New crash punctuates Boblett safety discussion

Published on Thu, Aug 16, 2001 by Meg Olson

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New crash punctuates Boblett safety discussion

By Meg Olson

A meeting between state and city officials to address ongoing safety concerns at the Boblett Street crossing of the truck route took place against a grim backdrop. The day before a California family’s van slammed into a car trying to cross the intersection through backed-up truck traffic. Five people were injured. One was hospitalized.
“It’s a critical situation,” said police chief Bill Elfo. “It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed.”

Elfo has been pressuring the state to signalize the intersection for several years, watching the number of accidents creep up as truck traffic gets heavier and visibility is increasingly limited. Until the light can be put in, he has asked that a state trooper or police officer be funded to direct heavy truck traffic on the state highway. “I think we’ve done everything we can as a city to alert them to the seriousness of the situation,” he said.

Paul Johnson, area administrator for the state department of transportation, visited the Boblett Street intersection August 9 with Captain Mike Haslip of Blaine police, public works director Grant Stewart and Senator Georgia Gardner. Johnson said the state was committed to improving safety at the intersection but in a way that coordinated with the multimillion dollar rebuild of the state highway. “We want to do it right,” he said. “We don’t want to trade the type of accidents we have now for rear-enders.”

As part of the $25 million dollar rebuild of the truck route, an extra lane for trucks lining up for the border would be added from the Freeway to H Street, and left-turn lanes and signals would control traffic flow. The catch is that the project, slated to get rolling this year, has been stalled by permitting and funding delays.

“With the endangered species listings last year the rules changed,” Johnson said. Federal agencies are still working on the environmental review, which needs to be complete before the 14-month right-of-way acquisition process can start. Only after that can construction start.

While the project has secured $10 million in federal funding, the failure of the state legislature to pass a budget for new transportation projects means there will be no state matching funds until the next biennium, stalling the project until at least 2003.

Gardner said Blaine couldn’t wait. “This is a safety project and I’m going to harass everyone until they fund it,” she said of safety improvements to the intersection. “I want to see a light and an extra lane.” Gardner said she hopes to find funding in the current budget. “I think there will be enough slippage that we can make that happen and make that intersection safe.”
Johnson said his department would try and push forward the Boblett Street improvements using federal dollars as the first phase of the larger project, if sufficient right-of-way exists. “We would probably start that in the latter part of 2002,” he said. “In hindsight, if we had known a year ago what we know now we would have tried that two-pronged approach then.”

Meanwhile, Johnson said, they will continue to add to minor improvements made over the last year. “We had done some things – curbing and striping – and it wasn’t working so we’re looking at other solutions,” Johnson said. “We need to do more to make that intersection visible. It looks like a driveway to a lot of people.” Additional striping to keep trucks waiting for the border out of the intersection is planned, along with rumble strips and additional signs to alert travelers to cross-traffic.

“We won’t have it all done by the time school starts but we’ll get going,” Johnson said.

Blaine public works director Grant Stewart said he didn’t think drivers seeing the intersection was as much a problem as drivers seeing each other around stopped truck traffic. “I live there,” Stewart said. “I talk to people who use the intersection. You have to be almost all the way into the intersection before you can see.” Stewart said he had suggested a temporary light to meter trucks across the intersection until the road is rebuilt.

Barring the light, Stewart said he felt an interim three-way stop could accomplish the same goal. “It’s not a perfect solution and I’m not a traffic engineer, but this is a non-typical intersection and requires creative thought,” he said.

Stewart said climbing accident numbers meant whatever solution is chosen, it needs to be soon. So far, there have been eight accidents at the intersection this year, more than the annual total for at least the last six years. “We’re headed for a record year,” he said.

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