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Sharpes roundabout plans aired in Oak Harbor

Whidbey Island residents will have an opportunity Monday, Feb. 25, to review all six of the original designs proposed by the state Department of Transportation for a future safety project at the Highway 20 Sharpes Corner intersection.

An independent panel of engineering experts and local officials have determined that a roundabout constructed at Sharpes Corner, with some modifications, will be the safest, most efficient and cost effective solution.

The open house will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Oak Harbor public works building located at 1400 NE 16th Ave.

While located off the island, Sharpes Corner is used by hundreds of Whidbey Islanders each day as they make their way west to Anacortes or east to Burlington and Interstate 5.

“WSDOT engineers and staff will show the original six design options that we started with, as well as the work that the value engineering team has done since then,” said Dave Chesson, WSDOT spokesman. “We will have the latest details on the new roundabout design, as well as the value engineering team’s recommendations to improve bicycle and pedestrian access, and make improvements to the intersection at Miller and Gibralter roads.”

The infamous intersection has become a high priority because of the dangerous conditions and long delays. The value engineering study team recently spent many hours reviewing plans and brainstorming ways to improve the Sharpes Corner intersection. After exploring roughly 50 different options, many of which had already been looked at by WSDOT’s design team, they were able to whittle their recommendations down to one: a roundabout.

A November open house held in Anacortes attracted approximately 200 people interested in perusing the options. Of the 150 questionnaires distributed, Chesson said more than 100 were returned. During the 60-day comment period that ended Jan. 4, people were also able to post comments on DOT’s Web site.

“Not only did they recommend the roundabout, but they also recommended ways to improve the original roundabout design,” Chesson said. “Suggestions for improvement included bicycle and pedestrian paths, a roundabout at the Miller Road and Gibraltar Road intersection, and a tunnel under the roundabout for eastbound traffic coming from Anacortes.”

The biggest difference to the original design was the tunnel recommendation for eastbound drivers. Though it adds costs to the project, it could help the intersection work better for a longer period of time, which increases the rate of return on the investment.

The group also recommended slightly raising, and shifting the roundabout’s location to make way for the eastbound tunnel, as well as reduce construction delays for drivers. They also recommended creating a separate bike and pedestrian trail in front of the golf course, and adding a second roundabout at the Miller Road and Gibraltar Road intersection to address safety concerns on the highway south of Sharpes Corner.

“These are only recommendations at this point, and we will need to do a thorough review to confirm the design recommendations and the costs associated with them,” said Assistant Regional Administrator Todd Harrison. “The team was very innovative and came up with some great improvements, while keeping estimated costs within the budget. Now we’ll have to do a cost risk and design analysis to see if we can make their suggestions a reality.”

Chesson said the Oak Harbor open house will provide residents who were unable to make the November open house in Anacortes a chance to study the designs and speak with DOT officials about the project.

“It will be a great opportunity for the public to see the progress we are making to improve safety and reduce congestion at this intersection,” Chesson said. “We will shortly hold a similar meeting in Anacortes.”

More details from the workshop will be available once a final report is completed later this month.

The design team will examine the finer details of the recommendations and begin a cost risk assessment to see if it can be done within the proposed budget. If it is not feasible, the team has suggested that parts of their proposals — like the eastbound undercrossing — could be added later.

“It would be cheaper and easier, on us and drivers, to build it all at once,” Harrison said. “First we need to validate that it can be built and then make it fit within the budget.”

WSDOT representatives will accept comments throughout the duration of the project. Visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr20/sharpescornerinterchange for more details, results from the value engineering study and contact information.

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