Monthly Archives: October 2010

On the fabulous new bridge at Hoover Dam

The in basket: I returned from a motor trip to Southern California and Las Vegas to find the new Mike O’Callaghan/Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge that looms over Hoover Dam near Las Vegas splashed on the cover of the Oct. 17 Parade magazine in the Kitsap Sun.

Coincidentally, my wife and I had just been there – twice. There had been a celebratory public walk-across the amazing span the previous weekend, akin to what they did when the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge was ready. But unlike the Narrows bridge, they didn’t open the Nevada bridge at the end of the community event. I learned that the hard way when I found the bridge unopened on Oct. 19.

Braving warning signs of delays of up to an hour, we drove on, never encountering the delays and eventually looking straight up at the underside of the massive bridge from the approach road to the dam.

We returned the next day, when TV news told us the bridge had opened for traffic.

The out basket: I can tell you that the drive across is hardly worth doing. High barriers on both sides of the bridge and between the directions of travel to keep rubber-neckers from crashing make the quarter-mile trip more like driving through a tunnel.

If you do it anyway, take the first exit on the Arizona side and come back. The highway on that side isn’t finished and I can’t tell you how far I would have had to drive to reach the next interchange. Fortunately, the highway becomes two-way after a few miles, so it’s possible, through difficult, to make a U-turn.

Much more rewarding is the visitor area that lets you out onto the dam-side walkway where you can see a great deal – the dam and Lake Mead beyond. There are also a lot of displays showing how the site and design of the bridge were chosen. Others honor former Nevada governor Callaghan and tragic figure Tillman, killed in action after abandoning his pro football career to join the military.

The crowded parking lot at the center is daunting, but the turnover is rapid and we were quickly able to find a space. Getting to the walkway requires quite a climb, but it is reached by a combination of stairs with gradual ramps as an alternative.

Skateboarder’s close call brings sidewalk request

The in basket: Andrea Wolber wrote on Oct. 16 to say, “Watched a near-miss between a skateboarder and minivan on Silverdale Way. I pulled over to check on the driver who was clearly shaken.

“Any plans to install sidewalks near the skateboard park?” she asked. “Increasing numbers of skateboarders weaving in and out of traffic, on the shoulder, especially at night, is a fatality waiting to happen.”

The out basket: Kitsap County, and just about any other jurisdiction, won’t build sidewalks unless they are part of a larger project with other objectives. They other way sidewalks get built is when a developer offers or is required to put them in as part of his or her project.

There are no such county or private developments planned near the skate park, says Doug Bear of Kitsap County public works, so the chances for sidewalks there any time soon are remote.

Political ads and rest areas in Oregon

The in basket: A couple reflections on Oregon from my recent road trip that took me south and north on I-5.

I learned that hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are afflicted with the nasty political ads in our state’s acrimonious Patty Murray/Dino Rossi Senate race, even though they can’t vote in it.

Portland television, which serves a lot of southwestern Washington, was crawling with the Murray/Rossi commercials and I had to get south of Salem to outrun them. I suppose the same is true of residents of Coeur d’Alene and other western Idaho places, and Canadians too.

We’re often reminded of the many who have fought and died to preserve our right to vote. Given what electioneering has become, it’s a good thing there were other things at stake or the sacrifice would be of questionable worth.

Reg Henry in the Las Vegas Sun had a nice turn of phrase on this issue. “Every ad,” he wrote, “no matter what party is the beneficiary, appears intended for the consumption and confusion of morons.”

I also was intrigued by a phenomenon at Oregon’s I-5 rest areas. I found a panhandler at nearly every rest area as I traveled south. When I returned 17 days later, it was a much chillier day, but there still was a panhandler at about half of the rest areas. Intriguingly, there was always just one. Could someone be scheduling them, I wondered.

I didn’t see any in Washington and the practice stopped abruptly in California.

The out basket: I finally just asked one of them how it works. He was an engaging 21-year-old named Cory Maldanado, who was playing his guitar next to a sign reading “Homeless, Need New Tent” at the rest area just outside Portland on northbound I-5. Most of the others I’d seen just had signs saying they needed money for gas.

