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The North Bend traffic light, a history of bypass blues

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

traffic accidents.

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

under way.

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.

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