Monthly Archives: May 2008

What to do with an old license plate

The in basket: Shirley Morgan wonders what she should do with her old license plates when she is required to replace them, as we all are about every seven years.
The out basket: I asked Brad Benfield of Department of Licensing if my first-blush notion that cutting up the plates and recycling them with metal is the best idea. He replied:
“You have a couple of options for disposing of them. The
first option is putting them in your recycling or trash (depending on
your local solid waste disposal requirements). DOL recommends cutting
them in half if you choose to do this.
“Old plates also can be dropped off at your neighborhood vehicle license
office. This is a good option for anyone who doesn’t have the ability to
cut their plate in half,” he said.
“Of course, there are other, more creative solutions for old license
plates. Sometimes they wind up in the hands of license plate collectors or
others who hang them as decorations. Others have used them to build
birdhouses or as the covers for notebooks. I also occasionally receive
requests for old plates from Hollywood prop houses who want to use them
in television shows or movies,” he said.
On the subject of plates, my e-mail recently brought a warning that gas thieves have taken to stealing good plates and putting them on their own cars so the plate’s owner gets the blame when the thief drives off without paying for gas. Check frequently to make sure your plates are on your car and report their theft immediately if not, said the e-mail.
Snopes.com, the urban legend buster, says that’s good advice, though disguising a stolen car or armed robbery get-away car would be a more likely motive for the theft of plates than gas drive-offs. The growing practice of most stations of requiring payment for gas in advance by credit card or otherwise makes plate thefts for purpose of stealing gas “not really information that needs to be spread to everyone’s nearest and dearest at the speed of light,” said Snopes.

Who keeps the bridge toll money?

The in basket: With tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge seemingly fated to jump a dollar per crossing in about a month, Carol Johnson asks “Where’s the money from all the Good-To-Go! accounts kept? Who gets the interest generated from holding that money? And does it go into the general fund and get spent for who knows what or is it earmarked to pay down the debt for the Narrows bridge?
“Inquiring minds want to know,” she said.
The out basket: Janet Matkin of the Good to Go! staff answers that the narrows bridge tolls “are accounted for in a separate account within the state treasury that is dedicated to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. All spending is appropriated by the Legislature and allotted and monitored by the Office of Financial Management.”
Interest is accrued on toll revenue, including the prepaid Good to Go! accounts, and has been dedicated to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge account, she said. All toll revenue and interest earnings in the account will go towards paying the debt on bonds used to finance construction of the bridge and for paying ongoing operating and maintenance costs. Retirement of the bonds will allow the tolls to end, expected to happen in 2030.
The opening of tolled HOT lanes (on Highway 167 east of I-5)) earlier this month complicates the matter as far as crediting interest earnings on the prepaid accounts to the correct facility, she noted.
So the state is creating a Central Tolling Fund in which “all Good To Go! prepaid deposits will go into a central deposit fund. Then, when a customer uses one of the tolling facilities, the appropriate toll is recorded and that amount is transferred to the correct facility’s account.
“The interest from the prepaid accounts will be distributed on a percentage basis determined by the revenue levels for each fund,” she said.
Inquiring minds can learn more in RCWs 47.56.160 and 47.56.165, she added.
Randy Boss, a critic of the bridge tolls, says he has submitted a public records request for bank records to check on this answer, and says he’ll let us know what he finds when he gets them.

