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.).
The in basket: Dave Matney sees a problem with the southbound off-ramp from Highway 3 to Highway 303 and Silverdale.
“This off-ramp makes a blind turn around a tall concrete wall, then opens up and splits into three lanes leading up to the signal. Normally this process flows smoothly, (but) occasional traffic will back up onto SR-3 well before the blind turn. This happens very quickly and violently, one second you’re cruising in the outer lane doing 60mph, the next instantly slamming on your brakes to keep from rear-ending the guy in front of you.
“The signal changes, everybody starts to flow and the traffic clears out. Except the ones that did not get stopped in time. The second time this happened to me,” Dave said, “I was not going to stop in time, swerved to the right shoulder and came to a stop next to the car in front of me. The car behind me came to a stop behind the car in front of me, where I should have been. I heard a screeching sound and looked in my rear view mirror in time to see the off-ramp sign fall backwards with a car on top of it. My quick action saved the three of us from being in an accident.”
State troopers and tow trucks were on the scene when he came back the other way, he said.
“Over the last year, I have had this happen to me three times and have witnessed three other occurrences,” Dave says. “It always happens in the afternoons, between 3 and 5 p.m., coinciding with the Bangor commute that starts at 3 and lots of traffic is flowing out of both the Trident and Trigger avenue gates heading south in the outside lane.
“What is the purpose of this wall? Normally these walls are built for sound dampening when the freeway backs up to a housing development. But in this case there is no housing, just a ball field. The sharp turn with a wall blocks the driver’s sight line from seeing the traffic back up.
“Has the state patrol starting noticing this trend at this location?
“Maybe a warning sign, ‘Traffic can backup suddenly.'”
The out basket: It is a noise wall, designed to reduce roadway noise from reaching the play field behind it, says Claudia Bingham Baker of the state highway department. She says she’s unaware of any plans to modify it.
State Trooper Russ Winger says, “We have not observed abnormally high collision numbers in this area. Collisions do occur there but many of those occur at the right turn yield sign (at the top of the off-ramp).
“We have had collisions occur in the straight section on SR3 when traffics backs up during heavy volumes and anywhere in between up to the intersection. The bulk of these collisions – rear end type – are usually attributed to A) following too closely. B) speed too fast for conditions. C) driver inattention.
“I am not so sure it is a sight distance problem rather than a driver awareness problem. Traffic can and does back up here during peak traffic times and I’m sure there are plenty of close calls that go unnoticed but it does not appear to be greatly different than other congested urban sections in Kitsap County.
“We have a fairly high collision rate on SR303 at the various intersections between Riddell and Fairgrounds roads. These are straight roadways with long sight distances. Many of the collisions are also rear-end collisions with some intersection collisions. Again, the various contributing factors noted above are the causing factors, along with running signal lights.”
The in basket: I was cleaning out old e-mails and came across one from Tom Rosendale that slipped by me completely when I received it in January 2012.
Tom had read a Road Warrior column about an idea to keep some of the traffic that is clogging Belfair out of the town by linking Old Belfair Highway with Highway 3, sometimes called the New Belfair Highway, by extending Newkirk Road between them.
It would provide Highway 300/North Shore Road traffic a way to reach Highway 3 without having to pass through the center of Belfair.
Tom’s idea had the same goal. “I’d like to mention how wonderful and logical it would be to connect the Bear Creek-Dewatto Road, which is a feeder road from the many communities within a few miles of the county lines, to Lake Flora Road,” he said. “There would be even more people who would bypass sections of Highway 3, diminish the unnecessary congestion in Belfair, and provide them quicker access to Belfair, Port Orchard, Highway 16, and Gorst.”
Such a road would link to Highway 3 across from its intersection with Lake Flora, another mile or so north of where Newkirk Road’s extension would. I don’t know how much, if any, of such a roadway already exists, as Newkirk Road does. It wouldn’t be completely within Mason County, though, and have to be a two-county project.
