By SUSANNA RAY
MALTBY — The "Killer Highway" may be getting new lanes this week, but it won’t be getting a new nickname anytime soon.
Highway 522, the main thoroughfare between Monroe and the Woodinville area, will widen to two lanes westbound from Paradise Lake Road when crews remove the roadblocks Thursday morning.
Jerry Ward has lived just a few blocks from that intersection for 24 years. He’s able to rattle off the names of all the side streets to take, depending on where a road-closing fatality occurs along the dangerous highway.
Still, he’s not too excited about the new lanes.
"It’ll be a bottleneck when it narrows down," Ward said, "so I can’t see it being any help."
Accidents might increase at the merging points, but the new lanes should at least speed up westbound drivers from Paradise Lake Road on, said Mark Leingang of Snohomish. Leingang has worked at the Chevron station near that intersection since August, and he said almost everyone who comes in asks when the new lanes will open.
"That’s the No. 1 question," he said. "Everyone thinks we know."
Transportation workers had to postpone the opening, which had been scheduled for Saturday, because of bad weather. Roadway striping can’t be done in wet conditions.
But they went ahead and had the ribbon-cutting ceremony that morning, and if Mother Nature cooperates, will open the two new westbound lanes Thursday morning.
There will still be just one eastbound lane until the spring, however, because crews will have to grind away the grooved "rumble strips" between the two current lanes and restripe them for eastbound traffic.
Sean Noland and his wife, Lisa, said they moved from Monroe to Arlington six years ago because of the dangerous and congested highway.
Twenty more people have died in accidents along Highway 522 since Reader’s Digest identified the road in 1995 as one of the nation’s most dangerous highways, said state Sen. Jeanine Long, R-Mill Creek.
"There were accidents constantly," Noland said. "You’d be driving along, and there would be wreaths and crosses the whole way."
Stopped at a gas station near the new lanes, the couple said the danger isn’t the only frustration for drivers.
Even on a Sunday afternoon, the highway turns into a "crawlway" for miles.
"They at least solved the head-on problem," Noland said. "When you’re only doing 5 miles per hour …"
In April, lawmakers allocated $19 million to widen the road all the way to the Snohomish River.
"It’s funded to the bridge," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.
After that, it’s iffy.
Long said funding to complete the project through Monroe would be her highest priority when the Legislature convenes in January, but she was only "cautiously optimistic" that the money would be available.
Lawmakers have a tough budget year ahead of them due to a downturn in the economy and several spending and revenue-cutting initiatives that voters passed last year and this year, including Initiative 695.
"We have assurances from the Department of Transportation that work on 522 will continue," Long said in a press release. "But the bottom line is that people will continue to die on this highway until the Legislature appropriates the money needed to complete the remaining phases of the project."
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