Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe seeks traffic circle on US Highway 101

The ask from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe was for support from the Clallam County commissioners for building a $2.5 million single-lane roundabout at the U. S. Highway 101-Sophus Road intersection in Blyn.

The get may instead be a letter generally favoring improved traffic-slowdown measures at the busy interchange on tribal land where the Longhouse Market and Deli is located just east of its 7 Cedars Casino.

The correspondence would include a wait-and-see attitude on exactly what safety improvements would best fit a road traversed by 17,000 vehicles a day, board Chairperson Mark Ozias said April 6 after the commissioners considered the letter request from two tribal representatives.

There have been eight crashes at the intersection between 2015-2019, with one possible injury collision, according to the tribe’s March 2021 Intersection Control Evaluation report that recommends installing the traffic circle. Five involved a vehicle turning left, two were same-direction sideswipes and one vehicle left the roadway.

The speed is 45 mph in that section of road at the apex of a sweeping curve.

The Olympic Discovery Trail, tribal offices and a tribal gift shop are nearby. A rest area with restrooms is within walking distance.

At their upcoming work session on April 12, county commissioners will discuss sending the letter to the office of U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.

The Port Angeles native is collecting the Community Project Funding requests — formerly known as earmarks — were due Friday for projects costing between $500,000 and $3 million that would be completed in fiscal year 2022.

Kilmer spokesperson Andrew Wright said April 6 in an email that Kilmer’s office has received more than 100 proposals from his 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula. Eligible applicants include public entities such as ports as well as state, local and tribal governments.

Commissioners decided earlier that day to have Ozias write a “conditional letter of support” that Ozias said will be general in nature on the roundabout proposal, which is supported by the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Tribal Transportation Program Manager Annette Neese and Planner Luke Strong-Cvetich wanted the board’s backing for seeking federal funds for the traffic circle.

“We don’t want a letter of support that isn’t wholeheartedly supported by commissioners,” Strong-Cvetich said.

The circle would be at the intersection that provides access to the Longhouse, located across Sophus from a Clallam County Fire District 3 fire station.

Circle entry and exit points would be eastbound and westbound on Highway 101 at Sophus Road to and from 101.

Neese and Strong-Cvetich said it would improve traffic safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. A crosswalk would be on the west end of Sophus that would connect with Olympic Discovery Trail, Strong-Cvetich said.

The board’s discussion on April 6 included an assessment critical of the roundabout proposal offered by Public Works Director-County Engineer Ross Tyler.

He said a traffic circle will not improve safety and suggested an overpass would be the best long-term answer to the sometimes dangerous mixture of cyclists, pedestrians and speeding traffic of all kinds at the intersection.

“This is not the right solution for Highway 101,” he said, adding a roundabout was rejected in favor of a more expensive underpass at Deer Park Road just east of Port Angeles.

An overpass could cost more than $10 million, he said later on April 6.

The traffic circle would be a single-lane device similar in size, Ross said, to the traffic circle at the Walmart shopping center in Sequim.

County officials said tribal and non-tribal governments are scrambling to apply for the funding to meet the Friday deadline.

An isolated traffic signal on a high-speed highway “would not meet the baseline needs of the intersection,” and WSDOT has said a signal shop is too far away to justify the maintenance cost, according to the tribe’s report.

In addition, Blyn-area residents rejected an overpass solution several years ago, Neese said.

“We got very strong pushbike from the community,” she said.

WSDOT had approved a traffic circle at the location, Neese and Strong-Cvetich added.

Ozias said the letter the board will consider Monday will include references to Commissioner Randy Johnson’s concerns about an underpass or overpass being safer and Commissioner Bill Peach’s questions about whether WSDOT supports a roundabout at the location.

Neither Neese nor Strong-Cvetich provided proof of that support.

“(WSDOT) supports the Jamestown S’klallam Tribe’s proposal to mitigate their development effects and improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians along US 101 at Sophus Road with construction of a single-lane roundabout,” agency spokesperson Tina Werner said April 6 in an email.

“When analyzing possible intersection control solutions, we consider the benefits of a roundabout in comparison to other methods as it relates to annual cost saving benefits, safety considerations, and mobility concerns.”

Werner said roundabouts are safer than intersections controlled by stop lights and stop signs, and that roundabouts reduce collisions overall by 37 percent and 40 percent to 90 percent for injury, fatality and pedestrian collisions.

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