Tag Archives: on-ramp

Speed limit rule the same for off- and on-ramps

The in basket: I learned last year that the speed limit on a freeway on-ramp is the speed limit of the highway being entered. That makes sense, since the ramp is intended to let you get up to freeway speed to merge.

That often crosses my mind when I’m EXITING  a freeway, especially from northbound Highway 3 in Silverdale onto southbound Highway 303, where the ramp ends in a merge, not a stop sign. .

There’s a yellow 35 mph sign on the ramp, but yellow signs are just advisory,  not mandatory. I asked what the speed limit is there or at any other off-ramp.

The out basket: The rule is the same for off-ramps as for on-ramps, says Trooper Russ Winger of the state patrol here.

“The speed limit is the still the limit until otherwise posted by a regulatory sign,” he said. “The merge on SR-303 you are describing is almost impossible to take the turn at 60 mph safely, however, unless the vehicle is operating out of control and otherwise endangering other motorists, the speed (limit) is still 60.

“But, this said, a vehicle will have very little time to slow to the posted 35 limit because the sign is only a short distance away from the start of the merge lane.

“I cannot see citing this vehicle for speeding – as you describe – unless it obviously interferes with the safety of other vehicles with its merge,” he said.

Most off-ramps are self regulating, since they have a stop sign at their end. And citations for going too fast for conditions or negligent driving are always possible should a person crash, as one surely would trying to make the curve on the 3-303 off-ramp at 60 mph. But not a speeding ticket.”

Left turn on red law leads to another undue citation

The in basket: Well, it happened again. Another Road Warrior reader got pulled over and ticketed at the Sedgwick Road interchange on Highway 16 for going through a red arrow light in a left turn lane.

Freeway on-ramps are among the few places in our county where a little-known state law makes such a turn legal. The law on red lights says a left turn can be made against a red light, either an arrow or a solid ball, IF turning onto a one-way street, IF the driver comes to a complete stop first, IF the driver yields to any traffic with a green light. and IF no signs forbid it.

Caly Madden was the victim this time, on April 19, and the citing officer was a Kitsap County sheriff’s deputy. Last year, a Port Orchard police officer cited a driver for the same thing at the very same place. I helped him get that one dismissed.

The out basket: I contacted Undersheriff Dennis Bonneville, who looked into it and agreed his deputy had goofed. He said he contacted the deputy, who said, essentially, “My mistake.” They’ve asked the county prosecutor’s office to dismiss the ticket, since it’s out of KCSO’s hands once it’s sent to court.

For the rest of us, it may not be worth the hassle to take advantage of that law, especially if we know there is an officer watching us. Caly wound up sitting on the shoulder for quite a while after he was stopped and told the deputy that the law made his turn legal. He didn’t know if the deputy checked by radio with someone else who also didn’t know the law. In any case, the deputy wrote the ticket.

The law in question is Section 3 of RCW 46.61.050.

I usually can’t take advantage of it when I come to one of the few places in the county where it applies because the lead driver stopped at the light rarely knows the law, or dares use it. Westbound Burwell Street at Pacific Avenue in Bremerton is one such, as are the freeway on-ramps with signals controlling movement.

Dennis mentioned something in passing that I hadn’t thought of. He said the deputy who stopped Caly saw another driver at the scene give him a puzzled look or gesture as if to say, “Well??! Are you going to let him get away with that?” He didn’t, as it turned out, but he should have..

It certainly can put an officer in an awkward spot when he must ignore some legal driver action widely believed to be against the law even though it’s not..

Dennis also said the county public works traffic division will be discussing with law enforcement whether they should put up “No Left Turn on Red” signs at the relevant intersections.

He also noted that it would be a tricky question at places like Central Valley Road’s northbound on-ramp to Highway 303. There, the corresponding off-ramp curves up and ends at the same spot, creating a very short two-way street, Of course, there’s no traffic signal there, but some day there might be.

If you want to try it, it would be smart to have a copy of the law with you, or the passage in the state driver’s guide that also says it’s a legal maneuver.