Motorcycles crash at slick spot on Highway 3

The in basket: Way back last fall there were several incidents in which motorcyclists crashed after hitting a slick spot left on a seam between new and old pavement on the newly widened Highway 3 south of Sunnyslope.
One of them, Craig Smith of Bremerton High School, called it to my attention and Joseph Hunter also wrote about it. Craig said his bike was badly damaged.
Joseph described one of the incidents. “It was a light shower about 1 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon,” he said. “(Craig) was on his way
home with two other riders. The seam of the new pavement developed from the centerline and transitioned 5-10 degrees towards the shoulder.
“This liquid cools relatively quickly, resulting in a very glass-like finish. When wet, the surface is very slick…,” Joseph said.
“When the first bike crossed the seam in
the left tire track,” he said, “the wheels slipped, causing the rear wheel to come around just enough to develop a porpoise effect. The first rider lost
control and went down.” The second rider also fell trying to avoid the first.
The incident was mentioned in the November edition of Mike Dalgaard’s “Quick Throttle” magazine, a local biker’s publication. “Be vigilant, be aware and look ahead for ‘shiny’ spots when in an area that has recently been worked on,” the magazine advised, adding a request for rock chips or some other non-skid product to such seams.
The state quickly went out last fall and roughed up the seams on Highway 3, making them safer.
The out basket: For one reason or another, it took me months to get a usable state comment on this, probably because the fallen motorcyclists have filed claims for their damages and lawyers don’t like their clients to make out-of-court comment on pending issues.
I reckoned the slickness problem was either a new procedure or an old one in which a final step had been omitted.
Lisa Murdock of the state’s Olympic Region this month sent me this comment:
“The overlay between the old and new pavement is not something new. What
typically happens is the overlay gets seasoned with wear and tear. In this section, our crews went back out and ground the sealant to speed up the ‘seasoning’ or traction process.
“I believe this case was sent to our tort claim office and, you’re right – until we know the legal ramifications – we can’t speak to the specific incident/issue,” she said.

Contradictory signs at Forest Rock and Highway 305

The in basket: Larry Blaine of Poulsbo says he’s happy that the extension of Seventh Avenue into Forest Rock Lane at Highway 305 has been opened, but says there have been conflicting directions for westbound drivers at the intersection of Forest Rock and Highway 305. 
“The lane marking for the left lane is ‘left only,’ and the lane marking for the right lane is ‘thru or right,'” he said. “But the sign on the signal for the right lane says ‘right turn only,’ and there are no signs on the signals for the left lanes.  “Saturday I waited in the right lane to go straight ahead and had several drivers behind me (justifiably) mad at me for not turning,” he said. 
“I realize the markings are only temporary – but before they become permanent, I suggest that the left lane be marked ‘left or thru’ and the right lane ‘right only,’ since that is the direction most people turn when using the intersection,” Larry said.
The out basket: It may be fixed by now. Andrzej Kasiniak, Poulsbo’s city engineer, mentioned it to the state after I passed on Larry’s complaint and Andrjez said the signs were correct when Seventh Avenue was barricaded and through traffic wasn’t an option. The contract for the state’s widening project omitted removal of the “right turn only” sign when Seventh opened, he said.
They’ll be removing it soon if it hasn’t already been done, he said. That’s not the alignment Larry favored, but it won’t contradict the pavement markings.

Why are new Highway 305 bike lanes squeezed at intersections?

The in basket: Karl Hadley e-mails to say that on Highway 305, newly widened, “bicyclists enjoy a nice shoulder for safe travel, until they reach intersections where curbing is installed right up to the car traffic lane, making it necessary for the bicyclists to either jeopardize their safety by entering the car traffic lane, or negotiate pedestrians by using the curb ramp to ride up on the sidewalk.
“This happens on both sides of the road at the intersection for Central Market and 305, and at the turn off to Poulsbo Village, where a right-turn lane appears without any bicycle-designated path, he wrote.”
The out basket: Michele Britton, a state highway engineer in Tumwater, fielded this one.
“The design areas you are referring to are designed as multi-use shoulders and meet design standards.
“The philosophy behind the design is explained below:
“The thought process behind bicycle lanes dedicated to bicycles only is that they are to be treated just like vehicle lanes and that a vehicle in the adjacent lane is not supposed to turn in front of the occupant (the same as if we had two travel lanes, the left lane would not turn right onto a side street from the left lane). 
(But) the lanes you refer to are not dedicated bicycle lanes.
“The case for multi-use shoulders is different. Drivers in vehicle lanes are not as accustomed to looking for vehicles or bicycles proceeding along a shoulder and are more likely to turn in front of them. The sidewalk placement helps deter these conflicts. By placing the sidewalk partially into the shoulder, it forces bicycles out closer to the lane to partially merge in with other crossing traffic, increasing visibility and awareness, thus lessening the possibility of those vehicles turning in front of the bicycles,” she said.
“Reducing the shoulder width at intersections also reduces pedestrian exposure in crosswalks and discourages motorists from using the shoulder to bypass the through traffic.”
 
