Hundreds of city residents have inked their signatures in support of a grassroots effort to improve the safety of the Happy Valley Road and U.S. Highway 101 intersection.
The intersection, just east of Sequim, but within the city limits, has long been identified as risky.
“Because of poor sight distance and highway speeds, this is the most dangerous intersection in the city,” David Garlington, City of Sequim public works director, wrote in a letter sent mid-June to the Washington State Department of Transportation region administrator.
“The history of the intersection goes back to the late 1990s,” Garlington said.
Before construction of the Highway 101 bypass, the original design included improvements to the overall geometry of that segment of highway, he said, including the Happy Valley Road intersection. Although lack of funds kept WSDOT officials from addressing all elements within the design, the dangers that prompted the intersection to be included remain.
One resident of Happy Valley Road, Shirley Rudolf, along with her husband Gary, have met with Garlington on this issue in an attempt to redirect the spotlight back to the intersection.
“Most people know how dangerous the intersection is so they try to avoid it,” Rudolf said. “During the school year, I really worry about the school buses.”
Throughout the past month, Rudolf has collected more than 200 signatures from neighbors and primarily residents of Happy Valley Road. The signatures, along with a growing number of supportive letters, are destined to accompany a letter Rudolf has drafted to send to WSDOT officials and a handful of state representatives. Already, Rudolf has letters from the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, Sequim School District and Clallam County Fire District 3.
“So far, everyone I’ve talked with has been very supportive, but this has turned into something bigger than what one person can really do,” Rudolf said.
In pursuit of other means of public outreach, Rudolf is working with members of the Sequim Rotary clubs to present information about the intersection and the danger it poses — even to those that don’t often drive on Happy Valley Road.
Last year, the annual average of daily traffic on Highway 101 at the Happy Valley Road intersection was 17,000, according to a WSDOT records request. Since 2005, that average has increased by 2,000 vehicles.
“Seeing a notable increase in highway traffic,” is one of the driving reasons Rudolf feels it’s time state and local officials turn their attention to the intersection, she explained.
“It’s only going to get worse,” she said.
Within the past 10 years, 24 accidents, ranging from vehicle strikes deer and rear endings to vehicle overturned, have occurred within a quarter-mile radius of the Happy Valley Road intersection on Highway 101, according to a WSDOT collision history report.
Despite the number of accidents and the increasing amount of traffic, “there are literally 700 worse intersections in the state than Happy Valley,” John Wynands, WSDOT’s assistant region administrator for project development, said.
Unless budgeted as a line item, Wynands explained WSDOT officials rely on a system largely based by the number of accidents to rank and fund intersection safety projects. From that perspective the “ability to say we have a project there just isn’t there,” he said.
However, Wynands said some funds are allocated toward low cost improvements.
“We’re always open to looking at opportunities to use these funds,” he said. “Projects may be removal of roadside vegetation to help with visibility, better signage or enhancing the striping in an area.”
Also, Wynands said, WSDOT typically doesn’t pursue grants, but it often works with local governments to help search and secure grant money.
“We may be able to work with the city and get an interim, low-cost improvement at that intersection,” he said. “We’ll have a traffic officer out there next week and we’ll check it out.”
Knowing the expense associated with the ultimate design that eliminates the intersection and restructures Happy Valley Road to parallel the highway until it connects with Simdars Road, Garlington has proposed a cheaper alternative in his recent letter.
The temporary, but less costly fix simply moves the intersection to the west about 200 feet to allow for adequate visibility both east and west.
“This slight adjustment also puts the intersection at a point where grades are favorable for minor widening that could accommodate left and right turn pockets,” he said.
Not all aspects of the original design of the bypass project were fulfilled, but Garlington said the city was able acquire the right of way, which also helps to reduce the cost.
Given a large, low-impact, city park that abuts Happy Valley Road and continues to run along the south side of Highway 101 is planned for future development, Joe Irvin, City of Sequim parks manager and assistant to the city manager, also is interested in a different approach to Happy Valley Road.
“Finding a way to change that intersection would definitely be a vast improvement,” Irvin said.
The city has debt obligation on property until the end of next year, but in 2017 Irvin expects to begin addressing street access and parking for Keeler Park.
Contact Rudolf at email@example.com for more information about getting involved with her effort toward a safer intersection.