Luoto/Highway 3 on-ramp said site of turning conflicts

The in basket: Two readers have told me there is a problem with westbound drivers on Highway 308 (Luoto Road) ignoring the Yield signs as they arc onto the northbound on-ramp to Highway 3 and endangering left turners, who have the right of way.

Over a year ago, retired Dr. Robert L. Davis, who tells me he founded the emergency room at Harrison Hospital back in 1976, called to say the Yield sign, which requires right turners entering that on-ramp to yield to left turners, was obscured by tree limbs. 

Then last August, after the visibility was improved and a second Yield sign was added, he called again to say, “The other day a guy just about wiped me out at the corner. The signs aren’t doing any good, they need a stop sign there.” 

Walt Barrett of Poulsbo told me something similar at a recent social event, saying right turners don’t have to slow down much to make the corner and many don’t. He wondered who would be at fault if there were a collision between right and left turners onto that ramp. 

The out basket: State Trooper Krista Hedstrom says the driver who passed the Yield sign without yielding and then collided with a left turner would be at fault, barring some egregious contributing factor by the left turner, like not having headlights on at night.

My experience is that most freeway on-ramps are wide enough that there is room to dodge another car even if its driver was careless and in violation of the Yield sign. And the inconvenience at and after collision even if one is in the right makes it worth doing.

Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the state’s Olympic Region, said the second Yield sign actually was supposed to be a “Yield Ahead” sign and they will change it. Both are visible simultaneously, so I can’t imagine that makes much difference.

Krista says there are not many, if any, collisions at that spot due to failure to yield, nor do they get many complaints about collisions narrowly avoided there. So an unusual step like replacing the Yield signs with a stop sign is all the more unlikely.

They will cite for failure to yield when they see it, though, she said.

Official merging advice surprises Road Warrior

The in basket: Don Payne, in an e-mail on another subject, happened to point out a section of the state Driver’s Guide on page 75 in the current version headed “Space to Merge.”

It reads, in part, “You need a four-second

gap whenever you change lanes, enter a roadway, or when

your lane merges with another travel lane.

“• Do not try to merge into a gap that is too small. A small

gap can quickly become even smaller. Enter a gap that

gives you enough space cushion to be safe.

“• If you want to move over several lanes, take them one at

a time. Like going up or down stairs one step at a time,

it is safest and easiest to merge one lane at a time.”

I was surprised and alarmed by those bullet points. 

The first seems to advocate stopping or slowing sharply on a freeway on-ramp if you don’t think you see a four-second gap in traffic. That’s an invitation to getting rear-ended, I think.

The second runs counter to my experience, which is that you often are closely following a car after your first lane change, while you look back for traffic in the next lane, another set-up for a rear-ender if the car ahead stops or slows. 

In places like the move across two lanes in Gorst to get into the lane to Port Orchard, and the I-5 weave to reach Highway 16 going toward the Narrows Bridge (now being eliminated by a major construction job), I have found it much safer to check both lanes for traffic and move across both in one motion if traffic allows.

I asked the Department of Licensing, State Patrol and State Traffic Safety office if that is really their position.

The out basket: They let Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton WSP detachment reply for all of them.

“Our state’s traffic safety agencies all stand behind the advice you inquired about from the Washington State Driver’s Guide,” Krista wrote.

 “As a law enforcement officer, I do agree with the advice given regarding space to merge. 

“Yes, if a driver stops on a ramp while trying to merge there is always a hazard of being involved in a rear-end collision.  Fortunately, this does not happen often as most drivers who are merging – as well as those already on the highway – typically speed up or slow down accordingly to allow others to merge in.  The majority of drivers are courteous and I regularly see drivers already on the highway moving over to the left to allow the others space to merge in. 

 “Yes, each lane change should be done as the guide refers to as stair steps.  Moving across more than one lane of traffic is considered a lane travel violation (or unsafe lane change) and carries a penalty of $124.  

