IRT truck patrols two counties, plus, here

The in basket:  At this year’s Puyallup Fair, I stopped and talked with Richard, who has what seems like an interesting and dangerous job keeping traffic moving on Highway 405 east of Seattle, driving an incident response truck

He had his truck with him at the state Department of Transportation display, a mammoth 10-cylinder pickup capable of pushing large vehicles out of the way of traffic when they are disabled.

In the bed of the pickup he had an assortment of detritus that he had hauled off the highways while on the job. He had put some of it to use, prying and such, he told me.

As common as they are in King and Pierce counties, Richard said there are no incident response trucks assigned to Kitsap County, though one might be sent here for a major accident or blockage.

I was surprised by that, as I was sure I had seen one on a highway around here at what clearly was an ordinary problem. And, sure enough, there it was Tuesday afternoon running interference along with a state trooper, protecting some poor devil changing a flat tire on the narrow shoulder of Highway 3 southbound heading into Gorst.

The out basket: Richard was wrong, it turns out. Doug Adamson of the Olympic Regions public affairs office sent me the following when I asked about it:

“One Incident Response Team (IRT) member is headquartered at the Port Orchard Maintenance office full-time. (That’s on Spring Creek Road just off Mullenix Road.)

“He patrols Pierce County north of the Tacoma Narrows, and all of Mason and Kitsap counties.  We also have several WSDOT maintenance staff who are trained to do Incident Response duties, and they can respond to an incident as needed.

“The Washington State Patrol requests IRT assistance for incidents in which a roadway is fully blocked or in other situations where traffic flow is impeded.  When not responding to an incident, IRT staff patrol their service areas, helping drivers whose vehicles have become disabled.”

An IRT vehicle, it said,:

  • Can pump and haul away 100 gallons of diesel fuel from a crashed semi-truck.
  • Can serve as a mobile communications center.
  • Carries numerous traffic control devices that divert vehicles away from incidents and collisions. The one I saw Tuesday had a large screen mounted on the back warning oncoming drivers with a yellow display.
  • Carries miscellaneous road-service supplies, including small amounts of gasoline to help drivers who have run out of gas, tools to help change flat tires, and jumper cables to jumpstart a dead battery.


Jerry Lowery has the assignment in Port Orchard and others in that office take the truck out when Jerry isn’t there. The job entails a split shift to cover morning and afternoon rush hours.

Doug also referred me to a Web site with more information ( that includes this: “Four to 10 minutes of traffic congestion (depending on traffic volume) can result from every minute a lane remains blocked, so incidents must be detected and cleared as fast as possible to minimize the impact on congestion, especially during peak periods.”




Changes afoot at Shelton airport

The in basket: I’ll take a road trip to Shelton for this column, which is about as road-related as it will get. I hope it interests some readers. It’s about the changing face of Sanderson airfield, home for years to the Mason County Fair and Rodeo and the OysterFest, one of my favorite festivals.

The fairground improvements are due for demolition, possibly early next year and though it means a new location for the Oyster Fest and the rodeo, it may be the end of the fair.

A sign at the overflow parking area at this year’s OysterFest said it would be the site of the 2015 OysterFest. The event program showed the relationship between the old and new grounds, both on airport property and a half-mile apart.

A volunteer in the OysterFest information booth said the new site, an inactive airplane runway, will be an improvement over the old, which involves a long narrow approach road that made traffic control difficult.

Wendy Smith, deputy director of the port of Shelton, which owns both properties and Sanderson Field’s active airstrip in between, said a 50-year lease Mason County had for use of the fairgrounds area expired last December and the county quit paying the lease amounts in 2009. It also turned running the fair over to others that year.

She said the fairgrounds area is “designated aviation reserve. It’s supposed to be for aeronautic used only.” It may eventually be the site of aircraft hangars.

She said the rodeo has acquired a new site a distance north on Highway 101, but she didn’t know what the fair has planned.

County Commissioner Terri Jeffreys said she hadn’t heard of a new site for the fair, which the county no longer operates. She said the fair didn’t apply for a marketing grant for the coming year, as it has in the past.

She understands that the Skookum Rotary, which stages the mostly volunteer OysterFest, is looking for a permanent site and the inactive runway is to be just temporary.

