PORT ANGELES – A failure of imagination and a lack of communication led to a daylong traffic jam in downtown Port Angeles on Tuesday.
“We didn’t anticipate a backup of that size. We apologize profusely to everyone involved and we are working to ensure that never happens again,” said April Leigh, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman, on Wednesday afternoon.
The maintenance crew closed the right lane of eastbound First Street at milepost 248.9 (Chambers Street) shortly before 6 a.m. to conduct a “dig out and patch” pavement repair, Leigh said.
A traffic alert on DOT’s app and website stated the work would end about 4 p.m. but the crew worked until about 5:45 p.m. to finish. The alert characterized the traffic flow as “stop-and-go.”
People took to social media virtually all day Tuesday to share their horror stories about being caught in the traffic mess. They described taking an hour to get from Peabody to Chambers streets, being unable to get down from Peninsula College, taking two hours to get from the Marine Drive Chevron up to Swain’s General Store, taking an hour and 45 minutes to get from Peabody Street to Deer Park Road and traffic backing up Race Street all the way to Eighth Street.
Clallam 2 Fire-Rescue Chief Jake Patterson said at about 5:30 p.m. that traffic still was backed up in the 1000, 1100 and 1200 blocks of First Street including in front of the fire district’s office at 1212 E. First St.
Leigh said DOT officials don’t anticipate any other work like Tuesday’s. Some repairs on U.S. Highway 101 between Port Angeles and Sequim are planned but those will come with advance notice, she said.
In answer to the question on everyone’s mind, Leigh said the work was done during the day instead of at night in the interest of worker safety.
“I know our maintenance teams are doing more day work for safety reasons. We’ve had increased accidents in our work zones,” Leigh said.
“In general, we are doing more day work because it is safer. The work zones are more visible than at night,” she said.
Mike Healy, Port Angeles Public Works director, said Wednesday that, usually, the city and DOT communicate very well about road projects.
“But (Tuesday) something went awry,” he said. “We had no advance notice.
“For the safety of their worksite and our residents and travelers we could have come up with a solution for what turned out to be a pretty good mess,” he said.
Leigh said she didn’t know why no advance notice was given.
Healy said if the city had advance notice, the public works department could have attempted to mitigate it with altering the signal timing to improve traffic flow and prohibiting on-street parking so the parking lane or bike lane could be used for traffic.
The department had its traffic engineers out early Wednesday morning to see what and where and when they could make some adjustments, Healy said.
“As soon as we get some information from them, we will get something out to the public. We apologize to the traveling public and our residents but we were caught totally off guard,” he said.
“(DOT) are good people. We have been reaching out to them since 6:30-7. Hopefully we can re-establish that communication link and see how we can help them. Our communication on those projects has been very good to date,” Healy said.
Jim Fetzer, Clallam Transit System operations manager, wrote in a Wednesday morning email that the transit agency was notified through the communication channels used for the public.
“We have signed up and receive email alerts regarding WSDOT construction, road projects, Hood Canal updates and so on.
“It appears we received an alert on June 6th at 1:43pm. I am not aware of any alerts other than (that email.”
Fetzer wrote that the most heavily impacted routes were the 30 – Commuter, 20 – College Route, and 50 – Jamestown.
“These routes were running 30-plus minutes behind. The construction did cause difficulties with buses leaving Gateway and because of the traffic delays, some bus trips were missed. It is difficult when one lane is closed on 101, especially during business hours,” Fetzer said.
“Detour options in this area are very limited, and the traffic backs up quickly.
“Even when we receive advance notice on these types of lane closures which occur during peak business hours, there isn’t much we can do, and we end up experiencing significant delays.”
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.