Monthly Archives: July 2009

Get ready for 7-digit car licenses


The in basket: I invented a mental exercise game several years ago based on the order of letters on  license plates. When I see one, I try to make the shortest word possible that uses the license’s three letters in the order they appear on the plate.

So a plate reading RWD 123, for example, could be used for “Rewind” or “Reward,” but “Rowdy” or “Rowed” would win because they are shorter.

Not all combinations work, of course. The other day, when I saw a plate with the letters XXQ, I didn’t even try. But it reminded me that the state is almost out of the possible combinations of letters and numbers under the present license format of three numbers and three letters.

Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing told me in 2005 that day would arrive in about four years. I asked him now if the new format had been chosen.

The out basket: “Why yes,” Brad said, “the decision has been made. We project that we will run out of ‘general issue’ license plate numbers sometime around the end of this year, possibly in November.

“Back when we saw the end coming for our current … configuration,” he said, “we studied all of the different configuration options to determine which (new) type would least conflict with existing or past license plate series, including personalized plates and series issued for other types of vehicles), what would give us an optimal number of different combinations, and what would be preferred by our law enforcement partners. We also looked carefully at how other states were handling this issue.”

They chose a system similar to California’s, using seven characters, which will always begin with a number, then have a letter, two more numbers, then three letters. An example that should be the first one issued when the new scheme is put into use is 1A11AAA.

“This configuration will offer 456,976,000 license plate number combinations.” he said, minus those that form words that might offend people. The configuration just running out, in use the past 22 years, offered about 17.5 million combinations.

Truck licenses, the current format for which went into use in 1995 and has about 150 years worth of numbers yet to use, will remain unchanged, with five numerals and a letter on each end.

The new car license format won’t gladden the heart of Jim Brophy of Tracyton, who used this column back in 2007 to urge against choosing it, calling it too cumbersome. But at least my little game will survive the change. Maybe I can even incorporate the fourth letter.

How about rumble strips on Central Valley shoulders?


The in basket: Cathy Houston brings up a familiar subject, danger to pedestrians and school children on Central Valley Road’s shoulders. 

“As we all know, there are several schools in the vicinity,” she said. “Students are walking in the area in all types of weather and in all levels of darkness.

“Traffic is extremely bad at the Central Valley/Fairgrounds intersection. Cars treat the fog line as just another lane marker and use the shoulder as another driving lane. 

“I would like to see some rumble edging along the fog line for the length of the road from Foster Road to McWilliams Road, letting the drivers know in a very obvious way that they have crossed out of their lane,” she said.

She also thinks the fact that a crosswalk at the Fairgrounds Road intersection that continues past the edge line, which others in the area do not, contributes to the danger by “giving drivers a false sense of where the edge of the road is.”

The out basket: Cathy had already contacted Kitsap County Public Works to no avail before writing to me, so she won’t be much surprised by their answer.

“Without a physical barrier (curb, gutter and sidewalk) some motorists do not respect the shoulder area of the roadway,” says Jeff Shea, the county’s traffic engineer.

“It is against the law to drive on the shoulder, except for emergencies and certain other legitimate reasons, but motorists do it anyway. We have tried bumps or tubular markers at other locations and motorists simply drive over them or take them out, and they eventually disappear. 

“I don’t think rumble strips have the desired impact,” he continued. “Rumble strips are designed to alert drowsy and inattentive motorists when they leave the roadway. They have a great track record for reducing run-off-the-road accidents on highways. They are less effective as a method to keep motorists from driving on shoulders. 

“Most motorists drive over them, since they don’t present a physical barrier of any kind, and make the turn on the shoulder.  The white edge line is very visible and makes it clear to the motorist that they are on the shoulder. 

“Rumble strips also present a hazard to bicyclists,” he said, “which is why we leave gaps between series of rumble strips.” 

Cathy’s concerns will be considered in the planning of a $1 million-plus redo of the Central Valley-Fairgrounds intersection in 2012, he said.

In the meantime, “we will remove the (crosswalk) bars in the shoulder and better mark the shoulder area with an edge line clearly visible around the curve radius as part of our pavement marking program this summer,” Jeff said. 

“There is a major sewer project impacting the south side of the intersection. We will mark the north side initially, and complete the south side after the sewer project is completed.”

Did county jump the gun on memorial sign?


The in basket: Keri Canda feels Kitsap County heightened the abuse inflicted on family members of a man convicted last month of vehicular homicide for causing the death of a woman in January 2008, when it allowed a pair of memorial signs to be put up at the Central Kitsap accident site last year, before the man was even charged.