Fair Board member Leilani Dixon said the last she heard no alternative land for the fair had been identified and that there is little land with the proper zoning for the fair. She referred me to the fair president, who didn’t call me back.


As an aside, on the way to Shelton, we saw dozens of tall piles of logging slash alongside Highway 3 between Grapeview and Agate Road.  Each was capped with a clear plastic sheet, which looked kind of like a yarmulke, covering only the peak of the pile beneath. We wondered about their purpose, as I suspect others who drive there do. They’d keep rain off only a portion of each pile.

The answer awaited us at the OysterFest, where the Department of Natural Resources had a booth.

One of the DNR employees said he lives near the piles and knows that keeping the core of the piles dry is all that is needed. When wet weather comes, the piles will be burned, with the dry cores ignited and producing enough heat to ensure destruction of the entire pile.

Signal replacement at Lebo & Old Wheaton questioned

The in basket: Luella Pellman asks, “Why did they take the stop light out near the hospital at Lebo and Cherry (in Bremerton) and put a four-way stop there?  Seems like a very busy corner for just stop signs.”

She wonders if the signal will be replaced.

The out basket: Not unless the corner gets a lot busier.

The old signal there had a lot of problems due to age, with intermittently non-functioning traffic detectors in the pavement sometimes creating long delays for those waiting for the signal to change.

In designing the improvements under way on Old Wheaton Way, “We completed an analysis of the intersection and found that (our criteria) did not require the signal to be there,” says Bremerton city street engineer Gunnar Fridriksson.  “Signals are expensive for installation, typically about $350K,” he said, “plus yearly maintenance and electrical expenses. So if we do not need them – we are removing them and saving those costs.

“We are installing new conduits, just as we did at Sixth and 11th on Pacific so should the signals be needed in the future, we do not need to tear up the roadway to construct it.”

The Road Warrior has been through the intersection several times since the signals were removed and I have found it to be an improvement, with little backup of traffic and no waiting for a signal to change. I’ve not been there at rush hour, but at mid-day, the all-way stop is very effective.

Gunnar also passed along an analysis of traffic signals that said they are not the panacea for all problems they’re often taken for. Among their shortcomings can be detouring traffic onto less-desirable streets when drivers try to avoid the signal, and rear-end collisions. You can see it yourself at

Watching a video while driving is a no-no


The in basket: Bob Miller e-mailed to say, “Last night I was returning to Port Orchard via SR 16 in Gorst. As I passed the 60 mph sign, I started accelerating in the outside lane, where Bay Street splits off, and almost ran into the back of a small car who didn’t notice the change in posted speed.


“While behind him, I noticed a video screen in what I can only assume was the sun visor.


“I passed them when safe, but wanted to know the legality of watching a video while being in the role of driver.”


The out basket: It’s a traffic infraction. RCW 46.37.480 (1) says “No person shall drive any motor vehicle equipped with any television viewer, screen, or other means of visually receiving a television broadcast when the moving images are visible to the driver while operating the motor vehicle on a public road, except for live video of the motor vehicle backing up.”


It exempts law enforcement vehicles communicating with mobile computer networks. And evidently the specification “means of visually receiving a television broadcast” exempts GPS video screens, which alert reader Rob Cupples asked about shortly after the original version of this column was posted on line.


GPS screens are specifically exempt from the no-texting law, so by inference the no-video law doesn’t cover them either.


That’s the same law, incidentally, that goes on to forbid “wearing any headset or earphones connected to any electronic device capable of receiving a radio broadcast or playing a sound recording for the purpose of transmitting a sound to the human auditory senses and which headset or earphones muffle or exclude other sounds.”


That sections exempts students and instructors participating in a Washington state motorcycle safety program, authorized emergency vehicles, motorcyclists wearing an approved helmet with built-in headsets or earphones and motorists using approved hands-free, wireless communications systems.


Manette residents find intersection scary

The in basket: Josh Farley, city reporter for The Sun, e-mailed to say, “I’ve been talking with some employees and residents in Manette about the intersection of Pitt Avenue at East 11th Street. Lots of people take the right-hand turn from East 11th onto Pitt at quite the pace, prompting some to call for a yield sign or some lights to be put along the crosswalk. Also, the stop sign on Pitt Avenue at East 11th is, strangely, on a telephone pole rather than the street sign. Any chance you could check into these  issues?”

