Editorial: No exit from traffic problem

August 24, 2017 GMT

Whether you blame impatient West Siders looking to cut a few minutes off a trip, continuous Interstate 90 construction or modern GPS systems and smartphone apps that allow drivers to navigate alternative routes, roads such as Nelson Siding Road are receiving a level and type of use that do not fit the roads or the communities the roads serve.

On Tuesday the Kittitas County commissioners took the fairly dramatic action of directing the state Department of Transportation to close Interstate 90 exit 78 (exits that access Nelson Siding Road) on Monday, Sept. 4.

This issue came to a head last year when residents along Nelson Siding Road requested the Kittitas County commissioners lower the speed limit on the road from 50 mph to 35 mph. The speed limit was lowered.

While that did not lead to a decrease in traffic, 100 people were pulled over on the road between May and June (primarily on weekends).

Realistically, the lowering of the speed limit was not going to immediately cut into traffic flows. The main issue is with people using Nelson Siding Road to bypass I-90 construction zones. Those people’s knowledge of Kittitas County mainly is gleamed from the time spent speeding through on the interstate. They likely are ignorant of the concerns of Nelson Siding Road residents and the actions of the county to discourage use of the road as an alternate route.

A speeding ticket delivers a message, though. It just might take a while to spread.

At a Kittitas County commissioner meeting last week, Undersheriff Clay Myers said the county sees more traffic on Nelson Siding Road and Westside Road than any other roads in the county. That’s pretty remarkable. More people live along those roads than have in the past but they should not be high-volume roads.

In addition to closing the two exits, county and state officials have also talked about posting variable signs alerting drivers to not exit the interstate, and placing barricades at Old Cedars Road and removable barricades at Nelson Siding Road and Westside Road.

The challenge with any of these “solutions” is determining the full impact and whether it just pushes the problem out to a larger or different area.

County Commissioner Laura Osiadacz pointed out there are businesses that rely on people getting off at exit 78. It was also mentioned at the meeting that some people are already exiting at Elk Heights. Closing the Nelson Siding exists just might funnel more traffic onto Peoh Point.

County road officials brought up the ironic point that the roads are too nice. Over the years, the county has improved Nelson Siding Road to the point it is nice road and people feel comfortable driving at high speeds.

Commenters on the Daily Record Facebook page have perhaps jokingly suggested that one way to discourage traffic is to install a round-about on Nelson Siding Road. Anyone who has driven through Seattle neighborhoods knows, mini-roundabouts (or traffic islands) in residential intersections are used to discourage people from speeding through neighborhoods.

We are focused on our issues here in Kittitas County but similar stories are told in rural communities along the interstates through the state. Everyone is fighting against a rising tide. Statistics show that Seattle’s population grew by 12 percent from 2010 to 2015 and the number of vehicles grew by 12 percent as well. According to Census data, Seattle has the fifth highest density of cars of any major U.S. city.

Closing interstate exits is a stop-gap measure. In theory, the completion of the I-90 construction project at some point in the future will ease this problem. But even without construction, traffic on I-90 still backs up on weekends.

Keeping rural roads rural is going to require more extensive long-term strategy.