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State breaks ground on new Burley-Olalla interchange at last

Judy Oke, widow of state Sen. Bob Oke, waits to help break ground on the new Burley-Olalla interchange. - Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo
Judy Oke, widow of state Sen. Bob Oke, waits to help break ground on the new Burley-Olalla interchange.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

Local officials wield shovels to celebrate

long-awaited fix of dangerous intersection.

Crews have been working in the area for nearly a month, but the Washington State Department of Transportation officially broke ground Friday on the long-anticipated project to build a new, safer interchange where Burley-Olalla Road used to do a dangerous dance with State Route 16.

“I was thrilled to see this project get going,” said South Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel, who joined several other local and state officials in lifting shovels and symbolically breaking ground Aug. 8 on the nearly $30-million project.

Called an “at-grade” intersection, the interchange forced drivers on Burley-Olalla Road who needed to cross SR-16 to battle four lanes of traffic traveling at least 50 mph in both directions.

And despite the recurring accidents at the interchange and the danger inherent in its design, Angel said it was a long and bumpy battle making sure it would be improved.

“When I came into office eight years ago, they were trying to put a barrier down the middle of the road (to divert traffic from going to Olalla),” she recalled. “But people need to be able to get to both sides of Burley-Olalla Road.”

After smoothing that speed bump, Angel said proponents battled another and another before the project began.

“(The late) Sen. Bob Oke worked very hard to secure the funding for the project, and then we almost lost the funding,” she said, explaining that she, Sen. Derek Kilmer and others “worked very hard to keep this issue on the front burner.”

Also on hand Friday to take up shovels were Oke’s widow Judy Oke, Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer, along with state officials such as Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste and Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond.

“We are here today honoring this project that will grade separate this intersection,” said Kevin Dayton, WSDOT’s administrator for the Olympic Region. “This new interchange is a key part of our plan to enhance driver safety along this roadway.”

In 2004, a $1.3 million-dollar interim fix — that many nearby residents feared would spell doom for a permanent one — 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.

“You can’t fix such a dangerous place just by putting on a Band-Aid,” Angel said, adding that just being alongside the road Friday morning and hearing the amount of traffic that drives by was eye-opening. “The amount of traffic and freight — big trucks alone — that goes by is amazing. It is a very busy road.”

When the project is completed in 2010, the interchange will look and function like the one just north at Mullenix Road, which diverts cross traffic underneath the highway.

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