PORT LUDLOW — State Department of Transportation officials solicited input from the community about plans to make Highway 104 safer at the west end of the Hood Canal Bridge by adding a roundabout.
They didn’t expect to get over 300 responses to their invitation.
At the conclusion of the two-hour meeting Thursday afternoon at the Bay Club in Port Ludlow, some 250 written comments were submitted with a promise that all will be read.
“We’re here to listen,” said Dennis Engel, Olympic Region multi-modal planning manager. “This is not a done deal.”
Greg Brotherton, District 3 Jefferson County commissioner, was pleased to hear that this is an ongoing conversation.
“Most people are in favor of some traffic control,” Brotherton said. “This is intended to be a safety measure more than an effort to reduce congestion. I don’t think it’s going to help. Paradise Bay is a dangerous road and I think some traffic mitigation is appropriate.”
The projected budget for the project as it is currently designed is $3.8 million. Construction is expected to begin in the 2021-2023 biennium with the roundabout open to traffic in fall 2023.
Department of Transportation (DOT) traffic engineers discussed at the meeting the results of a two-year study that revealed nearly 17,000 vehicles travel the road every day.
The intersection of Paradise Bay/Shine Roads on the west end of the Hood Canal Bridge in Jefferson County has a history of collisions, state officials said.
This prompted DOT to study the intersections and conduct a formal analysis that took into consideration safety, operational deficiencies and traffic volumes.
The report, Intersection Control Evaluation, concluded a single-lane roundabout is the best solution and should be built to reduce collisions, keep traffic moving and improve safety.
Included in the draft proposal are a signalized, metering system at Paradise Bay Road, a chicane— curve — to slow traffic entering the roundabout heading east on Highway 104, as well as pedestrian crosswalks, sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
“The intersection is ranked 12th in the state in terms of accidents and so it’s prioritized pretty high,” said Tina Werner, public information officer for the DOT Olympic Region.
“This goes to both volume and history of collisions. It meets both criteria.”
Five informational stations were set up at the meeting Thursday to allow one-on-one conversations with traffic experts and engineers.
Examples of what the new intersection might look like were exhibited including a tabletop display with toy cars and trucks illustrating how ingress and egress would take place.
Brotherton said he wasn’t sold on this solution to problems at the area.
“I’m curious to know if it will be signalized all the time,” he said.
“I didn’t have a good conversation about how trucks are going to be able to navigate it — that’s one concern I have. My other fear is that maybe it will add to Shine Road being used as an on-ramp to the bridge when there are backups. We just lowered the speed limit there as it’s for local traffic only.
“This needs a multi-faceted solution” Brotherton said. “Increasing access from Port Ludlow to the bridge is imperative.”
Steve Hammond, who is a member of the Port Ludlow Village Council but was not attending in an official capacity, wanted more attention paid to Highway 104 west of the bridge.
“It seems to me that this solution will lead to a heck of a lot of slowdowns but no accidents,” Hammond said. “We asked if they’ve been out there during the high peak traffic of July. The traffic will slow down eight seconds per car. In July? After the bridge closes? No, they haven’t actually sat out there.”
Hammond said it would be helpful if the state installs a roundabout at the bridge, it also should install one at Beaver Valley at the the intersection of stte Highways 19 and 104.
“If tourists get there and have to wait a half hour or more to turn left, they will never come back again,” Hammond said.
Brian Walsh, state traffic design and operations engineer, said the analysis has taken into account seasonal adjustments of the traffic numbers.
“Our models show we can process the people,” Walsh said. “The key is the number of left turns we have coming from Paradise Bay Road and Shine Road. Roundabouts are successful tools that we should be using more.”
Steve Blazina of Port Ludlow said he makes trips to Silverdale and Bremerton on a daily basis.
“I’m retired but I’m on that road daily,” Blazina said. “In the summertime when the bridge closes for the marine traffic and military, there’s no advanced warning. There’s no getting out ahead of the game. Traffic has been backed up to Teal Lake Road on 104, and all the way west to Highway 19 at times.
“I can tell you is it’s a pain in the neck. You get the knucklehead on Paradise Bay who says ‘I see an opening and I’m going for it.’ Crunch.”
Blazina’s idea is to block off 104 so no one from Paradise Bay Road can make a turn in either direction, funnel all the traffic up to Teal Lake Road and put some traffic mitigation there.
“If you are talking life safety with the least impact to the most people, my thought is a barrier,” he said. “No left turns at the intersection. A big Jersey barrier. That affects the least amount of people.”
Val Huckins, large load pilot escort, said that roundabouts force slowdowns, “not just in the heavy haul industry, but in the trucking industry in general. There’s wear and tear on heavy vehicles coming off that hill.
“What’s the environmental impact of all that brake dust trying to slow down?” Huckins asked. “What about the labor costs to the trucking companies that are hauling gravel and asphalt down the hill? Who’s going to pay for it?
“So it only slows down a truck 5 to 10 minutes each time, but add up five to six loads a day. Those are wages that will have to pass along to the consumer. It’s loss of productivity. Is anyone talking about this?
Jeanie Killmer of Port Ludlow has been aware of the problems on Highway 104 for 50 years and wants to make sure that engineers understand the problems firsthand.
“I’ve invited Steve [a DOT engineer] to come over and sit in a chair with me at the intersection. We’ll drink a beer and I want him to count the cars on Memorial Day weekend. And then he can see for himself what really happens. When they decide to close the bridge, well, it’s a major, major problem.”
Project updates can be read at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-Roundabout .
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].