WALLA WALLA, Washington – The Washington State Department of Transportation recently presented options for improving safety at intersections along U.S. Highway 12 within the Walla Walla city limits. The city of Walla Walla, Walla Walla County and the Port of Walla Walla have been working with WSDOT on improving safety along the route, paying specific attention to the area between Second Avenue and Airport Way/Tausick Way.
Engineers recently made a presentation to city council and presented several options.
“The best option, if you ignored costs, sounds like it would be some kind of a half cloverleaf kind of a situation,” Walla Walla County Commissioner Jim Johnson said. “We looked at Clinton and Highway 12 and also Wilbur and Highway 12, because they’re problematic for getting on and off.”
Johnson said that the half cloverleaf kind of design is the most expensive option.
“I’ve heard up to $45 million for each intersection,” he said.
A less expensive option would be roundabouts.
“They’re certainly safer,” Johnson said. “You don’t hear about people getting killed in a roundabout. I like roundabouts, I’m not sure I understand the logic of doing it on the freeway where you’re driving 60 miles per hour then all of a sudden you have to slow down to whatever it takes to get into a roundabout, but I guess we’ll see.”
Walla Walla Mayor Barbara Clark said WSDOT said the roundabout as the temporary fix at North Clinton Street/Lower Waitsburg Road. and U.S. Highway 12 seems to be working.
“There hasn’t been a fatality there or injuries, crashes,” Clark said. “Those just aren’t happening there anymore.”
According to Clark, WSDOT said that when the agency is looking at its budget, that portion of U.S. Highway 12 is not a priority, so it’s looking at some low-cost options.
However, Walla Walla County Commissioner Jim Johnston said there is an issue, and everyone knows it.
“The very, very least we need – acceleration lanes at Clinton and Highway 12,” he said. “Even if we don’t come up with something that allows for north-south crossing, at least acceleration lanes.”
He said acceleration lanes would be particularly beneficial for farm vehicles coming off Lower Waitsburg Road and using U.S. Highway 12 to move their products.
Johnson said creating four lanes of traffic on U.S. Highway 12 between Wallula and Nine Mile Hill is still on the minds of legislators in Washington and WSDOT, but he says that WSDOT has said to not count on Phase 8 money coming anytime soon because there are a lot of priorities statewide in terms of transportation.
That’s not stopping the local government coalition from visiting with lawmakers in Washington D.C. Johnson said if there’s any way some kind of infrastructure package comes about, the local government coalition wants to make sure the expansion to four lanes of U.S. Highway 12 is one of the projects on the top of that list.
While it’s still unclear where the funding for Phase 8 of the U.S. Highway 12 project might come from, Johnson predicts it won’t be completed for at least a decade.