Earlier this month, Meghan Norris was excited to show off Green Bluff to her grandmother, who just moved to the area to be closer to family.
Norris, her fiance, 5-year-old daughter, and grandmother loaded into their Subaru and headed up to the farm community below Mount Spokane for a morning of family fun.
Then their lives changed forever, when a pickup turned into their car on Day Mt. Spokane Road, sending all four of them to the hospital and terrifying the entire family.
Just a few yards away from the crash site on Bruce Road, a homemade sign reads “Write Spokane County to improve this intersection.”
During the fall festival that draws thousands to Green Bluff every October, the intersection of Day Mt. Spokane Road and Bruce Road is dangerous, said local farmer Todd Beck.
At the three-way intersection, cars on the east-west Day Mt. Spokane Road don’t have to stop. But traffic on Bruce Road, which dead ends into Day Mt. Spokane Road, must stop and wait for traffic to clear. On busy Apple Festival weekends, traffic coming from Spokane backs up along Bruce adjacent to the stubble of harvested wheat fields. Dozens of cars can back up, sometimes approaching the roundabout at the intersection to the south at state Highway 206. The backup can reach 20 minutes or more on busy days.
The intersection becomes a problem only during the month of October, said Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter, public works information and outreach manager for Spokane County.
“This is not something on our radar because it is not a year-round concern. It is for one month of the year,” Wheatley-Billeter said. “It’s really up to the drivers. Give yourself time, slow down.”
Norris’ fiance, Sila Tuiofea, was driving east on Day Mt. Spokane on the morning of Oct. 2 when a pickup turned in front of them toward Bruce Road, hitting their Subaru.
“It was just extremely scary,” Norris said.
Her 74-year-old grandmother was thrown forward from the backseat, landing in Norris’ lap. Her 5-year-old daughter was in a car seat and only suffered bruises, Norris said.
Norris is in a back brace. Her grandmother suffered the worst injuries, needing a knee and hip replacement. She also has broken ribs. She was in the intensive care unit for a week before moving to a rehabilitation facility.
It was her grandmother’s second week living in town and she was excited to explore her new home and make special memories with her great -granddaughter, Norris said.
“It’s scary you can’t see coming what’s from both those directions, what’s going on ahead of you,” Norris said of the road. “So you don’t know what you’re going into.”
Norris used to nanny for Todd and Kim Beck, owners of Beck’s Harvest House. When Norris called Todd Beck shortly after the crash, he wasn’t surprised to hear where it had happened.
“It’s a danger,” he said of the intersection.
Beck doesn’t know what the solution is, maybe flashers, more stop signs or a roundabout.
Beck has done his part to reduce traffic on the bluff during busy weekend by implementing a reservation system and on -site parking fees, he said.
He said the new system has helped keep customers arriving in a consistent stream rather than big clumps. Not only does it help with traffic but better service, he said.
“I could fit more cars on the property but I don’t’ want to because I can’t with service,” Beck said. “I want everyone that’s here to have a great time, that’s our goal.”
The October weekend traffic at Green Bluff is out of control, said Steve Cole, owner of Cole’s Orchard.
“I think we’re maxed out on Green Bluff on the weekends,” Cole said. “If more people would come up during the week, we would be better off.”
That intersection would be a great spot for a roundabout, said Derrick Hansen, owner of Hansen’s Green Bluff Orchard.
He agrees that traffic is out of control in the historic area that’s not designed to handle thousands of vehicles a day.
Hansen would like to see a traffic counter up on the bluff so there’s a better understanding of how many people drive up each weekend.
“I don’t think that the powers that be really understand the volume of traffic,” Hansen said.
Wheatley-Billeter said the traffic is “extraordinarily heavier” during festival weekends.
“People really need to pay attention to where they’re going, what they’re doing, and drive defensively,” she said. “If you’re in an area where you’re unfamiliar with the roads, slow down.”
Still recoiling from the effects of the crash, Norris hopes people will be more careful as they head up to Green Bluff.
“I just want everyone to pay attention to their surroundings. Sometimes it’s not you driving the car it’s someone you can’t control,” Norris said.
“We did everything right but this has changed our lives.”
Emma Epperly can be reached at (509) 459-5122 or at email@example.com.
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