Federal grant to fund Island County road safety plan

IRTPO received $403,200 to create a safe streets master plan.

Island County’s Regional Transportation Planning Organization is one of 16 Washington organizations that will receive federal money for road safety project planning.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced nearly $800 million in grants to 510 communities across the country for projects to make roads safer for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians. Island Regional Transportation Planning Organization, or IRTPO, received $403,200 to create a safe streets master plan.

Nikki Davis, a traffic engineer in Island County’s public works department, said that vehicle accident fatalities have been on the rise in Washington state and around the country; a road safety plan will help preclude fatal traffic events on Whidbey.

“We want to make sure that we’re providing as many safety measures to our traveling community as we possibly can,” she said.

The objective of the master plan is to create a prioritized list of projects meant to improve safety for all road users. Davis estimated the planning process will take around a year to complete.

Davis added that public input will be a key component in the planning process, and she hopes to see many Whidbey community members participate. Without island residents sharing their thoughts and experiences, she said, the county and its partner agencies might inadvertently miss something in their prioritization.

Island County Commissioner Melanie Bacon said pedestrian and cycling infrastructure needs will be an important part of the IRTPO’s master plan. She said the county and its various municipalities are exploring options for street design that will make Whidbey safer for people outside of cars.

In 2021, 38% of all traffic fatalities in Washington state involved a pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist.

“One thing we could do is make it clear to everyone who’s driving here that we treasure our pedestrians,” Bacon said.

The funds come from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which included a $5 billion “Safe Streets and Roads for All” initiative. Davis said once the plan is in place, IRTPO can then apply for more funds from the infrastructure law to implement the projects selected.

The estimated total cost of the project is a little over $500,000, Davis said. Island County and its partner agencies — the city of Langley, the town of Coupeville, the city of Oak Harbor, Island Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation — will each contribute to a $100,000 match.