Sequim City Council urges upgrades at U.S. 101, Happy Valley Road

A portion of Keeler Park might play a role in providing right of way for shifting the intersection of Happy Valley Road about 200 feet to the west as an interim solution to create safer passage from Happy Valley to U.S. Highway 101. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

A portion of Keeler Park might play a role in providing right of way for shifting the intersection of Happy Valley Road about 200 feet to the west as an interim solution to create safer passage from Happy Valley to U.S. Highway 101. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

SEQUIM — The city of Sequim is supporting a grass-roots movement to improve safety at the intersection of U.S. Highway 101 and Happy Valley Road.

The City Council on Monday unanimously agreed to a resolution that urges the state Legislature to work with the state Department of Transportation to fund safety improvements in the area.

David Garlington, Sequim Public Works director, said the request includes improvements at Happy Valley Road and at the adjacent roadways of Whitefeather Way and Palo Alto Road, which also intersect the highway.

City officials say they’ve been in discussion with Transportation about this stretch of highway for a number of years.

“The answer we continue to get is that it doesn’t rate because there are so many intersections with worse accident records, so that’s where the money has to go,” Garlington said.

In a previous interview, John Wynands, Transportation’s assistant region administrator for project development, said there are 700 worse intersections in the state than Happy Valley, and safety projects are prioritized by the number of car wrecks.

In the past 10 years, 24 incidents have been reported by Transportation within a quarter-mile radius of the Happy Valley Road intersection.

They ranged from vehicles striking deer to rear-end collisions to vehicles overturning.

City officials say traffic has increased 23 percent from 2000 to 2014.

For those unfamiliar with the intersection, there’s a rise in the road that prevents drivers from seeing if there is a break in traffic from the left.

Drivers not wanting to turn left choose one of two options: go east and look for a U-turn or drive up Happy Valley in a large detour, he said.

To find funding for the projects, city officials say they must advocate it to legislators.

“There’s no program that’s going to produce the magnitude of safety improvements that we want to see,” Garlington said.

“Legislators will have to put it into the transportation bill.”

City Council members Dennis Smith, Candace Pratt, Bob Lake and Genaveve Starr; City Manager Charlie Bush; City Attorney Craig Ritchie; and City Clerk Karen Kuznek-Reese traveled to Olympia on Tuesday to meet with legislators.

Bush said this is a topic they plan to bring up.

Happy Valley Road resident Shirley Rudolf and her husband, Gary, have been urging improvements for some time through petitions and letters to legislators and Transportation.

Rudolf said she’s excited to see the City Council support the safety proposals and she plans to deliver an informational packet to the office of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle.

“It’s going to take somebody getting killed [to get attention], and we’re trying to prevent that,” Rudolf said.

Garlington continues to propose a temporary, cheaper alternative plan at Happy Valley by moving the intersection about 200 feet west.

It would cost a few hundred thousand dollars, he said, and could use the city’s right of way there as part of its undeveloped Keeler Park property.

He feels this could be a selling point to legislators because the city already owns the right of way at the Happy Valley and Palo Alto roads intersections, which could lessen the cost of the earlier proposed plans.

Keeler Park will remain an undeveloped park until some improvements are made, Garlington said, because he feels “it would be irresponsible to put that kind of traffic at that intersection.”

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Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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