Cory said those who “fly signs,” as he says the practice is called, realize that even people willing to help out panhandlers don’t like to choose between them, so having more than one is bad for everybody. Most of them cooperate to avoid that, he said. He also said the Oregon Travel Information Council had taken control of the rest stops to address growing use of them for permanent stays, often in motor homes, and drug problems. It has brought some order and even a bit of scheduling to the rest area opportunities, he said.

The council has set some ground rules, Cory said, including forbidding the use of pets as props. He is able to get around another no-no, signs such as his “Homeless” plea, because he also is a “busker” or street musician, he said.

Cheryl Gribskov, head of the council, says Cory wasn’t completely correct, but said the OTIC took over management of three pairs of I-5 rest areas in Oregon on Jan. 1. Working with social service agencies, they have removed people who were living in the rest areas by imposing the state’s 12-hour limit on stays there.

The no pet policy is simply enforcement of the pets-only-in-pet-areas policy, since the panhandlers want to be where the most people are, near the rest rooms, she said..

The council also forbids smoking against the building’s wall, solicitation of specific amounts of money and impeding the progress of any vehicle or visitor.

They don’t try to schedule them, Cheryl said. The council wants the rest stops of be tourist attractions and panhandlers definitely don’t help with that. But they are permitted to sit quietly (or play guitar, evidently) with signs that don’t state a specific request as long as they leave within 12 hours.

She also says some of the panhandlers “do very,very well.” Some can make $400 an hour, she said.

If you plan to travel through Oregon on I-5 soon, and find rest areas a must, you might set aside a few dollars for the panhandlers you’ll encounter, or practice your  far-away gaze for when you walk past them.

Chehalis area’s string of unused railroad cars

The in basket: The Road Warrior was actually on the road the past couple of

weeks, motoring to Southern California and Las Vegas. As I often do on such

trips, a take note of things the readers back home might notice, wonder or appreciate a heads-up

about.

Take tlhe stretch of I-5 between Grand Mound (that’s where Great Wolf Lodge

is) and Chehalis. It’s hard to miss mile after mile of seemingly abandoned

railroad cars just west of the highway. They’re the kind that carry metal

containers that arrive on ships, one container stacked upon another.

They were there in July when I passed through, and they were there again in

late October. I couldn’t tell if there were any more or fewer than in July,

but there seemed to be thousands of them.

The out basket: Not quite thousands, according to a June 28 report in the

News Tribune of Tacoma.

There were 1,900 then, 1,500 of the container carriers and another 400 that

carry lumber. They were among 365,343 such cars idled nationwide in June

and that number was growing by 700 to 1,000 a month, the article quoted an

railroad industry spokesperson as saying. So maybe it really is thousands north

of Chehalis by now. .

They are a glaring measure of the recession that tell the tale much more

clearly than the economic numbers that try to do the job. It also says a lot

about just how much stuff we import in the good times.

As the June article put it, “During better times, they would be moving

between the West Coast and the Midwest carrying containers loaded with

electronics, auto parts and consumer goods made in Asia to American retailers and

manufacturers.”

It called them “a casualty of a precipitous drop in import and export

activity through American ports,” including Tacoma’s.

County fixes odd behavior of Silverdale signal

The in basket: Tom Nofziger complained a while back about odd pre-dawn

behavior of the traffic signal at Silverdale Way and Bucklin Hill Road.

“ I travel through Silverdale every morning between 4:15 and

4:30 a.m.” he said. “When I get to that light, heading south, the light

will trip about five car lengths from the crosswalk. The problem is there are

no cars coming from any other direction.

“I have called the county three times over the last six months

about this problem with the promise that they will pass it on and

someone will contact me about it. I have not heard from anyone and

the problem still exists.

“I find myself just driving through the yellow light knowing that there is

no one coming from either direction. Can you help get this problem

corrected?”

The out basket: Apparently, I did. After I forwarded Tom’s e-mail to the

county, he sent another saying the problem seemed to have ended.