“The key is to move into a lane, establish yourself in that lane, and then safely move over to the desired lane.  I have seen more collisions caused by drivers quickly moving across more than one lane at a time.”    

State law requires signaling for 100 feet before changing lanes, so I guess that would constitute “establishing yourself in a lane.”

I asked about multiple lane changes years ago, long before Krista became WSP spokeswoman, and the local office wasn’t able to decide whether my way was legal or not. 

It’s good to have a definitive answer, even though it’s not what I have been doing and I will feel more in peril doing it their way.

Crossing the “gore” can cost you $411

 

The in basket: Years ago, before I began writing Road Warrior, I used to cut across the white tapering lines, called gore lines, that converge as one enters a freeway on an on-ramp. I never was stopped, and I didn’t know it was  illegal until research for the column after its 1996 inception set me straight. 

I have since reported its illegality numerous times, saying it’s considered driving off the roadway. 

Early in March, Q13 television mentioned it in its morning newscast, but it said the penalty is $411. Most infractions carry a $124 fine. I asked if Q13 was correct.

The out basket: Yes, says Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the state patrol office in Bremerton. It’s considered crossing a physical barrier, and is penalized under the following state law, RCW 46.61.150, driving on divided highways:  

“Whenever any highway has been divided into two or more roadways by leaving an intervening space or by a physical barrier or clearly indicated dividing section or by a median island not less than eighteen inches wide formed either by solid yellow pavement markings or by a yellow crosshatching between two solid yellow lines … every vehicle shall be driven only upon the right-hand roadway unless directed to use another roadway by official traffic-control devices or police officers.” 

I might have known that would be the relevant law. This is not the first instance in which it has been interpreted to mean the opposite of what the words say. 

As odd as it seems for a painted stripe to be deemed a physical barrier, it’s no odder than interpreting the same law to mean the area between double yellow lines is not an “intervening space.” 

That long-time interpretation allows drivers to turn left across double yellow lines. It’s lucky it does or tens of thousands of Washington state drivers wouldn’t be able legally to turn into their own driveways. But despite the seemingly contrary meaning of the words, the law remains unchanged.

Krista says it’s the width of the gore lines that make them a physical barrier. They are wider than other painted stripes. It still seems to me that a physical barrier really should have greater height than a painted line does.

In the real world, a trooper can opt for the $411 physical barrier ticket, or a $124 citation for unsafe lane change or improper lane travel, she said. She has written it both ways, and on occasion simply warned a driver who has done it. 

It often depends on how heavy traffic is, whether other drivers were endangered or the driver has been stopped for it before, she said.

She also said that turning left across the areas designated in the law, with cross-hatching or a solid 18-inch painted area, also carry the $411 penalty.

Remember this whenever you enter or leave a freeway, or in the daily backup on southbound Highway 3 in Bremerton, where drivers entering from Loxie Eagans Boulevard regularly cross the gore line to get to an opening in the backup  in the through lanes.

I also asked about the cross-hatching at the inside of the Highway 166 roundabout in Port Orchard, where wear shows that many drivers encroach into it. That would be a lane travel violation ($124) if a ticket were written,  since the crosshatching doesn’t separate lanes, Krista said.

Corolla driver has problem with new Highway 16 merge

The in basket: Marsha Bradshaw prefaces her complaint about the new interchange at the Burley-Olalla Road on Highway 16 by calling it “wonderful”

“I lost the year to construction but it is so worth it.  The contractor did an excellent job on our wee little overpass and so timely, too!

“But….when one is headed towards Gig Harbor from the Burley-Olalla road on the new on-ramp…those of us with small cars cannot see to merge until the last teeth-grinding seconds of the ramp and the freeway travelers cannot see us to help us merge because the Jersey barriers block our approach all the more. (There’ve) been some fearful moments for a lot of us!

“Side mirrors, twisted necks and rear views are of little help if all one can see is the cement barrier.

