Monthly Archives: February 2016

Belfair highway work raises questions

 

The in basket: Byron McKenzie of Allyn and Martha Washington have questions about the continuing road work in Belfair.

Byron writes, “North Mason residents have lived with the Highway 3 widening project in Belfair for over four years. The utility work has been completed and now  the road construction has been in work since early last year.

“However, in the last two months nothing is being done. Is the contractor on strike? Have they run out of funds? Are they on schedule and budget? Is the contractor having problems or is he inexperienced? What is the status of this project? This heavily traveled corridor is a real mess.”

Asks Martha, “Is the speed limit reduction temporary?  Back in December, signs for a 25 mph speed limit through the Belfair construction zone started popping up.  So far they mostly seem to be ignored. I was assuming it was a safety issue due to the jersey barriers on the shoulder in some places and the speed limit would go back up to 35 mph once the widening project is done.  Can your contacts confirm this?”

The out basket: Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for the state highway department, replies, “Construction on this WSDOT project began in mid-July, 2015. Work previous to that was done by the Belfair water utility in preparation for our project.

“The contractor on our project was initially restricted to working between Belfair Elementary and a retention pond just north of Romance Hill Road.  We are now allowing the contractor to work north of there to build a third retention pond. Over the next month, we expect the contractor to complete work on nine new retaining walls and continue work on the three ponds.

“Wet weather has slowed the work on the retention ponds. To facilitate the work, we are using (large metal) tanks to help manage the high ground water levels at the site before construction begins on drainage installation and highway widening.”

I had driven through Belfair and noticed that all the striping seemed normal, even over the obvious pavement patches.

“Recently we did refresh the roadway striping through the area,” Claudia explained, “not as final striping but interim striping to help motorists navigate better through the area.  The construction signs and jersey barrier are needed for the retaining wall work.

“The project web page is located here:  http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR3/BelfairImprovements/

That site says, “WSDOT has lowered the current 35 mph speed limit to 25 miles because of construction. The speed limit has been temporarily reduced between mileposts 25.3 and 26.6, which is the area near Belfair Elementary School and Northeast Clifton Lane. The reduced speed limit will continue until spring 2016.

  • WSDOT contractor, Ceccanti, has crews building stormwater ponds, walls, and a new stream crossing at Romance Hill Road.
  • This widening project will extend the center turn lane and provide paved shoulders and sidewalks on both sides of SR 3. The improvements are intended to be built in two separate stages.
  • Stage 1 of the project will begin at milepost 25.36 (just south of Belfair Elementary School and Theler Center) to milepost 27.08 (Ridge Point Blvd.).

Some thoughts on left-lane ‘campers’

The in basket: PEMCO regularly turns out press releases about how drivers in Washington state view certain issues on the roads. Most recently it has polled them on what it calls  “the ever loathed left-lane camper.”

“Though this culprit is a common source of commuter frustration,” the company said in a news release, “the latest poll from PEMCO Insurance shows that while drivers regularly witness this lane-hogging behavior, it may be declining.

“In Washington, where it is illegal to camp in the left lane, the poll finds that fewer drivers witness left-lane camping today compared to 2011,” it said. Forty-nine percent  said they often witnessed left-lane camping in 2011, while 35 percent say the same today.

“While offenses may be declining, the poll reveals that there is room for education, with 47 percent of Washington drivers unaware of the left lane camping law,” the company said.

It continues with a peculiarity involving our neighbors to the south. “In Oregon, lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make left-lane camping illegal in that state, but the bill has yet to be approved. Surprisingly, 52 percent of Oregon drivers believe such a law already exists.”

It does exist in Washington, and affects not just left-lane campers driving below the speed limit. If they’re entrenched in the left lane and impeding traffic behind them, regardless of their speed, the law says they must move over: ‘Keep right except to pass,’” notes the news release.

The out basket: Long before 2011, I opined that it’s not all that difficult to get around a left-lane camper by passing them in the right lane, which is legal despite some ambiguity in the laws on the subject.

And a little mind trick can help you keep your temper. Say you’re unable to get around a left-lane camper for five minutes, much longer than normally the case. You haven’t been delayed five minutes, but only the amount of time it would have taken you to travel the extra distance you could have had you been able to go the speed you wanted. That’s usually just seconds.

Though the PEMCO release suggests that ignorance of the keep-right-except-to-pass law is the basic reason for the behavior, I think it’s fear of what may be in the blind spot just to the right and behind the driver, or fear of taking one’s eyes off the road to check, especially when visibility is poor.

Variations in toll roads puzzle a newcomer

The in basket: David McGarvey of Poulsbo writes, “I’m a little new to the area and don’t understand something:  Why are tolls collected on some state highways (such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the 520 bridge) but not on other sections of state highways?  Thanks for enlightening me.”

The out basket:  I don’t know where David has been living that a mix of tolled and non-tolled highways would seem unusual. I’ve driven in several cities around the nation that have toll booths on turnpikes and freeways with non-tolled roads nearby. And the two examples he chooses are bridges, which are among the most common facilities to have tolls and have been for decades.

Before Oregon couldn’t get Washington state to go along in replacing the I-5 crossing of the Columbia River, it was to be replaced by a toll bridge. There was talk eight years ago about using tolls for the improvements being done to I-90 around Snoqualmie Pass, says Claudia Bingham Baker of the state Department of Transportation, but to her knowledge, “no one has discussed the issue since,” she said.

I would understand better if David had asked why tolling is becoming more common on regular highways.

For most of our history, tolls were necessary to get the tolled facility built. That certainly was true of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and Bremerton’s Warren Avenue Bridge originally had tolls.

More recently, tolls have been imposed as a congestion-relief strategy, allowing  single-occupant vehicles to use the HOV lanes on some highways, for a fee, notably highways 167 and 405 in King County.

Tolls also are viewed as a way to offset diminished gas tax funding, which has fallen prey to reduced gasoline consumption by smaller cars and the ebb and flow in how much people drive. Electoral and legislative decisions have also eroded tax sources for building highways.

Where you see tolls, it will be on a recently built or revised bridge or highway. My guess is they’ll be much more common in coming years. They have the benefit of exempting people who don’t use the facility from having to pay for it

Bad Silverdale Way patches to be redone

The in basket: Tom, who didn’t want his full name used, e-mailed to say, “Last week the county patched areas of Silverdale Way, both sides, north of the 303 overpass to Schold Road. These patched areas are already breaking down, making the road worst than what it was. You can tell the areas by the amount of asphalt stacking up in the center lane and by the fog lines.

“Was this a bad batch of asphalt? Does the county plan on further repairs/ replacement of these areas?”

The out basket: Doug Bear, spokesman for Kitsap County Public Works, replied succinctly, “It was a bad mix of asphalt from the vendor. We will be going back to take out the asphalt we put in and re-patch it with a better mix from a different vendor.”

 

Texting citations happen, but just scratch the surface

The in basket: Mathew Niblack e-mailed to say, “ This morning, between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m., I was walking  down Mile Hill Drive in Port Orchard, from McDonalds to California Avenue and I saw at least 20-25 people driving  and texting/talking on their cell phones.

“Is anything being done to stop this? I was walking against  the traffic and several times there were vehicles driving  towards me crossing the fog line. Is someone going to have  to hurt/killed before anything is done? There does not seem  to be any enforcement

of the law.”

The out basket: Matthew had sent his observation and question to the county sheriff’s office in late January, so they had a ready-made response for use in the Road Warrior column when he repeated them in his e-mail to me.

They said he was “absolutely correct,” and said any driver seen by an officer texting or holding a cell phone to his ear while driving can be cited under state law with a fine of $136.

“The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is acutely aware of these situations as you described… they occur all day, every day, throughout the  county on both city and county roadways and state highways,” their reply to Mathew read

‘For every stretch of roadway such as Mile Hill Drive, there are several dozens of similar roadways with the same violations taking place.  Deputies on patrol observe these actions frequently.  When we do, we try to take  proactive action when  possible.

“Is there a problem?  Yes.

“There are tens of hundreds more drivers who are conducting themselves like this than there  are available law enforcement officers to enforce motor vehicle code statutes.

“Do we conduct proactive patrols to specifically target distracted drivers? Yes, but not  on a frequent basis, as our personnel manning situation is not optimum.

