$18M to fix scary U.S. 2 crossing

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Monday, March 28, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

OLYMPIA — The state is set to take the terror out of turning onto U.S. 2 from Bickford Avenue.

A new overpass, which a few months ago had no funding and seemed destined for a long spell on the drawing board, is on track for c

onstruction in 2012.

Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak couldn’t be happier as she described the fear-provoking adventure of getting from Bickford onto U.S. 2 heading toward Everett.

“You take a deep breath and go for it in a break in the traffic. It’s pretty frightening,” she said.

Drivers must dart across two lanes of eastbound highway traffic, then merge onto the fast lane of the westbound direction. What’s envisioned is an overpass above U.S. 2, channeling vehicles onto the highway from the right side.

Residents and community leaders have pushed for the project because the intersection is a hot spot for crashes.

There were 35 collisions involving 62 vehicles between Jan. 1, 2000, and September 2010, according to statistics compiled by the Washington State Department of Transportation. A Snohomish man died in November 2007, 13 months after an accident at the intersection. Nearly 30 people have injured in accidents there.*

Design on the overpass began last year, but the state had no money to build it. Then $18.3 million in unanticipated federal highway safety funds arrived, and lawmakers want them spent on this project.

On Friday, the state House of Representatives approved funding for the project in its transportation budget for the 2011-13 biennium. The Senate is expected to do the same when it votes on its spending plan, which could occur this week.

“We know U.S. 2 is one of the most dangerous highways in the state,” said Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “The community is very well organized, and I think they made a strong case that any new money for traffic safety should go into that corridor.”

Overall, the $8.9 billion transportation budgets of the House and Senate steer nearly all highway construction and preservation dollars into finishing what’s already under way in Snohomish County and around the state.

The budgets include:

•$113.1 million for widening Highway 522 from the Snohomish River Bridge to its junction with U.S. 2.

$59 million for the next phase of widening Highway 9 north of Bothell to Clearview.

$21.9 million for a new bridge across Ebey Slough on Highway 529.

$15.1 million to replace the bridge across Pilchuk Creek on Highway 9 in north Snohomish County.

“This year, it’s a win for the county in the sense that nothing was taken away,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who serves on the Senate transportation panel. “I’m happy we’re getting the Bickford project done, considering there is less money.”

The House and Senate transportation budgets do differ in a couple of areas important to residents of Snohomish and Island counties. Those will need to be resolved and a final bill passed before the session’s scheduled end April 24.

One involves Community Transit, which cut Sunday service last year to save money and is seeking help to bring a little of it back.

The House approved a $1.7 million regional mobility grant to get this done, but the Senate does not fund the same grant.

“That will be one of the differences we struggle with,” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Liias pushed for its inclusion in the House.

“I’d like it to stay. I understand there is a limited pool of funds and a lot of competition for those dollars,” he said. “We’re looking for where can the House and Senate agree on some assistance for Community Transit.”

The two chambers must sort out differences over the Washington State Ferries budget, too.

The House seeks fare hikes totaling 7.5 percent in the next two years, while the Senate is proposing only raising them 5 percent. But the Senate backs a 25-cent surcharge on each fare for construction of new boats, and the House does not.

Neither budget proposes a fuel surcharge, and both call for the next new 64-car ferry to be used on the Coupeville-Port Townsend route. Each is calling for roughly $4 million in service reductions, without specifying which sailings are to be eliminated.

To read details of the proposals of House Bill 1175 and Senate Bill 5176, go online to www.leap.leg.wa.gov.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

* This story has been corrected since it was first posted to accurately state that a wreck at the intersection did result in a death.

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