 

Will hands-free cell phone law really help?

The in basket: Frank Haney of Port Orchard e-mailed last October after I wrote about some misunderstandings as to what the hands-free cell phone law will forbid and when it is effective, which is July 1.
I had debunked a notion my wife had overheard at a garage sale that Bluetooth, the wireless earpiece that lets you talk without holding a cell phone to your ear, would be illegal if worn in the ear next to the window. It won’t.
But Frank wrote, “I don’t know if your wife’s friend is really off-base with the Bluetooth idea. I think that right now with the law as it currently is, the Bluetooth is an illegal device while drive a motor vehicle in the State of Washington.
“How do I think this, you ask?, Well, here you go.
“In the State of Washington, it is illegal to wear headphones or ear plugs while operating a motor vehicle on the public highways,” Frank said. “Things like iPods, cassette players and such are strictly forbidden when used with ear devices that would block or hinder the wearer from hearing outside noise such as other vehicles honking horns or, better yet, emergency vehicles running code.”
The out basket: Krista Hedstrom, spokeswoman for the local State Patrol detachment, says “The Bluetooth wireless device is allowed by law because it only covers one ear and allows you to hear what is going on within your surroundings.  
“Earphones, on the other hand, go in both ears, not allowing you to hear what is going on – which is why they are illegal while driving. 
 “The hands-free law does not apply to those driving an emergency vehicle or tow truck, those reporting illegal activity or emergencies, and does not apply to a person using a hearing aid,” she added in an aside.
The hand-free law forbids only holding a cell phone to your ear while driving. You still can dial one or look down at one.
I think those who consider this some major breakthrough in highway safety are kidding themselves. My personal experience tells me it will make things worse.
My Bluetooth set won’t stay in my ear. The wire loop over my ear yanks it out. I’ve always worn one of the largest hat sizes, so maybe my ears are outsized too. Anyway, I have to fiddle with the thing as I drive to keep it in my ear. And making sure whether it’s turned on or not is another distraction.
A wire is even worse. It can get tangled up. Finding it in a dark car in motion is hard and risky, and then you have to get it into your ear or – Heaven forbid – plugged into your cell phone.
I know all of this can be avoided by planning ahead or having the ear piece in your ear before starting out. But I expect thousands of cell phone users to be fumbling around with their new ear pieces around July 1, especially during incoming calls, and that a spike in wrecks will result.
Our new Prius is Bluetooth compatible, meaning you hear the phone call through a speaker in the car, so that may not be so bad. But most cars aren’t.
Krista says, “The WSP encourages drivers to become familiar with the hands-free device they have purchased prior to using it, and know how it operates so that it does not take away from their ability to drive. There are several hands-free devices; the one that clips onto your visor seems to be popular.
“Many people choose to leave the hands-free device attached to their ear the entire time they are in the car, that way they are not struggling to put it in place once they get a call,” she added. 

