What does the Gardiner community do when there is no public hearing on a highway project in the area?
The residents hold their own.
The Committee to Oppose the Gardiner Passing Lane formed to fight a truck-passing lane slated for construction in front of the Discovery Bay Recreational Vehicle Resort.
Nearly 60 people from the community, which sits in Jefferson County near the eastern Clallam County line, attended a Sept. 3 meeting to learn more about the project, hear concerns expressed by their neighbors and ask a few questions of their own.
Also in attendance was Washington state Department of Transportation assistant engineer to the project David Garlington, who listened to concerns and promised a review of the project and a dialogue with his superiors in the agency.
DOT has completed preliminary engineering work on the truck-passing lane, which runs about 1.25 miles in the westbound lane of U.S. Highway 101. The project began in 1993 but was shelved several times.
Now the state has $2.82 million in gas tax revenue set aside for the project in an effort to improve safety along the highway by allowing vehicles to move past slower moving trucks or motor homes, while still going the speed limit.
It is one of four passing lanes the agency has planned for the span of otherwise two-lane highway between Discovery Bay and Sequim.
"People in the Gardiner area, on both sides of the highway, see this passing lane as a serious safety issue, as we will be forced to turn across two lanes of traffic to enter the highway when it’s already dangerous going across a single lane," said committee member Maureen Reimer. "We think there is a serious error in planning by DOT."
The committee argues the landscape and population densities were different in the area when the project initially was planned in 1993. They reported the RV park had gone defunct but it is now thriving and that other residential areas had not been developed as they are now.
"There are more people here, there are more cars entering the highway here and there are trucks that service this park that will have a tough time turning in with extra lanes," Reimer said, indicating that in spite of speed limits, people speed up when they pass.
The RV park’s water source is on the south side of the highway and its residents will be required to pay for an extension or relocation of the line as a result of the project, which will result in an estimated $10,000 cost to its residents.
"We think that there are better places to spend nearly $3 million than on a passing lane here, like on the ferry system," said committee president Jane Meyer. "Or, if a passing lane is necessary, there is an area directly east of (Wild Birds Unlimited) that has less development, fewer people and no wetlands next to the highway, which we have here."
Garlington said the funds were dedicated to a project of this nature in the area and that they could not be channeled to the ferry system unless mandated by the Washington Legislature. The project itself, however, can be moved.
One of the major points of concern was the lack of a public hearing for the project, leaving most residents unable to comment except through individual letters and now by forming a formal committee.
Garlington spoke at the meeting, assuring the group that their concerns were not falling on deaf ears.
"We have heard the issues and the Olympic regional administrator Kevin Dayton has made addressing this community’s concerns a priority," he said, indicating he and Dayton would be contacting group leaders in coming weeks with responses to concerns and more answers.
"I can’t promise we will relocate, end or delay the project. What I can tell you now is that we will critically review when the data was collected, when updates were done and review the safety issues you have brought up in letters and here tonight."
Garlington said the DOT does not want to force unpopular projects on a community unless there are provable safety benefits.
"It is our mandate to improve safety, which is why we want more truck-passing on this stretch of highway that is known for serious injury and fatality accidents," Garlington said.
Two days after the meeting he indicated DOT had started the process of evaluation and that the community group and general public would be made aware of the results.
Garlington said the span of highway was chosen because it fit criteria DOT engineers look for in a truck-passing lane. It has a slope at a 3.5-percent grade, it is a straight section of road and DOT has nearly all the necessary property it needs to expand the road.
The Gardiner community includes several individual residential lots along Old Gardiner Road, the RV park, a short commercial corridor and a community center and church on the north side of the highway. There are several residential lots and a volunteer fire station on the south side of the highway.