State Transportation Commission hears of issues related to Peninsula’s isolation

PORT ANGELES — A state panel was immersed in North Olympic Peninsula transportation issues this week.

The state Transportation Commission gathered input on Wednesday from wide range of representatives who addressed the importance of U.S. Highway 101, Hood Canal Bridge and other vital infrastructure during a day-long meeting at Port Angeles City Hall.

Welcome visit

The seven-member panel makes policy recommendations to the state Legislature and governor that reflect the priorities of people and governments around the state, according to its website, wstc.wa.gov/.

The meeting in Port Angeles was the commission’s first stop on the Peninsula since 2013.

“The collaboration is really good,” Transportation Commission Chairman Jerry Litt of Douglas County said.

“It’s pretty obvious that you guys do a really good job of that over here on the Peninsula. That’s probably one big takeaway.”

Remote location

A recurring theme during the panel discussions was the geographic isolation of the region.

“We’re not an island, but we’re the next best thing,” said Monte Reinders, Jefferson County public works director.

“The functionality of the Hood Canal Bridge is of major importance to travel on and off the Olympic Peninsula, as is [Highway] 101.”

“Everything comes to the Peninsula and leaves the Peninsula by truck when it comes to our economy,” Jefferson County Commissioner David Sullivan added.

“That is the way we survive.”

Safer intersections

Assistant Clallam County Engineer Joe Donisi said many Highway 101 intersections between Discovery Bay and Sequim — and several west of Port Angeles — fail to meet the level of service standards, resulting in long wait times and serious wrecks.

“These accidents could be reduced with the addition of additional left-turn pockets on the highway, adding additional through-lanes and wider shoulders,” Donisi said.

“Clallam County transportation challenges can be summed up as a need to increase safe access to intersections of county roads and U.S. 101, a need to maintain mobility on U.S. 101 and a need to create flexible funding methods through state policy changes,” he added.

Port Angeles City Manager Nathan West, Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons and Sequim Public Works Director David Garlington reviewed each city’s transportation issues, challenges and successes.

Ferry issues

“One of the things for Port Townsend that’s unique is we are a ferry community,” Timmons said. “We’re very dependent on reliable service.”

One of the state ferries that connects Port Townsend to Coupeville — the MV Salish — was taken out of service Sunday after grounding in Keystone Harbor.

Later in the meeting, the commission was briefed on the state ferry system’s long-range plan and tribal transportation issues.

Tribe inclusion

“We hear that the tribes across the state are all becoming more entrepreneurial, but yet not all of the regions bring them in to help be part of the solution,” Litt said.

“So having all the tribes participate in the PRTPO (Peninsula Regional Transportation Planning Organization) is extremely important.

“They can be a resource, and I think they want to be,” Litt added. “They want to help. So good job.”

Community input

Other featured speakers included Port Angeles Mayor Sissi Bruch, PRTPO Board Chairwoman Annette Nesse, Clallam Transit Operations and Planning Manager Steve Hopkins, Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum, Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau Executive Director Marsha Massey, Port of Port Angeles Director of Engineering Chris Hartman, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Vice Chair Carolyn St. James, Black Ball Ferry Line President Ryan Burles, Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias and Transportation Improvement Board Executive Director Ashley Probart.

“Thank you all for you input,” said Deputy Secretary of Transportation Keith Metcalf, who had assembled a list of funding requests.

“It just shows the importance of our commitment to community engagement and working with the various communities and agencies to make sure we understand what the needs are in all the areas of the state.”

Local tours

Several members of the commission toured the Peninsula on a Clallam Transit bus Tuesday.

Tour stops included the Olympic Discovery Trail and the aging U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha River, which the state Department of Transportation is replacing.

“I’d encourage everybody in Washington to experience the Peninsula,” Transportation Commissioner Joe Tortorelli of Spokane County said.

Next meeting

The Transportation Commission, which regularly meets in Olympia, has held other meetings this year in Seattle, Walla Walla and Yakima.

Its November meeting is scheduled to be in Oak Harbor.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

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