With traffic problems choking areas of the Olympic Peninsula and stifling economic growth, local residents want answers.
Mason County resident Danielle Skeeters-Lindsey knows bad traffic.
She lives in Allyn — a small, unincorporated area of the county and State Route 3 is the only road out.
The highway originates at the U.S. 101 junction in Shelton and runs up to the east end of the Hood Canal Floating Bridge. The road also runs straight through Belfair, the commercial center of the northern part of the county.
Here’s where the problem lies — during rush hour, the two-lane highway quickly becomes a bottleneck. A brief trip through town easily becomes an hour spent in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“It’s such a huge inconvenience,” Skeeters-Lindsey said. “If you’re stuck in Belfair you might as well shut off that engine because it’s at least 45 minutes before you can get through.”
In the upcoming election for house representative of the 35th Legislative District, position 2, all four candidates agree the issue needs to be addressed.
“The bypass should have been done 20 years ago,” Republican candidate Drew MacEwen said. “I think it’s just been a real lack of leadership to move the project forward — it’s been studied at best, but now let’s get it done.”
Independent conservative candidate Glenn Gaither said he thinks funding for the project is no longer even there.
“In the past, we had a budget surpluss, there was plenty of money to get things done,” he said. “But now there is no money — I think fixing the economy and getting funds back in there is what we need to do first.”
For residents in the mostly-rural county, Belfair is the place to get things done. Most days, Skeeters-Lindsey treks 10 miles north to drop her kids off at school, grab groceries and attend doctor appointments. Waiting in traffic is often unavoidable and the only alternative is a 30-mile detour.
Back in 1965 a solution was proposed — the Belfair Bypass project — that would essentially provide an alternative way around the city itself, easing congestion during busy times like summer months and rush hour. That project has been postponed indefinitely.
While time and money have been spent researching and studying the project for years, a bypass has yet to be built. Residents are getting frustrated.
“It’s become a joke in our car, if you’re stuck in Belfair you ask somebody, ‘So what about that bypass?’” Skeeters-Lindsey said. “With fuel prices the way that they are, to sit in Belfair and wait for something to clear, its just pretty inconvenient on a bad day.”
35th LD – Old in red, new in blue | View in a larger map
Other areas of the district are also facing transportation issues. In Gorst, a small city in Kitsap County, a problematic area exists where the three-lane, state road merges down into two lanes and finally squeezes into one. The road is essential for folks who work up in Bremerton or Silverdale and have no choice but to drive through Gorst on their daily commute. During rush hour, the one lane creates a choke point and congestion that can back up traffic for hours.
In Shelton, a hill slide has forced a portion of the highway down to one lane. Those residents would like to see the recurring problem addressed.
For nearly all residents, living on the Olympic Peninsula, while picturesque and beautiful, means getting in and out of the area is a challenge in itself.
“There’s no easy solution to get off of the peninsula without paying for it,” Skeeters-Lindsey said. “If you take the ferry, you’re paying, if you take the bridge you’re paying a toll, so you can drive clean down to Olympia but you end up paying additional fuel cost.”
Transportation issues are likely having reverberating effects. In Mason County, the unemployment rate is nearly 11%, well above the state average. Many point to inadequate transportation as part of the problem.
“It’s hard to get businesses to locate here if their employees can’t get into work,” Democratic candidate Lynda Ring-Erickson said. “They can’t get their goods in and their pretty products out.”
Most transportation problems seem to stem from a lack of funding. The district, making up less than 2% of the state population, often gets passed up in lieu of other state projects, such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement.
“The question comes down to priority,” Democratic candidate Jeff Davis said. “I would like to think that the priority in this state comes back to my folks as opposed to other areas, but revenue has continued to be an issue.”
Skeeters-Lindsey said she hopes to see change — sooner rather than later.
“It makes it so that people don’t go places,” she said. “Its just not adequate.”