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DOT, road users debate guard rail safety on Carnation's Highway 203

Duvall resident Rick Amish holds up a photo of narrow roadway at Stillwater during a September 30 meeting of Voters for a Safer 203. Amish pointed to an extra six feet of road embankment that, he said, could have been used for a shoulder.  - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Duvall resident Rick Amish holds up a photo of narrow roadway at Stillwater during a September 30 meeting of Voters for a Safer 203. Amish pointed to an extra six feet of road embankment that, he said, could have been used for a shoulder.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Washington State Department of Transportation officials defended their decision to install extra guardrails on Highway 203 in a Carnation town hall meeting on road safety.

Voters for a Safer 203 founder Jackie Perrigoue called the meeting at Tolt Middle School last Thursday, Sept. 30. State Sen. Eric Oemig and legislature candidate Kevin Haistings attended, along with about 25 people.

Perrigoue opened and moderated the meeting, sharing her own motivation for questioning narrow highways at Pleasant Hill and Stillwater, north and south of Carnation—the safety of her grandchildren. She called for wider shoulders and installation of a traffic light to improve the highway stretch.

"It is really putting a choke point through several areas," Perrigoue said.

Several cyclists and a truck driver spoke to the assembly, sharing their concerns for the roadway.

"There's not much room between the fog line and the guard rail," said Carnation resident Gary Atkins. "Both my wife and I are cyclists. I've alwayas told everybody I know to not cycle on 203.

"Right now, cylcists have got ride that white line," Atkins added. "I'd like to see a widening of the road."

"It's scary as heck," said Carnation resident Dan Griner. "I don't think there's any question that the highway should be widened. That's not going to happen very soon."

Griner proposed a bike route, diverting cyclists onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.

"They do have an alternative," he said. "Put signs up and enforce it."

"There should be laws governing what kind of road bicyclists can be on," said Carnation-based driver Milt Estepa. '"I see stuff that just drives me nuts. It's really stupid to ride down that road."

"If it's too narrow for a bicycle, it's too narrow for anything else that can happen," added Perrigoue.

Russell East, DOT Assistant Regional Administrator for King and Snohomish Counties, agreed with speakers that a wider shoulders would improve 203. But he disagreed with Perrigoue that rails make the road less safe.

In the last decade, the DOT has counted dozens of accidents in which cars ran off the road on 203, including several deaths. East said rails are designed to crumple and keep vehicles on the roadway without deflecting them into traffic.

A major widening project would be costly. East said full shoulders with rumble strips the length of Highway 203 would top $110 million. Much of that cost would come from floodplain and wetland mitigation.

East urged Lower Valley commuters to speak to their elected state representatives and lobby for a local highway project.

"You may be able to change their thinking through your advocacy," East said. "I've seen it happen."

Perriguoe planned to convene another Voters for a Safer 203 meetings in future, focusing on commercial traffic impacts.

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