List, but it’s so far out, I’m nervous,” he said.

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