Readers weigh in on new Silverdale interchange

The in basket: The storm over the new Silverdale interchange where highways 3 and 303 meet doesn’t seem to have abated. Mostly, it’s discussed on the Opinion Page and I try to stay out of it. South Kitsapers like myself are among the main beneficiaries of the changes. And I have yet to drive there on a rainy night, which is when the critics say it is the worst.
I did pass along to Brenden Clarke, the project engineer, an e-mail from Dave Waller testifying to something that seems to justify one of the most common fears. It is that the left turn signals to turn north onto Highway 3 are so positioned that a confused or impaired driver might turn down the oncoming off-ramp and drive into oncoming freeway traffic.
“I was traveling south on my motorcycle at about 11:15 p.m.
coming from the Bangor Main Gate,” Dave said on March 21.
He was approaching the off-ramp to Silverdale Way/Waaga Way.
“I had just passed a car and moved back into the slow lane when a car passed by me. He was traveling north in the southbound fast lane!
“I was very surprised! So were co-workers of mine who had to dodge the northbound intruder.
“Once the car in error had some breathing room, it turned around, to head south. I can only surmise that the car made the wrong turn on the overpass.”
A number of letter writers have claimed to be so fearful of the new interchange that they travel the county roads between Poulsbo and Silverdale to avoid it.
Others say they pass up the two-lane left turn from westbound Highway 303 to southbound Highway 3 and proceed past Clear Creek Road and make the gradual right onto another on-ramp to southbound 3 there.
Vince Mattson, a retired engineer living on Bainbridge Island, sent me a copy of a letter he’d sent the state back in 2004, predicting some of the problems the proposed new interchange would create if built. He then advised against the two-way turn onto the ramp to Highway 3.
He now suggests that that ramp be closed and all westbound Highway 303 traffic wanting to go south on Highway 3 be required to use the right turn ramp many say they are using already.
I asked if there have been many accidents on the new interchange, if traffic on those county roads is up, and whether closing the two-way turn lane onto the ramp to southbound 3 is a good idea.
The out basket: Steve Bennett of the state’s Olympic Region engineers says “Since the opening of the new interchange in mid-November of last year through mid-February of this year, there have been four collisions
within the interchange area. Two were non-injury collisions and two were possible injury collisions.” Figures for the two months since weren’t gathered yet.
From Jan. 1, 2001 through Dec. 31, 2005, there was a collision within the interchange area about 3.5 times per month, he said.
“While it looks promising, with only three
months worth of ‘after’ data, it is still too early to draw any
substantial collision comparisons between the new and
old interchanges,” he said.
The county’s traffic counts on Silverdale Way and Viking Way, the most likely route between Silverdale and Poulsbo other than the freeway, show an increase in use during construction of the new interchange but that traffic counts are back to what they used to be before the project started.
Finally, Brenden says the two-lane turn onto the southbound ramp to Highway 3 will become more important next year. That’s when the county hopes to complete a new road between Clear Creek and Old Frontier roads, providing a new way to and from the interchange for traffic on Anderson Hill, Provost and Old Frontier roads.
It will increase traffic on Clear Creek at the new light, he said, requiring longer waits for those on Highway 303. That will make continuing on to the right-turn on-ramp less attractive.
It probably will be another irritation for North Kitsapers, as well. The project already has eliminated their direct access from Kitsap Mall Boulevard to Highway 3 northbound, requiring that they pass through the Clear Creek light.

