Belfair’s SR3 pavement to be smoothed in stages

The in basket: Alan Feldman asks when the highway through Belfair will be made smoother. The patches that have been done so far are terrible and rough to drive across, he said.

The out basket: The work so far is just temporary, and covers underground utility relocation work to prepare for a widening of most of Highway 3 through the town this summer.

The week of Feb. 23, ” the utility company plans to do some spot paving to smooth out the multiple patches on the road,” says Claudia Bingham-Baker of state highways’ Olympic Region. “The road will still be patched, but should be much easier to drive on.”

That work will be done during the day Monday through Friday and at night beginning at 7 o’clock on Thursday and Friday that week.

“In addition, our upcoming construction project resurfaces all lanes of SR 3 through the project limits. That resurfacing, however, probably won’t occur until 2016.”

She refers those interested in the project to check it out at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr3/belfairimprovements/

This summer’s work will widen 1.72 miles of the town’s main drag from Belfair Elementary to half-way up the hill leaving town to the north. It will provide wider shoulder and a lengthened two-way turn lane. Another half-mile of the same, reaching to the Highway 106 intersection, is awaiting funding so will be done later.

Speed reduction deficiencies being corrected

The in basket: Two readers, Alison Loris and Jim Fornes,  protested the absence of adequate warning of two speed limit changes several months ago, one on Highway 304 entering Bremerton and the other on Highway 303 (Waaga Way) south of Brownsville Highway.

Alison noted last summer that the expected notice of an upcoming speed reduction as one approached the 30 mph zone that begins at Charleston Beach Road and stretches to  First Street on 304 was missing. She also mentioned the dense foliage on the trees along the shoulder that obscured the 30 mph size until a driver was almost right beside it.

Not many people go less than 40 through there, but if one got stopped for exceeding 30, he or she would have had a pretty good excuse, I’d think.

Jim said drivers entering Highway 303 from Brownsville Highway to go toward Bremerton, unaware that the state had just reduced the speed limit from there to Fairgrounds Road from 50 to 45 mph, wouldn’t have any way of learning about it as they proceeded.

There was a speed reduction ahead sign there, but both it and the 45 mph sign were posted before one got to Brownsville Highway. Anyone turning left onto 303 there wouldn’t see them.

I recognize that there are hundreds of opportunities to enter from driveways and businesses onto highways and roads where a driver would have to travel quite a ways before seeing a speed limit sign. But one with enough traffic to warrant a traffic signal, as Brownsville Highway does,  probably should deserve quick notice of the speed limit.

The out basket: For some reason, it took me a long time and a reminder call from Jim before I got comment from the state. In the meantime, either the city of Bremerton had trimmed the foliage obscuring the 30 mph sign or nature did it for them by removing the leaves for the winter. We’ll know when the trees leaf out again.

And a speed reduction sign warning of the reduction to 30 mph appeared on the shoulder in 304’s 45 mph zone a few weeks ago.

On 303, Claudia Bingham Baker of the state highway’s Olympic Region says she’s been told a 45 mph speed limit sign on southbound 303 south of Brownsville Highway will be installed within the next two weeks.

23.2 million ferry riders are really about 300,000 people

The in basket: Lynne Griffith, the latest head at Washington State Ferries, has initiated a system update that is e-mailed weekly. I don’t know how widely it’s distributed, but I’m on the list. It’s remarkably brief and easy to read.

The past week’s version advised readers of expected heavy loads of bikers for Sunday’s Chilly Hilly event, apologized to Bremerton/Seattle riders for the MV Kitsap’s mechanical troubles, reported that she’d met with a tribal representative to discuss Colman Dock upgrades, reported the completion of a steel wing wall at the Bremerton terminal, and commended specific WSF employees for their response to a passenger’s medical emergency Dec. 17 on the Kingston run, and generally for their contributions to last year’s United Fund Drive.

An earlier weekly report back in January said WSF ridership totals for 2014 were 23.2 million riders, a 2.7 percent increase over 2013.

I used to write news stories about such statistics when I was a reporter, and often wondered how many actual people they represented. A commuter who rides back and forth daily during the week would make maybe 280 trips one-way in a year, doubled to include the trip home, so he/she would be 560 of the 23.2 million.

Casual riders like my wife and I would be about 10 of them, representing an approximation of our one-way trips from Southworth. We usually drive around coming home.

I asked WSF if they have any idea how many actual people ride the ferries. It would reflect how many have a vested interest in the boats and would support funding proposals to make them successful and affordable.

The out basket: WSF does indeed have an idea of that number, says Ray Deardorf, its long-time planning director.

