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Residents look to red light bypass

POULSBO — Amid a cacophony of voices and opinions Wednesday night, at one point, a clap of thunder broke through, interrupting the proceedings for a moment.

“Well, I can’t compete with that,” Vicki Steigner of the Washington State Department of Transportation joked.

Neighbors in the Sawdust Hill, Big Valley Road and Stottlemeyer Road area are hoping to create an equally loud noise to drown out the idea of a potential State Route 3 bypass.

More than 100 residents attended a meeting July 14 with representatives from the WSDOT. The state agency is about halfway through the eight-month process of drafting a 20-year route development plan (RDP) for SR 3 from the Poulsbo interchange to the Hood Canal Bridge. In the course of meeting with residents to get a feel for needed traffic fixes along the route, the idea of a second highway being built to the east of the current route was proposed.

“This idea about the bypass came up and it surprised us because we didn’t expect this kind of thing to come up in the public process,” Steigner said.

But shocked and dismayed were the terms that Ray Serebrin and his neighbors used to describe the idea. Serebrin said he found out about the issue by word of mouth. A friend of Serebrin’s neighbor attended some of the SR 3 public meetings and mentioned the bypass in conversation one day.

“He said to my neighbor, ‘Why aren’t you guys screaming and yelling about what’s going on?’” Serebrin explained.

Once the bypass route was being discussed, Steigner said a ZIP code mailing was made to alert Big Valley area residents, but the mailing was not as effective as hoped.

Within a few weeks, neighbors organized themselves into a steering committee. A first neighborhood meeting garnered about 110 attendees, which prompted members to get in touch with representatives from WSDOT to set up Wednesday night’s meeting.

“I think everyone knows that pristine rural areas, their homes and wildlife habitat are at stake,” Serebrin said. “Ultimately, I know that my home is the issue but people move to Kitsap County for a reason and we want to preserve that.”

Julie Morse came all the way from Bainbridge Island to attend the meeting with WSDOT representatives. Raised on Sawdust Hill, she intends to retire to the area and hopes her future residence won’t be threatened by a freeway construction project. Morse said she also owns property off SR 3 and is aware it could be impacted by projects in the RDP but said Big Valley residents were not given the same amount of notice.

“The people who bought their land on SR 3 knew there was a highway there. The people who would be impacted by this had no idea,” she said.

John Donohue of he WSDOT explained that the RDP was essential because traffic is expected to double on SR 3 in the next 20 years. More alarming, as traffic on the highway increases, evidence shows that more people will begin using cut-through routes, which means the numbers of vehicles on less-used routes will grow faster. Growth by as much as 820 percent in the next 20 years could be seen on Big Valley alone.

“We’re getting suggestions all over the board,” Donohue said of the RDP drafting process. “What we did was take these and we’re trying to put them together into as cohesive and coherent alternatives as possible.”

Three overall approaches for future fixes to SR 3 have now been drafted and will be presented at the next public meeting along with cost estimated. One alternative emphasizing mobility over access, one with a balanced approach and the last emphasizing access over mobility. Donohue said that the SR 3 bypass would only be really studied more carefully if the more extreme mobility over access alternative were chosen.

Steigner added that to get to the stage of planning and designing, a project must first be found to be “fundable, reasonable and doable.”

“Just a freeway isn’t going to do it. It’s going to take more,” Steigner said. “It’s looking like there is some evidence that we need to take care of the people on (SR 3).”

Steigner said first chance for residents to argue against the bypass route would be at a steering committee of stakeholders. The next steering committee meeting is Aug. 19 and the discussion of the bypass will be on the agenda. Serebrin was asked to join the group as a representative of his neighbors. Steering committee members Representative Phil Rockefeller (D) of Bainbridge Island and Representative Beverly Woods (R) of Poulsbo were also on hand and lent their support to voting against the bypass being considered.

“Everything I’ve heard tonight convinces me that the real issue is how we’re going to fix SR 3,” Rockefeller said.

A representative from North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen’s office was present Wednesday and brought a letter stating her opposition to the bypass.

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