The out basket: The last time I wrote about East 11th and Pitt, it was from the perspective of drivers who wanted the flow from Harkins to East 11th made smoother. Gunnar Fridriksson, head of the city street engineers, said then the residents of the area preferred that the flow through that double-dogleg turn be kept awkward for safety.

That’s still true, he told me when I asked about hope among Manette denizens the flow in the opposite direction could be made safer.

Gunnar said there have been some close calls at that intersection, but not a lot of accidents. Drivers occasionally expect westbound drivers to turn right or stop, and start to pull out. When a westbound vehicle goes straight, as it is legally entitled to do, good fortune has so far prevented an accident

“We have received a couple of comments that we should add a stop sign at westbound East 11th at Pitt,” he said, “that there have been a few near-misses with drivers who went through instead of making the right onto Pitt.  But to date we have not really had much of an accident history here, or reason to do so as the predominant movement is the right turn.

“And we do not want to do the in-pavement lighting,” he said. “That is being shown to be a maintenance nightmare with various jurisdictions.”

I don’t know where a Yield sign would be put to improve anything. There’s nothing to yield to, except pedestrians, and a sign might confuse drivers.

Wide stripes being tested on Highway 106

The in basket: I found myself on Highway 106, aka South Shore Road coming back from the Shelton Oyster Fest and Hunter Farms recently and was struck by the striping on the edge lines and center line.

The white edge lines at both shoulders, and wherever a center stripe prohibited passing, the stripes were about twice as wide as normal. Only the skip stripes where passing is allowed were normal width. They may have been brighter than usual too, though that may just have been that the paint was brand new.

The state tries to restripe all its lines each summer and fall, but not like this.

The out basket:  I asked Claudia Bingham Baker of the Olympic Region of state highways about it and she sent along a news release that essentially says the purpose is to make the road appear narrower without actually narrowing it.

“Maintenance crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation have taken an innovative approach to help motorists focus on the road and drive the speed limit on a portion of State Route 106 southwest of Belfair,” it said.

“On September 15, WSDOT widened the edge stripe and center line stripes along the roadway from the standard 4 inches to 8 inches. The wider stripe will encroach into the lane and thus not reduce the width of roadway shoulders. From a driver’s perspective, the wider stripe not only increases visibility of the edge stripe, but it also gives the appearance of a slightly narrowed lane, which research has shown improves compliance to the posted speed limit.

“Over the past decade, researchers have found that wider edge lines can improve vehicle operations,” said WSDOT Traffic Engineer Steve Kim. “A 2012 Texas Transportation Institute study provided evidence that wider edge lines are a cost effective, statistically sound approach to reducing crashes and fatalities on a two-lane rural highway.”

“The wider edge line runs along eight miles of SR 106 from milepost 12.2 (near Twanoh State Park) to milepost 20 (near State Route 3).

“WSDOT conducted a speed study before the wider edge lines were installed, and will do so again in the coming months to evaluate the effects of the wider edge lines, and compare results to the 2012 Texas Transportation Institute study.  According to the study, at least 22 other states are currently using the wider edge lines.”

Claudia says I would encounter the same thing on two-lane Highway 302 in Pierce and Mason counties, and four-lane Highway 8 west of Olympia, where it’s also being tried.

“We’ll have to see how the pilot performs to see if we choose to expand the striping (to other highways),” she said

Driver worries about lefts and rights against red signals

The in basket: Yvonne Dean has some questions, she said in an e-mail, starting with one about an odd state law that I don’t see mentioned accept in the Road Warrior column and remains little known by drivers. It’s the one permitting left turns against a red arrow signal, but only onto a one-way road or street and only after coming to a full stop and yielding to any vehicles with a green light or to pedestrians.

“I have been wondering if this type of left turn would be permitted on Ridgetop (in Silverdale) when you are coming down from Ridgetop Junior High and turning left to go toward East Bremerton,” Yvonne said. “Before making the turn on red I assume you have to check to make sure there was no one coming off of Waaga Way who might be turning left up Ridgetop and no one coming up Ridgetop up to that intersection.”