According to a study of possible fare strategies done in 2012 by the Joint Transportation Committee of the state Legislature, drawing on origin-and-destination studies done in 1999 and 2006, buttressed by a 2008 survey by the state Transportation Commission, there were 297,000 individuals riding the ferries in 2008. Announced total ridership that year was 22.7 million. So actual people comprised only 1.3 percent of that total.

The combined population of King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Mason, Skagit and Thurston counties in 2010 was 4.26 million. So ferry ridership comprises about 18 percent of the populace most likely to care about ferries, meaning for 82 percent of them, the ferries are probably just a curiosity and something to do some weekend when friends or family are visiting.

Bucklin Hill power pole work not finished

The in basket: I took Bucklin Hill Road in Silverdale the other day just to check out the new power poles that were installed, closing that major thoroughfare to traffic for much of a recent week.

I noticed that each has an array of three arms at their tops with no wires suspended from them. Three lower arms carry the wires the smaller poles on each side of the new ones carry.

I wondered if Puget Sound Energy was planning way into the future or perhaps a power upgrade is coming.

The out basket: Akiko Oda of PSE says six more new poles are coming to Bucklin Hill Road in March, and they’ll match the poles installed during the closure. The three upper arms then will be put to use.

The remaining work will require closing only one lane, she said, with flaggers directing alternating traffic through the closure.

That still leaves a year of complete closure where Bucklin Hill Road crosses Clear Creek beginning this July. The recent closure served as a test of how drivers will adjust to that.

I stayed away from the area of the closure while it was happening, but the traffic between Highway 303 and Costco uphill from it didn’t seem much affected. Nor did I hear much of an outcry from drivers. What say you, readers?

The ‘Keep Right’ law and multi-lane highways

The in basket: After Gary Reed got pulled over and warned about camping in the inside lane of Highway 16, which has two lanes in each direction for most of its length, he wrote me to say, ” I’ve seen signs along multi-lane highways like I-90 that say to ‘Keep right except to pass.’ Why are we taxed billions of dollars to build super highways when we’re only allowed to travel in the right lane? I get the two-lane (highways), but not three or more in the same direction.”

The out basket:  I asked Trooper Russ Winger of the State Patrol how drivers should apply the prohibition of driving in the left-lane to freeways with more than two lanes in each direction, and he said “the far left lane (is) the left lane you need to stay out of unless passing slower traffic.

“The HOV lane is not considered the left lane.”

He also reminded me of the state law on this matter (RCW 46.61.100), which permits use of the inside general purpose lane for purposes other than passing.

“Upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction,” it says, “all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, except (a) when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, (b) when traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, (c) when moving left to allow traffic to merge, or (d) when preparing for a left turn at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when such left turn is legally permitted.

“It is a traffic infraction to drive continuously in the left lane of a multilane roadway when it impedes the flow of other traffic.”

I think (a) and (b) above mean the same thing and © mostly applies when making room for traffic entering a freeway.

Rights against a red arrow light are legal

The in basket: Francis Thompson writes, “Wednesday, 02/11/15, I was riding with my daughter while she was driving in Tacoma. At the intersection of 38th and Union there was a directional arrow for a right turn. When she arrived at the corner to make a right turn, the arrow was red so she did not proceed. Very shortly, the car behind her honked as if she should proceed, which she did not do.

“Was she correct or was the impatient driver behind her correct?” Francis asked.

The out basket: If there was no sign controlling her direction of travel saying “No Turn on Red” or “No Right Turn on Red,” she was entitled to proceed against the red when no conflicting traffic was coming, and after coming to a complete stop.

I told Francis, “A lot of people think the arrow adds a prohibition, but it doesn’t.” The red arrows evidently mean only right turns are permitted from that lane, perhaps telegraphing what to expect when the light turns green.

Bremerton watershed highway needs guardrail, says reader

The in basket: Julia Benz e-mailed to say, “I’m 76 years old and have lived most of my life on the Old Belfair Highway/West Belfair Valley Road. About a year ago, there were guard rails installed near my house, in three of four different places.

“My first thought was ‘Why here? Why now?’  My second thought was, ‘Why aren’t there guard rails in the ‘watershed?’  Recently, a young man lost his life….his car left the road and wasn’t found for hours.  The paper said he died in the hospital, which, if true, meant he spent quite a few hours, gravely injured, in his car.

“There are several places through the watershed, where a car could leave the road and not be found for hours. Why aren’t there any guard rails in those places?” she asked.

The out basket: I’d better start by noting that West Belfair Valley Road and Old Belfair Highway are the same road. The portion in Mason County is called Old Belfair Highway and the Kitsap County segment is called West Belfair Valley Road.