But it does sound like the kind of thing Kitsap County had in mind when it build the new Lake Flora Road roundabout, citing expected increased traffic from the South Kitsap Industrial Area as an instigator.
I asked Brian Matthews, Mason County public works director, if he’d ever heard Tom’s idea before. I also asked what the study of the Newkirk Road extension, the subject of that 2012 column, had decided.
The out basket: Brian replied, “The Newkirk road connection is feasible, but would have a high cost due to the need to build retaining walls etc… No cost estimate, but (it was) just a review to determine if the road is even physically possible.
“I don’t recall Mr. Rosendale’s recommendation ever being mentioned since I’ve been with the County,” he said.
Neither idea probably would go very far if prospects of the state funding the Belfair Bypass aren’t dashed again in the Legislature. Last thing I read, on May 4, held out hope for getting between $60 million and $110 million for the bypass, which would run from Lake Flora Road to Highway 302 near Allyn.
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.
The in basket: Laura Lewis writes, “What can be done to stop the ridiculous amount of garbage on Highway 3 to Belfair? Who is responsible? When and how is this happening? And why is it continuing? This has been a long-term problem.
“It is truly depressing and makes Kitsap look like a dump. I have relatives visiting from out of state and driving around makes me feel like I live in a place that has zero pride, I am actually kind of embarrassed. Can anything be done?”
It was just about a year ago that Susan Digby said essentially the same thing about the freeway between Bremerton and Silverdale.
“There is an astonishing amount of trash along the highway,” she wrote then. “My concern is that when heavy rains come, this trash, now less trapped by vegetation because the brush has been cut, will make its way with storm water into the Sound.
The out basket: The highway leading to Belfair (I assume Laura means southbound) is frequented by all of Waste Management’s garbage trucks and innumerable vehicles hauling yard waste to the recycling companies along that route.
Waste Management works at keeping garbage from flying out of its trucks, but their success largely depends on how well its customers secure the plastic sacks and loose paper.
I’m not sure that stretch of Highway 3 is much worse than other local highways, or that it gets any better past Barney White Road, where all the loaded garbage trucks turn off.
As regards cleaning the mess up after it lands, I’m afraid that in the battle for the growing share of transportation dollars not spent on moving people, litter control has fallen behind storm water control and salmon habitat enhancement as a priority.
Claudia Bingham-Baker, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Olympic Region, calls Joe Citizen instrumental in keeping litter off the roadways in the first place.
“WSDOT’s capacity to clean up litter from state highways is diminishing with its shrinking resources,” she said. “We do work with other agencies, such as the Ecology Youth Corps and occasionally Department of Corrections inmate crews, to tackle the problem. (But) more and more, we must dedicate our maintenance resources to more pressing issues that are needed to preserve our highway infrastructure and keep traffic safely moving.
“We agree that litter is a blight on our highways. Your reader asked who is responsible. Anyone who does not secure his load, or who carelessly throws garbage out a car window, or who purposefully uses public right of way as a dumping site, is responsible. Laws and fines already exist to discourage such behavior, but we still see the results of that behavior every day.
“WSDOT does what it can to keep our highways clean. We regularly sweep highway shoulders, wash highway signs, clean drains of debris, and clear lanes of large objects. But to tackle the day-to-day litter problem, we need the public’s help, first, by not letting debris fly loose from their vehicles, and second, by actively participating in a solution by signing up with WSDOT’s “Adopt A Highway” program.
“Over 1,100 active volunteer Adopt A Highway groups are already registered with WSDOT, and I’m sure your reader could find a local group that could use another hand. To learn more about the Adopt A Highway program, I invite your reader to visit: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/operations/adoptahwy/ .
The in basket: Darwin Alm read a Dec. 7 article in this newspaper about a $40,000 grant to study how to reduce speeding deaths on the local highways and thinks he sees a much better use for the money.
“I live in Sunnyslope just off Highway 3!!” he wrote to Andy Binion, the reporter who wrote the story. Andy forwarded Darwin’s e-mail to me.