And Doug Bear, spokesman for Kitsap County Public Works, tells me, “Our

traffic supervisor visited the intersection during the early morning hours on

Oct. 14 and observed what your reader noticed. There was times when the light

would cycle through without any demand. He made some adjustments on-site

and noticed immediate improvement. He is also planning to upgrade firmware on

the detection boards.”

I also told Tom that there’s nothing wrong with going through a yellow light. As long as one’s car has crossed the broad white stop bar where one enters the intersection before the light is red, there is no violation.

Cell phone law not enforcable by police on private property

The in basket: Wendy Tweten e-mailed to say she understands that the newly strengthened cell phone law can be enforced on private property, like mall parking lots, unlike the seat belt law and just about any other except handicapped parking regulations.

“It was explained to me that, because of how the (cell phone)law is written,” Wendy said, “it applies to anyone, anywhere (police and emergency crews exempted, of course), who’s in control of a vehicle. The ticketed person in question was, reportedly, driving in a mall parking lot,” she said. It was second hand info from Snohomish County, she added.

The out basket: It’s not true, says State Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton office. Police agencies can’t write tickets on private property for what would be citable on the public streets, including the cell phone and seat belt laws.

“Handicapped parking tickets are the exception because they are non-traffic infractions (parking tickets),” she said. “They are typically issued by the (sheriff’s) Citizens on Patrol.  If the COP’s are not available, often a deputy will be notified.  I cannot think of a time where WSP was asked to respond to a handicapped parking complaint, and WSP does not handle parking lot collisions.”

Running a stop sign or other traffic error can come to bear in deciding fault and liability in a private property collision, but won’t generate a ticket.

Of course, if the private roadway in question is where it meets a public roadway, specific circumstances would determine whether a ticket might be written.

Roundabout in Purdy is a possibility

The in basket: Someone (I can no longer find the inquiry) asked me if there was anything new in efforts to ease the rush-hour backups at the Purdy traffic signal for traffic trying to get to Key Peninsula after pulling off northbound Highway 16.

The lines of vehicles, which have caused the state to allow shoulder driving on Highway 16 to get exiting cars out of the through lanes at the Purdy exit, remain long, the inquiry said.

The out basket: It turns out there has been a lot of progress, though the most immediate change will address morning backups in the other direction. But there may be a roundabout in place of that over-worked Purdy stop light within three years.

Karen Boone, assistant project engineer in the Olympic Region design shop, said the most recent gas tax increase of 9 1/2 cents per gallon has provided $6.65 million for work in or near Purdy, to be done in two phases.

A lot of it in both phases will be devoted to Highway 302’s intersection with 118th Avenue well west of Purdy. Turn lanes and guard rail to improve safety are planned there.

But by Christmas this year, a new signal controller and optical traffic detector in Purdy will turn the left-turn light green for traffic coming east over the Purdy Bridge whenever the backup to turn left (about 10 cars) blocks those who want to turn right from getting to the turn. More reflective signs also wlll be installed.

In 2012, a contract is scheduled to be let for work to include other improvements in Purdy, Karen said. One option being studied is building a roundabout there.

She said preliminary traffic studies say a roundabout would be a partial fix for the long afternoon lines, not a complete one. “It won’t be the silver bullet,” she said.

One complication that often works against roundabouts – the need to buy a lot of right of way – is not a problem in Purdy, she said. The state owns enough land there to build a roundabout, though some of it is leased to businesses at present.

Another complication, for all projects – money – could be decisive. The $6.65 million might not stretch to cover a roundabout.

If the state decides against the roundabout, the only other option identified so far doesn’t sound like a major help. That would be putting in a second northbound lane at the stop light to let traffic wanting to go straight rather than turn left onto 302 get out of the left-turn queue. Karen couldn’t say what percentage of the traffic goes straight, but suspects it’s a minority.

Karen said such a second lane couldn’t be too long, or it would run into some fish barriers uphill. If they disturbed them, they’d have to bring them up to code, which could consume all of the available money and then some, she said.

Another traffic obstacle in Purdy, the narrow bridge, is on the state’s list for replacement, she said, but that would be a long time in the future.