Resident pushes for changes on SR 203

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Years ago, lifelong Valley resident Jackie Perrigoue would hear the sirens on State Route 203 and be grateful that her family was not traveling the dangerous stretch of road.

"I'd look at my kids and I'd think, 'thank God they're not old enough to drive yet,'" said Perrigoue.

Although her kids now are out of the house, recent accidents along the road encouraged Perrigoue to take action on a plan to push for safety changes along the corridor she's been thinking about since 1992. Last month she took her first step when she held a community meeting in Carnation that was attended by about 50 people, including representatives from the Washington State Patrol and Washington State Department of Transportation.

Perrigoue would like to see a number of improvements made along the corridor, including reducing the speed limit to at least 50 miles per hour (and even slower in certain stretches including the intersection of SR 202 and 203 in Fall City) and installing shoulders and turnouts.

With virtually no shoulders the current road is dangerous, not only because of its curvy layout, Perrigoue said, but also because law enforcement vehicles have limited areas where they can radar vehicles to enforce the speed limit.

Lt. Steve McCulley of the Washington State Patrol said that there appears to be a perception by several in the Valley that the corridor is an extremely dangerous stretch of road. Compared to other highways its size, he said, SR 203 is among the safest. In fact, he added, since 2000 the road has become safer.

Increased patrols and a joint agreement with the Washington Department of Transportation has lead in a decrease in injury collisions, property damage collisions and fatality collisions, he said.

According to Washington State Patrol reports, in 2000 there were 31 injury collisions; 75 property damage collisions; and one fatality collision. In 2003, there were 24 injury collisions; 32 property damage collisions; and no fatality collisions.

McCulley said while everybody involved with that corridor would like to see improved shoulders and turnouts along the road, it's likely that 99 percent of the collisions that occur on SR 203 are caused by factors not attributed to the design of the roadway, but rather driver error.

In 2002, there were four fatality collisions along SR 203, according to state patrol reports. Of those four, three were alcohol related while the other was a driver who failed to yield while making a left turn and was not wearing a seatbelt.

"Nothing you're going to do to that road will prevent that," said McCulley.

Slowing the speed limit might even cause more accidents, McCulley said. When drivers are stuck behind cars traveling well below the speed limit - such as 40 miles per hour in a 55 zone - eager motorists often try and pass when it's not safe.

Perrigoue said slower drivers may want to pull over, but without shoulders or turnouts, they can't. The traffic volume on the road dictates that slowing the speeds would not cause a serious disruption in traffic flow, she said.

"It's a goat trail compared to other roads," said Perrigoue. "This is the department of transportation's Fear Factor [reality television show]."

Perrigoue added that accidents might be avoided with shoulders because drivers would have room to swerve out of the way of possible collisions.

Rowland Brasch, a Carnation resident, said he's not angry with the state or law enforcement agencies regarding the concerns along SR 203. Brasch has been working for several months - with some success - to help improve the line of site for residents trying to turn from Lake Dorothy Road onto SR 203.

Brasch said although the speed limit is slated to be reduced to 45 miles per hour in the upcoming weeks - it currently is a "suggested" 45 zone, meaning speeding tickets cannot be given to those still doing 55 - there still remain site-distance issues. An electrical control box, a large tree and a wooden sculpture currently block the line of site of those trying to turn north.

Brasch said although some brush has been removed, environmental laws restrict the removal of a large tree in the area. His concern is that when it comes to safety issues, there needs to be concessions made in environmental law.

"What's more important, safety or environment? We need to find a balance there," said Brasch.

Don Sims, area traffic engineer for WSDOT, said the agency would like to see shoulders on SR 203, but the cost factor is just too much. In the meantime the agency will continue to work with state patrol to make safety improvements. In addition, Sims said, a grant awarded to the Puget Sound Regional Council will fund a corridor study that will focus on where additional improvements can be made.

Perrigoue said it's time that SR 203 received more state funds.

"Why not us?" said Perrigoue.

With her first meeting in the past, Perrigoue has begun the process of working with local government leaders to address the problem and hopes to see more improvements made in the future. The crusader said she's pleased with some of improvements that have been made, but will continue to push forward as there are many more to make.

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