I drive a Corolla sedan,” she said. “There are a lot of us short cars around using the on-ramp as well as the taller, more  visible SUV’s and semi’s….please help.”

The out basket: State Project Engineer Brenden Clarke says it’s the first complaint he’s heard about this and there are no plans to modify what is there.

“The distance between the end of the barrier and the beginning of merge area into Highway 16 (the end of acceleration length) is approximately 1,025 feet.  Based upon the average driver and automobile, a 1,025-foot acceleration length would take a driver from 25 mph up to 60 mph.  

“Assuming that a motorist is traveling at 60 mph when they enter into the ‘merge area,’ they will then have adequate distance to merge into Highway 16 traffic and they will be a thousand feet from the barrier so it will not block their line of sight.  

“Difficulties could arise if a motorist does not accelerate up to 60 mph while traveling on the ramp, but this would be true at any interchange.  

“I understand that it does feel more comfortable for motorists to be able to see mainline traffic for the entire duration of the on-ramp, but again, there is sufficient distance in what we call the ‘merge area’ for motorists to look over their shoulder and in their mirrors to identify traffic and make adjustments in order to safely merge into mainline Highway 16.

“The concrete barriers are a permanent feature,” he said. “The reason this interchange makes use of so many concrete barriers is that there are retaining walls between the on- and off-ramps with substantial differences in elevation.  The retaining walls allow the ramps to be closer to mainline Highway 16, reducing the amount of right-of-way necessary for the interchange foot print.

 

 

Freeway mergers must yield

The in basket: Joy Forsberg of Central Kitsap said she got a dirty look from a women who was merging onto Highway 303 at Central Valley Road, heading to Silverdale recently, after Joy had decided to maintain her speed in the outside lane rather than moving over or changing speed to allow the woman in ahead of or behind her. 

It wasn’t the first time, either, she said. Is it no longer the responsibility of the person entering a freeway to yield to anyone on the freeway already, she asked.

Though she often does move to the inside lane in such situations, that time she chose not to. “She should not expect me to speed up or slow down” to let her in, Joy said.

The out basket: No, the law hasn’t changed, and should there have been a collision, the woman entering the freeway would have been at fault. 

In the real world, though, most drivers do move over to the inside lane to make way for the entering car. The dirty look may have been because the other woman was expecting that, rather that a belief that it was a requirement.

The woman did slow and fall in behind her after scowling at her, Joy said. 

She noted that often a car in  the inside lane keeps a driver from moving over, though she didn’t say if that was the case during her small confrontation.

 

 

Yield sign coming to Bangor area Highway 3 merge

The in basket: Don Erickson of Seabeck wrote in July to say “Everyday when I leave Keyport,  I travel west on Luoto Road to Highway 3 and

turn left to the southbound on-ramp of the highway. Shortly after

entering the on-ramp, there are two lanes of traffic from Bangor merging

from the right. 

“Since I’m going straight ahead and the traffic is coming

from the right, I say I have the right of way. But everyday its a fight

to keep from getting bumped from the Bangor traffic flying around the

curve and trying to merge into my lane and further left onto the

highway. 

“Who has the right of way and can there be any enforcement of a

speed limit on the Bangor traffic coming around the curve heading south?”

The out basket: State Trooper Krista Hedstrom, spokeswoman for the local detachments, says Don is incorrect in his belief that he has the right of way there. 

The Merge sign depicts the two lanes from Bangor with a thicker line than it does the single lane Don uses, and the greater thickness of the line confers right of way.

She notes that despite the sign’s placement on the shoulder of the double right turn access, it’s still visible by the single lane. “I do agree, though, that it would not hurt to have another sign placed in a location more visible,” she added.

I had not heard Krista’s interpretation of varying thickness of lines on a Merge sign before, so I asked Olympic Region Traffic Operations Engineer Steve Bennett if the traffic engineer’s bible, the Manual on Uniform Traffic  Control Devices supports it. 

Not in so many words, he replied, but it can be inferred from the words that ARE used. But just “to clear things up, we will be installing a Yield sign so that the single-lane ramp yields to the double-lane ramp,” he said.

