Road Warrior

Travis Baker blogs about the problems and idiosyncrasies of Kitsap highways and byways.
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Any hope for Highway 305 commuter congestion relief?

August 29th, 2014 by travis baker
The in basket:   J. B. Holcomb of Bainbridge Island writes, “Something has to be done about the heavy traffic on (Highway) 305 between the ferry terminal on Bainbridge and Poulsbo.
“After a ferry arrives from Seattle, especially between 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., it is now the norm DAILY, and year around, that it is bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to Poulsbo, only slightly relieved at the Suquamish/casino intersection.
“At intersections along the way and without a traffic signal, it is not uncommon to wait between 10 and 25 minutes to obtain access onto 305. Last week, I spent 20 minutes between Day Road and the Suquamish traffic signal, a distance of about three miles.
“We now have a large, indeed huge, urban metropolitan area commuter/transportation problem, when, not too many years ago around here, this was non-existent. Where are the complaints about this?  Why are people complacent about this?  Why should we tolerate this?
“Maybe a ban on truck traffic during these times?  How about a ban on one person in an auto during these times (if legal)? Subsidized home-office workers?  Flex-time work hours for persons employed in Seattle having a West Sound home?
“Any suggestions?”
The out basket: I had always ducked experiencing this, not wanting to spend an hour in bumper to bumper traffic. But twice in August, my wife and I motored up to the island from my South Kitsap home, with the intent of following a ferry load of traffic north.
Once was an ordinary Wednesday and a ferry that arrived a little after 4. The second was a Seahawks game day Friday, and a ferry that came in about 7:15. Each time I waited until very near the end of the off-load before joining the flow.
The first thing I noticed is the traffic signal just downhill from Winslow Way, that allows pedestrians to cross during ferry off-loads. It was a fairly long light and I would think it would provide long breaks in traffic on 305 to allow side-street traffic chances to get onto the highway. That, of course, would assume corresponding breaks in southbound 305 traffic, which may often be wishful thinking.
While I don’t doubt that it can be as bad as J.B, describes, neither day did I experience it. It took me 26 minutes to reach Poulsbo on the Wednesday, with bumper to bumper traffic from Hidden Cove Road to Suquamish Way. It took only 16 minutes on the Friday, with little bumper to bumper slowdown.
On the way south to the ferry terminal about 5 p.m. that Friday, we did see oncoming bumper to bumper northbound traffic for sizable distances,  There was some bumper to bumper southbound traffic, as well, probably due to the Seahawks game.
I’m sure it’s somewhere between irritating and infuriating to have to travel that gauntlet every afternoon, but I think J.B. will just have to get used to it.
Everything I’ve read or heard over the years tells me all really plausible relief, whether widening Highway 305 and the Agate Pass Bridge or moving the ferry terminal to Blakely Harbor and bridging to the Illahee area, are opposed by most islanders.
I asked Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state highway’s Olympic region is that’s what the state hears and she declined to characterize it one way or the other.
She did say, “We agree with your reader that traffic is heavy on SR 305, especially between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays.
“WSDOT, in partnership with the cities of Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo, Kitsap Transit, Port Madison Enterprises (Suquamish Tribe), Kitsap County and the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, recently completed a study on how to improve traffic flow through the SR 305/Suquamish Intersection.
“The study determined that the best long-term (20-year) solution for congestion relief at that intersection was to build a roundabout. However, we have no funding to build a roundabout and are currently looking for funding to build an interim solution – a right-lane turn from westbound SR 305 to northbound Suquamish Way.
“Beyond the intersection, we have no plans or funding to provide added capacity to SR 305.”
Barry Loveless, public works director for  Bainbridge Island, says the city councils of Bainbridge and Poulsbo support a list of proposed improvements to 305, but the list he sent me has few specifics, beyond undescribed work at the intersections, and all have a six- to 10-year time line, even work at Suquamish Way.
I’m sure there are individual efforts to encourage tele-commuting and flex-time, but I think there would be longer and louder howls of anger about restricting trucks and one-occupant vehicles than there are about the daily backups.

Bike events explain odd pavement markers

August 29th, 2014 by travis baker

The in basket: Gary Reed says, “I have noticed many small white circles with an orange dot in the middle on many roads, and even into the Kitsap Mall parking lot.

“Some have tails that point straight, some have tails that point to the right or left, and a few have a ‘FWY’ designator.  Are these part of a new geo-mapping effort by some entity?” he asked.

