The state Legislature has allocated $1 million for improving U.S. Highway 101 at Morse Creek. (Dave Pitman/Olympic Aerial Solutions)

The state Legislature has allocated $1 million for improving U.S. Highway 101 at Morse Creek. (Dave Pitman/Olympic Aerial Solutions)

Legislature approves $1 million for Morse Creek section of Highway 101

Nearly $1.3 million also cleared to improve the roadway east of Sequim

PORT ANGELES — The state Legislature has approved $1 million that will be used to redesign the wreck-prone section of U.S. Highway 101 at Morse Creek east of Port Angeles and nearly $1.3 million to improve the highway east of Sequim.

The $1 million for Morse Creek is less than the $5 million Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, had hoped for, but he said he believes there’s also safety project money available to fund the project.

“We’ve had too many accidents and too many fatalities,” Chapman said. “Morse Creek has been a challenge for years. I don’t want to see anyone else lose their life on it.”

Chapman championed the project after the death of 19-year-old Sequim resident Brooke “Brookie” Bedinger, whose memorial still sits on the south side of the curve and is frequently visited by family.

Debra and Gary Johnson visit the roadside memorial for their grandaughter Brooke Bedinger, who died in a motorcycle wreck on U.S. Highway 101 at Morse Creek on June 21. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Debra and Gary Johnson visit the roadside memorial for their grandaughter Brooke Bedinger, who died in a motorcycle wreck on U.S. Highway 101 at Morse Creek on June 21. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

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 incidents have included four fatal vehicle wrecks since 2008 and seven motorcycle crashes.

The $5 million for the project was included in the House’s budget, but it did not make it into the final budget approved by the Legislature on April 28.

The $1 million isn’t enough to set a timeline for construction, but it does allow the state Department of Transportation to begin designing the improvements.

“I’ve been told there’s construction dollars for safety projects,” Chapman, a member of the House Transportation Committee said Monday. “If not, I’m confident I can get the construction dollars in next year’s budget.”

Tina Werner, a DOT spokesperson for the Olympic Region, said officials are confident they can begin the design and environmental work for Morse Creek.

“It’s a little too soon to speculate when we will get additional funds,” she said. “I was talking with our traffic engineers, and we’re still confident we can begin design and environmental work for Morse Creek.

“We are still committed to working with Rep. Chapman in pursuing the remaining funding.”

She said DOT is still planning to move forward with a raised boulevard for the area, which she said will slow down traffic. DOT has said it will also help prevent head-on collisions.

She said the project is a “high priority” for the Olympic Region.

“We just don’t have a hard and fast timeline in terms of construction,” she said. “It’s not going to be something drivers would see, having construction happen this summer.”

She emphasized that though the state Legislature approved funding, Gov. Jay Inslee has not yet signed the bill. Changes could still be made within the next couple weeks, she said.

Sequim to Blyn

The state Legislature also approved $1.29 million for improvements on Highway 101 between Sequim and Blyn.

Werner said the funding will allow DOT to begin design of the estimated $7 million project that includes landscaping, connecting Happy Valley Road to Simdars Road and completing the interchange at Simdars Road.

“This isn’t a safety improvement, this has to do with supporting economic development, but we only have a portion of that funding right now,” Werner said.

The Simdars Road interchange was originally set for completion with the opening of the $18 million, 4.6-mile Highway 101 bypass Aug. 18, 1999.

However, the Department of Transportation was unable to complete construction on Simdars’ eastbound off-ramp because of a lack of funds.

“We feel we can begin the environmental permitting and begin design while we work toward getting the remaining balance funded,” Werner said.

________

Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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