A new day in toll collecting Saturday

The in basket: Saturday is the day that highway tolls in our state take the next big leap forward, when congestion-pricing tolls offer single-occupant vehicles access to the HOV lanes between Renton and Auburn on Highway 167.
Between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week, a car with the same transponder that works to pay one’s toll to cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge will let a driver alone in his car pay to use the HOV lanes, called HOT lanes in this case. The price will range from 50 cents to $9, depending on how badly the highway is congested. The Web site suggests the typical rush hour price will be around $5. Signs along the freeway will announce the toll at any given moment.
Shields that sell for $3.50 can be affixed to a transponder to keep it from being read in cars with more than one occupant, buses, vans, etc., which are entitled to use the lanes for free. The shields have to be removed to cross the Narrows Bridge, or when a driver is alone and wants to use the HOT lanes. They are velcroed to the inside of the windshield and somehow interrupt the connection between the transponder and overhead reader without actually being between them.
If you are a bridge user and have a transponder, don’t just ignore that e-mail you got this week from the Good to Go! toll program about the HOT lanes. Janet Matkin of that office says they’ll use a “customer-friendly manner” in dealing with drivers who get tolled because they forgot or didn’t understand the shield when they hit Highway 167, but they won’t easily reverse the toll.
Janet says about 5,000 of the shields have been bought. She didn’t know how many of those are mainly Narrows Bridge users.
There is a lot of information on a state Web site as to how it will all work, with the obligatory Frequently Asked Questions section. But, wouldn’t you know it, I had some questions that must not be frequently asked, but that I bet will enter the minds of dozens of drivers every day.
For example, I wonder how long a toll collection is good for. If a person pulls off in Kent for half an hour, will he be charged again to continue on in the HOT lanes, or will the original toll cover him when he returns to the freeway? How about if he returns to go back the other way? What if he forgot to stop at a previous interchange and goes back, then retraces his path in the original direction?
Will a HOT lane trip to go to dinner in the evening require a new toll if the car was accessed tolls on a trip to work and back earlier in the day?
The out basket: Patty Rubstello of the HOT lanes project says most of my theoretical situations will require paying the toll more than once. Certainly a new toll must be paid to change directions and go back in the HOT lane. A toll for travel in one direction will be good for the 20 minutes or so it is expected to take a HOT lane driver the length of the corridor, about a dozen miles, she said. A half-hour stop in Kent would use that up and incur a new toll to return to the HOT lanes.
Unlike on he Narrows Bridge, the driver of a transponder-equipped car will see a white light flash each time he passes beneath a reader, even if the toll is collected only once. That’s more to tell enforcement officers that the toll has been paid than to comfort the driver, Patty said.

This summer’s Highway 166 paving project

The in basket: Don Brandvold reminds me that in the spring of 2006, he asked about the water coming up in the road (Highway 166) in front of the Dockside marina. “After checking, you wrote back that it was scheduled to be fixed in the summer of 2007,” he said.
“Well, here it is spring of 2008 and still nothing has been done.  Could you check with them again?”
The out basket: That’s what I wrote, alright, though I don’t recall why. I most recently was of the belief that the project would be done in conjunction with the 2009 widening of Sedgwick Road near Bethel Avenue.
It turns out neither is correct. The Highway 166 paving from near Gorst to Westbay will be done this summer.
Brenden Clarke, whose project engineering office in South Kitsap is planning the paving project, says it will be done at night in July and August. The highway will get a new layer of asphalt from its intersection with Highway 16 near Gorst and Westbay in Port Orchard.
State maintenance crews will try to reduce the seepage at the spot Don mentions by regrading the ditch on the south side of the highway, Brenden says.
The water doesn’t run out of the ditch but comes up through the pavement, so that will work only if the regrading somehow reduces the underground water pressure. If that doesn’t get the job done, Brenden said, “we will go from there.” I guess that means they’ll try something else, possibly before the paving.
It’s not much of a problem, and is just one of many places water finds itself onto a highway, but it does present a skidding danger when it freezes.
Brenden tells me they recently did core samples at the highway’s intersection with Sidney Avenue in downtown Port Orchard to make sure the project won’t destroy any artifacts, Indian or otherwise. That could happen when they excavate there to replace the wire-suspended traffic signals with pole mounted ones. They didn’t find any signs of artifacts, he said.
Mindful of the major collapse of the highway 10 or 15 years ago just west of Ross Point, I asked Brenden how they plan to address the two minor slumps that exist today within a half mile of that spot on each side of it. He said they will just pave over them. I recall that successive layers of asphalt laid over the years from similar projects were exposed when the highway gave way back then and dropped toward the beach.
Brenden said it would take a major storm event to duplicate that at either of the existing depressions, so they won’t spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to firm up whatever is slowly giving way underground there.