Left-turn lanes were popular at a meeting Tuesday in Deer Park to hear suggestions on how to spend almost $4.5 million to make U.S. Highway 395 safer.
About 55 people attended the first two hours of the three-hour state Transportation Department open house at Deer Park High School, and many of them favored turn lanes over passing lanes.
There was general agreement that the Deer Park intersection where Monroe and Crawford roads cross the highway should be a top priority. People who live in the area call it “Coffin Corner” because almost twice as many accidents occur there as at any other intersection between Spokane and Kettle Falls, Wash.
Two other intersections near Deer Park and Monroe Road’s other intersection with the highway, about 9-1/2 miles south of Deer Park, also stirred concern because of high accident rates.
“I watch the rearview mirror constantly,” said Lynn Beazer, ticking off the accidents at the southernmost crossing of Monroe Road, where he must turn to reach his home. “My wife won’t hardly go there anymore, especially at night.”
He said his wife prefers to go out of her way on Dartford Road to get home rather than risk the Monroe intersection.
Joe Haley had similar concerns about Granite Point Road at Loon Lake, where he lives. Haley said heavier traffic volume in recent years, especially on summer weekends, has made several crossings at Loon Lake hazardous.
“Sometimes, you’ll see cars backed up 15 or 20 deep waiting to make a left turn there,” he said.
Lou Combs, who lives a mile south of Deer Park, wondered whether it might not be better in the long run to build a couple of overpasses and frontage roads at Deer Park and eliminate the three dangerous crossings there while land still is available. Turn lanes don’t reduce the danger of trying to cross the busy highway, he said.
Combs, who is a commercial truck driver, also said Highway 395 needs stronger law enforcement as much as turning and passing lanes.
“This 395 out here is the most aggressive piece of road I know of in the country,” he said. “The road conditions don’t mean anything to anyone anymore.”
Driver safety is the next project for Loon Lake resident Teresa Waunch, leader of the Project 395 committee which was instrumental in getting almost $4 million in federal and state money to improve the highway. Waunch said she hopes to form a separate committee to work with the state Traffic Safety Commission to promote better driving in the area.
“It will give us more political clout,” said Waunch, who remains committed to her goal of having Highway 395 expanded to four lanes from Spokane all the way to Kettle Falls.
Regional Transportation Department Administrator Jerry Lenzi said three Deer Park intersections tentatively are scheduled to get left-turn lanes next year, but he said he hopes to complete some simpler projects this summer.
Ideally, he said, the $4 million would provide turn lanes for most of 19 dangerous intersections between Spokane and Kettle Falls. He said he hopes the money also will cover at least two or three of 10 proposed passing lanes.
People at Tuesday’s meeting were asked to rate the proposals and suggest others. The same thing will be done from 4 to 7 p.m. today at Colville Junior High School.
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