Monroe to improve left turns at intersection

Craig McKelvey of Monroe writes: At the intersection of U.S. 2, Main Street and Old Owen Road, vehicles turning left onto westbound U.S. 2 from Main frequently swing very wide across both lanes of the intersection to get to the Albertsons entrance on the north side (which is very close to the intersection).

This creates a lane conflict with drivers on Old Owen who stop for the red light, then make a free right turn into the outside lane of westbound U.S. 2.

Shouldn’t left-turning traffic aim for the inside lane or slow down to yield to right turning traffic entering the outside lane before moving over into that same lane? Who has right-of-way in this situation?

The situation is complicated by the acute angle between the two roads at this intersection, making it difficult for a driver on Old Owen to perceive the speed or intent of the oncoming left turn traffic. Can any changes be made to the intersection to resolve this problem?

Dave Chesson, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, responds: Craig is technically correct. According to the Washington Driver Guide: “Turn from the lane that is closest to the direction you want to go and turn into the lane closest to the one you came from. When making turns, go from one lane to the other as directly as possible without crossing lane lines or interfering with traffic. Once you have completed your turn, you can change to another lane if you need to.”

In other words, drivers making a left turn should turn from the left-most lane into the closest lane. Likewise, drivers making a right turn should turn from the right-most lane into the closest lane.

However, things are a little tricky at the intersection of U.S. 2 and Main Street (Old Owen Road). As Craig points out, the streets cross at a fairly acute angle. This angle makes it difficult for northbound left-turning traffic from Main Street to turn into the inside (left-most) lane on westbound U.S. 2. The typical turning path tends to carry northbound left-turning drivers from Main Street to the outside (right-most) lane of westbound U.S. 2.

State law (RCW 46.61.290) accounts for situations like this by stating that drivers should turn into the left-most lane whenever practicable. In this case, because of the angle of the intersection, most drivers aren’t able to easily or comfortably turn into the left-most lane. Once drivers complete their left turns and are in the right lane, it’s a straightforward maneuver for some of those drivers to choose to make a right turn into that driveway.

Another section of state law (RCW 46.61.055), drivers on southbound Old Owen Road can make a right turn on red to westbound U.S. 2 after stopping, but drivers must stay stopped to allow pedestrians and vehicles already within or approaching the intersection to complete their movements. In other words, drivers who want to make a right turn on red should look for traffic approaching not only from their left on westbound U.S. 2, but watch across the intersection for left-turning traffic from Main Street.

The city of Monroe is currently working on a project to improve this intersection.

When completed, northbound Main Street will have a separate left-turn lane, through-lane, and right-turn lane. In addition, the left turn-lanes on northbound Main Street and southbound Old Owen will be lengthened to provide more room for vehicles waiting to turn. The project, however, won’t change how left-turn maneuvers are made from northbound Main Street to westbound U.S. 2. That would require rebuilding the intersection to bring it as close to a 90-degree angle as possible. Neither the state nor the city have plans for such a project.

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