Hard to Get in a Wreck on Highway 16 Anymore

Covering the opening of Burley-Olalla Road the other day got me to thinking how far Highway 16 has come since I grew up near there in the 1960s and ‘70s. What a difference fortysome years makes.
Back then it could be a bloody mess. One lane in each direction. No median. Uncontrolled intersections every couple miles. Crazy people trying to pass on corners, after dark, in the rain. Like Highway 3 is now between Gorst and Belfair, only worse.
The most dangerous intersections don’t exist anymore. They were at Bethel-Burley Road, which we called Nelson’s Corner because of Mr. Nelson’s service station there, and Sidney Avenue. Those were nasty places. If you wanted to get onto the highway, you’d have to wait for a break in the 60 mph traffic, dart in and then get up to speed before being rear-ended.
Fortunately, the towing company and the fire station were right up the street from Nelson’s Corner, and they kept pretty busy.
I wish I had the accident stats to compare how much better things are now that there’s a divided highway with no more side roads crossing it. Burley-Olalla was the last one. I can’t remember when it went to four lanes with a median. I’m guessing in the late 1970s when I was out of town. That would’ve been about the time the feds were spraying money all over as part of building the Trident submarine base. If not for Trident, we’d still be back in the 1970s in terms of roads and schools. All three of my schools were bulldozed and rebuilt.
Nowadays, you really have to try if you want crash on Highway 16. The wheels fall off, you have a heart attack, or you’re a total idiot.
I’ve been commuting through there forever and only been in one accident. It had snowed a lot and there was slush all over the road. A flatbed truck blasted past in the fast lane and slopped me down. By the time I could see again, I was spinning. Looked straight at the cars coming up behind me. Fortunately, I kept spinning around and wedged into a snow bank on the shoulder.
The new Burley-Olalla interchange should prevent the ghastly wreck I saw several years ago. I was driving to work in the pre-dawn blackness. I’d never seen fog so thick. As I neared Burley-Olalla, it looked like a bomb had gone off. Flares and flashing lights were swallowed by hovering smoke and fog. Flames rose from two shadowy hulks. It was like Halloween. A driver entering the highway from Bethel-Burley had turned left too early, got going the wrong direction and was hit head-on. Neither one knew what hit them.
Today I can barely make it 23 miles to work without taking a nap, but 35 years ago when I was working in Las Vegas I’d drive all the way home without sleeping. I’d be so excited to see my people and, making $377.50 a month, couldn’t afford a hotel.
I made it all the way to Mullenix Road once, only a couple miles to go, when I conked out. When I woke up, I was on the oncoming shoulder and about to go over the bank. Fortunately, it was 2 in the morning and nobody was on the road. I just cranked it back into my lane and rode the adrenalin the rest of the way home.
My dad remembers when there was no highway there at all. Bethel-Burley Road was part of the “old highway” that wound from town to town. That would’ve been until the 1950s.
But when I was a kid, we walked the sandy trail above the east side of the highway to the gas station for a pop or some candy at Hi-Way Market, both of which are still there. That was probably a 5-mile round trip, pretty gutsy for little 10-year-olds.
Back then, it was standard practice to toss stuff out your car windows, so we’d go pick put all the bottles and turn them in for cash. It was like a penny for a beer bottle, a nickel for a regular pop bottle and a dime for a quart bottle.
Oh to be a kid again, except with a divided highway.

5 thoughts on “Hard to Get in a Wreck on Highway 16 Anymore

  1. Thanks from the great memories, Ed. I was just 1 (or maybe it was 2) years younger than you and lived around the corner from you, rode the same buses, went to the same schools and did the same walk (or horseback ride) to Hiway market (although I think 5 miles is a little exagerated :-) The artice brought back some fun memories. Thanks.

  2. Now they need to get rid of that hairpin freeway on-ramp in Gig Harbor. I T-boned a car who did the 10 mph curve way too fast and he shot across the freeway. (I have had 5 surgeries so far. My live is ruined.) Maybe put in a Jersey barrier or a normal on-ramp?

  3. Great history lesson – AND, I hope you’re right, especially for the sake of our local firefighters like my hubby Capt. Post in SKFR… Sure they like the occasional chance to use their extracation devices, but too often is truly disheartening! We will always have the weather, though, to provoke accidents no matter how well designed the roads are! Cheers!

  4. Actually, Ed, the day after the ribbon was cut, there was a wreck on the new off ramp. The ambulance buzzed past me heading south. Someone had taken the exit wrong and smashed into (I believe) the blockade that divides the highway from the off ramp. There were many cars stopped both along the highway and the off ramp. It was hard to tell how serious the accident was.

    It was so sad to see this accident after all that hard work to make the section so much safer.

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