After years of discussion with neighbors about what to do with the busy, accident-prone intersection at U.S. Highway 2 and Colbert Road north of Spokane, the Washington State Department of Transportation has secured funding to install J-turns in the intersection to eliminate cross traffic.
Community meetings were held in 2018 and 2019, with local residents calling for improvements to the intersection. As it currently sits, traffic crossing the four-lane highway on Colbert Road or turning left onto Colbert Road from the highway often has to pause in the median, where there is limited room, to wait for a break in traffic. There have been numerous collisions there, including a fatality crash in 2020 and two fatality crashes in 2021.
It was three crashes that occurred in October 2018 that prompted thousands of residents to sign a petition demanding intersection improvements. DOT responded by organizing a meeting to get community input. At the time, there had been 16 crashes at the intersection from 2013 to 2017. By comparison, the intersection considered the top priority for improvements at the time, Highway 2 and Hayford Road, had seen 80 crashes in that same time period.
When discussions about intersection improvements began, DOT officials cautioned residents that the intersection was considered a low priority and it would likely take years to get funding for a project. There are always more projects than there is available funding, said DOT Regional Administrator Mike Gribner, so projects at the top of the priority list are usually the ones that get the limited funding.
But the two fatality crashes in 2021, including one involving a motorcyclist in October, moved the project up on the priority list, said Gribner. “It moved up to one of the top (priorities) in the region,” he said.
The new priority rating allowed DOT to secure $2.4 million from the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program to put the project on the 2023 construction list. “I think that’s the most likely,” Gribner said. “We tried really, really hard to get it done this year, but I don’t think it will happen.”
Installing J-turns is the best way to manage the intersection, Gribner said. Highway 2 is a divided highway in that area with two lanes in each direction. “J-turns have a very specific use, in my view,” he said. “That is why they were designed, for that specific condition.”
Once the J-turns are installed they will essentially become U-turn routes. For example, a driver heading east on Colbert Road will turn south onto Highway 2, merge into the left lane, then use the J-turn route to turn onto northbound Highway 2, then merge into the right lane and turn right onto Colbert Road. The same will apply to vehicles that would ordinarily take a left turn onto Colbert Road from the highway or from the highway onto Colbert Road.
The Department of Transportation installed J-turns at Highway 195 and Thorpe Road in 2019, the first ones in Eastern Washington, but Gribner said he thinks drivers are still getting used to them. Gribner said he expects that as drivers become more accustomed to J-turns, they will be more accepting of them much the same way that people resisted roundabouts when they first began showing up, but they’re now an accepted form of traffic control.
While traffic control during construction has not yet been determined, the intersection will remain open, Gribner said. “We’re not doing major impacts to the mainline,” he said. “There will be some impacts on the side streets.”
The project is expected to be finished relatively quickly once construction begins, Gribner said. “These don’t take that long to do,” he said.
Gribner said he’s heard from residents who are pleased that improvements are coming. “My impression is that most of the people are pretty excited,” he said. “It’s happening sooner than we thought.”
Work to watch for
Perry Street and Newark Avenue have been reduced to one lane between 9th Avenue and Arthur Street through March 16 for Quanta work.
Riverside Avenue between Howard and Stevens streets downtown, and Stevens Street between Main and Riverside avenues, have been reduced to one lane for City Line construction.
Snow season runs through March 15 in the city of Spokane. Should plows be needed, remember to park on the odd side of the street.
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