Port pushing for SR-3 improvements

The Port of Bremerton is trying to get local and state officials behind its plan to widen State Route 3 between Gorst and Shelton.

The port, which has the majority of its property along SR-3 between Gorst and the Mason County line, has become increasingly concerned about the steady increase of traffic along the two-lane highway. The road, which was not designed to handle a constant stream of large trucks and commuters, has become a hot spot for accidents.

The most recent crash, which happened last month at Lake Flora Road, killed a Gig Harbor man and sent his female passenger to the hospital with serious injuries.

Now that the South Kitsap Industrial Area, a proposed employment center surrounding Bremerton National Airport and the port’s other properties near there, has been approved, traffic along SR-3 and its connection to SR 16 is only expected to get worse.

“Five years ago, I could leave my office (in Bremerton) at 4:30 and drive straight through Gorst without any problem,” said Port Commissioner Bill Mahan. “Five years from now, I guarantee (the traffic) will start at 1 o’clock. Like I-5, it will continue to clog up.”

Currently, SKIA only has two free access points to the other side of Puget Sound — over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and through Mason county. When the second Narrows Bridge is built and toll collection starts, Mason County will become the only way to get in or out of South Kitsap without having to pay.

Mahan said the traffic on the bridge has already become a factor in businesses’ decision to locate in South Kitsap; if things are allowed to get worse, he said, SKIA will remain nothing but empty lots.

Meanwhile, Mahan explained, the state is waiting for more traffic to come before making the SR 3/Gorst corridor a priority.

“It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg issue,” he said. “If you don’t have the transportation corridor to support that kind of employment center, you won’t have that kind of growth.”

To try and raise awareness about transportation issues, Mahan has arranged a multi-jurisdictional meeting in the beginning of July. He said he invited county, state and Department of Transportation officials, plus officials from Mason and Jefferson counties.

Obviously, in order to widen SR 3 to Shelton the port will need the cooperation of Mason County’s Board of Commissioners, but Mahan said Jefferson County businesses actually rely as much on the SR 3 corridor as Kitsap County businesses do.

Mahan wants to gain support for a proposed pair of capital improvements he said will drastically improve traffic flow through South Kitsap — widening SR-3 to four lanes with a “bypass” around Belfair and building a bridge across Sinclair Inlet to take pressure off Gorst.

He said he’s also hoping to get more attention for a series of Lake Flora Road improvements the port wants done to smooth access on the east side of the airport.

Mahan’s overall goal is to get the port’s list of desired improvements included in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s annual transportation plan, thereby putting the projects at the front of the line to receive federal funding. SKIA was recently recognized as an employment center by the PSRC, which put it in a much better position to qualify for transportation grants.

Nevertheless, Mahan isn’t expecting to see immediate action on his proposals.

“I think it’ll take a long time, but if we don’t start talking about it, get it included in the plan, it’ll never happen,” he said.

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