Editorial: Butter up Mary Margaret

There’s only one way for officials to fix the traffic nightmare on Highway 20 at the south end of Oak Harbor: Butter up state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen.

The influential senator from Camano Island is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. As such, she has a hand on the throttle of state transportation spending. If she doesn’t like a project, it probably won’t get done.

Haugen has played a key role in providing many millions of dollars to fix ferry terminals in the district and widen and improve Highway 20 south and north of Oak Harbor. We’re lucky to have someone from Island County in such a powerful position in state government. The fact that she is a Democrat causes a bit of friction with Republican Oak Harbor, which always favors whomever the Republicans throw against her at election time. But she’s willing to work with Oak Harbor officials as long as their attitude is correct. And so far, their attitude has not been correct when it comes to south Oak Harbor’s traffic problems.

Haugen still blames the city for allowing the Wal-Mart development to go in without the necessary infrastructure improvements to handle the resulting traffic congestion on the state highway. That was 10 years ago, and traffic gets worse every year. And yet the city is still insisting the development has little to do with traffic problems in the area. Just last week the city engineer said it’s unfair to blame any specific development for the problem. Well, Sen. Haugen has been around a lot longer than the city engineer, and one can imagine her reaction when she reads a comment like that.

The city needs to forge a new relationship with the senator, who will be meeting with city officials Oct. 10. Start by admitting past misdeeds. Yes, the city erred in not requiring more in the way of traffic improvements from the Wal-Mart developers, and also messed up in other ways in the problem area. There’s a residential development highway entrance right in front of the stoplight at the busiest intersection in town for gosh sakes. There are more condos, mobile home parks, senior residences and houses than the roads in the area can handle. All of this was allowed by the city, with no long-term consideration of traffic impacts.

Sen. Haugen is correct. All the Highway 20 traffic problems south of town are caused by poor planning by Oak Harbor. So admit it. She’s a forgiving person. Throw yourselves at the mercy of the Senate Transportation Committee chairwoman. Ask for help and promise to act smarter and better in the future. Put it in writing. Butter up the senator and start a new working relationship with her. It’s our only chance to fix Highway 20. We’d wager she can get the money next legislative session if she’s on our side for a change.

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