People who live on a North Whidbey road are not happy with Island County’s plans for work aimed at improving safety.
A group of residents who live on the northern end of Boon Road met with public works officials, and a legislative assistant for state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, last week to voice their concerns about a proposed project that would add paved shoulders and shave down hills on the popular throughway.
“I can tell you one thing with certainty,” resident Marty Malloy said during the gathering next to the road, “the autobahn this has become is going to be even more dangerous.”
In addition to safety concerns, the residents were worried about the blacktop coming even closer to homes nestled along the road and the possibility of road work breaking aging water pipes underneath the road.
To address concerns, the county public works department is holding an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7 at the Grace Community Church on Highway 20. Public works officials, the contractor and the surveyor will be present to answer questions; people will get the chance to see the right-of-way plan.
Bird Coffey, the president of the North Boon Road Water Association, said he found out about the roadwork plans when the contractor called him to ask about a wetland on his property. He said the residents had been aware of proposals to do widening work on the south end of Boon Road — which he described as badly in need of work — but county officials had previously assured him that nothing was in store for the northern half.
Many residents were alarmed when they saw county workers out on the road, scoping out utilities in preparation for the construction.
Coffey said he spoke to several county officials, including Commissioner Angie Homola, about his concerns, but they were all uncompromising.
“They are trying to bulldog their way in here and spend money when they say they don’t have any,” he said.
Joe Araucto, the county’s construction engineer, explained in an interview that the county applied for and received a grant from the state for gas-tax funds to do the safety-related construction on the south section of Boon Road. The county officials applied for another grant for the south section of the road, but they don’t know if they’ve received it yet.
The county engineers estimated in the six-year transportation plan that the work on the south section will cost $2.3 million and the north section will be $3.3 million. Araucto, however, said the numbers are very preliminary and he will present much better estimates at the open house event.
The construction on the south section is scheduled to happen next year, but Araucto said it depends on whether the county can obtain the necessary right-of-way property to do the project in time. The second phase is scheduled for 2015, but he said that also depends on many factors, including whether the county can get the money.
The goal of the project, he said, is to bring the road up to county code by ensuring the narrow road has 11-foot lanes and four-foot shoulders. In addition, he said they want to alter the “vertical alignment” of the road to meet current standards for sight distance. That will mean lowering hills and filling in dips.
At the meeting last Wednesday, several residents said that people commonly speed and even race on the road and they were concerned that widening it would only encourage people to drive even faster.
Connie Bowers, assistant county engineer, emphasized that the intent is to make the road safer. Wider, paved shoulders will give people a place to walk in relative safety, while also making the road safer for cars by giving drivers more room to recover if the car wanders off the road. Longer sight distances means drivers will have more time to stop for something in the road.
In addition, Araucto said the county will have to obtain private property in many places along the road in order to do the widening work.
Malloy worried that he would lose the hedges in his front yard if the road is widened.
He said the hedges are not only attractive, but they are the only barrier to prevent cars from “tumbling into his front yard.”
Maryanne Coffey, Bird’s wife, pointed out that the edge of her house was only 34 feet from the road and bringing the blacktop closer by four feet or more would diminish what little yard they have.
“That’s pretty close,” she said.