Citizens angered by road closure

The apparently imminent closure of Old Cornet Bay Road has sparked a fire in some local residents.

Approximately 15 of them showed up to a meeting Wednesday evening at the Environmental Learning Center to hear Washington Department of Transportation officials explain why the road must be closed. But some were still not satisfied.

“They’ve not listened to a damned thing we’ve said,” Cornet Bay resident John Aydelotte said.

Aydelotte said that he and several other residents are considering filing a lawsuit against the county and DOT to stop the closure.

“There are several of us that are seriously considering that,” he said. “If these people won’t listen to what we say, a judge will make them listen to us.”

Old Cornet Bay Road will be closed under a DOT proposal to improve Highway 20 in the area. Ducken Road will be moved to line up with Deception Circle and the road’s elevation will be lowered by approximately 10 feet. This project is in the vicinity of the Deception Pass Saloon.

Improving safety

Approximately 16,000 cars pass through the area between Troxell Road and the new Cornet Bay road each day during peak travel times, DOT engineer Omar Jepperson said during the meeting.

DOT identified that area on the north end of Whidbey Island as a safety concern in 2001 and began a project to rectify the hazards that area has. Unaligned intersections at Ducken Road, Deception Circle and Old Cornet Bay Road create turning hazards for motorists. Combined with a sudden rise in elevation and a sharp bend in the road, that one-mile stretch of road has seen numerous accidents over the years.

According to Washington State Patrol accident data, 98 accidents occurred in that area between 1994 and 2003. Of those, 80 were rear ends and 88 resulted in injuries.

The $8-million project is scheduled to get underway at the end of March. But some residents said that the issue of safety is not being addressed adequately.

“I was in the fire department — I’ve watched people bleed there,” Aydelotte said. “We’re not talking how many houses there are, we’re talking safety.”

Other residents voiced concern about only having one escape route for the 200 homes that are in the Cornet Bay area. Closing the road would leave only the new Cornet Bay Road open for people trying to exit the area.

Aydelotte also said that emergency personnel use the old road for access to Cornet Bay in order to cut travel time in times of crisis.

Jepperson said that the entire project is meant to improve safety. By lowering the road and lessening the curve, the line of sight would be improved. In addition, wider shoulders, right turn lanes and left turn pockets will be added to the area.

Out of options

In the early planning stages, state officials assessed five different options. All but one of which involved closing Old Cornet Bay Road. All of the choices resulted in a price tag of approximately $8 million.

Todd Harrison, DOT’s assistant area administrator, told the audience Wednesday that the decision to close the road has already been made. But the citizens had an option that had not been considered — closing Ducken Road and routing it to intersect with Old Cornet Bay Road. But Harrison said that was not an option at this point because land has already been purchased.

“I’m not going to sit here and pretend like we haven’t been buying millions of dollars in right of ways,” he said. “We’re not going to make everybody happy — I’m sorry.”

And everybody was not happy Wednesday. Some people walked out in disgust after presenting their concerns. Others, such as Aydelotte, chose to voice their concerns.

Toward the end of the meeting, Aydelotte said that his remaining option would be through legal recourse. A public hearing will take place Monday at 10:15 a.m. at the Board of Island County Commissioners’ meeting in Coupeville. Aydelotte said he will be there.

“I’m going to have a meeting with my lawyers and show up Monday with papers,” he said.

Old Cornet Bay Road closed to two-way traffic in 1973. If the project does continue as planned, construction will begin at the beginning of May.

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