Then she asks about two right-turn-on-red situations at 11th and Warren Avenue (in Bremerton).

“Tonight I was coming east on 11th and a fire truck was in the curb lane with his right-turn signal blinking,” he said. “He didn’t turn until the light turned green.  Can you not turn right at that (red) light after coming to a complete stop and having no traffic coming toward you?”

Finally, “when I am coming south on Warren Avenue to that same intersection and I want to turn right to go up 11th if the light is red I have stopped and check to make sure there is no on-coming traffic and then turned up the hill.  Is that legal?”

The out basket: State Trooper Russ Winger and Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police provide answers for Yvonne.

A left on red at Ridgetop onto the southbound Highway 303 on-ramp is legal if done with the restrictions Yvonne and I stated above.

But as I’ve said before, the odds that the first driver in line to turn left knows the law and dares to use it are so low that it’s usually not seen.

The right turn on red is legal on 11th at Warren. Pete Fisher guesses the length of the first truck would have required it to swing too wide to make the turn comfortably if cars were coming south in either lane of Warren. Fire Chief Al Duke says that sounds right. There’s no department policy forbidding legal rights on red, he said.

And the presence of the traffic signal that offers a protected right turn on Warren at 11th does nothing to negate the opportunity to turn right when it’s red, after a full stop and while yielding to any conflicting traffic or pedestrians.

Speed study confuses Rocky Point school zone rules

The in basket: Corinne White is mystified by speed controls in the school zone on Rocky Point Road and Marine Drive in front of Crownhill Elementary School in Bremerton.

Flashing yellow lights to indicate when the 20 mile per hour speed limit was in effect were deployed there early this year. But now a lighted radar trailer the tells a driver how fast he or she is going has been stationed just after the sign for traffic coming off of Rocky Point. It has a painted School Zone 20 mph sign mounted on it.

The speed reading flashes in blue on and off for a vehicle traveling over 20, until about 25 above which it instead flashes “Slow Down” in bright red.

She hasn’t seen the yellow flashers working when she passes them and wonders if they are inactive.

“According to the non-blinking light, that would make the speed limit 25 so I shouldn’t have to slow down. I was happy when I saw the blinking light towers go in, as I thought the (previous) signs telling you to go 20 for almost the entire day seemed asinine, but they never removed the one you see when you are headed north, and the blinking lights don’t seem to be active.

“I don’t understand what they are trying to accomplish there. Should we be going 20 most of the time as the sign and radar trailer indicate? Or can we do 25 unless the yellow blinking lights are active?

“Help? I can’t be the only resident of the area that is baffled by this.”

She also thinks the unlighted time-specific school zone sign back by the Methodist church on Marine Drive conflicts with information on the flashing yellow signs.

The out basket: Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police says the trailer is conducting a speed study to see if the flashing yellow lights have made a difference. The flashing yellow lights do still work when children are afoot in the area, and the speed limits are as before, regardless of the trailer.

The lights flash from 8:30 to 9:00 in the morning and from 3:30 to 4:00 in the afternoon. except Wednesday afternoon  when they flash from 1:30 – 2:00 because of early dismissal, Patty Glaser of the school district says.

The trailer records the speed of each vehicle that passes it, Pete Fisher said, along with the day and time. It records nothing about the vehicle, including license number, and isn’t used to enforce the speed limit.

It flashes the red “Slow Down” sign above 24 mph because some drivers regard the display as a challenge to see how fast they can go, so high speeds aren’t shown.

Pete said the trailer is used all over the city, often after citizen complaints about speeders, to determine the best time to assign an officer to patrol there.

He said he referred Corinne’s message about the possible conflict of the time-certain and flashing light signs to the city engineers’ office for review.




Teens challenge mom on common driving issues

The in basket: Tracy Anderbery said in an e-mail, “I have two questions for you.

“As an adult driver I’ve been doing things that my now-driving teens say is illegal but I can’t find the answers to them in the RCW (state law).

“The first is that when I’m pulling out of a driveway onto a four-lane highway or even a busy two-lane road that has a common turn lane, I turn left from the driveway into the common turn lane, stop, and then merge into the right lanes when it’s clear. I don’t drive or travel in this lane.  If I were to wait for all four lanes to be clear, I’d never get out of the driveway.