As for speed enforcement there, they will definitely attend to that, says Krista, but the freeway’s 60 mph is the speed limit on its on-ramps so a driver would really have to be hitting it to exceed the limit there.

Police and the no-parking-on-a-bridge law

The in basket: Maynard Peterson of Port Orchard read the recent Road Warrior column saying it’s illegal to park on a bridge, specifically the Trigger Avenue bridge over Highway 3 near Silverdale, and had a question.

“How come I have often seen Washington (State) Patrol police cruisers stopped over freeways while the officer uses a radar gun trying to catch speeding motorists using the bridge rail to hide behind,” he asked. “Does that mean as long as the vehicle is occupied its okay?  Or do they have unwritten approval?   

“Or is it just the old double standard where they can claim they are enforcing the rules in any way they see fit? 

“What about the police stopping on on-ramps out of view to unsuspecting motorists and catching them on radar after they have passed the point of slowing down to try to avoid the speeding ticket?  Are they legally parked there?” 

The out basket: It shouldn’t surprise anyone that police are allowed to do things the general public can’t, while performing their duties. RCW 46.61.035

says emergency vehicles, “when responding to an emergency call or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm,” may stop and stand, speed, turn and go through red lights and stop signs, if done safely. 

There is some wording in the law that might be construed to require the officer to have his car’s emergency lights on, but the wording is so convoluted, I doubt that would be an out for a speeder. 

Anyone can park briefly on the shoulder of an on-ramp if they stay in the car, such as to talk on a cell phone, State Trooper Krista Hedstrom said, so the police can, too. Staying in the car probably could permit parking on a bridge, as well. It’s leaving the car unoccupied that’s clearly an infraction for citizens.

Another Austin Drive user finds merging difficult

 

The in basket: Brenda Brunson has sounded a common complaint, that getting onto Highway 3 southbound at Austin Drive is scary and dangerous, due to the short, curving on-ramp and underbrush between it and the main traffic lanes.

She suggested a couple of fixes that don’t seem too practical, including moving the 50-mph speed zone even farther back, to before southbound traffic reaches that on-ramp, and removing the Yield sign on the on-ramp.

“It’s nerve-wracking trying to accelerate on the downhill acceleration lane from Erland’s Point/NAD Park,” Brenda said, “while watching for oncoming traffic with which I’m trying to merge (through the high weeds on the hill to my left), while wondering if the car ahead of me, out of view, and around the curve at the end of the acceleration lane is stopped, yielding!

“So far, I haven’t seen anyone stopped but that doesn’t mean it’s never happened,” she wrote. “Or that it won’t.”

The out basket: I drove this on-ramp twice more before writing this, as it’s not somewhere I often go. There was a steady stream of traffic in the outside lane both times, but by accelerating at the proper time, I was able to glide into the mainline traffic without trouble. 

But since so many people share Brenda’s concern, I asked the state how many accidents actually happen there, and for comparable stats for the on-ramp going the other way from Austin Drive and the two on-ramps one interchange north, at Chico Way. 

Steve Bennett, the Olympic Region traffic operations engineer, says there were no merge-related accidents reported at the southbound Austin Way ramp in the five years just past, just one on the corresponding northbound on-ramp, and two at Chico Way, both on the southbound ramp.

I get complaints that the 50-mph zone starts too early, that it shouldn’t encompass Kitsap Way’s interchange. Brenda is the first to suggest it be enlarged.

As for the Yield sign, it was put there because of the complexity of that on-ramp. Most on-ramps don’t have them. I’d hate to think there are drivers who would construe it to mean they should stop if they don’t see a gap in traffic they can use. Escaping onto the wide shoulder there and waiting for another opportunity would be a lot smarter.

I’ve forwarded a copy of this column to the state maintenance office for consideration of getting the weeds mowed at Austin Drive. They do make for a partially obstructed look at southbound traffic on the mainline for merging traffic.