SUQUAMISH — Options for improving the busy intersection of State Route 305 and Suquamish Way will be whittled down in the coming months by the state Department of Transportation.
DOT met April 19 with local stakeholders — Kitsap County, Kitsap Transit, Suquamish Tribe, Sen. Christine Rolfes, and representatives from Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo.
Rolfes helped secure $750,000 in last year’s transportation budget for DOT to do a study and preliminary design of the intersection.
TJ Nedrow, DOT project manager, presented a roundabout design that DOT engineers believe is the “most efficient and practical.” Early estimates indicate the roundabout would cost less than $5 million, Nedrow said.
“We were directed to look at reducing congestion by … looking to reduce the delay motorists now experience on that corridor,” he said. DOT engineers created a traffic model based on number of trips and their direction. DOT estimates there are about 21,000 trips a day through the intersection.
For example, based on a study in October 2012, 770 cars pass through the intersection from Bainbridge Island to Poulsbo daily — 70 percent of the traffic. By 2035, DOT projects that number will increase to 1,084.
Currently, the intersection provides left turn lanes from SR 305 onto Suquamish Way and into the Clearwater Casino parking lot, and a left turn lane from Suquamish Way. The intersection is surrounded by the Suquamish reservation and the Agate Pass bridge.
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said many at the meeting were “skeptical” of the roundabout solution.
“I promised to keep an open mind, but it struck me as an unusual solution on such a heavily trafficked road.” she said.
“[DOT] didn’t give me the information I needed to feel comfortable with the concept.”
One cause for concern that many at the table felt, Erickson said, was a lack of a safety plan for pedestrians and cyclists.
Erickson said roundabouts can work very effectively, in her experience, but their purpose is to even out traffic flows, “so roundabouts don’t get take over by one prevailing flow of traffic.”
Erickson thought about the Madison Avenue/High School Road roundabout on Bainbridge Island — it gets “taken over” when school is let out.
“The other legs of the roundabout can’t get in,” she said.
Erickson was also concerned about the speeds of the roundabout. Drivers are traveling between 40-50 mph on SR 305 before and after the bridge, and the roundabout would slow speeds down to 10-15 mph. Erickson doesn’t believe the roundabout is geographically big enough to accommodate the traffic, she said.
Erickson believes the intersection needs a way to allow SR 305 traffic to continue through the intersection unimpeded, perhaps with an overpass, she said.
DOT is continuing to take input and there are other alternatives to be looked at, Rolfes said.
Another option would be to expand and improve the right turn lane off the bridge onto Suquamish Way, Nedrow said. All options are also subject to right-of-way discussions.
“There’s an opportunity right now with the [Clearwater] Casino expansion to do something collaborative,” Rolfes said. “[DOT is] looking for guidance from local government leaders, this is not something DOT is trying to ram down our throats in any way.”
Rich Purser, general manger of Clearwater Casino, said he’s been active in the discussions of this roundabout.
Another option being discussed between Port Madison Enterprises, the business arm of the Suquamish Tribe, and Kitsap County is moving the park and ride, currently east of the casino, which would allow more space for a turn lane.
During the casino’s expansion later this year, PME will build a parking garage on the northeast corner of the property, next to the bridge.
Another idea under discussion is to include a right turn lane from the casino’s planned parking garage directly onto SR 305, toward the bridge, to avoid the Suquamish Way intersection and “alleviate” some congestion, Purser said.
There is no construction or funding timeline yet, Rolfes said. The funding for the study continues through 2015.
DOT will hold more meetings in the coming months to narrow down options for improving traffic flow and safety at the intersection.
Government agencies and the public will be included in future discussion, Nedrow said.