Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kitsap County’s SR 3 Windy Point area gets a rock face lift



By guest blogger Joe Irwin

Kitsap County drivers who drive the short stretch of State Route 3 between Gorst and Bremerton aren’t big fans of “rock ‘n’ roll” – at least as far as their commutes are concerned.

For decades, the unstable slopes that seem to linger above the highway like a hammer waiting to fall have dropped everything from pebbles to basketball-sized boulders onto the four-lane roadway. And while no one has been injured in these sporadic incidents, this summer we started taking action to reduce the likelihood of any sort of potentially dangerous rock falls in the future.

Project crew member scaling the side of Windy Point
to stabilize the slopes above SR 3.
In August, crews from Rock & Company ascended on the scene, scaling the craggy faces of Windy Point to remove loose rocks and other debris from the slopes, using anchor bolts to hold large rocks in place and installing wire mesh fence to further protect motorists.

That was the “easy” part.

Determining how to best get the 71,000 drivers who travel this section of SR 3 daily past the mile-long work zone was anything but easy. With no available detours, simply closing a southbound lane for the duration of the project would have extended rush hour backups significantly.

So our thinking shifted, and traffic lanes did too. We opted to maintain four lanes of traffic on SR 3, but with reduced lane widths from 12 feet to 10 feet through the work zone, and dropped the speed limit from 50 to 35 mph.  It was a great fix and one that would prove to significantly lessen backups and delays.

But it wasn’t enough.

This section of SR 3 is sandwiched between the cliffs of Windy Point and the waters of Sinclair Inlet. Shifting the lanes required temporarily eliminating the roadway shoulders, and, in essence, removing the lanes bicyclists use to get between Gorst and Bremerton.

A shadow loomed over the traffic shift plan, but was eventually turned to the project’s and travelers’ advantage. We turned the pilot vehicle concept, in which drivers from the project crew lead motorists through work zones, on its ear and implemented a “shadow” vehicle.

Through this program, project crew drivers follow, or shadow, bicyclists through the length of the work zone, ensuring a safe buffer between bicyclists and motorized traffic.

The number of shadow vehicles committed to the project has been reduced since the program started in August, but the positive effect on bicyclists’ safety and traffic flows will continue until the project wraps up later this month.

When it does, the only rock ‘n’ roll on this section of SR 3 will be blaring from car radios.

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