An Oct. 17 crash at OK Mill Road and South Machias Road sent the driver of this vehicle to the hospital. The photo was taken by property owners at the intersection, who have seen many crashes there over the years. (Contributed photo)

An Oct. 17 crash at OK Mill Road and South Machias Road sent the driver of this vehicle to the hospital. The photo was taken by property owners at the intersection, who have seen many crashes there over the years. (Contributed photo)

Changes urged to help stem crashes at Machias intersection

A couple nearby keeps a folder of photos and witness reports. The newest entry was a few weeks ago.

MACHIAS — Frank Diss has lived at the top of the T-intersection of OK Mill Road and South Machias Road for more than 40 years.

He has seen some bad crashes there over the years.

One of the worst came just a few weeks ago.

On Oct. 17, a woman pulled in front of an oncoming vehicle, driven by a man later charged with driving under the influence. They collided. The woman’s sedan skidded across the street and struck the white fence bordering Diss’ rural property.

The woman suffered a broken pelvis, multiple broken ribs and a fractured orbital socket, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

Diss and his wife, Roxanne, watched as rescue crews tore off the roof of the car to get the woman out.

“There wasn’t much left of that car,” Roxanne Diss said, flipping through photos of the crash. “She was moaning and crying. It was just awful.”

Just two days later, their fence was smashed in after another crash.

Once again, a driver pulled in front of an oncoming vehicle. This time, neither driver suffered serious injuries.

It’s two more crashes added to a folder kept by the couple, filled with photos and witness reports they’ve logged over the years. There was the Snohomish County Sheriff’s truck pulling a boat and trailer. Small cars. A school bus.

That’s not counting the near misses, including one that came in the five minutes I stood with Diss by his fence watching traffic zoom by. A sedan pulled in front of a large utility vehicle.

“It just goes on and on and on,” Frank Diss said.

Something’s got to change, he said. It’s not about property repairs.

“This is just a fence and trees,” he said. “It’s the damage being done to people and vehicles at this intersection.”

He’s not alone in his concerns.

Another Street Smarts reader brought up safety concerns about the same intersection in 2015.

In response, Snohomish County staff at the time performed an updated study and found traffic volumes justified a traffic signal. There was no money, however, and the project was put on a list of needed improvements ranked by priority.

It’s still on that list, but marching upward. Formal planning is now slated to start in 2018.

“We are investigating a larger intersection improvement that may include a signalization or a roundabout,” traffic engineer Jim Bloodgood said.

In the meantime, the county is looking at somehow re-configuring lane markings on South Machias Road to better guide vehicles and improve visibility for those on OK Mill Road waiting to turn. Details have not yet been decided, and unless dry weather returns the repainting work may have to wait until spring.

The interim improvements would help guide long-term planning.

The Disses live in a rural area that’s zoned for agricultural use. Sheep bleat in a nearby pasture.

But traffic flows fast — and thick — as it does on many county roads these days. The intersection is less than two miles east from the urban growth boundary at the edge of Lake Stevens.

The speed limit is 35 mph, though few observe it.

“People go faster. They fly by here at night,” Roxanne Diss said. In the past, she’s watched sheriff’s deputies park along their fence line to catch speeders.

There is a short right-turn lane for northbound drivers turning onto OK Mill Road. The driver charged with DUI in the Oct. 17 crash was following a vehicle that used that lane to turn right. It’s unclear if the injured driver turning from OK Mill Road saw the following car in the through lane.

Complicating the picture at this particular intersection are curves on both the northbound and southbound approaches.

“The line of sight doesn’t give (drivers on OK Mill Road) a real good view of the northbound-southbound lane. So they’ll turn, and kapow,” Diss said, slapping his hands together.

Diss wonders if a gigantic arrow pointing straight in the through lane, to accompany the right-turn arrow in the turn lane, may help. Heck, make it three gigantic arrows.

“I’ll even supply the paint,” he said.

Melissa Slager: streetsmarts@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3432.

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