“The  generally accepted ‘rule’ within law enforcement is for an agency to have two officers in its department for every 1,000 persons in the population.

“For the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office that would equate to having 340-plus deputies  on the department’s roster with a population of more than 170,600 in the unincorporated areas of Kitsap County.

“We can only ‘dream’ of having these many deputies for patrol and investigations assignments, which would include traffic safety  enforcement.

“The sheriff’s office currently has 113 total commissioned personnel (which includes the sheriff himself).  Currently our ratio of deputies to population stands at .66 of one officer per 1,000 persons in the population. You can readily see the

challenge!

“You asked, “Is someone going to have to be hurt / killed before anything is  done?  There does not seem to be any enforcement of the  law.”

“(In) 2015, sheriff’s deputies wrote 137 traffic infractions for distracted driving (cell phone use/texting). That’s not a lot given the number of violations that take place every day.  We could do better, but our deputies  typically are handling 9-1-1 response calls and are engaged  in responding from one call to the next without a whole lot of opportunity to hunt for distracted drivers.

“What are we doing about this?

“Now that the county is somewhat ‘officially’ clear of the recession, we have been  authorized by the county commissioners to begin recruiting (again) to fill the vacancies.

“Prior to the recession the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office  manning was at 128 commissioned personnel.  We’re slowly working at reducing the personnel shortfall, but  we can’t do it all in one year, or even in two or three  years.  It’s a gradual process.

It takes time and lots of funding to recruit, hire, train  and employ an entry-level sheriff’s deputy. Transfer  officers from other agencies don’t cost quite as much as they’ve already graduated from the six-month basic law  enforcement training academy, but

there is still a cost in funding and time.

“And… distracted driving is only one of a significant number of traffic safety issues that we  are tasked to enforce. Our most frequent complaint:  neighborhood speeding.

“The most serious need for traffic safety emphasis:  impaired driving enforcement. Why? Statistically, more serious injury and fatality collisions occur as a result of impaired driving than for any other driver action.”

Mathew thanked the office for the response and said, “I hope distracted drivers will be caught on Mile Hill soon.”

Road work notifications present challenges

The in basket: Patty Kemp writes, “My driveway accesses directly onto Miller Bay Road (in North Kitsap).  For the past several days, there has been road construction at the top of my driveway, often blocking my access.

“Shouldn’t I have received some kind of notification this would be happening, and some indication of when it will end?”

The out basket: Doug Bear, spokesman for Kitsap County Public Works, says, “We don’t generally notify each residence personally when we do road work. For a project like this, which runs along the length of Miller Bay Road and moves in stages, the logistics of personally notifying each resident presents many challenges.

“Work like this is weather dependent and we have to be very flexible with when we can accomplish it. If we told everyone that we were going to be there Tuesday and Wednesday, but due to weather or equipment or crew availability we had to move it to Thursday and Friday, the residents would be misinformed and frustrated by those changes. Road work is always flexible, and even the best laid plan can go south quickly.

“That said, we encourage people to sign up for automatic notifications through The Road Report. We send out a weekly update to subscribers each week to let them know where we plan to be working the following week. When schedules change, we send out notifications for those changes. This allows us to notify the most people as quickly as possible when changes to the plan are necessary. To subscribe go to http://www.kitsapgov.com/pw/roadwork.htm and click on the link to subscribe. The Road Report is the best way to stay ahead of construction detours and delays.”

The Road Report entry for this project says the paving will extend from the Heritage Park to Indianola Road NE) this week. A pilot car will guide motorists through the work area. Expect significant delays of 10 minutes or more in the immediate vicinity of the work. It doesn’t say when the overall project will be completed.

Large detention ponds next to dealership evidently done on spec

The in basket: In my occasional trips out to Grey Chevrolet in Port Orchard I couldn’t help but notice and wonder about two immense storm water ponds across Hovde Road from the dealership. Next to them was a large graded and hydroseeded area.

One of the service reps said the scuttlebutt was that it was preparations for a Holiday Inn Express, but I couldn’t confirm that. So I asked the city of Port Orchard, which I figured must have approved what has been done so far.

