Better sight lines but no turn lanes at Cental Whidbey's Arnold Road

A multi-million dollar project to improve the driving conditions of Highway 20 near San de Fuca is missing one thing — turning lanes.

That omission has at least one resident who has witnessed numerous crashes that have plagued the area concerned.

“I just can’t imagine why they aren’t putting in turning lanes,” said Larry Richards, who lives off Madrona Way near Coupeville. He noticed that other busy intersections along Highway 20 around the San de Fuca area have left turn lanes.

Over the years he said he has seen the flashing lights of emergency vehicles as personnel respond to numerous car crashes along the winding stretch of road.

The improvement project does lack left-turn lanes, acknowledged Dustin Terpening, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation. However, other changes to the highway should improve driving conditions for motorists.

“We are realigning the intersection to fix the angles and sight distance, which should make it easier to turn on and off the highway and reduce the risk of collisions,” Terpening said in an email.

However, the proposed project didn’t seem to impress Richards.

“It just seems to be a halfway measure to me,” Richards said.

The two issues that currently affect motorists driving on Highway 20 around the Arnold Road intersection are poor sight distance and cars swerving off the roadway when motorists reach the sharp curves, said Todd Carlson, planning and engineering services manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

He said research done at the intersection showed that motorists made too few left turns at the intersection to warrant the installation of turn lanes. Because of the extra dollar amount needed for a wider road for turn lanes, left turn lanes evaporated as a solution to the problem.

Highway 20 around Arnold Road is a notorious area for car accidents; vehicles often end up in the ditches or even the nearby fields because of the curves. Several fatal car accidents have occurred in the area over the years. The most recent fatality took place in September 2010.

The $9.5-million project entails rebuilding the intersection at Arnold Road and Highway 20. Workers will cut back the hillside near the intersection to allow for a more sweeping curve and a change of the intersection angle. Officials hope the change will improve conditions for motorists as they turn on and off the highway.

Work has already started on the project, including moving the power poles to make room for the realigned roadway. The department of transportation also purchased, and then knocked down, a house located near the construction project to make room for the roadwork.

It’s taken years for the Arnold Road project to become a reality. Originally planned to encompass the stretch of Highway 20 from Sidney Street to Libbey Road, plans changed over the years as the amount of available money changed, construction prices fluctuated and environmental reviews added more concerns.

The construction area is located within the confines of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Shane Spahr, WSDOT project engineer, said a larger road project would have impacted cultural and historical sites located within Ebey’s Reserve.

Workers have installed signs and erosion controls and digging is scheduled to start July 18. The project is scheduled to be finished in the fall.

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