County suspends road project

Kitsap County officials on Wednesday night informed a group of Harper residents who have been struggling for months to derail a plan to widen the beach-hugging road in front of their homes that the project has been suspended — at least for now.

“The right-of-way acquisition process is on hold, and has been for four weeks,” said Jim Roda of the county’s Public Works Department. He explained that a month ago the county halted its attempts to buy up to 13 feet for the widening from 15 residents of Southworth Drive, most of whom are refusing to sell or even allow appraisers to inspect their properties.

“We’re not sure if the project is going forward,” Roda said. “It depends on the outcome of this meeting.”

Wednesday’s meeting with key county staff members was scheduled after the residents — who call themselves “The Harper 17” because they own the 17 plots the county needs space from to complete the project — petitioned South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel for a chance to meet with the officials, who the residents said up until now have ignored their pleas to be included in the project’s planning and be kept informed of any progress.

The residents do agree with county staff that certain safety problems on the shoulderless, quarter-mile strip need to be addressed, but they do not agree with the county’s approach.

They say widening the road by at least 10 feet to create 11-foot traffic lanes and four-foot shoulders on each side that can be used by both bicyclists and walkers will not make their road less dangerous and, in fact, will make it more so.

Carrie Ensign, who owns two of the plots in question, said while the residents’ concerns can vary from house to house, there are three things they can agree they all want for the road — a lower speed limit, a safe walking path and for it not to be widened.

None of these requests, she said, will be met by the county’s plan.

Roda said the decision to proceed with the project would not be made by his department, but ultimately by Angel, after he and the other officials reported back to her with the results of the meeting.

“We want to can this project,” said resident Dawn Bove. “You can take that to her.”

But Ensign said she and the rest of group still wanted a “face-to-face dialogue with Angel,” who was expected to attend the meeting but could not, due to health problems.

“She is down flat with the flu,” said Angel’s assistant Debbie Austin. “She wanted to be here, but she promised you that you would have answers to your questions on May 11, and here it is May 11.”

The questions the officials were there to answer were culled by Ensign from the months of meetings the residents held in each other’s houses since learning the county requested federal money for the project in September.

For nearly three hours, Public Works staff involved in every step of the project — including assistant director Jon Brand, transportation planner Bill Zupancic and designer Dick Dadisman — carefully went down the list and responded to each concern, and the officials were grilled on everything from whether they had adequately researched viable alternatives to widening the road to whether they felt the project would really improve safety for walkers, which is what they said they wanted from the beginning.

Zupancic said the county’s original plan for the road was to improve the safety for pedestrians. However, the funding the county obtained are grants for “non-motorized” enhancements, which includes facilities for pedestrians and bicycles.

To meet the grant requirements, he said, the county designed “multi-use” lanes rather than separate walking and bicycle lanes — the latter, he explained, would have to be a minimum of five feet, must be separated from the road and cannot be used by pedestrians because they require a minimum of seven feet added on each side.

“It is incumbent on us by law to allow for all modes of transportation, including walking, bicycling and driving,” he said. “This is the lowest (amount) of paved shoulder and provides the minimal amount of safety. Personally, I would like to see something much wider, but this is the minimalist approach.”

Brand agreed.

“We’re trying to make this as minimalist as we can and still offer pedestrian safety,” he said. “We are trying to make this as palatable to you as possible because you live there, but there are a whole lot of other users to consider, and we have to accommodate all users of the road. This was the approach that we could afford to provide for the community.”

In response to the residents’ requests for a walkway on the beach and a lower speed limit and/or speed bumps, Zupancic said a boardwalk was never part of the county’s plan, and that the road’s classification as a urban minor arterial precluded adding speed bumps or any other speed-calming measures.

By and large, the residents managed to quell the passion they have become known for displaying in recent meetings while the officials explained their positions, but there were still flare-ups.

“Given the resentment of the residents, why are you so driven to complete this project?” said resident Charles Hower. “We’re telling you that we don’t want this, and you’re telling us to go fly a kite. Why go on with this charade?”

“We are not telling you to go fly a kite,” Brand responded. “We are going to report back to Jan Angel. We didn’t come here to blow smoke at you guys.

“There is no doubt in our minds that this is going to increase safety for pedestrians,” he continued. “I think it is a good project.”

Roda said due to Angel’s poor health this past week, he did not know when she would be available to discuss the meeting or the project’s status.

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