Tag Archives: Road Closed

“Road Closed” signs often in wrong spot, says reader

The in basket: Ellen Baxter is concerned about where road closure signs are placed.

“In the past year, I cannot tell you how many times a road has been closed (due to accident, tree over wires, etc.) with a dangerous closure spot,” she wrote. “For example, just this week a car went over Tracyton Beach Road. The road should be closed at Riddell and down by Lebo, in my opinion, in spots where cars can safely turn around and detour.

“Instead, cars are forced to do dangerous 3-way turns in pitch black, rainy conditions because the closure was within yards of the scene. It was scary to do this in horrific weather and sight conditions.

“Last year, I was forced to complete another dangerous turn-around in icy conditions near the same spot because a car had gone off, yet again. There were no driveways, no safe spots to turn my car back around.

“Another example is several weeks ago during the wind storm, a tree was over the power line near Fairgrounds and Tracyton. Again, the sign came in a dangerous spot, well above Barker Creek…instead of a more logical spot down at the WIDE Barker Creek road and before the speed bumps when heading toward Tracyton from Silverdale.

“We have young drivers on the road as well, who haven’t all had experience with adverse conditions, let alone, changes in directions and having to make dangerous u-turns on closed roads.” she said.

The out basket: Jeff Shea, traffic engineer for Kitsap County, which handled the recent Tracyton Beach Road closure and many of the windstorm closures, replied, comprehensively, “There are state laws that govern the closure of roads temporarily. The county is fairly restricted when it comes to road closures. Basically the law allows us to close roads for emergencies and to do maintenance and improvements on public roads. For road construction, we are allowed to close a road for up to 12 hours without Board of County Commissioner’s approval.  Anything longer than 12 hours requires an approved resolution signed by the BOCC board.

Planned construction allows us to look at different options for traffic management.  We can close the road, we can detour traffic or we can flag traffic through the construction zone.  If we close a road we normally provide a signed detour route. In all cases we comply with federal and WSDOT standards for signage of any closure or flagging operation.

Emergency closures present several challenges we don’t have with planned closures:

– We don’t know when they will occur.

– We have no way of knowing how long they will last.

– Normally they occur during storm events, which means many roads will be closed.

– Many involve utility wires in trees which we can’t clear until the utility company clears the wires. During big storms the utility doesn’t always tell us when the lines have been cleared.  They are busy with multiple problems throughout the county, just as we are.

– Sometimes we are directed by a sheriff’s deputy to close a road and we are not made aware of the reason.

“Our first concern on emergency closures is the safety of the traveling public. The first thing we will do is close the road at the downed tree, the washed away road, or whatever it may be.  We try to close it at the nearest intersection, so motorists can turn their vehicles around. This creates a problem for residents that live within the intersection and the actual obstacle in the road.  They are forced to drive around the barrier to see if they can get to their homes.

“Sometimes we are asked to set up detours for these temporary events.  If we figure the closure will last longer than a day or two we may consider setting up a detour.

“In most cases, though, the detours we are asked to set up require custom-made signs that need to be fabricated.  Making and transporting the signs can take several hours in most cases.

“Another problem we run into is the lack of road network in the county.  Some remote closures can require miles of detour with many turns.  Every turn requires two signs, one for each direction. Even short detours can take up to 10 signs or more.  If we have several closures, we will run out of signs very fast.  As I pointed out we normally don’t know when the road will reopen. On one closure we were about to put our last detour sign up, and the road re-opened.

“A great way to stay ‘in-the-know’ is to subscribe to the county road report,” Jeff said. “This service will alert you to any road closures throughout Kitsap County.

What can you get away with beyond a ‘Road Closed’ sign?

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 to town.

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 closure.

You’d be more likely to get a ticket if you are inside the inner barriers.

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 traffic infraction.

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 said.

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 closed.