OLYMPIA – Two months to the day after a 16-year-old motorist was killed pulling onto U.S. Highway 195, her family and friends traveled to Olympia to call on state lawmakers to fix the dangerous intersection.
“On January 16th, my worst nightmare came true,” said Debi Hammel. “First the phone call, then the site of the accident, then the painful news that my daughter was gone.”
She wiped away tears as she testified before a House committee Monday.
Lorissa Lynette Green was killed when her Plymouth sedan was hit by a GMC pickup towing a trailer. It was dusk. Green, leaving work at her mother’s Giggling Guest Childcare Too, was pulling out onto the highway from a stop sign at Cheney-Spokane Road. The pickup’s driver, David Blyton, was headed southbound.
“We will never know what Lorissa saw when she pulled out,” said Blyton, recounting the horror of the crash. “I will never forget what I saw.”
Last month, local residents held a standing-room-only community meeting and called for changes to prevent more accidents at the intersection, where more than 16,000 cars travel through each day. In the crowd were state transportation officials and two new state representatives, John Driscoll and Kevin Parker.
Afterward, Driscoll introduced House Bill 2225, which would pay for a new turn lane at the intersection, improving the odds that drivers will see oncoming cars.
“We realize that a larger project is needed to fully address the problem, but we need a solution now to prevent future accidents,” Parker, a co-sponsor of the bill, said at the time. In the past decade, there have been 86 collisions at the intersection.
“Lorissa made a fatal mistake,” said Hammel. “I am sure that she thought that intersection was clear.”
Monday’s hearing was Hammel’s second trip to Olympia to talk to lawmakers. She and other friends and family members had several one-on-one meetings with key legislators Monday.
The state transportation department says that the best fix would be a $14 million interchange with a bridge so motorists wouldn’t have to cross oncoming traffic in order to merge onto the highway. That was recommended by state safety experts in 1995.
State Sen. Chris Marr last year asked fellow lawmakers to include that project in the state transportation budget. It didn’t make the cut, and Marr himself notes that with the time lag on road projects, it wouldn’t have saved Green’s life.
But Marr said Monday that he’s again pushing for the $14 million.
“I can’t promise you that, but I can promise you that that will receive all my efforts,” he said.
For now, state transportation officials are suggesting a $250,000 southbound slow-down lane so that turning cars won’t block the visibility for drivers like Green.
Local residents have suggested lowering the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit on SR 195 at the intersection, or installing a stoplight. But the state wants to keep the highway as a high-speed corridor.
More than 40 Spokane-area people made the trip Monday to urge lawmakers to find the money for the project. Among them: Thomas Grieb, a motorcyclist who was nearly killed in 2006 in a similar accident in the same place.
HB 2225 will not pass, because a key legislative deadline fell last week. But the bill gave lawmakers a forum to hear from community members. Lawmakers can simply set aside money for the project in the upcoming transportation budget. And the chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee said that lawmakers will try to make that happen.
“Although this is a bill that is after cutoff, we are planning to work on this issue in the budget,” Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, told Hammel.
Clibborn said lawmakers would try to find a way to dedicate the project to Green and others hurt at the site.