Chamber cites qualms with collision sign

It was put up to promote the state's Driving 101 Traffic Safety Project, placed on a section of U.S. Highway 101 that sometimes has been called "blood alley." It's a sign standing beside the road and it tallies the number of days the area has gone without a serious collision. It counts the days in big, bright, digital numbering. Drive up and down highway long enough and you might begin to forget it's there, but for some members of the Port Angeles and Sequim-Dungeness Valley chambers of commerce, the sign is an absolute eyesore.

At a recent joint meeting of the two chambers, during a discussion of the possible widening of Highway 101, a number of members voiced concerned over the sign.

"They don't like it, and they felt that it gives a very bad impression coming into town," said Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce executive director Russ Veenema.

According to former Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber president Joe Borden, who was present at the meeting, the members felt more than anything that the sign wasn't aesthetically pleasing.

"It was decided that the board was pretty ugly and not good for business," Borden said.

Veenema counters that it wasn't the sign's appearance that bothered chamber members so much as it was the sign's morbid nature. The sign notes the number of days since a serious collision that resulted in serious injury, perhaps even a fatality. Every time such an accident occurs, the sign is reset to zero.

"It gives a very bad impression coming into town," Veenema said. "It sends the wrong message."

Veenema was charged with drafting a letter to the State Patrol voicing the chambers' opinion of the sign, as well as asking for its potential removal, which was received by Washington State Patrol's Lt. Clint Casebolt.

According to Casebolt, the sign was put up about a year and a half ago, following a rash of fatalities in the area. It's one of only two in the state. Casebolt says that, yes, the sign is more or less a cautionary tool meant as a warning to drivers.

"A lot of us tend to drive up and down 101 without thinking about highway safety," Casebolt said, adding that although there's no specific written criteria, the State Patrol usually switches the sign only when a collision has resulted in injuries that are life-threatening or fatal. "A lot of those stories are very tragic, and it (the sign) does grab people when it's in the single digits."

Sequim Police Chief Robert Spinks explained to Borden the sign's purpose, and the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber withdrew its opposition.

"I took it as more informational as anything else," said Casebolt. "But with all due respect, the sign's not going anywhere."

In fact, Casebolt says that the sign has received a considerable amount of positive feedback and the State Patrol is considering placing similar signs across Washington.

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