The latest look at the preliminary plans to construct a series of roundabouts and other traffic improvements along the Highway 305 corridor between Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island were presented earlier this week by Washington State Department of Transportation at an open house in Suquamish.
According to WSDOT, easing congestion and increased safety were some of the main reasons the department was pushing for the improvements.
But according to engineers working on the project, the one improvement which would see the greatest benefit to traffic flow — a roundabout at the Suquamish Way intersection near the Agate Passage Bridge — isn’t included in the current project plan.
Joseph Perez is the traffic operations engineer for WSDOT’s Olympic Region and he pointed out the fact that project engineers have been examining two possible options to improve traffic at Suquamish Way: the roundabout or a left-turn lane.
When asked which factors would determine the improvements WSDOT would construct, Perez said, “It really depends on how much support we get from the [Suquamish] Tribe, there’s a lot of right of way acquisition that’s needed. But as far as performance, the roundabout is optimal over the left-turn option.”
Despite the roundabout being WSDOT’s preferred method of improving traffic, Kevin House, senior consultant for Parametrix (the engineering firm tapped by the state to handle design for the project), said the best option for Suquamish Way doesn’t even look like an option right now.
As House explained, if the Suquamish roundabout were to be approved, in addition to being the most impactful for traffic, it would also be the most expensive roundabout in the project.
“The thing is, it’s currently not part of the $36.5 million project,” House said. “Because it is on tribal trust land we need agreement with all the stakeholders to add it as a project.”
House did say, however, depending on the outcome of ongoing right-of-way acquisition negotiations, it could be possible for the Suquamish Way roundabout to find its way into the project if lower-priority improvements were to be bumped off.
House also noted that another roundabout also located on tribal land, near the Masi Shop, was dialed back in scope following conversations with the tribe.
“[In] discussions with the Tribe and PME, who owns the Masi Shop, they provided their concerns about access and that they didn’t believe that the roundabout in front of the shop was necessary; it should be moved further down and we could just do access improvements instead.”
According to Leonard Forsman, chairman for the Suquamish Tribe, the Tribe is exercising a good deal of caution as it examines the possibility of entering into any agreement with the state.
“We’ve been talking about improvements to the system and trying to manage what impacts those would have if constructed,” Forsman said. “We’ve been very active participants in the process.”
Forsman didn’t rule out the possibility of a Suquamish Way roundabout in the future, but noted that the current $36.5 million budget doesn’t leave room for the roundabout.
“It’s being assessed as an option for the future,” Forsman said.
“We’ve still been talking about improvements at various places; we’re still trying to assess what the future of the intersection by the casino there might look like. We’ve been talking about different options and we haven’t come to an agreement as far as what we would be willing to support,” he said.
Key among the tribe’s concerns, Forsman said, was the assurance that any improvements made do not negatively impact the Tribe’s business at the nearby Clearwater Casino Resort.
“We want to make sure that we have minimized impact to our business traffic and then also provide accessibility for our residents. We want to improve safety and we want to try to reduce wait times, all those things are something we want to try to do.”
“We want to make sure that our needs are met as best as they can be,” he added.
As for where the Tribe is currently at in the negotiating process for a roundabout at Suquamish Way, Forsman said the Tribe would take its time in coming to an agreement.
“I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely not going to happen. We’re still negotiating and working through what we feel is the best approach,” Forsman said. “It’s probably taken a little longer but it’s a huge decision for the future of the Tribe, so we’re approaching it carefully.”
“I know that the state is eager to get this plan in place so that it can be funded,” the chairman said. “But we’re going to take what time we need to make a decision that protects our interests and also contributes to those other goals.”