The county should have waited until there was a conviction before posting the sign, which said “In Loving Memory, Don’t Drink and Drive,” Keri felt. Because of the implication the sign presented to the community, “I have seen a family I care dearly about persecuted by newspapers, school teachers, parents, church members, MADD, gas station clerks… the list goes on,” she said.

“Those signs should not be allowed until the proof has been presented,” she said, “and a conviction has been given by a jury of peers. The family has a right to honor their loved one, but not at the expense of another family with small innocent children who drive past those signs everyday.”

The state requires a court conviction and a tox screen before they’ll allow such a sign to go up on one of its highways, she said. Why doesn’t the county wait?

The out basket: I told Keri that abuse of family members for the crimes of one member is regrettable and cruel. But I expect that media stories that named the offending driver were much more likely than the signs, which didn’t, to have set off such recriminations.

Further, the man now has been charged, convicted and sent to prison last month, so whatever role the signs played in community reaction, it would be happening now, not last year.

But I asked the county why it doesn’t wait for conviction before OK-ing such a sign.

The out basket: Jeff Shea, Kitsap County’s traffic engineer, replies, “Our Memorial Sign program is a bit different than the (state) program. Theirs is called the ‘DUI Memorial Sign Program.’  It’s focus is  ‘a grass roots program, borne from an idea of people who had lost family members in collisions caused by drunk driving. The Department of Transportation has embraced the program as a way to join together with citizens of this state in the ongoing efforts to combat Driving Under the Influence.’ 

“Our program,” he said, “is outlined in our roadside memorial policy. Our focus is ‘to facilitate the grieving process for those family members who have lost a loved one in an automobile-related accident.’ 

The state’s only sign legend is “Don’t Drink and Drive,” Jeff said. “The county’s program includes that, but also includes ‘Please Drive Safely,’ ‘Seat Belts Save Lives,’ and ‘Please Watch for Pedestrians or Bicyclists.’  The requester can post any one of these messages, without regard to the type of accident that happens. 

“The signs do not imply and are not intended to indicate a crime,” he said,”rather are intended to make motorists aware of the consequences of unsafe driving. Under the county’s program, a sign can be installed for the motorist at fault if they are a fatality, and not just for the victim.”


License unneeded off the public roadways

The in basket: Dale Ireland of Silverdale wonders if he has to buy a license tab for his old 1973 truck, which he uses only on private property.

“We live in a development with 25 homes and a 10-acre common area including a

grass dump and a number of small private roads,” he said. “I use the truck

use to take yard waste to the dump area, all on the private roads. 

“Do I have to pay for license tabs? I have auto insurance just

because I want to be safe but I was wondering if I have to pay the state

license fee if I don’t drive it on public roads. Is the tab fee a property

tax or a road use tax? What if a car is in storage?”

It’s an academic question for him, he said, as he’ll probably buy the tab anyway, in case he wants to take the truck onto the public roads. “But I was just curious about the

nature of the tab fee,” he said. 

The out basket: No, says Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing. “A vehicle operated entirely on private property does not have to be licensed.”

It wouldn’t matter if it was in storage, but in order to take it on a public road the truck would have to be licensed, hauled to and from storage on a licensed vehicle or trailer, or a three-day trip permit would have to be used. A trip permit, Brad says, is available at vehicle licensing offices for $25 (a $4 service fee may also apply) and allows the use of a vehicle for three consecutive days beginning with the first day of use.

Half of Ogle Road repaved, what about other half?


The in basket: Cheryl Berger was perplexed in mid-June by what looked like a shabby paving job on the northernmost stretch of Ogle Road in Brownsville and e-mailed me for an explanation.

It turned out the work was what is called pre-leveling for a full repaving, and that was done the day after she wrote to me. 

But that left her with another question. “Do you think they’re going to do the southern half (south of Madison)?  I mean, its pretty ratty, too,” she said.

The out basket: Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works, replies, “The portion south of there is in better condition than what we paved and did not rank high enough among priorities to get overlaid this year.

“We look at all roads each season to determine how best to utilize the limited funding available for paving. The portion south will be considered for paving next summer,” he said.

Reader cries ‘Waste!’ in Lake Flora project


The in basket: Debra Buchholz of Port Orchard says, “I recently went on the county Web site to see what the road project is on Lake Flora Road. I see that they are planning on widening the lanes and shoulder…  

“I can see that this was probably planned when the (NASCAR) race track was in the laying,” she said. “I travel Lake Flora daily and am not sure why the county is wasting their money there. It is not used nearly enough to warrant spending money the county can surely use elsewhere.  

