SR 203 and Tolt Hill Rd. intersection gets more attention

An increase in crashes has sparked action at the local and state levels.

The intersection between State Route 203 and Tolt Hill Road, sitting outside of Carnation, has been a longtime concern from many within Carnation and the Snoqualmie Valley at large.

Although the cross-section has been a subject of discourse for years because of the staggering number of crashes and congestion it elicits, there has been a lack of decisive action due to the state and county owning the roads.

“This is not a new problem … it’s a decades-long problem,” said Carnation City Manager Ana Cortez.

In 2023, the risks associated with the intersection started gaining attention when Sen. Brad Hawkins, representing the 12th Legislative District, alerted the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to the issue.

Hawkins became involved with the matter last summer after an uptick in accidents occurred at the intersection. He hosted an initial meeting in August. He invited stakeholders from the City of Carnation, King County, Snoqualmie Tribe, WSDOT, local school districts and other partners within the Valley and county.

Carnation resident Nathan Sherfey, who leads the organization of stakeholders for the project proposal, said the plan for improving the intersection began to take shape when a strong group of supporters committed to addressing the issue came together — something that had yet to happen before.

“This summer we experienced — I believe it was about March through like October — about six major accidents where cars were totaled, people were getting T-boned, hitting the back of another car or one car even launched over the guardrail and over this hill,” said Sherfey.

“It wasn’t one of those things where everyone was just like saying, ‘we have to get this fixed, we have to get this fixed,’” he said. ” It was like, ‘well, let’s actually get everyone together and talk about this.’”

Hawkins said there were two purposes for the initial meeting.

“One, to urge WSDOT to implement a variety of short-term ‘calming measures’ on an urgent basis, and two, for stakeholders to work together to identify long-term solutions for the intersection along with potential funding sources,” he said in an email.

After the initial meeting, stakeholders met again in December to continue the conversation around a potential roundabout as a long-term solution, and extra signage and traffic lights as a short-term solution.

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

‘We stopped being passive’

Before initiating a formal plan of action in 2023, City Manager Ana Cortez said Carnation took a passive approach to fixing the intersection.

She noted the discussion surrounding the intersection had been timid for many years, often viewed as an external matter by the city council due to the intersection’s lack of affiliation with the City of Carnation.

“So, we stopped being passive,” Cortez said matter-of-factly.

“The baby that cries the most gets fed,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Cortez attributed the change in narrative as a product of a new city council pivoting their perspective.

“This council basically took a different position. Which is, figure it out, but we need to do something about it,” she said. “So, our strategy was exactly this: we started going to the press, we started making a big deal out of it, we started holding press conferences and press releases.”

Cortez said a press release was printed every time there was an accident.

“We were getting frustrated with the fact that these accidents continue happening and nobody cared,” she said.

Cortez said another reason for the heightened focus on each accident stemmed from receiving inaccurate data from WSDOT, which contributed to a distortion of the true severity of the intersection: “At one point, we had asked [WSDOT] how many accidents there have been in that intersection. What we discovered…they were not being reported, and [the data] is inconsistent with what we know.”

The WSDOT reports that Cortez requested in 2023 depict the number of car accidents at the intersection from 2013 to the latest available data in 2023. The reports show one to five accidents occurring each year from 2013 to 2022.

However, in 2023, WSDOT reported 25 total accidents in less than a year.

Although Cortez saw an inconsistency in data, she agreed the number of accidents was magnified last summer.

When State Sen. Hawkins took notice, Cortez said he was the first representative from Olympia to bring the matter to WSDOT’s attention.

Since then, Hawkins and Cortez said WSDOT has been very responsive.

“We have noticed a tremendous shift in the customer service that we are receiving from the Washington Department of Transportation,” Cortez said. “I think we have the type of partnership that we wish we would have had all along. But you know what? The past is in the past.”

The next steps

Since meetings commenced with stakeholders late last summer, WSDOT has implemented some short-term solutions, with additional signage anticipated this spring.

As for long-term improvements, Hawkins, a member of the Senate Transporation Committee, recently submitted a $2 million budget request — an estimate made by WSDOT— in the current legislative session, which began on Jan. 8.

This request emphasized the urgent need for a roundabout to enhance traffic flow, reduce congestion and improve overall safety.

The next steps to receive funding begin in the next few weeks, Cortez said, at Action Days — an event where cities in Washington go to Olympia and talk with elected officials. Cortez said this is where the city will initially propose the roundabout project and request $2 million in funds.

A secondary meeting, set for Feb. 14, is where stakeholders will meet with the Senate Transportation Committee to inform the committee of the severity of this project and request funding, Sherfey said.

While Cortez is hopeful to secure funding in 2024, she said: “Truth be told if we don’t get funding from Olympia this year, we will encourage the state and others to find the funding, to find the money for it.”

“We’re not going to just sit and wait,” she added. “We’ve done that so many times, and the answer is, ‘We’ll put it in the budget in 2030.’”

However, Hawkins and Sherfey were cautionary when speaking on 2024 funding for the project.

“Funding the project in 2024 is unlikely to occur. But more funding opportunities may present themselves during the 2025 session,” Hawkins said. “In addition to state funding, stakeholders are looking at possibilities at the federal level.”

“It’s amazing that I got all the stakeholders to come together. We did this whole document project and are submitting for funding, but it may not happen in 2024, funding may happen in 2025, and the project may take another couple of years,” Sherfey warned.

Hawkins added that WSDOT claimed the earliest the roundabout could see completion is 2026. However, funding is a crucial aspect that still is left unknown.

List of supporters for a roundabout at the intersection. (Courtesy image)