Belfair community grills WSDOT
Many residents want new road analysis
August 25, 2022
The North Mason community shared its feelings with the state Department of Transportation at a community forum Aug. 11 in Belair.
Most of the almost-two-hour forum focused on one intersection in particular: state Route 3 and Northeast Ridgepoint Road. The intersection next to McDonald’s, NAPA Auto Parts and the U.S. Post Office will soon see more traffic with the intersection being the only point of entry to the Olympic Sunset View apartments and the Olympic Ridge housing project, which are both under development.
There has been debate about traffic mitigation being put there, but WSDOT Region Administrator Steve Roark said it doesn’t reach the threshold for mitigation. Before the new housing, the wait time to take a left turn is 19 seconds on average, and once the new housing development is substantially built and traffic is flowing to and from, studies have shown it will take 32 seconds to take a left turn, which is not enough to warrant traffic mitigation.
“The delay of 32 plus or minus seconds didn’t warrant mitigation at that intersection,” Roark said at the meeting. “I’ll add one more thing, when we work with developers, DOT in general, we want to see growth in our communities. I think you all want to see growth in your communities. We are not in the position of making decisions on what’s good growth and what isn’t good growth. We’re really put in the position of saying what is the traffic analysis telling us and that’s what we’ve done in this case. Processes are there for a reason and I don’t think you’d want a bureaucrat like me deciding arbitrarily who has to do mitigation and who doesn’t. In many cases, it’s not fair to ask a developer to solve problems on the state highway system that existed before they came in. That’s why we have the process that we do.”
Several people in attendance disagreed with the traffic impact analysis. Comments ranged from not having WSDOT people on the ground at the intersection doing a study of the community experience dealing with that intersection to the analysis being flawed. Some people even questioned why the development was able to be built before traffic mitigation at the intersection could be addressed.
“How do we get it redone to where maybe the analysis can take into consideration the impact that the nearly 400 homes and apartments are going to take and the impact,” one person asked.
“Common sense, I think we can all agree, says that a one-time situation is a flawed theory,” one audience member remarked. “I can very easily point to your child, I don’t know if you have kids or not, let’s say your child is a math genius and they’re acing all of their tests in high school all year long but then they decide to change the rules and they’re only going to take the grade from one test and it just happens to be the day your child went to the dentist. So now your math genius has failed the entire year. If there was only one day of a traffic impact study, is that not kind of a flawed logic? I mean you can understand why these people are a little upset about that. I don’t think one day gives an accurate portrayal of what actually goes on here.”
WSDOT Olympic Region Traffic Engineer Sarah Ott explained that the data showed the day the study was conducted, which was Jan. 8, 2020, represented an average day for traffic, to which the crowd reacted with disapproval. The study was also done as a traffic impact analysis for the new developments being built and if the intersection warranted mitigation with the new homes going in.
WSDOT officials Roark and Ott explained that there is a traffic counter in the asphalt that tracks cars every day, and the data from the traffic impact analysis viewed Jan. 8, 2020, as an average day of traffic for that intersection.
Roark said the Belfair Freight Corridor, which is expected to begin construction in 2024, is projected to reduce traffic on state Route 3 by 25%. Ott and Roark each discussed things that can be done to help traffic at the intersection, including a speed study or restricting traffic coming from Ridgepoint Road to only a right turn.
“I could be doing a lot of different things this evening and so could everybody else in here. We came here because we are so concerned about what is happening to our community and you guys aren’t listening to us,” one person said. “You’re taking the word of some firm that probably isn’t even in this area, they probably don’t drive through Belfair, they don’t experience what we’re experiencing. So we are asking you, nicely, to go back to them and redo it. Take another look.”
Roark said he needs funding in order to try and make improvements, which he doesn’t control.
“I go to a lot of meetings and there’s a misconception that DOT is flush with money,” Roark said. “We have a massive budget at DOT and I will tell you, 99% is divided up into 23 different budget items by the Legislature and they tell us how to spend the money. We have very little discretion with our money. Now having said that, we have a modest discretionary budget to do some low-cost enhancements, operational improvements. … We can restripe, we’ve shoehorned in right turn pockets. We’ve added left turn lanes where we’ve got the existing pavement to do it. We’re very responsive to community needs. … When we have to widen or put pavement down, it’s an environmental process and it’s a capital project nine times out of 10. Can I make commitments today? I can tell you yeah, if the community wants to limit turns out there, Sarah and I, right here, right now, can say we can do that, but I think it would be prudent for us to think about that and to a little community outreach before making that decision.”
Residents thanked Roark and Ott for coming out to the forum and answering questions.