News

Roundabout foes blast DOT, again

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

A room filled with citizens again took the state's Department of Transportation to task, making it abundantly clear they despise the notion of a roundabout for a rural Enumclaw intersection.

The setting was a Sept. 26 meeting called by state Sen. Pam Roach and her Plateau Transportation Working Group. Forty-four citizens filled a library meeting room, joined by engineers and administrators from the DOT.

At issue was the DOT-proposed roundabout, which has been suggested for the intersection of state Route 169 and Southeast 416th Street.

There are no shades of gray when the roundabout is discussed. Roach took a quick poll of those attending last week's meeting and the count was 44-4 against the idea.

It was equally clear that DOT feels a roundabout is the best answer for the intersection. Regional Administrator Lorena Eng was asked, point blank, by Roach if she would take the proposal off the table, given the feelings of the citizens in attendance.

“I want you to do what they want you to do,” Roach told the DOT contingent, gesturing to the audience.

Eng admitted she had the power to scrap the idea, but would not do so.

The intersection now allows north-south traffic to pass through freely, while motorists on 416th wait their turn at stop signs.

A roundabout causes everyone to slow down but forces none to stop, as all must navigate a circular path before moving straight ahead or making a turn. Traffic engineers claim it reduces rear-end collisions and high-speed, side-collision crashes.

The audience favored an alternative that would place a traditional traffic light at the intersection, which would be expanded to include left-turn lanes.

Both alternatives, the DOT has said, would cost about $4 million. The state has allocated up to $6 million to improve safety at the intersection.

Other options listed by the DOT, which has spent $400,000 so far on intersection plans, range from simple flashing amber lights to installing rumble strips, from reducing the speed limit in the area to creating a four-way stop.

Whatever the case, there was hostility in the air.

When Eng started a statement by declaring, “We have engineering degrees,” the crowd erupted in disapproval.

“Deep down, we feel this is the safest way of controlling that intersection,” Eng said, defending the proposed roundabout.

Roach had already gone on the offensive, stating her Plateau constituents have been “treated in a very high-handed and disrespectful manner.”

The underlying problem, she said, is “government comes in so arrogantly and imposes its will.”

State Rep. Chris Hurst added his support for those fighting the roundabout, noting the responses he's received are weighted about 50 to 1 against the idea.

“I don't know that I've ever seen people quite so passionate about a local issue,” he said.

The following day, Roach felt the meeting had accomplished some of her goals, even though the DOT had not pulled the roundabout from the drawing board.

“They were pretty much forced to listen to the public,” she said, adding that the session helped display the DOT's tactic of dragging out an issue until the public simply gives up the fight.

In the end, she asked DOT representatives to perform traffic studies using “traditional highway safety improvements” - meaning options other than a roundabout.

No dates have been set, but Roach promised at least one more meeting. She will bring together a steering committee of the Plateau Transportation Working Group, but emphasized all will be free to attend.

Nothing has been decided and the fight will continue, Roach said, leveling one more blast at the DOT. “They way they have treated this community is outrageous,” she said.

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

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