Traffic makes its way on U.S. Highway 101 near Morse Creek east of Port Angeles on Tuesday. Vehicles traveling at highway speeds are currently separated by only center line markers and a rumble strip. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Traffic makes its way on U.S. Highway 101 near Morse Creek east of Port Angeles on Tuesday. Vehicles traveling at highway speeds are currently separated by only center line markers and a rumble strip. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Chapman to seek funds for Morse Creek barrier

PORT ANGELES — State Rep. Mike Chapman will submit a budget proviso in the 2019-21 state spending plan he said would make the Morse Creek S-curve safer.

Chapman, whose 24th legislative district includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, said Tuesday he wants the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to install a raised, landscaped corridor divider between U.S. Highway 101’s treacherous, snaking eastbound and westbound lanes at Morse Creek east of Port Angeles.

The median would cover the length of the S curve from Milepost 251.68 to Milepost 252.80, according to DOT.

Chapman discussed the project during a legislative update he gave to the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting.

In a later interview, Chapman said the divider would cost $5 million and could be built this year if the effort is backed by state lawmakers — and the North Olympic Peninsula community.

According to the State Patrol, about 250 crashes have occurred from 2007-19 on the sweeping, uphill-downhill stretch of 101 between East Kolonels Way and just west of Deer Park Road.

The mishaps have included four fatal vehicle crashes since 2008 and seven motorcycle crashes.

The motorcycle mishaps include the June 21 death of 19-year-old Sequim resident Brooke “Brookie” Bedinger, whose flower-filled memorial still sits on the north perimeter of the eastbound lane and is visited daily by community members and Brooke’s mother, Kim Bedinger of Sequim, who works in Port Angeles.

“I stop by every night after work to make sure there is no garbage around there, see what’s new there, make sure everything is still in one spot,” she said Tuesday.

Bedinger is “very upbeat” about the prospect of the median being installed, she added.

Chapman, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said at the meeting that stakeholders initially wanted jersey barriers, which he called “ugly.”

He argued instead for a dividing “boulevard” as a physical separation between the 45-mph, two-lane traffic going in each direction.

“It’s what DOT and what I want to do,” Chapman said.

Chapman said vehicles bounce off jersey barriers “almost like a toboggan” before careening back into originating lanes of traffic.

“With a median boulevard, it gives some space to dissipate the energy of the vehicle, and that’s why [DOT officials] believe it’s safer.”

DOT Olympic Region Administrator John Wynands said in a Dec. 7 email to Chapman’s office that the raised median could prove effective.

”Through a statewide analysis, two locations within the project limits have been identified as Collision Analysis Locations,” he said.

“By constructing a raised median, this project has the potential to reduce the number of opposite direction type crashes.”

Chapman predicted that acquiring the area needed would not be a hurdle for any widening that might be necessary because the state already owns most of the right of way that would be needed for the project through establishment of the Morse Creek restoration project.

Chapman said he was seeking a similar degree of community support that was mustered in 2018 for state funding that led to construction of suicide fences on the two Eighth Street bridges.

Prompted by an emotional thank-you from Port Angeles City Council member Cherie Kidd for helping to secure that funding, he said “the community spoke with one voice” to make the fences a reality.

“Let me see if you are interested in helping with the next project,” he said of the raised median.

“I think it’s vital.

“I would love your support … for this budget proviso.

“I would love to have letters of support from the community.”

Chapman told the PABA that he also wants to install corridor improvements on Highway 101 from Sequim to Blyn, especially areas where roads empty onto 101 at Palo Alto Road and off 101 that leads to John Wayne Marina.

“That project, we are just getting design and engineering for,” he said in a later interview, estimating that portion of the project would cost $300,000.

It would require additional funding to build, and would be constructed in a 2022-23 time frame, Chapman said.

Kim Bedinger said she has been organizing support for barriers through the “Barriers for Brookie” Facebook page.

”I don’t want to see another loss of life,” she said Tuesday. “We’ve been kind of pushing real hard for this.”

Bedinger said the holidays were hard for her and her family.

Her 16-year-old son does not want to learn to drive because of his big sister’s death, she said.

“We just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Bedinger said.

She said she has been in regular contact with Chapman and Wynands about the barriers.

Many people have told her that the curve should have been fixed decades ago “and you guys need to do something,” Bedinger said.

“I don’t want to see anyone else go through the pain of having lost someone.”

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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