The in basket: Gary Felt, who lives just outside the city of
Port Orchard on Highway 166, and says it “is often closed due to
mud slides, or sometimes just the fear of a slide,” wants to know
what he is allowed to do when that happens.
“What are the rights of a person who lives on, owns property on,
or owns a business on a road when it is ‘closed,’” Gary asks. “Does
it make a difference if the sign says ‘Local Traffic Only’ or
‘Detour’ as opposed to just ‘Road Closed?’
“If I live/own property and the only access is via this road may
I drive around the barriers, walk around the barriers, or must I
abandon my property? What if I have left my property and approach
the barricade from the ‘closed’ side, am I breaking a law?”
Gary described a situation in which an officer followed him past
the barricades during a “Local Traffic Only” period, nearly to the
other end of the closure, where his driveway was. Just as he
reached the driveway and signaled a turn, the officer turned on his
emergency light bar, then turned it off immediately and went back
The out basket: I posed the questions to Chief Al Townsend of
Port Orchard police, whose officers have jurisdiction over most of
Highway 166, though not right at Gary’s's driveway.
He said a lot is left to the discretion of the officer. “Local
Traffic Only” offers more latitude than “Road Closed,” since the
latter may anticipate a problem, like a gas leak exploding or an
unstable hillside giving way, rather than sealing off one that
already has occurred.
And it depends whether the person is caught inside the outer
barriers, designed to detour traffic from going where it would just
have to turn around and come back, and the inner barriers designed
to keep drivers from actually running into the reason for the
You’d be more likely to get a ticket if you are inside the inner
But even then, the owner of a home or business in the closed
area normally can arrange to get there by calling the road
department or police department to get permission in advance, Al
said. At worst, the caller would learn that the emergency is dire
enough that he really shouldn’t be near it.
The city of Port Orchard has an ordinance making it illegal to
violate an emergency road closure, which is a misdemeanor that
requires an appearance in court. The officer might choose between
it and citing for failure to comply with a regulatory sign, a
Al said if stopped, a person who can show that he was trying to
reach a particular home or business within the closure normally
would be allowed to proceed. If nothing else, it would be a “clear
mitigating factor” to use in challenging the citation in court, he
An officer is free to follow a car outside the city limits and
cite the driver if he passed through the closure and wasn’t “local
traffic” going to somewhere within it, he said.
“A lot of times, when we have had slides,” he said, “people
think they can go down there and meander through the mess and get
by, or there may be DOT workers in the midst and now they are
dodging workers and equipment to try to get through.
Bicycles must comply the same as the driver of a car.
Pedestrians can continue if there is a sidewalk and it isn’t
closed, Al said. If there is no sidewalk, such as along most of
Highway 166 west of Port Orchard, the closer one got to being in
the way of road crews or getting hurt, the more likely that he
could be cited, Al said.
Finally, he said, a driver who chances going into the closed
stretch and his car is damaged might find his insurance company
reluctant to cover what it would have on a road that isn’t