The numbers are clear. A stretch of highway of critical importance to Jefferson County is deadly. Yet, despite years of promises, in-depth studies, and an appalling number of accidents, …
The numbers are clear. A stretch of highway of critical importance to Jefferson County is deadly. Yet, despite years of promises, in-depth studies, and an appalling number of accidents, it is apparent that fixing the problem that is State Route 104 is not a priority for the state.
If you live in Jefferson County and want to go to Seattle, the airport, or just to neighboring Poulsbo or Silverdale you must access SR 104 to cross the Hood Canal Bridge. That access generally occurs between mile markers 4 and 14.
SR 104 is the only highway on or off the north Olympic Peninsula. Each day nearly 17,000 vehicles use it to cross the Hood Canal Bridge.
Since January 2018 there have been 247 accidents on that 10-mile stretch of SR 104 based on the Washington State Patrol database. Of those 247 accidents, 80 had injuries, 23 of which were serious or fatal.
On the other side of the bridge in Kitsap County, on a similar stretch, with a stoplight and merge lanes, there have been only 10 accidents, none with injuries.
For local residents getting on and off it is like running a gauntlet. “With people speeding up as they come off the bridge and those not slowing down as they come down the hill toward the bridge, it’s just not safe. Period,” said Vic Draper, a long-time Port Ludlow resident.
Connie Fidler has lived in Port Ludlow almost 18 years. “I have several friends who won’t drive out Paradise Bay Road because they are so concerned about the danger.”
The intersection of Paradise Bay Road and SR 104 is the closest to the Hood Canal Bridge and by far the most dangerous. In the past six years, it’s had 79 accidents, 10 with serious injuries or fatalities.
The junction further west at SR 19/Beaver Valley is not much safer. In the same period there were 51 accidents at this location.
In 2019 following a crash study, the state admitted it had to make changes. Those changes were supposed to begin this past spring with the $4 million construction of two large roundabouts to slow traffic and allow for safe entrances and exists at Paradise Bay Road and SR 19.
It didn’t happen. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) announced in March there would be a delay due to “difficulty getting environmental permits.”
But it’s been more than just permits holding things up. WSDOT spokesperson Mark Krulish admitted in an email response that other emergency projects on the peninsula have taken precedence including, most recently, the Fish Barrier Removal projects.
Following last spring’s announced delay, a new timetable for the project was posted. It said the call for bids for the construction contract would be fall 2023 – in other words - now.
But that didn’t happen and now there is another delay.
Shortly after The Leader asked WSDOT why the call for bids on the contract had not been posted, the timeline on its website was changed to show a new target date for bids -- January 2024.
When we asked why, WSDOT’s Krulish said, “Hydraulic work was taking longer than expected,” adding that the stormwater retention plan needed to be reworked.
Construction -- already delayed by one year – was to begin “late spring or early winter 2024.” However, delaying the call for bids on the construction contract will undoubtably delay the entire project once again.
It was May 2019 when WSDOT traffic engineers published their original Crash Analysis Report (CAR) highlighting the deadly problems on the peninsula’s key highway. The proposed roundabouts were meant to improve traffic flow but most importantly to reduce the “potential and severity of head-on or serious injury collisions.” In other words, to slow things down.
While not everyone agrees with the state’s design plan to fix the problem, all agree something must be done. Yet, four years and six months later nothing has changed and the accidents continue to pile up.
State legislator Mike Chapman (D-District 24) who represents Jefferson County expressed his dismay. “I am as frustrated as you are,” he said, adding, however, that this is the post-Covid reality.
“(WS)DOT is understaffed… construction companies are understaffed… bids are coming in 20 to 30 percent higher than expected. The work is piling up. It’s going to take years to get our transportation system caught up.”
Chapman meets with WSDOT this week and said he’d address the issue.
But whether it is fish, funding, staffing or complacency, the can keeps getting kicked down the road and the people of Jefferson County are paying the price. Since the last delay earlier this year, there have been 37 accidents on this stretch of road, 22 of them with injuries, six serious and two fatal.