Street Smarts

Herald Staff

Q I have seen some articles in The Herald about the new traffic signal on U.S. 2 in Sultan. I had not experienced it until a recent Sunday evening. Westbound U.S. 2 traffic stopped several miles east of Gold Bar and was in “creep” until passing the Sultan traffic signal.

The delay was nearly an hour.

Why does the Washington State Department of Transportation allow this delay due to one traffic signal? The amount of traffic entering U.S. 2 at that point is minimal. If the light is not removed, at least it should be regulated so that there is a long wait (at least five minutes) for a green northbound and southbound and only a short period for the green.

Holding up traffic for nearly an hour to let a very few vehicles enter U.S. 2 is totally wrong and should be corrected.

A Dawn M. McIntosh, assistant area traffic engineer with the Department of Transportation, said the state is aware of the issues at the Fern Bluff/Old Owen Road traffic signal on U.S. 2 in Sultan.

“We are monitoring the situation,” McIntosh said. “This traffic signal is on a two-lane roadway which has very high traffic volume, especially on Friday and Sunday evenings when people are traveling to and from Stevens Pass Ski Area or Eastern Washington.”

It’s the second most popular cross-state route of the five in Washington, right after I-90.

The signal was built to provide access to U.S. 2 and local businesses for side-street travelers. Before the light, local traffic had a difficult time entering the highway due to the high volume of traffic on the state route.

“The traffic signal already has the longest green time (175 seconds) of any signal in the Puget Sound region,” McIntosh said. “The weekend peak hour signal timing plan calls for the mainline to stay green until a side-street vehicle approaches the intersection (just as you requested in your letter). Once the signal detects the side-street vehicle, the mainline stays green for an additional 175 seconds before turning red and switching to the side street where it turns green for approximately 20 seconds. The 20-second green time allocation is, once again, to provide safe passage to the side-street traffic. The mainline stays green at all other times.”

Please note, she said, that local travelers complain that the side-street green time is too short. As you can guess, the Department of Transportation must balance the needs of the highway traveler with the needs of the side-street traveler.

“The best explanation that I can offer regarding long delays on Sunday evenings is that there is a large volume of people and vehicles returning home from their weekend trip at the same time,” she said. “The only reasonable highway capital improvement alternative to the traffic signal is the construction of a multilane freeway to replace the existing two-lane roadway.”

Unfortunately, there are no plans to expand U.S. 2 in the near future, she said.

McIntosh said she recommends avoiding U.S. 2 between 4 and 7 p.m. Sundays.

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