“In reading this project info, I found an even more concerning project for Lake Flora for 2010-11,” she continued. “They are putting a roundabout at the intersection of JM Dickenson and Lake Flora (roads). Why is a roundabout needed there?  

“Seriously does the county have that much money to waste?  Is this something that is truly needed with the economy the way it is? I wonder what the rest of Kitsap County would think if they knew how little this area really needs this?”

The out basket: Jon Brand, the county’s assistant public works director, replied directly to Debby and CCd to me:

“This project has a long history,” he said. “In 2002, Kitsap County obtained a $500,000 Rural Arterial Preservation (RAP) grant for (it).” The RAP funds come from the state’s portion of the fuel tax and  address traffic safety and preservation of rural arterial roads, he said. 

“Lake Flora Road was eligible because of the accident history and the condition of the asphalt. The project addresses safety by correcting segments of road where the alignment is sub-standard and providing paved shoulders to reduce the number of run-off-the-road accidents. Paved shoulders will reduce the number of accidents because errant vehicles will have more time to respond.”

I suggested to Jon that a gravel shoulder is more likely than a paved shoulder to alert a driver that he is leaving the roadway, and he said perhaps, if there was any certainty of a smooth transition from the asphalt to the gravel.

But “a drop off frequently forms at the asphalt edge which causes errant vehicles to lose control,” Jon said. “I agree that the gravel offers more of a warning but it’s likely to be a warning of impending disaster. Vehicles leaving the traveled way are less likely to crash if the shoulder is asphalt.   

“The down side is that paved shoulders often add to a driver’s comfort level and result in faster driving speeds,” he added.

Back to his reply to Debra, he wrote, “Lake Flora Road’s asphalt is in such poor condition that it’s not feasible to extend the pavement life by repairing and overlaying it. This was recognized by the state when the RAP grant was awarded.  

“This project was delayed for about 18 months during the NASCAR discussion,” Jon said.  “During the delay, (we) attempted to preserve the road by applying a slurry seal. 

“Had the track project moved forward, the traffic impacts would have been significant and the current project would have looked much different.  There’s no connection between the county’s current project and NASCAR.  

“Improvements to the intersection at JM Dickenson were not included in the original RAP project,” he said. “This intersection has been the site of several major accidents and a wide range of solutions have been discussed.  Our traffic engineers consider this as a good candidate for a rural roundabout.” But that decision hasn’t been made yet. 

“This project is not an example of government waste,” Jon concluded. “The county’s focus is on improving the safety and preserving the transportation infrastructure and we attempt to provide those improvements in a cost effective manner.”

It will cost a lot more than the $500,000 from RAP, though, but not as much as forecast in the county’s six-year road plan.

It predicted a $4.36 million price tag. The first phase, which began July 6, is a $1.04 million contract with RV Associates, and Jon says current estimates for the second phase say $845,000. Both are less than half what’s in the road plan, though engineering and right of way will add to the cost.

What is drilling at Gorst RR bridge for?


The in basket: Robert Sherwood of Bremerton e-mails to say, “I see drilling equipment in operation next to the railroad bridge in Gorst. Soil samples, I assume.  

“Is a new railroad bridge in the plans for more lanes of traffic for Highway 3?  The backups cannot be tolerated anymore because of  this 1940’s era bridge.” 

The out basket: The backups will have to be tolerated longer. The work Robert sees is a project to bore a hole beneath the railroad tracks through which the final piece of a sewer line will be run.

The sewer line will link new homes on Anderson Hill on the other side of Gorst to the Bremerton sewer plant. All the green pipe we were seeing alongside Highway 3 last winter, now all underground, was part of that work.

Project Engineer Brad Ginn of the city said the boring job as been stalled by a series of large rocks that have required the contractor, D&D Boring, to send men into the casing to do hand mining. They are about two-thirds of the way through and hope to find easier material to bore through. But “the last 30 feet have been constant rock,” he said. 

The work is hard to spot, because even those workers not in the casing are down in the hole that accesses it. 

The widening of Highway 3 from Gorst to Bremerton, which would require a new railroad bridge, was one recommendation of a corridor study just completed this spring. But that’s advanced planning and any work would be years, if not decades, away.

What can tribal officers do with non-Indian speeders?


The in basket: Kyle Neilsen asks “What type of jurisdiction does the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Police have over non-natives who are stopped for exceeding the speed limit? This hasn’t happened to me, but I have seen it often the past few weeks and was curious.”

While seeking information about Kyle’s concern, I asked about one tribe’s jurisdiction over members of another tribe, and whether Kitsap County cross-commissions tribal officers to give them all the powers of its own deputies.

