Onsite work will begin as early as April 5 at the Morse Creek curve east of Port Angeles, an attempted fix for the most dangerous section of U.S. Highway 101 in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
When construction starts sometime after that date, work on the four-lane, $3.6 million project will occur four nights a week, causing traffic slowdowns from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. the following morning each Monday through Thursday.
“The work overnight is intentional, when we recognize traffic volumes are lower,” Tina Werner, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said on March 23.
Lanes and shoulders will shrink, and the speed limit will be permanently reduced by 5 mph for the length of the curve.
The state Department of Transportation will notify the public when lane closures and traffic delays will begin via email, the WSDOT app and the WSDOT Twitter feed, Werner said.
The project was sparked by the June 21, 2018, traffic fatality of 19-year-old Sequim resident Brooke “Brookie” Bedinger.
Her eastbound motorcycle careened out of control and into the oncoming lane where Highway 101 crimps sharply at the bottom of the hilly dip at Morse Creek.
More than 250 crashes have occurred at the curve between 2007 and 2019, including at least four fatal crashes, according to the State Patrol.
Bedinger’s was among seven motorcycle crashes in five years.
A crash on March 21 at the same place sent James N. Tassie, 35, of Sequim, to Olympic Medical Center, where he was treated and discharged. The State Patrol cited Devon A. Horn, 25, of Sequim, for improper lane use.
When completed later this summer, lanes will narrow from 12 feet to 11 feet and shoulders will be shaved from 8 feet to 5 feet.
A mile-long, landscaped median with a 6-inch curb will be built from the top of the bend at East Kolonels Way near the Walmart exit east to the Deer Park exit off Highway 101.
It will break at the bottom of the snaking hill at Morse Creek where Cottonwood Lane exits Highway 101 to the south and Strait View Drive exits to the north before continuing to Deer Park Loop.
Contractor Active Construction Inc. of Tacoma will begin site preparations at Cottonwood Lane.
The speed limit on the curve will be reduced from 45 mph to 40 mph during construction and become permanent once improvements are completed.
“I’m excited,” Sequim resident Kim Bedinger, Brooke Bedinger’s mother, said on March 23.
She and her family rallied community support behind lobbying the state Legislature to provide funding to make road improvements to prevent further collisions.
“When I first started fighting for it, I never thought it would happen this way,” Bedinger said.
“My main objective was to save lives.
“Brooke’s was one too many (to lose), in my opinion.”
Democratic State Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles, whose 24th District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, announced the project’s startup Monday evening at a virtual town hall meeting.
“I am actually proud to announce that as of [Monday], the work on that safety project, through the Morse Creek corridor, which we’ve seen unfortunately a number of deaths over the years, that work’s going to start April 5,” he said.
“Even with the recession and the cutbacks of the budget, that project is going to get started here in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Chapman has described the stretch as the most dangerous on Highway 101 on the Peninsula.
According to initial plans WSDOT released in January 2019, the median will cover the length of the S curve from milepost 251.68 to milepost 252.80.
Werner said in a March 23 interview that the median has been extended to Deer Park off Highway 101.
She said Active’s engineering costs came in at 10 percent below WSDOT’s estimate, and $400,000 to $500,000 was saved by using drought-resistant landscaping on the median instead of installing an irrigation system. The curb was lowered from 8 inches to 6 inches.
The lower speed limit, narrower lanes, reduced shoulder widths and the median are expected to reduce collisions on the curve, which, on a map, looks like a section of thread that’s been pushed together and is otherwise straight on both ends.
After the crash, the Bedinger family erected a memorial off the curve’s eastbound lane at Morse Creek that has since been removed. Now there is a sign saying “Please ride safely,” erected in Brooke’s honor.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic, they routinely cleaned the roadside of trash, vesting themselves in the stretch of Highway 101 where the median will be built by joining WSDOT’s volunteer Adopt-a-Highway program, in its way, putting them closer to a daughter and friend who died on an unsafe road — and whose death may make it safer.
“We do it to honor Brooke,” Bedinger said.