News

Traffic plan for highway scrapped

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

The roundabout is dead.

Whether it was a case of caving to public sentiment or realizing the need was based on a false premise, the state's Department of Transportation has shelved the idea of building a roundabout on a stretch of rural highway just north of Enumclaw.

The DOT had proposed installing a roundabout at the intersection of state Route 169 and Southeast 416th Street, initially citing a need to reduce the number of accidents at the often-busy junction.

A roundabout gets rid of a traditional intersection, instead moving motorists into a circular pattern. Everyone is forced to slow down, but none are required to stop unless heavy traffic demands it. Roundabout boosters point out that dangerous T-bone type accidents are eliminated and rear-end collisions are reduced.

Local foes have argued that a roundabout would prove difficult for some vehicles to navigate and, more importantly, is simply unnecessary.

The DOT started engineering a roundabout on 169 without notifying the public or local officials.

When word leaked out, opposition was immediate, vocal and generally hostile.

Area residents blasted both the proposed project and the DOT's way of going about its business. Local legislators, most notably Sen. Pam Roach and Rep. Christopher Hurst, made their feelings known at public meetings. Roach formed the Plateau Transportation Working Group in response to DOT's actions.

Still, the roundabout remained as an option. Until last week, that is.

A letter issued by Paula Hammond, the newly-installed head of the Department of Transportation, has put an end to all speculation. The letter followed a conference call between Hammond and Roach.

Hammond agreed there's no need for a roundabout and, after discussing options with Roach, has mandated a different solution.

The state is now poised to spend about $1 million on the 169/416th intersection, reconfiguring the junction to add left-turn lanes to both the north- and southbound lanes of 169. The existing stop signs will remain on both sides of 416th and the state will add a flashing warning light and additional signage.

In addition, to increase safety in the area, Hammond noted the speed limit through the intersection will be reduced from 50 mph to 40 mph in the next few weeks.

The good news, Roach said, is the region gets a sensible solution now while retaining funds for future work, should traffic demands call for something more extreme.

When the state first looked at the intersection, approximately $6.3 million was allocated. That figure would have covered either a roundabout or fully lighted intersection.

Hammond promised Roach the money not used on channelization will be set aside, to be used perhaps a decade from now when traffic demands are different.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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