Help on way for Highway 92 troubles

LAKE STEVENS — People who feel like they’re taking their lives into their hands when turning onto Highway 92 near Lake Stevens are in for some help, though it’s a couple of years away.

The state is planning in 2013 to build two roundabouts on the highway that skirts the north edge of town —

one at 99th Avenue NE and another at 113th Avenue NE.

More than 40 accidents occurred at just those two intersections from 2006 through 2010, said Mike Swires, a traffic engineer for the state.

Plus, 99th Avenue NE and 113th Avenue NE serve as major routes to three schools, including Lake Stevens High School.

Lake Stevens Mayor Vern Little said he hears more complaints about those two streets’ intersections with Highway 92 than any others. He hears a lot in particular from high school students and staff.

“They’re talking to me all the time about, ‘When are you going to fix that?’ ” Little said.

Most of the wrecks at the two intersections were minor, but two fatal crashes took place in 2008 and a near-fatal crash in 2007 at the nearby intersection of Highway 92 and 127th Street NE. Several other serious accidents have happened along the 2.5-mile stretch of highway in recent years.

All these incidents caused Highway 92 to stand out in a recent study of roads to determine where safety improvements are needed, Swires said.

The state also is planning to build a third roundabout at the intersection of Highway 9 and 32nd Street SE, south of Lake Stevens. This intersection saw 14 accidents, one of them involving serious injuries, from 2006 through 2010.

The drawback is that the work won’t be done for two more years. The $5.7 million for the three roundabouts combined won’t be freed up until August, and time will be needed for design, property acquisition and environmental review, officials said.

“It’s actually a pretty aggressive schedule for this type of project,” said Meghan Pembroke, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

The money is coming from a fund for road safety projects approved by the Legislature earlier this year, officials said.

A roundabout is a large concrete circle in the center of an intersection. Vehicles in the circle don’t have to stop if no other traffic is present. Roundabouts keep traffic flowing better than intersections with stoplights, even though drivers are slowing down to 15 to 20 mph, Swires said.

That’s one reason they were chosen for Highway 92, he said. Another is their safety record — fewer serious accidents happen at intersections with roundabouts than at those with stoplights, and those accidents that do occur are much less serious.

Plus, “every time we put a signal in we get an increase in rear-end collisions,” Swires said.

Many of the accidents at 99th and 113th have involved a driver turning onto the highway in front of oncoming traffic, he said. This type of accident always carries the potential for being serious, Swires said.

While only one of the 42 accidents at the two intersections from 2006 to 2010 involved a serious injury, the two deadly crashes and other serious accidents have occurred at other locations on the highway.

Several years ago, lanes on 127th Avenue NE were reconfigured to allow only right turns onto Highway 92. One of the fatal wrecks was caused by a driver making an illegal turn, police said at the time.

The city of Lake Stevens has been trying to attract developers to that intersection, with the idea that the builder also would pay for a roundabout at the crossing, Little said. The downturn in the economy has stalled that plan but it’s still on the city’s wish list, he said.

“That intersection will be fixed once we have the right development in there,” the mayor said.

Meanwhile, the state is considering more short-term fixes at 127th, such as an island, Swires said.

“It’s on our radar,” he said.

Lake Stevens High School and Highland Elementary School are located on 113th Street NE and Sunnycrest Elementary School is on 99th Street NE.

School bus drivers have a lot of trouble turning from 99th and 113th onto Highway 92, said Arlene Hulten, spokeswoman for the Lake Stevens School District.

At the high school, “we actually advise our students not to go out on 113th and turn left onto 92, but rather to go through town,” Hulten said.

It would be nice to have help sooner than 2013, she said. When it happens, though, “it will really improve safety for our students and community,” she said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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