Banta Road traffic light should be priority, official says

Crashes at State Road 20 crossing concern residents

A congested intersection on State Highway 20 near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is dangerous and needs to be addressed before more motor vehicle accidents occur, Island County Commissioner Rick Hannold said following a collision that left one man seriously injured.

“There was another accident at Banta Road and State Highway 20,” Hannold said at a Tuesday board meeting. “We had another individual airlifted to Harborview (Medical Center) from an accident at that intersection.

“We need to put a simple traffic light there. That project has been on the books for Washington Department of Transportation for a long time and they keep saying it’s coming.”

State officials said the intersection is approved for safety improvement funding and that construction is scheduled for 2019.

Hannold suggested bumping up the timeline.

The two-lane state road is heavily traveled by naval base employees, Anacortes commuters, Deception Pass State Park visitors, Oak Harbor residents and many others. Posted speed limit is 50 mph.

According to the state, 17,000 vehicles travel that stretch of Highway 20 on an average day.

“It’s a very dangerous intersection,” said Barry Wenaas, who lives on a 20-acre farm off Banta Road. “It’s sad. We’ve had too many accidents there.”

The latest incident occurred the afternoon of Friday, May 19.

Motorcyclist Robert T. Peterson, 43, of Anacortes, was stopped at the highway intersection of Banta Road. According to Washington State Patrol, he turned left in front of Melanie A. Bolander, 52, of Oak Harbor, who was driving southbound in a 2007 Mazda 3.

Peterson was struck by the Mazda. He was airlifted to Harborview, the Seattle trauma center. Bolander was also injured and transported to Island Hospital.

Peterson was listed in serious condition Friday, said Bobbie Nodell, media relations manager for University of Washington Health Sciences and Medicine.

Peterson, who was wearing an approved helmet, was cited for failure to yield, said Sgt. Mark Francis, Washington State Patrol.

Between January 2011 and December 2015, 18 crashes were reported in the vicinity of the intersection; seven of those involved injuries, said Andrea E. Petrich, WSDOT communications.

“WSDOT is just beginning a community outreach plan to formulate a design,” for a safety feature at the intersection, she said.

Possible options could be installing a traffic signal or constructing a roundabout right of way that’s designed to slow traffic.

State troopers are often in the area checking for speeders, Francis said.

“We know people are waiting at that intersection awhile,” Francis said. “We’re there enough to see the ebb and flow of traffic. It can be pretty busy, especially in the spring and summer.

“That being said, (drivers) still have to give the right of way.”

Wenaas and others who live in the neighborhoods on both sides of State Highway 20 said congestion is so bad at certain hours that they purposely avoid trying to get anywhere.

“You just can’t get out at certain times of the day,” said Teri Hoskens, who lives in Northgate Terrace, on the east side of the highway. “If you’re going to make a left-hand turn, you have to plan in advance.”

Adding to the danger are southbound vehicles picking up speed as they descend a hill that levels off at the intersection.

“Drivers coming down that hill are hauling butt,” Hoskens said. “Sometimes I think I’m never going to be able to get out.”