The out basket: Karl Gilje, director of public safety for the S’Klallam tribe, tells me his officers (the tribe has six) will ticket non-Indians for traffic infractions on the reservation. “We have a responsibility to public safety” to make those stops, he said.

What happens then gets complicated. The ticket must be  handled as a civil infraction, rather than a criminal one, and is not reported to state licensing agencies as a ticket issued by a county, city or state officer would be. 

The tribe could send the fine to a collections agency if the cited driver ignores it, but the tribe hasn’t done that in the past, Karl says.

If the offense is bad enough, the tribe can write it up and submit it to the county prosecutor, asking that office to take it to county court. But anything less than drunken or reckless driving isn’t likely to get that attention and non-tribal officers probably would have gotten involved already. 

So while ducking a speeding fine may be doable for non-Indians and it won’t affect their driving record, speeding can get you pulled over and stopped on the shoulder for 15-20 minutes while the officer checks you for warrants and writes the ticket. That’s probably a significant punishment for those who feel a need to speed.

I also asked Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, and Chief Mike Lasnier of the Suquamish tribe about this. 

Scott relayed a lengthy decision he said was made by Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Jahns shortly before he was named district court judge this year, that drew from a state ruling covering tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians.

Jeff’s answer said “tribal officers may stop and detain anyone

driving on a public road within a reservation to investigate possible violations of tribal criminal and/or civil law.  Upon determining that the driver is non-tribal, the tribal officer may conduct sobriety tests  in a DUI context (if there is reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired) to determine whether to continue to detain the non-tribal driver for the county sheriff’s office or Washington State Patrol to respond.

“With regard to the Port Gamble – S’Klallam /

Port Madison – Suquamish  (reservations)” Scott said, “I believe that tribal law enforcement

officers of either agency have authority over any Native American registered tribal member who is within their jurisdiction. I base this

on my 10 years working the road primarily in North Kitsap and interacting with the two tribal agencies.”

But I’d better check with the tribes, he added.

The 2008 Legislature enacted RCW 10.92.020, which permits cross-commissioning of tribal officers, but requires that the tribe and local government, in this case Kitsap County and its sheriff’s department, sign what’s called an interlocal agreement extending that authority.

Scott said the new law is under consideration at the county level, and “as of this date, tribal officers in Kitsap County have not been authorized to act as general authority Washington peace officers.”

Chief Mike Lasnier said, “the Suquamish Tribal Police are seeking that authority. Our officers are already certified by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, and we are currently working with the State Office of Financial Management, and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department and Kitsap County Prosecutors Office, in order to ensure that use of state authority by Suquamish officers makes good public safety sense.  

As for members of other tribes, he said his department, “enforces public safety laws on the reservation on behalf of the safety of all residents.  Jurisdiction is a complex and evolving field in federal Indian law, and there are few black and white issues or answers.  Overall, Scott did a pretty good job of trying to sum it up.”

Karl Gilje says his officers are registered with the state training commission in anticipation of one day being cross-commissioned.

Odds and ends about Hood Canal bridge

The in basket: Jim Hollenback e-mailed to say, “Been meaning to write for a while. During the re-opening ceremonies for the Hood Canal bridge, it was mentioned that Washington state has four floating bridges. I can only think of three, I-90, SR520 and SR104. What is the fourth one?”

While I was asking state officials Jim’s question, I added a few of my own. The new bridge has a two sections of metal grating roadway near its center, separated by a fairly lengthy stretch of concrete driving surface. And it has two control towers, one on each side of where it opens for boat traffic. I couldn’t recall whether the old bridge had two towers. I asked why two are needed and the reason for the grated surface.

Lastly, I asked about a row of yellow floats shaped like oil drums, but much larger, that stretch across Hood Canal a good distance north of the bridge, wondering if they are permanent or somehow related to the bridge job.

The out basket: Becky Hixson and Joe Irwin of the bridge public relations staff provided the answers.

As I suspected, the I-90 bridge comprises two of the four floating bridges, named the Lacey Murrow and Homer Hadley floating bridges. The other two are the 520 bridge further north in Lake Washington and, of course, the one across Hood Canal. 

The grated section of the new Hood Canal bridge make those sections lighter in weight so they can be lifted to allow the intervening concrete sections to retract beneath them, opening the center span. The old bridge did have two control towers. Both are needed, says Joe, because “crews must be able to operate the bridge from either side during storm conditions.”

Lastly, he said, the row of floats are spring buoys “that support an anchor line for one of the derrick barges still working at the bridge site and prevents it from coming into contact with, or damaging a power cable that runs along the floor of the canal.” 

The floats will be removed when all work on the bridge is complete, he said.