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Hood Canal Bridge neighbors organize as traffic, noise problems linger

Traffic backs up on northbound State Route 3 Wednesday during a Hood Canal Bridge opening. - Tad Sooter/Staff Photo
Traffic backs up on northbound State Route 3 Wednesday during a Hood Canal Bridge opening.
— image credit: Tad Sooter/Staff Photo

PORT GAMBLE — When the Hood Canal Bridge opens to let boats pass beneath, traffic backs up for miles on both sides. Local drivers are trapped in the mix. Residents along Hood Canal ease out of their driveways through gaps in traffic.

“There isn’t anyone who lives along this stretch of Highway 3 that hasn’t had a close call,” resident Gerry Guertin said.

Frustration over traffic congestion and bridge noise have spurred Guertin and about 50 of his neighbors to organize the Hood Canal Bridge Alliance this year. The group plans to push state and local representatives to find solutions. Following two community meetings this spring, the group launched a website — www.hoodcanalbridgealliance.org — to draw more supporters from both sides of the canal.

The group wants a bridge holding lane installed on State Route 3 to allow local drivers to get around bridge traffic during openings. There’s already a small traffic pullout on westbound State Route 104 near Port Gamble.

Bridge noise is another concern for residents who live along the waterfront near the span. Some say the bridge has become much louder since its reconstruction in 2009, as vehicles pound over expansion joints and steel grates on the bridge deck.

“The bridge noise has risen so much since the reopening of the bridge it has really become untenable,” Guertin said.

The Bridge Alliance hopes the state can install sound suppression devices on the bridge. The state added sound blocking walls and sound absorbing concrete to the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 2009, at a cost of $1.2 million.

So far the message from the Department of Transportation to the Bridge Alliance group is the state has little money for large-scale sound or traffic improvements at the Hood Canal Bridge, Guertin said.

The department is making a few improvements near the bridge this year.

Crews painted stripes in front of driveways on State Route 3 and added signs asking drivers not to block entries. This month a contractor is finishing the installation of nine new traffic cameras on SR-3 and SR-104. Travelers will be able to see live traffic views from the cameras on the Department of Transportation website. The cameras may lessen some of the bridge congestion as drivers can check for backups before leaving home and consider delaying their trips or taking alternative routes, according to a Transportation release.

The cameras should be up and running by the end of the month, assistant project engineer Andrew Larson said. The bulk of the $470,000 project was paid for with a federal grant, with some matching money from the state.

Hood Canal Bridge Alliance members say they’re skeptical the cameras can alleviate any of the congestion. The only alternative route between Port Gamble and Shine is an hour-and-a-half drive around the south end of Hood Canal and bridge openings rarely last longer than an hour.

Some drivers waiting in traffic during a bridge opening Wednesday said the cameras might be useful.

Matt Mattson, owner of Mattson Construction in Suquamish was on his way to pick up materials on the Olympic Peninsula when he was caught in bridge traffic. Bridge openings often force him to reschedule appointments with clients or lose money if he’s being paid by the job.

He hopes the state installs a holding lane.

“What really sucks is when you’re going to Port Gamble and get stuck in bridge traffic,” he said. “When you’re not even going over the bridge.”

He said the traffic cameras could help, but only if he carried a laptop in his truck.

Several cars back, Matt Fisher was waiting for the bridge to close as his afternoon plans crumbled.

The Sumner-based truck driver had caught a break in his schedule and decided to run home to Port Townsend and back. This wasn’t the first time his plans have been ruined by bridge backups.

“Sometimes I sit here for 15 minutes, sometimes it’s an hour,” Fisher said.

He hadn’t heard of the traffic camera project.

“That could be handy,” he said.

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