Deer Park High School was more crowded than a busy afternoon commute as community members were invited by the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to an open house last Wednesday to see their proposed two roundabout solution to the current traffic issues that crop up on Highway 395 near the town.
“Our biggest concern is that drivers are making unsafe choices,” WSDOT spokesman Al Gilson said. “People are pulling out because they’re getting impatient at areas.”
Between 2010 and 2014 there were 65 accidents by Deer Park, according to WSDOT.
“The area has grown,” Gilson said. “And there has not been perpetual investment in infrastructure for the area in years.”
WSDOT is proposing roundabouts by Deer Park at the Monroe Rd. and Crawford St. intersection and the Short Rd. and Main St. intersection. Along with that, WSDOT would close the intersection at Burroughs Rd. and Dalton Rd. while paving Short Rd. from the Hwy. 395 intersection south to Burroughs Rd.
It’s the most cost-effective measure, checking in at $4 million, however Gilson reinforced the fact that this is just a proposal and no money has been budgeted by the Washington State Legislature.
“They’ve got a tough job to choose projects,” Gilson said. “This is not the only place in the state with issues. We originally had a plan of building an interchange years ago but that was never funded.”
The big turnout at the Deer Park High School on Wednesday was exactly what WSDOT wanted to do: reach out to the public and get their input.
“We want to listen,” Gilson said. “We began working on this 6-8 months ago. We reviewed analysis on all our intersections. This turnout is exactly what we wanted. We wanted to take community criticism and praise.”
Gilson also added that roundabouts aren’t new to Deer Park as the town already has two of them on city streets. According to the WSDOT website, there are 120 roundabouts in the state and the department began constructing them in 1997.
According to WSDOT handouts, roundabouts cause an 89 percent reduction in crashes, have eight vehicle collision conflict points, create about 15-20 seconds of consistent predictable delay on 395 and reduce side street entering delay.
Roundabouts also accommodate U-turns, provide a southbound left onto Deer Park’s Main St. and reduces highway speeds – the WSDOT handouts said.
A common question by community members at the open house was why not just lower the speed limit around Deer Park.
“It works in Chewelah,” one community member said. “Why not here?”
WSDOT engineer Brian Walsh discussed the pros and cons of roundabouts.
“It’s a highway and not a city street like in Chewelah,” Walsh said. “I worry that everyone would drive 35 m.p.h. Washington State Patrol said they don’t have the resources to enforce the speed limit.”
According to WSDOT handouts, a legal speed reduction has a “Zero percent crash reduction” and does not address entering at angles nor does it reduce side street entering traffic. The method would also maintain the existing conflict points and is not supported by engineering and traffic investigations.
Other alternatives such as traffic signal, offset T intersection, right-in right out and restricted U-turn methods were also mentioned in the handouts but were not the recommended change by WSDOT.
The roundabouts would serve roughly 12-14,000 cars a day, something WSDOT has seen before in Port Orchard and Sultan, Wash. so they’re not worried about the flow of traffic.
Walsh said that the roundabouts would lower speed, give more time for decision-making, lower impact injuries, be more efficient and serve the traffic demands. While drivers would have to get use to them and step up their driving games, he admits, they’re the most effective option.
Interchanges and reroutes were brought up by other community members to Walsh but cost was also a big problem facing WSDOT and the $4 million roundabouts were considered the department’s best bang for the buck.
It still, however, is just a proposal at the moment and only time will tell if people will be driving circles in Deer Park instead of pulling out on the highway.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff