The North Bend traffic light, a history of bypass blues
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:58 PM
It all began at 3 p.m. on July 1, 1965.
That was the day and the hour when the now-infamous traffic signal regulating cross-state traffic on
Highway 10/Interstate 90 first went into service.
According to Jim Cleary of the Department of
Transportation, the light was historically significant from
the first day of service because it was the only such
traffic signal ever mandated by state law.
Cleary recalled that, at that time, legislators from
this area pushed a bill through the legislature calling for
the placement of the traffic signal at the intersection of
Highway 10 and Bendego. Until then, the traffic there
had been regulated by a flashing light and this created
all sorts of problems, not the least of which were
But the light, even then, was seen as no cure-all
for problems the city faced due to the highway traffic.
At that time, with the signal under temporary
manual operation, the Town of North Bend's police chief
was Mel Reid and he noted that the signal offered a
"definite accident potential." He urged all pedestrians to cross
the street as quickly as possible and called for
increased awareness on the part of motorists.
The minimum green light phase on Highway 10 was 44 seconds, with a minimum of 10 seconds on Bendego.
To many cross-state motorists, those light phases
either seem much longer, or much shorter, than that.
The traffic light backup became noticeable on
holiday weekends, and when hunting season rolled
around, and the Highway Department finally had to operate
the light manually again on such weekends. That began
in 1969, and it was none too soon for the thousands
of motorists who had found themselves stopped in
traffic sometimes as far from North Bend as Denny Creek,
near Snoqualmie Pass.
What seemed to be salvation came in the
proposed I-90 bypass of the town, and for may months,
planning took place and public hearings were held on the
merits of three proposed bypass routes; the north route, the
central corridor and the south route.
While the northern route stirred relatively little
interest, opinions were sharply divided over the other
two proposals, with businessmen and local residents
and certain environmentalists becoming entangled in a
battle that was to last nearly four years and cost
countless amounts of public and private dollars.
The North Bend Council had _ some say
arbitrarily _ voted to support the southern route bypass over
the central corridor, and planning for the project got
But in 1972, an injunction against construction
of the bypass was issued by former Judge William
Beeks of the U.S. District Court. That injunction was
issued on the grounds that an environmental impact
statement issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation
did not meet the procedural requirements set down in
the National Environmental Protection Act.
That impact statement was revised over the next
two years, while opponents of the southern route fought
to get approval of the central corridor. It turned out to be
a losing battle, and there are still a few scars healing
from it all.
In May 1974, the U.S. District Court Judge
Gordon Thompson, Jr., of San Diego, dissolved the
injunction and the Highway Department almost immediately
began work on calling for bids on the project, the cost
of which had increased since the injunction was issued
two years earlier.
At that time, it was estimated the project might
take as long as 1976 to complete. Weather and other
problems contributed to delays which stretched the
bypass construction into a four-year job that will finally
come to an end this week.
In the meantime, the North Bend traffic light
has seen a lot of traffic, and traffic jams. It has become
the target of countless news articles, poetic laments
written by motorists and journalists who have had to sit in
line for their turn through the intersection, and even the
television news crews have come here for their holiday
coverage of the predictable backup.
Even the gas crisis in 1974 had little effect on
the cross-state tie-ups during major holiday weekends,
and surprisingly enough, accidents were not as serious
in the backed-up traffic as they might have been, had
the snarled cars been traveling faster.
Although the light will remain, regulating
traffic coming into or leaving the area via Bendego/North
Bend Boulevard, the consensus is that it may be a hard
thing to get used to, being able to cross the street safely
on holiday weekends or during the hunting season.