“We have to enter Highway 3 early in the morning to work at the shipyard!!” Darwin continued. “Every morning we wait at that intersection for at least 10 to 15 minutes because of high traffic!! Trying to get on 3 is a joke; sometimes you just take a risk and go for it!!”
Darwin really likes exclamation points. I wonder if he shouts when he talks.
“If you have someone in front of you taking a left to go to Belfair, you will have a very LONG wait !!!!!” he went on. “My question to you is why can’t you spend some of that 40 K to put in a stop light at that intersection before someone gets killed, especially a child, instead of spending it all just to study how many deaths we have a year over a cup of coffee!!!! Looking forward to hearing back about this matter before we read in the paper about another preventable death !!!”
The out basket: Grant money usually is pretty limited in what it can be spent for, and $40,000 doesn’t go far in adding a traffic signal at an intersection these days. Andy pointed out to Darwin that he just reports where money comes from and how it will be spent. He doesn’t have a say in the decision.
But there are funding sources for traffic signals and I asked Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state’s Olympic Region of highways where the Sunnyslope Road intersection with Highway 3 stands in qualifying for one. I also asked for an approximation of what signals cost these days.
“Improvements like traffic control signals are installed as funding allows,” she replied. “A dozen intersections on SR 3 between Shelton and Gorst have higher collision histories than the SR 3/Sunnyslope intersection, so typically signal funding would be allocated to one of the other signals first. Unfortunately, that means it could be a while before drivers see a signal there. I wish I had better news.
“Depending on bids,” she said in reply to my final question, “an average signal purchase and installation costs closer to $400,000.”
The in basket: Bill Metcalf, who I know from the Winter Club dance organization, sent me the following on Sept. 1, in his inimitably whimsical style.
“SheWhoMustBeObeyed and I were returning home yesterday afternoon after ballroom dancing in Port Orchard,” he wrote. “When we got to everybody’s favourite section of Gorst – under the cliffs – SOME of the traffic ground to a crawl – the rest didn’t, and it got ugly, quickly.
“Why? Right in the middle of the worst part of Highway 3’s northbound side, where the curve prohibits seeing very far ahead, a law enforcement vehicle had stopped a car on the too-narrow right shoulder and, I imagine, the (officer) was writing out a ticket! I was too busy trying to dodge the inattentive/rubbernecking drivers to do more than avoid hitting or getting hit.
“May I respectfully request if a (law enforcement officer) needs to cite some driver for some infraction or other, he/she take a couple of minutes to follow the perpetrator to a SAFER location before lighting up the lights and pulling over?
“I suspect that half of the inattentive drivers were quickly attempting to move over a lane – in bumper-to-bumper moving traffic – so as to follow the recent mandate to do so, forgetting that they could merely slow down as they drove past,” Bill said.
The out basket: Not knowing for what department the officer in question works, nor whether it was a citation in progress rather than a stalled car, I asked the state patrol and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office if their officers have special instructions for places like the four-lane between Gorst and Bremerton. The state forbids parking along there because there’s so little room for error.
“Our officers do not have any special instructions as to where to or not, stop a violator along that particular section of SR-3,” State Patrol spokesman Trooper Russ Winger replied.
“Our troopers are trained to evaluate each traffic stop location based on several factors. These include, but are not limited to, time of day, type of violation, current traffic situation, driving behavior of the violator etc.
“Our troopers do think about and attempt to stop violators in ‘safe’ locations (Stopping vehicles along roadways, especially high speed roads, is inherently dangerous).
“Of course, this is not always possible depending on the particular circumstance. We often times do ‘trail’ the violator to a more safe location if the situation warrants doing so.
“There are situations where the officer decides that getting the vehicle stopped ASAP is the best situation, such as reckless and erratic driven vehicles and possible DUI violators. As you pointed out, the officer could have been assisting a disabled vehicle or even investigating a collision.
“From experience I can tell you that that section of SR-3 between SR-304 and Gorst, both north- and southbound, is NOT the safest place to stop a vehicle or assist a broken down vehicle or investigate a collision. But our troopers will do what they need to in order to keep the roadways safe and flowing as smooth as possible.
