Getting to grandma’s house should be safer this holiday season if the trip requires driving between Ritzville, Wash., and the Tri-Cities.
Crews working for the state Department of Transportation cut a ceremonial ribbon near here Tuesday, opening 15 miles of northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 395. Traffic now has two lanes in both directions instead of only one.
The stretch of road is the last major link in an $83 million project to widen and divide 50 miles of Highway 395 between Interstate 90 and the town of Mesa, about 23 miles north of Pasco. The highway between Mesa and Pasco already was four lanes wide before the latest work began in 1991. The limited-access project also included several new interchanges.
The highway was considered one of the state’s most dangerous when it had just one lane in each direction.
More than 4,000 vehicles travel the road each day, and more than a third of that traffic consists of commercial trucks, loaded with everything from Columbia Basin wheat to low-level nuclear waste.
Antsy drivers were forced into the oncoming lane of traffic to pass slower-moving trucks.
In October 1994, three people were killed in one head-on accident. A truck driver died in February of this year.
At the urging of Washington’s congressional delegation, Congress allocated $54.5 million to widen Highway 395 as part of a 1991 highway bill. The National Highway System chipped in another $10.4 million and the state paid $17.9 million.
The project should cut the death toll, said Jerry Lenzi, Eastern Washington director of the Department of Transportation.
“The neat thing about (the section opened Tuesday) is it’s going to be functional for Thanksgiving,” Lenzi said. “It should help cut accidents for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
However, the interchange where the highway meets I-90 still is being rebuilt. That project won’t be completed until next summer.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of four-lane highway