The out basket: Public Works Director Mark Dorsey replied, “The storm water detention facility that you are referring to is a private system constructed by the property owner for development.  There have been numerous proposals, as it appears that the initial plan submitted to the city was not for a project ready to move forward, rather marketing the site. The city has recently met with another potential buyer….looking at the property.”

Parked cars on Dickey Road are OK

The in basket: Peter Wimmer asks, “What is the legality of continued parking on a county road? Along Dickey Road in Silverdale, there are three vehicles that park just far enough off of the road, a couple of feet, from the pavement everyday for over a month. They are not abandoned, I see them warming up as I go to work in the morning, and are not normally there during the day. They seem to belong to the residents on Discovery Ridge Court. It looks to be an unsafe parking area and I wasn’t too worried until there was a large black trailer parked over night further down the road closer to the road and unable to see it in the dark.
“I do not know if it was with the three others, but it lends to telling people it is OK to park along the roads, not a habit I want people to get in to.
“Also, the shoulder area by the three vehicles is now getting rutted up from the rain and parking of vans and a truck. Is there anything to be done?
The out basket: Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works, replies, “As long as the vehicles are off the travel way and not abandoned it would not constitute a parking violation. As for the darkness of the trailer, it is required to have red reflectivity (as all street legal vehicles are) to the rear.”

Rest areas on Highway 16 not likely

The in basket: After a recent Road Warrior column discussed the scant use of the weigh stations on Highway 16, the highway to and from Tacoma, Bert Gegner  suggested that they be turned into rest areas, which seems to be their main function these days. But there are no restrooms or other amenities.

I asked the state how it decides where rest areas are created.

The out basket: Claudia Bingham-Baker of the Olympic Region of state highways, says, “We choose rest area locations based on federal guidelines that recommend siting rest areas approximately every 60 miles if no other traveler services are available. Traveler services include local services such as restaurants, gas stations, etc. that allow travelers the opportunity to stop and rest.

“Along SR 16 there are many traveler services available, so it is unlikely WSDOT would site a rest area along that highway.

“Many of our rest areas used to be in more rural areas but over the years development has caught up to them.

2017 repaving on Highway 303 won’t include bridge

The in basket: A Feb. 2 story in this newspaper about hopes that the pedestrian and bicycle pathway on the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton could be widened mentioned in passing that a repaving of the bridge in 2017 would be a good time to accomplish that if engineers can find a way to do it and a funding source can be identified by then.
I wondered if the bridge’s days as a patch-work quilt are about to end.
The driving surface has been a jumble of patches since an experimental product was used in the 1980s to repave it. I have been told by state bridge engineers that the surface, for all its unsightliness, has accomplished its main goal of protecting the steel structure beneath. And I can’t say the the ride is a rough as it looks like it would be.
An earlier news story said the work would be part of the repaving of much of Highway 303, known variously as Waaga Way and Wheaton Way, which includes the bridge. I asked what kind of surface would replace the current one.
The out basket: None, as it turns out. Initial plans to resurface the bridge as part of the work have changed, Neil Campbell of the state Department of Transportation told a Bremerton audience Thursday night. Instead, continued repairs and patching of its driving surface will be done while traffic control for the paving on either end of it is in place, said Claudia Bingham-Baker of the Olympic Region of state highways.
“In the 2017 construction season,” she said, “we plan to pave SR 303 between NE William E. Sutton Road and SR 304 (Burwell Street) in Bremerton.
“The current plan is to exclude the Warren Avenue bridge deck from that paving project. That is not unusual, as bridge decks are usually excluded from paving projects because their surfaces are paved with different materials, and require different equipment and different expertise than roadway paving.
“The ‘experimental product’ used on the deck in the 1980s was a polyester concrete mix. At the time, it was a relatively new product but has been used many times since. It does require the correct application conditions and techniques to be effective, and on the Warren Avenue Bridge the concrete did not set up as we would have hoped.  The result has been patches to the bridge deck ever since.
“During the 2017 paver, we will take advantage of the traffic control to do more deck patching and surface repairs.
“In the meantime, the city is contemplating changing pedestrian access across the bridge deck. Although we own the bridge, the city has operational control of the bridge, and we are waiting to see what changes they choose to pursue, what funding sources can be secured, and if those plans would require any changes to our paving project.”