Officials from the Washington State Department of Transportation tried to conduct a public meeting about how a potential road project affects historic aspects of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve near Outlying Field.
Instead, transportation official were fielding questions from a skeptical audience of concerned residents about the proposed project. They questioned everything from lighting to the location of proposed bus stops to the closing of a historic road.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is developing a project that would close two intersections with State Highway 20 — Old Smith Prairie Road and Parker Road — and then funnel traffic to nearby Morris Road. They also want to install left turn lanes and widen the shoulders of Highway 20 near the solid waste transfer station, which is an area where a large number of accidents have occurred over the years.
“The main benefit to us is we can reduce the number of intersections from three to one,” said Shane Spahr, project engineer with the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The meeting held Aug. 27 at Coupeville High School was required by the National Historic Preservation Act.
“The project as a whole has an adverse impact,” said Kevin Bartoy, cultural resources specialist for the state department of transportation, said about the proposed project. He noted during the meeting that the project will affect the views of Smith Prairie from Highway 20 and that the new road will change the continuity of the prairie.
Department of transportation officials are working with the Federal Highways Administration and the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation to come up with an agreement to mitigate and minimize those impacts. Other groups such as the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing and the National Park Service are also participating in discussions.
Bartoy highlighted a couple of those mitigations during the meeting. There is talk of adding interpretive signing and using fewer, shorter lights that better focuses the light toward the ground.
The audience were frustrated by the lack of details the department of transportation offered during the meeting.
Steve Erickson, who is with the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, demanded that the department of transportation provide a full-scale mockup of the proposed lights so residents can form their opinions.
He also questioned the purpose of the meeting especially since people have concerns about other parts of the proposal.
“You’re obviously formatting this so people can’t rationally comment on this project,” Erickson said adding he wanted to know when a meeting will be held so people can comment on the environmental parts of the project.
After the meeting, he said he is concerned about the potential light pollution, fragmentation of of the prairie, impact on the nearby Pacific Rim Institute, weed invasion sparked by construction and the DOT’s failure to coordinate with Island Transit.
Spahr said during the meeting that the department of transportation isn’t required to provide a public meeting concerning the environmental impacts of the project. Comments will be accepted, however, beginning sometime in December 2013 or January 2014.
The triangle-shaped area on Highway 20 between Island Transit’s headquarters and Outlying Field has been a source of controversy for more than a year. Back then, Island Transit wanted to build a new access point between Old Smith Prairie and Parker roads and close the other two intersections. That alteration was needed for a secondary access to the transit agency’s new headquarters campus.
After hearing residents’ concerns that Island Transit’s plans would worsen traffic conditions on Highway 20 and after state lawmakers got involved, DOT officials decided to design a different project.
Options presented last winter included the current plan along with such options as a roundabout.
Residents can still comment on how the proposed intersection changes with affect the historic resources on the edge of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
Send to Spahr at 1043 Goldenrod Road, Suite 101, Burlington, WA 98229; or firstname.lastname@example.org; or call at 360-757-5856.