At Sharpes Corner

The more than 60 community members who attended an informal open house Monday were able to view and discuss the state Department of Transportation’s divisive recommendation for the future of Sharpes Corner.

After scrutinizing roughly 50 different options for improving the infamous intersection, many of which had already examined by WSDOT’s design team, an independent panel of engineering experts and local officials determined that a roundabout would be the most efficient and cost effective solution.

Open house attendees were able to view the six options originally generated by the value engineering team and juxtapose the passed-over designs with a more extensive display of the roundabout option.

“Overall, I think the response was very positive,” said Dave Chesson, WSDOT spokesman. “There were many people that came with questions and concerns about the roundabout, but that is the purpose of getting folks to come out and talk with us one-on-one. We were able to walk them through the process and show them how we got to where we are in the design process today. The majority understood it much better and were satisfied once they got the chance to talk with us.”

Chesson said most of the attendees were from Oak Harbor, with a smattering of Anacortes residents making the trip south. He added that not everyone was sold on the roundabout proposal, questioning its functionality.

“There were a few folks that are still not convinced that a roundabout will function in the way our data has shown it will,” Chesson said. “There were also a handful that just flat out don’t like roundabouts. I think that is to be expected, and there would be people that wouldn’t like the other options as well.”

Twenty students from Jim Crouch’s U.S. Government class at Oak Harbor High School took a field trip of sorts to render their own decision on a design that will impact their generation for decades.

Alyssa Sexton, 17, found the roundabout option confusing, echoing the views of a handful of classmates.

“I’ve never been on a roundabout,” Sexton said. “People aren’t familiar with them around here. I think it’s going to cause more accidents than they think.”

“I’m just not a big fan of them,” added 17-year-old Trevor Kjargaard, who attended the open house either out of curiosity or under duress.

Students Katie Krieg, 17, and Olivia Anderson, 18, were partial to the rejected “Eastbound Flyover” option.

“It’s just a lot simpler,” Anderson said. Krieg questioned the ability of RVs to successfully maneuver in the circular design.

North Whidbey resident Lloyd Haugen, formerly of Seattle, sang the praises of the roundabout, a design with which many Europeans are intimately familiar.

“Once you get used to it, you can’t beat them,” he said. “You’ve got to learn how to play the game with them. It’s so much better than sitting there waiting for a light.”

Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik supported the roundabout method but not the adverse affect it could have on businesses in close proximity to the intersection.

“Both businesses on the corner are going to suffer,” he said.

The mayor also bemoaned the increase in the roundabout costs as it went through the design process. The jump from approximately $11 million to around $22 million was attributed to recommendations from the value engineering team.

“I hate the idea that they would double the budget,” Slowik said. “I liked the $11 million roundabout much better.”

WSDOT has an available budget of $21.9 million from the 2005 gas tax. Engineers are now looking for ways to keep the project costs within budget. Construction would not begin until 2011.

Although the public comment period for the project is closed, the state department is continuing to solicit feedback.

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