The out basket: No, says Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works. “They are directional markers commonly called ‘Dan Henrys.’ They are installed by groups that host bicycle events. They are used so participants know the correct route for the event. They use a ‘fade-away’ paint that eventually disappears,” he said.


Real-time congestion info IS available for Kitsap County

August 28th, 2014 by travis baker

 The in basket: Tom Baker of the city of Bremerton electronic shop e-mailed me on July 24 to say, “I happened to be in Bellevue during the I-90 lane closures, and paid a bit more attention to the WSDOT Traffic Map on my Android phone. When stopped in traffic, I noted the traffic flow was very close to what was shown as Red-Yellow-Green.

“I then I looked at the traffic map for Kitsap County/ Bremerton at about 9 p.m. and currently shows red along Kitsap Way eastbound by Oyster Bay and some red along Callow Avenue.

“Questions:

“WSDOT uses sensors to determine the average speed. What are the sensors and how do they work for the I-5, 405, etc. highways?

“How is the traffic map updated for Kitsap County/Bremerton?”

The out basket: Tom’s question caught me entirely by surprise, as I didn’t think there was any such real-time information available online for West Sound highways north of Gig Harbor.

The state provides online maps showing traffic flow in green (good), yellow (slow), red (even slower) and, on some maps, black (probably stopped) in the Seattle and Tacoma areas. We see them all the time on the TV news. But the information for Highway 16 ends at Gig Harbor.

Imagine my surprise when I found out Tom got the Bremerton area display on his Android from this newspaper’s Web site, at kitsapsun.com/traffic.

He was pretty quick in finding it, too. Jeremy Judd, the paper’s Web site director, said it went up only July 22, two days before Tom accessed it. The corporate office provides it in agreement with a private company called Total Traffic, which covers the nation.

I’m not sure how accurate it is, not having a smart phone that could test it while I’m on the road. It seems to always find red-level congestion near the Bremerton ferry terminal, and to show yellow at intersections with a traffic signal. It reliably shows the weekday afternoon backup on Highway 3 approaching Highway 304. It often shows slowdowns on Sedgwick Road and as I write this, it shows congestion on Locker Road at Sedgwick. I drove there to look but found nothing out of the ordinary.

I e-mailed Total Traffic asking how it gets its information, but I wasn’t hopeful of getting a reply,  and I didn’t. That’s probably proprietary information they protect,

A state official told me he thinks Total Traffic has agreements with companies with large fleets, like delivery companies, and track the speed of the trucks. It’s a nationwide network and The Sun’s depiction starts with the Puget Sound area, with ways to zoom in and out.

The real-time data the state provides online for Snohomish, King and Pierce counties is derived from sensors in the pavement every half-mile or so, plus on freeway ramps, says Claudia Bingham-Baker of the Olympic region. The display is calculated by a computer based on the time it takes vehicles to travel between sensors.

The state does use pavement sensors, much farther apart, to collect traffic data here, but it’s for long-term planning and business inquiries about traffic volumes. It’s not shown in real-time displays. The assembled data can be seen on the state DOT Web site at www.wsdot.wa.gov/mapsdata.htm. Click on Travel Data. There are six such data collection stations in Kitsap County.


Closures of Highway 166 this week not actually for work on 166

August 22nd, 2014 by travis baker

The in basket: A sign appeared Wednesday on the shoulder of Highway 166 where it begins in Gorst, saying the highway would be closed Monday through Friday nights this week. It didn’t say why.

James Miller, who lives on the highway, says, “I would like to know what kind of restrictions will be placed on us, in relation to our coming and going.”

I hadn’t heard of any work that would require closing Highway 166, so I asked what it’s all about.

The out basket: It’s kind of confusing because, while the advisory sign is on the shoulder of Highway 166, probably for want of a better place to put it, no work will be done on 166, says Andy Larson of the state’s project office here.

But the inside lane of Highway 16 coming out of Gorst, which is the only way onto eastbound 166, will have the existing pavement ground off and replaced by new asphalt, and be closed for that work.

It probably won’t require closures every night, said Andy, but they’ve retained the flexibility to close that lane as needed during those nights. The same work will be going on in the other two lanes there during those nights. The sign on the roadside says the closures extent to Friday night, but the news release about the work says only through Thursday night, so maybe that’s more flexibilily.

It’s all included in the well-publicized repaving work in lanes of highways 16 and 3 and many of its ramps. The state considers that access from 16 to 166 to be a “ramp,” though I doubt that very many drivers do.

