Deer Park High School was once again full of community members last Wednesday, who had packed into the foyer area of the school to listen to the Washington State Department’s presentation on the now-approved roundabout changes to Highway 395 next to the town.
After an Open House – attended by 450 people – on June 1, the WSDOT approved the $5 million WSDOT project for a pair of roundabouts for the 2017-2019 budget at the Main Street and Crawford Avenue intersections. Construction is expected to begin in 2018 but state legislature approval for the WSDOT budget is also needed.
WSDOT stated in presentation documents that roundabouts have an 89 percent reduction in crashes, reduce entering at angle crashes, cause about 15-20 seconds of delay, accommodates turns, provides a southbound left to Main Street in Deer Park and reduces highway speeds.
Suggestions by the community at the Open House caused the WSDOT to make some changes to their plans. The big modification is restricting turning movements at the Burroughs and Dalton intersection to northbound right turns only onto Dalton Road. The original plan was to close the intersection which is near the crest of a hill south of town and has been a trouble spot for major accidents.
Despite the modifications, several people voiced their displeasure at the recent meeting at the thought of roundabouts. People asked why lower speed limit signs could not be installed at a much cheaper cost to slow down traffic, but WSDOT officials responded that statistical data shows that people do not follow the speed limit signs.
WSDOT presentation items showed legal speed reduction provides a zero percent reduction in crashes, does not prevent entering at angle crashes, does not reduce existing traffic and maintains 32 conflict points. Installing a roundabout, officials said, would reduce those conflict points to eight.
WSDOT also presented data showing that 37.8 percent of all crashes in the state occur at intersections, and comprise 19.3 percent of all traffic casualties. Over 40 percent of car crashes in Eastern Washington occur at intersections. Roundabouts, officials said, would reduce crash speed to about 25 m.p.h. And they would be glancing collisions, not head on or at-angle wrecks.
Weather conditions were brought up as a concern by community members, particularly at the Crawford intersection where semis and vehicles would have a hard time slowing down in icy conditions coming down the hill before the proposed roundabout.
WSDOT officials stated that there would be warning signs of an upcoming roundabout and that drivers are expected to drive to the conditions that are presented them and maintained that the current intersection presents a bigger risk for drivers now than it would if a roundabout were installed there.
A former Stevens County Commissioner also made a public statement supporting the use of roundabouts and said they worked well in Colville. Another community member voiced support as well, claiming that the WSDOT officials “were not on crack” and that “roundabouts work.” They handed out pro-roundabout material at the meeting.
A mail-delivery driver also spoke, asking if the roundabouts would be round or oblong, saying that oblong would create better spacing for people to be able to enter traffic. Specific designs for the roundabouts have not been finalized at this time.
A Deer Park doctor who worked at the hospital ER for years also asked the crowd what the value of human lives being lost to wrecks was compared to the inconvenience of slowing down for a roundabout.
One person pleaded with WSDOT not to close down the Burroughs intersection – which at this point is just having certain turning restrictions placed on it – and spoke out of turn several times afterwards from the crowd when her comment period was up.
More information on the project can be found at www.US395drivesafe.com and people can also contact WSDOT Eastern Region Traffic Project Manager ReBecca Fouts at firstname.lastname@example.org and 509-324-6559 or WSDOT East Region Assistant Traffic Engineer Larry Frostad at email@example.com or 509-324-6194.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff