SNOHOMISH — It’s a huge step forward, but not the end of their quest.
The U.S. 2 Safety Coalition is a group of volunteers who have been working on highway improvements for decades. They recently learned the state has agreed to their proposal for the stretch from Snohomish to Monroe.
Concrete median barriers will be installed for two miles from Bickford Avenue almost to the Pilchuck River bridge, said Fred Walser, coalition chairman and a retired police officer. He and others believe the barriers will “stop all these terrible crossover, head-on crashes,” he said.
In addition, a new 6-foot-wide median with rumble strips is planned for the rest of the way to Fryelands Boulevard, about another seven miles east. The work is scheduled to start in 2019 and wrap up by that October.
Between 1999 and 2013, at least 68 people died in crashes along U.S. 2 between Everett and the summit at Stevens Pass, according to state data. Many of those were caused by drivers crossing the centerline. The area from Snohomish to Monroe is particularly problematic, Walser said.
“We work hard because there is such a terrible crash rate in that vicinity,” he said.
The state Department of Transportation already had about $10 million in paving planned for the highway in 2019. The new barriers and medians will total another $10 million, according to initial estimates. That funding is drawn from state and federal sources. Combining the two projects could save up to $1 million, said Harmony Weinberg, a transportation spokeswoman.
Plans are in the design stage, and details are pending, she said. The concrete barriers may be around 3 feet high and 2 feet wide. The area slated for 6-foot medians isn’t wide enough to accommodate the barriers.
Still, even a few miles of concrete blocks are a big deal for Walser and others in the coalition. They have traveled to Olympia dozens of times over the years to lobby lawmakers.
“They see me and they know right away why I’m there and what I represent,” Walser said. “It’s a personal project.”
Sultan Councilman John Seehuus, a founding member of the coalition, now serves as the vice chairman. He said he is ecstatic over the news.
“A few more people are going to make it home as a result of this,” he said.
It’s been a long slog, Seehuus said. Each success spurs the energy for the next push.
“We knew it would bear some fruit at some time,” he said. “We’re not going to quit either.”
Walser also credits the work of state Sen. Kirk Pearson and state Rep. Dan Kristiansen, both of whom live in east Snohomish County. Another contributor was his wife, Donnetta Walser, the former mayor of Monroe and a retired teacher, who helped him lead the coalition for many years. She died in December.
Separate from the 2019 work, the state still has $17 million set aside for safety and congestion improvements on U.S. 2. Staff will work with the coalition on what happens with that money, Weinberg said.
The coalition members say they will focus next on U.S. 2 between Monroe, Sultan and Gold Bar. They also have been looking at the section of Highway 522 between the Snohomish River Bridge and Maltby. About 3.5 miles on that route have one lane in each direction, which contributes to bottlenecks.
“We keep beating the drum for U.S. 2 and now 522,” Walser said. “We’ve got to do something, the way the east side is growing. U.S. 2 is becoming a nightmare. And it isn’t just people living in Snohomish County who use it.”