 


Driving and marijuana

August 22nd, 2014 by travis baker

The in basket: I haven’t paid a lot of attention to all the publicity given the legalization of marijuana in our state, having long ago satisfied my curiosity about it. But I figured I should familiarize myself about the legality of being under its influence on the highway, for purposes of the Road Warrior column.

I wondered if mere possession of it in a vehicle was illegal, whether there is anything comparable to an open container regulation such as exists with alcohol and DUI laws, and whether medical marijuana authorization changes anything.

The out basket: State Trooper Russ Winger, spokesman for the State Patrol here, said there are two ways to be cited for driving with involvement of marijuana, but simply having it the car with you is not one of them.

“You must be determined to be impaired and/or have the legal limit of .5 ng/ml of THC (delta 9), to be convicted of the gross misdemeanor of DUI/Drugs,” Russ said.

An online site says THC (delta 9) is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

“You cannot consume marijuana, in any form, in public and that includes in a vehicle, which would be considered in public view,” he said. “The law does not stipulate access to it or something similar to the open container statute. Marijuana products are required to be kept out of public view during personal possession.

“Both using marijuana in public and having marijuana in public view are considered civil infractions with a fine imposed.

“These laws still apply with ‘medical’ marijuana ‘authorization,’” he said, adding, “Of course, possession and usage of cannabis is still illegal under federal law.”

I also had been curious about the proliferation of apparent medical marijuana dispensaries on Mile Hill Drive near where I live in South Kitsap, denoted by green cross signs. At one time there were three in about a block. I also saw one on Sheridan Road near Perry Avenue in Bremerton, in front of Safeway on Highway 303 and in Gorst.

I stopped in at New Image, one of the three near me, and talked with its manager, Curtis Yates. He said the green cross is the accepted sign of a medical marijuana dispensary.

One of his neighboring dispensaries has closed and New Image will be moving to a different South Kitsap location soon, he said, so Mile Hill Drive won’t appear to be such a hot bed of medical pot availability.

Recreational marijuana shops are much less abundant. I think there has been only one licensed in Kitsap County, also in South Kitsap.


Diagonal breaks in Warren Avenue barrier explained

August 15th, 2014 by travis baker

The in basket: As often as I have driven north on Warren Avenue in Bremerton from Burwell Street since the city took one northbound lane of Warren for a raised barrier, I hadn’t noticed a third break in the barrier at both Fourth and Fifth streets.

Crosswalks pass though two of the gaps at each intersection. But the third gap, running on an angle through the barrier, is a puzzlement. It doesn’t look like it adds anything to handling storm runoff.

The other day, I saw a motorcyclist drive through it during rush hour, stopping in the middle to let traffic clear so he could continue west on Fourth Street.

I asked it that is the intent and was it legal?

The out basket: No, says Gunnar Fridriksson of the city street engineers. The motorcyclist committed an infraction for which he could have been cited. But the gap IS for traffic – bicycle traffic – which can legally pass through it, Gunnar said. “It is diagonal to give additional storage space when they are stopped in the median.”


Buses AREN’T exempt from traffic control at 11th and Warren

August 15th, 2014 by travis baker

The in basket: Brian Lozier read the recent Road Warrior column about transit buses having the right to proceed straight in the outside lane on Sixth Street at Park Avenue in Bremerton where other traffic must turn right, and described a similar incident on 11th Street at Warren Avenue.

He’s seen transit buses go straight in the eastbound center lane of 11th, he said, though there’s what he described as “a clear left-only arrow” in that lane.

“Because the city of Bremerton, in its infinite wisdom, chose to narrow 11th to one lane in each direction just after that

intersection,”Brian said, “buses going straight through in the center lane make it so traffic in the right lane can’t move over and they all have to slam their brakes.

“Is this a legal move for buses or are these drivers just ignoring the law?” he asked, adding “does the red light camera there also catch illegal movement on greens?

“Further,” he wrote, “since I have seen this numerous times (and not just with buses), it seems like this merge can be eliminated by just making that lane on 11th a right-turn only up to Park. There aren’t usually a lot of cars parked there, and that one block stretch is adjacent to to a walled-off power substation.”

The out basket: There are no signs conferring anyone the right to proceed straight in that lane, so if transit drivers are doing it, they are committing an infraction.

Transit Executive Director John Clauson says, “If the bus went straight through the intersection without using the right lane, it was improper. I have (included) our operations director on this communication and I am confident she will take care of this.

