Accident spurs Boblett Street safety campaign
By Meg Olson
A few years ago, Don Hurd stopped using the Boblett Street intersection to cross state route 543. Worried about the safety of the intersection, he takes the time to find another way to get where hes going.
Last month Hurds son Marc was hit by a semi-trailer on his way to school. His car was thrown 80 feet. Now, Hurd is finished with just avoiding the intersection. He wants to see it made safe or eliminated now.
That intersection has been bothering me and bothering me for a long time, Hurd said. Now every time I look at a picture of that smashed-up car it bothers me a lot more. When Hurd arrived at the scene of the April 24 accident, his son was already in an ambulance speeding toward the hospital. The totaled Pontiac painted a grim picture. I could see someone dead in that car, he said. It shakes me up every time I look at the pictures. Why hes not dead I dont know.
At first Marc Hurd appeared to have suffered only from cuts and bruises but internal damage was discovered later: he lost his spleen, and his liver, kidney and lungs were damaged. His memory of the accident is slowly seeping back. A truck was to his left, pulled up far past the line in the left turn lane, as Marc tried to see past him to cross west in Boblett Street. I checked toward the ramp, I could see most of it, I thought, and it looked clear. I checked the other direction and went. When I looked over and saw him, he was about ten feet away. I just said oh. Everything got sort of dreamlike and the next thing I knew I was on a stretcher.
Don Hurd said he has begun a letter-writing campaign and is trying to get community members and legislators to join him and push for increased safety at the intersection - starting with a traffic light. He has already found an ally in Blaine police chief Bill Elfo.
I believe a light is warranted, Elfo said. Im not a traffic engineer, but theres enough data to show that whats there is inadequate. The problem is aggravated by the number of teenage drivers going to and from school.
Elfo is collecting accident data at the intersection from city police and state patrol records, which he will forward to the state department of transportation (DOT). The numbers have stayed consistent but accidents are increasing in severity, he said. City records show accidents at the intersection have fluctuated since 1997, ranging from three to seven a year. There were seven in 2000 and there have been three so far in 2001. We believe there were more that were handled by the state patrol, Elfo said. Each year since 1997, those accidents have sent two or three people to the hospital. This year, two of the three accidents have resulted in hospitalization.
After a meeting last July, the DOT added curbing and striping to the intersection to try and address safety concerns. Elfo said its not enough. He had asked for a light or for the state to fund an officer for traffic control at the intersection. They felt none of that was feasible, Elfo said.
The bottom line is, just to go out there and throw up a signal may not make the most sense, said DOT assistant area administrator Todd Harrison. He said signals for the intersection were part of the proposed upgrades for SR 543, on hold since last year following the adoption of I-695, which chopped state transportation funds by limiting licensing fees for all vehicles to $30.
Signalizing the intersection as it is now could cost more than $100,000 and take eight months, Harrison said. We would spend all that money and the permanent project would come in and replace it. The SR543 upgrade, initially planned for a December 2000 start, is delayed until 2001 - provided it gets funding.
The legislature is now considering how to spend state transportation dollars, and Harrison said SR 543 is in a good position to get the go-ahead. Its showing up high on a lot of peoples lists but it needs a funding increase to make it happen, Harrison said.
Following the recent accident, Harrison said traffic engineers will analyze accident data since recent upgrades and videotape traffic patterns at the intersection. Has anything changed? Have we eliminated certain types of accidents and now we have others? Maybe theres something else we can do or we might want to go back and look at a signal now, he said. We may want to wait until June and see if funding for the project comes through.
Steve Banham, the citys assistant public works director, said the city was looking at additional measures to route traffic away from the problem intersection. Were looking at restricting access to Yew Avenue to make it one way southbound, he said, which would redirect traffic onto Odell Street and H Street. Well be getting together with businesses on Yew to see if we can mitigate their concerns about how that would impact them.
Hurd said more waiting could cost a life. What did it take for them to look at pipeline safety in Bellingham? Three deaths. I dont want it to take that here. A traffic light at the intersection would make the intersection safer in the short term, but Hurd felt more drastic long-term solutions might be needed. I dont believe a highway has any place going through the center of our town, right next to our schools, he said.
The safest solution will be for drivers to choose another way to go, and thats what Marc Hurd plans to do. Im going around, he said. The question is, will others? I know some of my friends will quit driving that way for a few days but in a week or two theyll be back there, he told his father.
The morning of May 14, another high school student was crossing the intersection, their vision obscured by a truck turning right. The students pickup truck was hit by a southbound van. There were no injuries.