Monday, November 10, 2008

So you want to drive on the shoulder? Well, OK.

Judging from the steady stream of e-mails we receive, a great number of people have theories on how to relieve congestion.

Many of the suggestions make sense, but most aren't feasible for one reason or another. In a lot of cases, there simply isn't funding.

Other times, the ideas are a bit off the wall. WSDOT traffic engineer Steve Bennett remembers a call from a psychologist who pitched an idea to improve traffic flow on the 1950 Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

“He said we should paint the bridge orange, because orange is a color that puts people at ease,” Steve said.

Despite the psychologist’s analysis and urging, Steve held firm to his own theory that the bridge had too few lanes to support the growing traffic volume.

Traffic flow across the Narrows is much better now – ever since we added a second GREEN bridge in 2007.

But a few miles west of the Narrows on SR 16, at the SR 302 ramp to Purdy, backups develop during peak commutes that cause vehicles to weave and jockey for position as they enter and exit SR 16.

Sally McCannon of Belfair e-mailed us in July, wondering “when is something going to be done?” Sally’s e-mail came not only with a problem, but a suggested solution: “If you would have two lanes onto the Purdy exit for a little ways, it would help the backup. Seems like that would be an easy fix,” she wrote.

Our traffic engineers agreed (in fact, they were already considering the idea). In September, crews restriped the SR 302 off-ramp from westbound SR 16 to allow shoulder driving on weekdays between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“We were well on our way” to adding the shoulder lane before receiving Sally’s e-mail, said Steve, offering a revelation that steals some of the fun from this blog post.

It took drivers a few days to get accustomed to using the shoulder, but as time goes by the extra afternoon lane seems to work better and better. It doesn’t solve congestion in the area. That will require millions of dollars. But with a little paint and few signs, the level of safety is improved.

“I think it has helped a lot,” Sally said when contacted by phone. “I can definitely tell it’s better. It was a good fix,” … and a good idea.

Thank you Sally and everyone who takes the time to offer their transportation suggestions. We always read them – and sometimes we even use them.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I take this route home every day from work. Between 4 and 6 PM this exit ramp used to be a nightmare! The traffic would be backed all the way back to the off ramp for Burnham Dr. It would be a fight to see who could enter the freeway and who could exit. I can't even begin to count how many near misses I had... This was the best thing that could have been done in this area, it relieved the congestion issue and it's a much safer way to get home. Now only if the something could be done for the congestion in Purdy once you get off the freeway...

Jason said...

With Active Traffic Management in the future, will there be a possibility that WSDOT will use overhead signs to open/close lanes based on traffic volume? For example, an overhead sign will display the speed limit of the particular lane, and when traffic volume is low, the two left lanes on a four lane highway can be closed. Then during peak hours, speed limit drops to 45 mph for max capacity and the shoulder lane is also opened for traffic to create five lanes. Anything like that in the works right now?

Mike Baum said...

Good example of WSDOT thinking outside the box and implementing a substandard yet condition improving solution. Nicely done!

Anonymous said...

I have to tell you, this is not working well at all. As the column in the most recent issue of the KP News confirms, this new "solution" is becoming a high stress game of chicken. No matter if you are in the "regular" lane of the shoulder lane, people routinely cut you off witht the new solution. This has happened to me every time I try to use the newly re-striped lanes. In talking to friends this is their experience too. So, now the solution is backfiring. Now my friends and I just take the Burnham exit and go up to whatever that road is it dead-ends into, turn left, turn left on 144th, and come into Purdy the back way. Now this is becoming a more heavily traveled route. The law of unintended consequences for you I think. This in turn, exposes a new problem, now when you approach the intersection with the Bridgeway Mkt, waiting to turn right onto the bride, that road is becoming backed up so folks can't turn left easily off 144th. I think you need to re-stripe and make it so there is a right turn lane on to the Purdy bridge from tha main road.

I think the re-striping and merging at the Purdy exit has been a mistake, and I think WSP should have motorcycle cops at the exit ticketing cars that won't let other cars merge, as this is becoming a real problem. I already experienced road rage directed at me because of this change and it is a ticking time bomb for stressed out people I think.

Jeremy Bertrand said...

Thanks for the feedback. Allowing shoulder driving isn't the perfect solution, but it has improved safety by eliminating some of the conflicts in the high-speed area at the bottom of the Burnham Drive on-ramp.
We're going to look into your idea about striping in a right-turn lane onto the Purdy bridge.
Thanks again.

Driver said...

I believe that this fix is a failure I have had people run into me I don't think this helps it just makes people to sit there while 4 or 5 cut you off I have drove this route for 20 years and I am looking to move cause of this road

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