“Second, when turning right onto Highway 305 from Lincoln Avenue, you have to turn into the carpool lane first during peak hours.  It’s illegal to travel in this lane if you don’t have more than one passenger, but if you wait for the break in the solid white line to merge, you’ll be traveling from one stop light to another in this lane which could mean a ticket.  Can I merge over the solid white line without being ticketed?”

The out basket: I told Tracy that both questions are hard to find answers to in the RCWs and involve gray areas.

The wording of the state law about two-way turn lanes (“set aside for use by vehicles making left turns“) and the state drivers’ manual (“reserved for vehicles making left turns”) make it sound like merging right isn’t allowed, I told her. But in asking law enforcement officers over the 18 years I’ve been writing Road Warrior, only one said the practice is illegal.  All others say it is a legal practice. It’s certainly safer and I do it all the time in heavy traffic.

The law does specifically forbid certain actions (traveling in a two-way turn lane farther than 300 feet, using it to pass cars in the through lane) but merging right is not among them.

As for the Highway 305 question, the white line inquiry is easy. You can legally cross a white line if you are moving into another legal travel lane. You can’t if it takes you into a non-travel lane like the shoulder or the gore areas at freeway ramps (except to stop briefly), and you can’t drive across double white lines.

The gray area here is how long you can stay in the HOV lane during the designated hours to turn right onto or off the highway. Just get out of the HOV lane as quickly as possible.



Fourth & Torval in Poulsbo part of a much larger plan

The in basket: Norm Mundhenk wrote nearly a year ago, saying “In Poulsbo, Torval Canyon Road runs into Fourth Avenue, forming a sort of T-junction. However, Fourth Avenue ends in a short cul-de-sac as soon as it crosses Torval Canyon.

“The signs at this junction strike me as very strange.” he said. “There is no sign at all for cars leaving the cul-de-sac. One assumes that this happens very rarely, but whenever a car does leave, it is apparently free to drive right out without stopping. However, cars approaching from the south or east have stop signs, even though the corner is basically just a continuing road for such cars.

“I wonder why it would not be possible to do something at this junction such has been done where Hillcrest runs into Central Valley Road (in Central Kitsap). There Hillcrest (which functions rather like the cul-de-sac on Fourth Avenue, although surely it has more cars using it) has a stop sign, with another sign underneath the stop sign informing drivers that ‘Oncoming traffic does not stop’. Cars coming south on Central Valley are allowed to continue without stopping even though it is a left turn.

“Surely something like this could be done instead of the stop signs at Torval Canyon and Fourth Avenue,” he concluded.

The out basket: The stub of Fourth Avenue strikes me as more of a tiny parking lot than a cul-de-sac and I thought it might be missing a stop sign. But it turns out that that traffic alignment is intentional and arises from a six-year-old traffic study.

Michael Bateman, senior engineering technician for the city of Poulsbo, says “The stop signs on Fourth and on Torval Canyon are based upon recommendations in the City of Poulsbo’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Study of 2008.

“They are a part of a larger strategy and were considered essential in concert with additional stops placed on Front Street.  Without the additional all-way stops in the downtown core at intersections such as Fourth and Torval Canyon, through-traffic not intending to stop in the downtown core would seek alternate routes as cut-through bypasses to avoid the stops on Front, without re-routing to the desirable Highway 305 route.

“This results in both undesirable volumes and undesirable speeds in the downtown core street network.

Removal of the stops at 4th and Torval without simultaneous removal of stops on Front Street would create additional traffic and additional speeds on this route, a very undesirable result,” he said.

A consultant looked at the strategy in 2010, when traffic counts were updated, and it was found to be working well, Michael said, “with no action to add or remove TDM measures recommended.”

“As we still get feedback from the neighborhood that the stops are not 100 percent effective at controlling traffic and speed in the neighborhood, and have recently installed additional speed tables on Fourth in order to combat the excessive speeds as demanded by local residents, removal of these stops is not recommended.”

The intersection was identified in the study as an all-way stop, he added, and at one time there was a third stop sign, controlling those exiting the Fourth Avenue stub.  “It was removed in response to a  citizen complaint that it should not be there,” he said.