“If your reader sees additional violations of this type, he/she should give us a call with the bus number and the exact time of the incident.  It will help immensely to help us track the issue back to the operator and work with the team to refresh operators on the rules of the road.”

The two red light cameras there monitor only red light infractions and then only in the two directions of travel alongside which they are deployed.

Gunnar Fridriksson, the city’s managing street engineer, says they do plan to make the outside lane right only at Park, at the same time they make some parking revisions on 11th and Sixth. As at Sixth and Park, buses will be permitted to proceed straight in the outside lane even after the change.

Lastly, what’s permitted on eastbound 11th at Warren isn’t all that obvious. The two round ball signals for the outside lane (a federally required redundancy) leave many drivers wondering whether  going straight in the center lane is legal. But I wouldn’t expect transit drivers to be confused about it.


Barges in Sinclair Inlet explained

August 14th, 2014 by travis baker

The in basket: For many weeks now I have been eying some barges moored along the southern Sinclair Inlet shoreline between Port Orchard and Gorst with large steel structures on them, painted white and yellow.

Recently, another barge showed up next to them with concrete structures aboard and rebar sticking out.

Also, out in the middle of the inlet, there is a large boxy blue barge, which resembles those installed next to construction sites where waste water has to be treated, though those usually are dull green in color.

I want looking for an explanation of the barges.

The out basket: My first call went to Paul Fritts of Thompson Pile Driving, located a short distance from the barges. He always seems to have his finger on the pulse of what’s going on in Sinclair Inlet.

Sure enough, he is the lessor of the moorage where the large blue box is, he said. It’s a fish processing barge he expected to have gone off to Alaska by now, but it hasn’t.

He had to guess as to the purpose of the structures on the other barges, but he guessed right in saying they are probably for construction going on at the Bangor naval base.

Leslie Yuenger, Public Affairs Officer for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest told me when I asked, “The barges located in Sinclair Inlet are being staged there until the second explosives handling wharf at Bangor is ready to receive the materials onboard.”


Roundabout coming to Seabeck Highway & Holly Road

August 14th, 2014 by travis baker

The in basket: My step-daughter, Ronda Armstrong, of the Lake Symington area says there has been trenching work going on where Holly Road ends at Seabeck Highway and the rumor in the area is that a roundabout will be built there.

I found a difficult-to-decipher mention in the county’s six-year road improvement plan (TIP) of $1.6 million in improvements to that intersection in 2015, but no mention of a roundabout. And the weekly road report made no mention of the trenching work when I looked.

The out basket: The rumor is true, says Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works.

“The work being done there currently is under-grounding of utilities in preparation of the intersection improvements next year,” he said. “The project was on the road report previously but slipped off last week. I’ve reposted it.

“The project you referenced in the TIP is the intersection improvement project at that location. Part of that project is determining what improvements would be most effective there. The engineers evaluated different options and a roundabout is considered the best approach to improve that intersection. The rumor is correct!”

The listing in the TIP won’t be modified to show the planned roundabout until the next TIP is approved by the county commissioners at the end of the year.


Transit bus goes straight in right-only lane

August 12th, 2014 by travis baker

The in basket: Eric Blair wrote July 25 to say, “I was traveling eastbound on Sixth Street in Bremerton this past Wednesday at 1815, and was behind a Kitsap Transit small bus. We were both in the right lane, stopped at the light at Park Avenue. Imagine my surprise when the bus continued straight through the intersection, from what is clearly marked a right turn only lane.

“I didn’t see any ‘except transit’ language on the sign. Are transit buses exempt from the new right turn only lanes in downtown Bremerton?”

The out basket: A sign is missing, as transit buses need access to the curb lane to pick up and discharge passengers and it is the city’s intent to allow them to proceed straight in the outside lane there.

And there is an “except transit” sign, just not right at the intersection. An earlier sign a half-block back saying right turns only are allowed in the outside lane has an “except transit” sign right below it. But I didn’t see it either until Gunnar Fridriksson, senior Bremerton street engineer, told me it was there and I went looking for it.

“The first sign which is about mid-block between Warren and Park has ‘Except Transit’ so the buses can legally continue through the intersection,” Gunnar said.  “We are updating the sign at the signal as well and I thought that had been completed.  Our sign shop is a bit busy these days, but I will check in with them and give a little reminder we need to get this done.”


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You can reach Travis Baker at tvisb@wavecable.com

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