Burley-Olalla work to begin

Starting Friday and then for the next two years, no one but those responding to emergencies will be able to drive directly from Burley-Olalla Road to State Route 16.

However, by the time the connection reopens, cars on the highway should finally be traveling up and over the dangerous intersection.

The Washington State Department of Transportation originally planned to close the road next week on Aug. 1, but spokeswoman Emily Pace said crews will begin working this week instead.

“The contract allows them to start work as early as (today), so they decided they wanted to get a jumpstart,” Pace said, explaining that while the road will not be closed until Friday, crews will be out working today and tomorrow.

“They will be doing some clearing and installing fencing,” she said.

Once access from Burley-Olalla to SR-16 is blocked, Pace said only vehicles responding to emergencies — such as ambulances, fire trucks and law enforcement — will be allowed through until the $27 million overpass is completed in 2010.

She said all four lanes of the highway will remain open for the duration, but the speed limit will be reduced to 40 m.p.h.

Once the new interchange is completed, Burley-Olalla Road will be diverted underneath the highway while new on- and off-ramps will provide complete access to the arterial.

John Romero, who supervised the design of the interchange for the WSDOT, described it as very similar to the one in place further north at Mullenix Road, which re-routed traffic underneath the highway instead of across it. “This was purely a safety project; our duty was to reduce, or eliminate, those T-bone collisions — some fatal — that were occurring there.”

Romero said the project has been discussed as a need for 30 years, but the delay “has always been an issue of funding. Now with the Nickel Project, we finally got the funding source.”

In addition to the safety improvements, Romero said the project will also include the removal of “two fish passage barriers” that have been in place since the highway was built in the 1960s.

“We will be removing two culverts and replacing them with two fish-passable concrete structures, allowing those fish to access several hundred feet of spawning habitat that they haven’t been able to use for 40 years,” he said, explaining that while living fish may not know to use those areas, as soon as future salmon are born there they will be able to return there.

In 2003, the state legislature provided $14.9 million, through the Nickel Project List, to design and build the interchange. Last year, the WSDOT requested another $10 million, citing “new hydraulic requirements, new wetland mitigation requirements, and market increases in construction material costs since 2003.”

Romero said the extra funds were approved by the legislature last year.

In the meantime, in 2004, a $1.3 million-dollar interim fix was completed by WSDOT. Designed to prevent the most dangerous movements across the highway, the work included adding signs and striping to warn drivers that dashing across the highway or certain left turns were no longer allowed.

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