DOT planning traffic circles between Sequim, PA

The state Department of Transportation is looking to install up to four roundabouts on U.S. Highway 101 between Sequim and Port Angeles as part of a highway improvement project, although construction has not been funded.

DOT representative JoAnn Schueler said on April 2 the department is looking at repaving sections of Highway 101, and improvements to intersections are a requirement mandated by the Legislature.

“We do have a legislative requirement called Complete Streets to add improvements to our projects such as pavers to enhance the walkability and the rollability, all users to use our facilities, not just the drivers,” Schueler said during a meeting of the Port Angeles Business Association at Joshua’s Restaurant last week.

The Complete Streets program was included as part of the 2022 Move Ahead Washington package passed by the state Legislature and requires DOT to include improvements designed to help all users of state roads.

“In order to improve the safety, mobility and accessibility of state highways, it is the intent of the Legislature that the department must incorporate the principles of complete streets with facilities that provide street access with all users in mind, including pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users,” the state code says.

That requirement has led DOT to plan roundabouts along Highway 101 at Kolonels Way, Old Olympic Highway, Taylor Cutoff Road and Simdars Road along with additional improvements along the highway. Other improvements include pedestrian crossings, ramp upgrades, traffic cameras and improvements to transit stops.

Planned improvements would also add on- and off-ramps on the west side of Simdars Road with a single-lane roundabout at Simdars Road and East Washington Street.

A new frontage road would be built between Simdars and Palo Alto roads, with access to the highway from Palo Alto and Happy Valley roads cut off following completion of the project.

Several attendees at the April 2 meeting were skeptical of the proposals, suggesting the roundabouts would increase traffic and congestion on the Olympic Peninsula.

“I’m not going to convince a lot of you, but believe it or not, it improves mobility compared to signals,” Schueler said. “Traffic numbers, analysis, show that you can get from Port Angeles to Sequim faster, safer. Our traffic experts actually have that analysis, and those are things that can be provided in the open house.”

Several studies have found roundabouts increase mobility and are safer than traditional intersections but include the caveat that drivers must know how to use them. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — a Virginia-based nonprofit whose studies are cited by DOT — found that public opinion of roundabouts tends to increase following their construction as drivers become more familiar with them.

A 2014 study looking at roundabouts in Bellingham found traffic delays on minor roads decreased by more than 30%, while overall intersection delays increased by more than 12% as a result of drivers slowing to enter the roundabout.

That same study found that support for the roundabouts went from 34% before construction to 70% more than a year after the projects were completed.

One commentator at the meeting said the state needs to do more to educate the public on how to use roundabouts, as unfamiliarity with how they operate can lead to increased delays and traffic accidents.

Motor vehicle fatalities in Washington have increased since 2019, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, reaching an all-time high of 743 deaths in 2022. Clallam County had six fatalities from traffic accidents in 2022, down from 10 the year before, and Jefferson County had seven, up from four in 2021, according to the commission.

An online open house will be held for the entire month of June, Schueler said, at which time the public can submit feedback on the proposals.

“We do take comment, and if there is public outcry, we try to address that, we try to come to common ground,” Schueler said. “If it’s a safety issue, that will trump things, but it’s a process, so absolutely we want public comments and we want to work with the community.”

Schueler said there are other options DOT considers for intersection improvements that can be included in the pre-design process.

While DOT is working on possible designs for the project, funding has not been allocated for construction, and the department will have to rely on the Legislature for that money.

Schueler said there are many factors that determine the cost of a roundabout installation but noted the contract to install two roundabouts and all necessary improvements on State Highway 104 west of the Hood Canal Bridge is about $9 million.