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Interim Burley-Olalla fix set to launch

Over the protests of locals who think any safety improvements could cost Burley-Olalla a full interchange, the state Department of Transportation last week picked a contractor to make a series of safety-related changes to the crossing.

The intersection of Burley-Olalla Road and State Route 16, a hot spot for accidents, is slated to get a full interchange sometime around 2011.

However, because accidents at the location tend to be serious, if not deadly, the state is spending $1.3 million to make the crossing less hazardous in the interim.

The contractor, Bellevue-based Tri-State Construction, will be responsible for restriping the site and improving several acceleration and deceleration lanes — work intended to reduce the number of cars crossing the highway.

When complete, the interim fix will eliminate all crossing movements in and out of the Burley side, as well as prohibit “full crosses” in which cars travel across all four lanes of highway in order to continue on Burley-Olalla Road.

“We put a lot of work into this safety improvement,” said DOT spokesman Lloyd Brown.

Many in the area, however, lobbied heavily against the interim fix. They believe any reduction in crashes will just give the state the excuse it needs to delay putting in a full interchange even longer.

Although the interchange project is listed as part of the gas tax-funded “Nickel Package” approved by the state Legislature last year, critics point out any vote of the Legislature between now and 2010 could change that.

“I don’t care how much they tweak this,” said Olalla resident Kevin Wirth. “We’ve been told this fix will make things better — it’s not a believable story.”

Nevertheless, the DOT is moving forward. Brown said he expects work on the intersection to commence by May 1, with the project wrapping up sometime near the end of the summer. The primary concern, he said, is making sure construction doesn’t interfere with traffic on the heavily travelled route.

“We want to get in and get out because we don’t want to impact traffic more than we need to,” Brown said.

Although the details have not yet been worked out, Brown said DOT plans to keep any daytime work off to the side of the highway and out of traffic’s way. In-lane and in-median work will only take place at night or, at a minimum, during off-peak hours. Brown said DOT will do whatever is necessary to avoid backups during rush hour.

He also said the agency does not see this fix as any kind of permanent solution to the intersection’s problems.

“The DOT is committed to building the full interchange,” Brown said. “That’s what we said we’d do and that’s what we’re going to do.”

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