“As always, we recommend motorists follow the law and at least slow down as they approach police vehicles stopped on the shoulder with emergency lights activated.”
Deputy Scott Wilson, Russ’ counterpart in the sheriff’s office, called Russ’ response “spot-on,” saying there’s nothing he could add except that he checked with 911 and his department’s records and found no record of a county deputy having made a stop for a traffic offense or motorist assist on that stretch that Sunday.
The in basket: Mark Darling e-mailed recently with a suggestion about the afternoon backups where highways 3 and 304 merge west of Bremerton. His words matched almost exactly my opinion of how things can be made as non-aggravating as possible.
“It seems to me,” he said, “that it would be safer and more
efficient to just state that there is one lane ahead and not give
preference to one lane or the other.
“That way the merge point would move closer to where the two lanes actually become one and neither lane would feel ownership that they are in the continuing lane, maybe lessening some of the road rage that comes from the cutters and the blockers,” he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of gyrations from drivers moving left as soon
as possible, racing down the right lane to pass those on the left,
inching along in the right lane to prevent those who would pass on
right and drivers with no traffic near them moving to the left lane at the last minute before it narrows down to one lane.” He said “This one really puzzles me, as there is no real reason to move left at that point and the right lane seems to be banked better for the right hand sweeping turn than the left.”
The out basket: Here, here, I told Mark, referring him to some of my past columns that urge just that, as well as adoption of the “zipper” maneuver in which drivers at the actual merge point alternate, having filled the two lanes equally by ignoring the merge left signs and choosing the lane with the shortest backup when they come to the congestion.
Drivers who insist that they have trouble getting into the single lane at the merge because drivers in the left lane won’t let them in mystify me.
As Mark notes, the banking at the merge point makes merging there easy. Just proceed slowly along the edge line. There’ll always be an opening that doesn’t slow down those in the left lane, unless an aggrieved driver in the inside lane risks his own vehicle to frustrate you. The one time that happened to me, I just slowed down and pulled in behind the hot head.
I’m convinced that the driver whose conscience or lack of nerve causes him to force his way into the left lane before its necessary worsens the backup via what’s called the accordion effect, pushing the slowdown he creates backwards.
Mark replied to my reply and asked if the state has ever weighed in on the suggestion of not making it clear which lane is ending. I had to say I don’t ever recall getting the state’s opinion on that.
Claudia Bingham-Baker of the public affairs staff for the Olympic Region of state highways provided it for me when I then asked.
“(We) follow signing and roadway striping standards set in the federal Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD),” she said. “The MUTCD requires that when two lanes merge into one, signs be installed to let drivers know who has the right-of-way. The signs help drivers know what to expect. They also provide clear indication of right-of-way, which is essential for accident investigations.”
Incidentally, I’ve quit trying to apply the zipper theory where the Loxie Eagans on-ramp enters Highway 3, or coming out of Bremerton on Highway 304. The banking that makes it work at the 3-304 merge doesn’t exist in those other places.
The out basket: Trooper Russ Winger of the State Patrol here, said, “The merge to left signs on southbound SR-3 at SR-304, whether regulatory or non-regulatory in nature, take precedence over the “keep right except to pass” rule, posted or not. As for the ‘Thru Traffic Keep Left’ signs on northbound SR-3 in Gorst, they are intended to allow for the smooth merging of traffic from the northbound SR-3 on ramp, just south of the train trestle in Gorst.
“Motorists should, after a reasonable distance north of the on-ramp northbound SR-3, move back into the right lane of travel and remain there if traveling slower than surrounding traffic or not actively passing traffic in the right lane.
“Common sense should guide here as to ‘reasonable distance’ past the merge on-ramp, meaning that point on the highway where traffic is no longer actively merging from the ramp.
“I think your reader is incorrect in saying that ‘technically’ a motorist driving from Port Orchard to Bangor should stay in the left lane from Gorst until Chico. The highway is multi-lane and the rules of the road supersede unless otherwise posted.