News

SR20 crosswalks worry town officials

"The state Department of Transportation has heard Coupeville leaders who oppose construction of two crosswalks at the intersection of State Route 20 and Main Street. Still, the project is scheduled for construction this summer.At least one town council member and the mayor have told DOT officials that the crosswalks would create a dangerous situation, particularly for schoolchildren, but the DOT plans to proceed with the work anyway.The discussion has been going on for months, said Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard. It originally began when the DOT decided to change the traffic lights at the intersection from the kind that hang from a wire to the kind with the arm that extends halfway over the road.Then the DOT began to look around at the rest of the intersection. The DOT said the intersection also needed left-turn lanes and signals, and crosswalks.It was determined that the walkway bridge that passes over SR 20 does not meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DOT said all new construction, such as the changing of the traffic lights, must include work to bring the area up to the ADA specifications, said Donna Keeler, town council member.The DOT is set to gather bids and begin work later this summer to install the crosswalks, including the poles with a button pedestrians would press to request a walk signal, Conard said. One such crosswalk is slated for installation at the north side of the intersection and another at the east side of the intersection.Conard and Keeler said they think the crosswalks would increase the danger to people, particularly children and the disabled.There's a lot of near-miss accidents at this intersection, Conard said.Additionally, the speed limit for that part of SR 20 is 55 mph. Conard said she is working to convince DOT officials to reduce the posted speed limit through that intersection, something the agency does not want to do.Both Conard and Keeler said their main concern is that children going to and from school will begin to use the crosswalks instead of the overpass bridge. They fear that children will not use the crosswalks properly and will cross against the signal.While Conard respects the premise of the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said the need to protect the children going to school outweighs the need for the crosswalks.It's not a huge need in our community, Conard said. There is public transportation that is available and accessible to disabled people that safely takes them across the intersection.However, Todd Harrison, the assistant area administrator for Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties for the DOT, said the very reason the DOT wants to improve the intersection is because of safety concerns.The ADA is a standard ... and it's the law, Harrison said in a telephone interview Tuesday. As professional engineers we have to go by certain standards and the law.Harrison said the DOT respects the opinion of the Coupeville officials, and in fact he and two other DOT employees attended a public meeting arranged by Conard on March 8. Harrison said there he saw both sides to the situation.Some of the community - at least two or three individuals in wheelchairs - expressed their support for the crosswalks ... One person (in a wheelchair) said he tipped over more than once on the overpass, Harrison said.Harrison and the other engineers looked at all the options suggested by the opposition and the DOT's current plan is the safest.As a professional I say 'Yes, I do think this is the safest,' Harrison said.The work has been contracted to Sail Electric of Bellingham, and the contract was awarded in the amount of $363,610.75, Harrison said. The project will probably begin late August or early September, with completion in October.You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611"

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