Funding found for turn lane at Highway 20 danger spot

After at least 10 years of effort, officials from the Washington State Department of Transportation and Island County have finally found the money to put in a turn lane and widen shoulders on Highway 20 near the Island County solid waste transfer station.

Todd Carlson, a planning and engineering manager with the state, said the final piece of the puzzle was a $1 million “scenic byway” grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The federal government only had about $20 million in the grant fund for the entire country, so he was excited that Whidbey Island got such a large share. He credits the Whidbey Scenic Isle Way Corridor Management Plan for boosting the grant application.

Transportation officials have long realized that there’s a need for improvements in the busy section of the highway. It’s a straight stretch of the highway just east of Coupeville, but traffic is often stopped on the road for motorists turning into the transfer station, the animal shelter, the Island Transit office, businesses and a county park. And that’s when rear-end collisions can occur.

“Left-turn lanes on a two-lane highway are really a bugaboo,” Carlson said.

Just two weeks ago, Carol Barnes, the county’s animal control officer, was injured when her vehicle was rear-ended by a dump truck at the exact spot engineers hope to fix. She was happy to hear about the project.

“That’s good news,” she said. “Hopefully it will prevent anyone else from being hurt.”

The road project will be a partnership between the state, the county and Island Transit. Carlson said the plan is to install a center-turn lane for cars entering and exiting the county transfer station and widen shoulders from Jacobs Road to Morris Road.

Carlson said the project is slated for the spring of 2014, but he guessed that it will move to an earlier date once preliminary engineering is done.

Carlson said transportation officials have had trouble finding funding for the project over the years since the bulk of road construction money goes to safety-related projects and the Department of Transportation prioritizes such projects by the number of serious accidents in an area. The section of highway just hasn’t had a large number of serious accidents, he said, partly due to the fact that people tend to drive slower on roads without shoulders.

According to Carlson, about 1,200 passenger vehicles and 90 trucks turn off Highway 20 to enter the solid waste facility on a busy day. During a five-year period from 2005 to 2009, there were 12 collisions at that exact intersection. Of those, one involved a serious injury.

“This one doesn’t really rank that high,” he said. “That’s why we cobbled together funding from so many sources.”

The partners have found $2 million for the project, but Carlson said more construction can be done if additional funding is identified.

In addition to the federal grant, the 2011 state Legislature earmarked $1 million to the Department of Transportation to make safety improvements on the Highway 20 corridor from Race Road to Jacobs Road and just over $800,000 to Island Transit to realign Parker Road to improve safety and provide access to the transit base at this intersection.

Island County will contribute $250,000 in road funds and donate county property to the project.

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said the county has a vested interest in making it easier and safer for drivers to get in and out of the transfer station. He’s also concerned about the miles of the highway in Central Whidbey that have no shoulder to speak of.

“I would like to have shoulder improvements from Jacobs to Race Road, but this is a good first step,” he said.


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