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Island Transit to rethink plans for road realignment

Central Whidbey resident Barry Rix, center, reacts to discussion at a community meeting Wednesday concerning Island Transit’s proposal to realign Parker Road.  - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Central Whidbey resident Barry Rix, center, reacts to discussion at a community meeting Wednesday concerning Island Transit’s proposal to realign Parker Road.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

Persistent grumbling from the community about Island Transit’s plans to realign Parker Road with Highway 20 in Central Whidbey appears to have paid off.

Following a meeting attended by about 70 people at the Pacific Rim Institute of Environmental Studies Wednesday, transit officials confirmed that they are calling time out to consider new design alternatives.

“We’re going back to the drawing board,” said Martha Rose, executive director of Island Transit.

“We’re going to be looking at all kinds of alternatives, from roundabouts to rumble strips,” she said.

Rose made it clear the transportation agency is making no promises but she said state and county partners in the project have already begun working with Island Transit officials on possible solutions.

She remained tight-lipped about any specifics, but said any new plan may incorporate Morris Road, which was a subject of concern at the meeting. She said she was optimistic that a solution will be found.

Island Transit is in the process of building a new headquarters at their current base on Highway 20 just south of Coupeville.

Part of the current plan is to create a second entrance and realign Parker Road. The existing road end would be closed off as would Old Smith Prairie Road. The triangle-shaped section of field would be bisected by a re-routed Parker Road and intersect with the highway.

The plan has been ruffling feathers in the community since it was unveiled. Most of the concerns have been safety related and centered on the lack of a left turn lane for motorists traveling south on the highway.

Island Transit officials have cited a lack of funding as the primary obstacle and state Department of Transportation officials maintain that they can’t require a left-turn lane and don’t have the money to build it themselves.

The controversy has continued to simmer, turning the heads of elected officials and even birthing a committee of Central Whidbey residents who are formally opposed to the road plan.

State Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, who said she became involved after fielding numerous calls from worried constituents, organized and held her second community meeting on the issue this week.

It was attended by a host of Central Whidbey residents, a handful of elected officials and political candidates, representatives from the state Department of Transportation, Island County Public Works and Island Transit.

Tensions were high at the meeting as residents were clearly frustrated by the plan, the potential dangers of the configuration and the fact that the design hasn’t been altered despite the pleas of the community.

Many begged for the plans to be put on hold.

“The solution is, if you can’t make it safe, don’t do anything,” said Sarah Schmidt, a Coupeville resident.

“Who’s liable so we can sue them?” echoed Barry Rix, also of Coupeville.

Although previous concerns had seemed centered on the missing left-turn lane, Morris Road became a hot topic at the meeting. Many felt that it was a dangerous intersection and the Parker Road configuration would only make things worse.

“What you’re doing is creating a situation where you have more accidents but don’t solve the problem,” said Joe Sheldon of Coupeville.

Todd Harrison, with the state Department of Transportation, told the tough crowd that he agreed the configuration wasn’t perfect but explained that their hands are tied. They can’t force an applicant — in this case Island Transit — to make a change based on community concern alone.

The plans meet accepted engineering standards, which makes the installation of a left-turn lane Island Transit’s choice. As for the state electing to put it in itself, it’s a matter of available funding.

“The bottom line is we don’t have enough money,” Harrison said.

During the meeting, Rose said Island Transit has been able to dig up funding to install a right-turn lane for motorists heading north but money for the left-turn lane remains elusive.

However, Rose said later that efforts to find the needed resources will continue. It’s unclear whether a new configuration would make the issue a moot point, but she did say she has high hopes the money can be found in the state’s transportation budget.

“We’re going to work together to get a special appropriation to get this done,” Rose said.

 

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