A firefighter looks over the aftermath of a head-on crash March 18 on U.S. 2, near Bickford Avenue, that cost a woman her life. The state is considering installing concrete median barriers on the highway between Bickford and the Pilchuck River. This crash happened near that stretch. (Doug Ramsay/ For The Herald)

State considers barriers on US 2 to stop cross-over crashes

SNOHOMISH — The state is considering adding concrete barriers to prevent cross-over crashes along a stretch of U.S. 2 outside Snohomish.

The idea doesn’t have funding but is drawing support from lawmakers. It would bring about two miles of barriers to the median of the busy highway.

The work could be folded into construction already scheduled for U.S. 2 in summer 2019.

About $10 million in paving is planned between Bickford Avenue and Sofie Road, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The state also could use federal funding to install barriers between Bickford and the Pilchuck River. The barriers would be inside a 6-foot-wide median. To make room, lanes and shoulders would have to be narrowed.

That’s only possible where the highway has more than two lanes, the state says. Drivers need room to maneuver if someone breaks down.

“What we’re trying to do is get the federal funds and combine that with the paving project,” said Travis Phelps, a spokesman for the transportation department.

The barriers could be similar to those seen along I-5, he said. The details, such as the height and materials, haven’t been decided.

The U.S. 2 Safety Coalition, a group of volunteers, long has supported the addition of barriers. Chairman Fred Walser has been pushing for improvements on the highway since the 1990s, many of which have been completed. Walser is a former Washington State Patrol trooper and Sultan police chief.

“Jersey barriers prevent people from crossing into the oncoming lane and striking cars head-on,” Walser said. “They may drift and hit the barrier and spin off into their own lane, but they’re not plowing into people … I covered way too many of those out here in my career, especially on Highway 2.”

Walser lives in the Monroe area and frequently travels to Everett. Too often, he sees people drift over the center line, he said. Even with the progress made, there is still a lot of work needed on U.S. 2, he said.

A 78-year-old Mountlake Terrace woman died March 18 after crossing the center line. That happened close to Bickford, near where barriers could be installed.

Between 1999 and 2013, there were at least 68 deaths in crashes along U.S. 2 between Everett and the summit at Stevens Pass, according to state data. At least 34 of those crashes were caused by drivers crossing the centerline.

Bickford used to be one of the most dangerous crossings, before a new overpass was completed in 2013.

The turns and slopes of the road add to the troubles, officials say, particularly at night, in bad weather or for drivers unfamiliar with the highway.

Walser recently spoke with state Sen. Kirk Pearson and state Rep. Dan Kristiansen, both of whom live nearby.

The barriers seem “doable,” Pearson said.

“That is a very dangerous stretch,” he said.

Kristiansen said he’s counted eight cross-over incidents in recent months. To him, that shows yellow lines and rumble strips aren’t enough.

“Anyone who lives in this corridor knows someone who has been in an accident or been killed,” he said.

Adding jersey barriers can be more cost-effective than major construction, Kristiansen said. He believes the state already has a supply of barriers, and that installation and labor would run between $1 million and $2 million.

The paving project is unrelated to another $17 million in work planned on the highway between Everett and Skykomish. That work is meant to address U.S. 2 congestion on weekends and in the winter. It draws funding from the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package that includes gas taxes. Construction is possible in 2021.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @rikkiking.

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