News

DOT still thinking about 169 plan

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Despite popular belief, the much-discussed roundabout considered for a rural stretch of highway north of Enumclaw hasn't been scrapped.

No one is saying it'll still be built by the Department of Transportation - it just seems that the idea is still being contemplated.

And that's enough to send state Sen. Pam Roach, R-31st District, into full organizational mode, planning another opportunity for citizens to weigh in on the roundabout.

The last time the DOT gave the public the chance to speak on the roundabout - which was penciled in for the intersection of state Route 169 and Southeast 416th Street - citizens offered a resounding “no.”

Following that, it appeared the DOT was backing off the roundabout plan. But a recent message received by Roach - left on an answering machine by Transportation official Russ East, makes it clear the roundabout issue is still on the table.

A roundabout is a traffic design system used at intersections to reduce the number of rear-end and “T-bone” type accidents. Instead of meeting at a traditional four-way intersection, autos follow a circular path through a junction.

The Department of Transportation arrived at the roundabout plan after determining the SR 169 intersection had been the scene of too many accidents. DOT engineers opted for a roundabout instead of traffic lights and had taken early steps in the project before the public got wind of the DOT plan.

Roach and state Rep. Chris Hurst have been adamant, outspoken opponents of the roundabout concept.

It seemed the idea had been scrapped when Hurst received a letter from the DOT's Lorena Eng. Her letter never promised the roundabout idea was dead, however.

The recent Friday afternoon message from East to Roach confirmed the DOT's thinking on the issue.

After “a lot of discussion and further investigation,” East said, the DOT wants to debate the issue further. Department engineers, he said, remain convinced the roundabout is the best solution for the intersection.

“The bottom line is they still want a roundabout,” Roach said. “They're moving forward with it anyway. That's what this amounts to.”

The senator, whose district takes in all of the Enumclaw Plateau, is especially peeved that the DOT has not considered the opinions of those who spoke against the roundabout at an earlier meeting.

“I resent the fact that he (East) didn't get the answer he wanted, so he's coming back again,” she said.

East suggested another public meeting. Roach agrees, but wants it on her terms.

“Either we will hold the meeting or they will hold the meeting,” she said. “So I'm going to hold the gavel.”

The senator has long criticized the manner in which the DOT hosts its public sessions, likening the strategy to a “divide and conquer” mentality.

She rails against meetings that stretch over several hours and have DOT representatives spread throughout a room. That keeps a group from rallying and gaining momentum, she said, alleging that's exactly what the DOT wants.

In response to the roundabout plan and other issues, Roach created the Plateau Transportation Working Group, which has met twice so far.

In response to the DOT's latest statements regarding the roundabout, Roach has called for another meeting. It will be a true public meeting, she said, one which allows the public to speak and require DOT staffers to listen.

“I want the process to be fair and I want them to consider other safety options,” Roach said.

The session is planned for 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 26 in the Enumclaw Public Library, 1700 First St.

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

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