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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vehicles’ loose loads sink drivers

Plywood, lawn chairs, furniture, Christmas trees, even outhouses – the Washington State Department of Transportation’s incident response team sees its fair share of roadway debris.

“If you can imagine it, we’ve picked it up,” maintenance supervisor Ernie Sims said.

In April and May, the team made 156 stops to clear road-blocking debris, DOT spokesman Al Gilson said.

Gilson and other transportation and law enforcement officers urge drivers to make sure their loads are tied down and covered.

Motorist Bob Bourke agrees.

He narrowly avoided a debris-related collision on Interstate 90 last summer.

Bourke was heading east, nearing the Division Street off-ramp, when he noticed some packing material in the road.

He quickly spotted the large box in the lane to his left, and made sure he missed it.

The drivers of two other vehicles weren’t quite so fortunate. One braked to avoid it but was rear-ended by the vehicle behind, Bourke said.

“They should raise the fines for people who have things fall off their car or truck,” he said.

The fine for an unsecured load is $101, and Washington State Patrol officers won’t hesitate to write tickets for the offense, said Trooper Jim Hays.

And the fine can be even larger.

It’s $194 if a load of something like gravel or bark spills onto the roadway, said Cpl. Dave Reagan, Spokane County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

And the fine doubles if a spill causes a crash.

Reagan said he stopped on his way home from work Wednesday to remove a piece of siding with nails sticking out of it from the road.

But he advises citizen drivers to not pick up debris themselves, because it can be hazardous.

Instead, motorists should call 911 if it’s a dangerous situation, or non-emergency law enforcement numbers if the debris is unlikely to cause an accident.

Cracking down on car theft

Seattle is testing a new strategy to make sure thieves do more time.

Authorities in the city’s north precinct are charging the thieves with gross misdemeanors instead of felonies.

Judges in Municipal Court, which handles misdemeanors, aren’t bound by the same sentencing guidelines as those in Superior Court, which tries felonies.

The state guidelines call for no jail time to 60 days of jail time for a first car-theft offense.

A car thief doesn’t have to worry about serving more than a year until he or she is convicted of the crime seven times.

Municipal Court judges have more leeway to give out sentences as they see fit.

Getting There will let you know how it all works out.

Keller out of commission

The Keller Ferry will be dry-docked for five days of repairs starting June 13.

As the state’s only inland ferry, it transports vehicles over the Columbia River between Wilbur and Republic.

The Martha S., the ferry serving the route, has been in service since 1949 and needs a checkup.

So from June 13 to June 17, drivers will have to take the longer route via Highway 174, just downstream of the Grand Coulee Dam.

Slow going

•The westbound Interstate 90 Lincoln Street off-ramp is scheduled to be closed from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday while state crews update the overhead sign and lighting. Westbound I-90 traffic will be reduced at this time to two lanes.

•Expect delays on Bigelow Gulch east of Argonne. Work on the intersection there is causing some backups.

•The trip to Pullman might take a little longer this week. The state is making pavement repairs near Trestle Creek Road (milepost 57), and traffic will be reduced to a single lane directed by flaggers.

•Highway 2 will be closed starting today in Newport at the Union Avenue and Walnut Street intersection to realign the curbs and sidewalks to better accommodate turning trucks. A detour is in place.

•Third Avenue in downtown Spokane, Thor and Freya south of the freeway, Regal on the south end of Spokane, the Washington/Stevens corridor south of downtown Spokane, and Monroe and Crestline between Wellesley and Francis remain under construction.

Deep breaths.

Check for construction updates at gettingthere.