Kitsap County bears maintenance responsibility for only a portion of its stretch. The city of Bremerton annexed its watershed many years ago and the stretch through the densely wooded portion on both sides of the entrance to Gold Mountain Golf Course is, curiously, a city street.

The county used a federal safety grant in the last few year to install a lot of guard rail, including the three places between where the city ends and the Mason County line, where Julie sees them.

I was surprised at the long, steep slopes along the north side of the city’s stretch through its watershed when I drove it after Julia wrote. They are largely hidden by roadside vegetation.

Tom Knuckey, who has stepped in as spokesman for Bremerton city street issues with the departure of Gunnar Fridriksson for another job, says Julia’s complaint caused him to check out the situation.

“We’re looking into the roadway configuration on the Belfair Valley Road, and are considering including a project in our 2016 Capital Improvement Plan to evaluate the road,” he said afterward.  The city may seek a safety grant of its own to address hazards they identify on the watershed road.

If the engineers decide it would be a good project and the city council says yes, it would go on the plan. But it’s a six-year plan ending in 2021 and would have to await funding, so if guardrails come to the watershed, it would be well in the future.

Shrouds on traffic signals serve more than one purpose

The in basket: As I sat at a stop light one recent afternoon, I watched the signals on the side street, waiting for a subtle change from green to amber on the signal heads, which I couldn’t really see. The circular shrouds that protrude from all traffic signal lamps conceals the impending change unless it’s dark.

I wondered if that’s the reason for them,  to keep antsy motorists from jumping or at least matching the light change and getting a quick start. That would negate the benefit of the one-second delay nearly all signals have between the light turning red in one direction and green in a conflicting direction.

The out basket: That’s one of the reasons, says Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for the Olympic Region of state highways.

“The purpose of the visors is multifold: 1) to make the lights more visible to motorists facing them; 2) to help reduce washout from other light sources such as the sun; and 3) to shield the lights  from the view of drivers on adjacent or side streets that would be conflicting traffic movements,” she said.

Highway 308 cross-hatching just means, ‘Don’t drive here’

The in basket: I’ve wondered for years about a row of double diagonal lines, created by small white raised pavement markers, commonly called turtles, alongside Highway 308 in North Kitsap. They are between the on-ramp and off-ramp from 308 to Highway 3 and extend only part way from the westbound driving lane to a concrete wall that’s part of the overpass bridge. I don’t recall seeing them elsewhere.

What message are they intended to convey, I asked.

The out basket: They simply denote that that area is not part of a lane, so aren’t to be driven on, state officials told me.

“Whenever there is empty pavement, it will get used unless it is clear to drivers that it is not supposed to be driven on,” they said.

I don’t know who would want to drive on them anyway. There is nowhere to go and any car traveling there would conflict with traffic coming off Highway 3 on the off-ramp. I guess the diagonal lines just underscores that fact.

Cell phone tickets are written, but texting is hard to prove

The in basket: Alison Loris says that despite the emphasis patrol local law enforcement announced and conducted last year to stop and ticket drivers on their cell phones or texting, “it doesn’t look like anything has changed. The frequency of drivers texting or chattering into their phones seems to be getting worse, not better.”

“I drive to and from South Bainbridge frequently now,” she said, “and that is scary - a large percentage of the drivers around seem to be young women in expensive cars too busy texting to drive – alternately lagging and ferociously tailgating.”

“Just out of curiosity, I would like to know how many citations were issued in Kitsap in 2014 for phoning or texting while driving.”

The out basket: I got figures for cell phone citations from Washington State Patrol here and Kitsap County District Court.

Trooper Russ Winger, WSP spokesman here, said there were 380 citations for cell phone use or texting at the wheel issued in their seven-county district, which includes Kitsap and Mason counties, in 2014.

Maury Baker, administrator of the Kitsap County District Courts, said there were 493 such tickets processed in those courts in 2014, down from 547 in 2013. Many of them would have been written by WSP on Kitsap roads. Other jurisdictions wrote the others.

Trooper Winger added, “A common complaint of troopers and officers in general is the fact that it is hard to see or prove that a driver was texting. There are many ‘exempt’ things one can legally do while driving. Looking up a phone number or address is legal. Using, setting or simply looking at a GPS is legal. Simply looking up information on a smart phone such as email or even accessing the internet is not illegal under the law. I even saw one traffic stop where the driver claimed he was checking his stock trades!

“These are common excuses drivers give officers when stopped for texting. All of these things are distracting a driver’s attention away from the road, yet perfectly legal. When given the opportunity drivers seem to try and get away with as much as possible.

“The law as written seems ineffectual and problematic to many officers that enforce the law. The strongest answer to assist officers with enforcement is to simply make the use of all electronic devices illegal when driving,” he said.