Officials heap praise on new interchange project

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writer November 4, 2009 

Benton County Commissioner Leo Bowman stood on a sandy slope next to Highway 395 on Tuesday afternoon and waved his arm at the cars whizzing by on their way from Kennewick to Pasco.

"Take a look," Bowman said, wearing a proud smile. "Where's your congestion?"

He was among a slew of state and local officials who gathered next to the highway's new interchange to tout the enhanced safety and traffic flow resulting from the figure-eight roundabout and wider overpass that replaced the old cloverleaf south of the bridge.

They also lauded construction crews for finishing the job on time and on budget.

Construction started on the $16 million interchange Feb. 23 and initially was expected to last for two seasons.

But it finished in October, about three weeks ahead of schedule, said Moe Davari, project engineer for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Don Whitehouse, regional WSDOT administrator, said the speedy construction was due to a combination of factors -- extra money from the state, drivers putting up with several highway closures and contractor KLB Construction Inc. working around the clock.

The project is intended to improve safety and traffic flow in an area that attracts an average of more than 60,000 vehicles per day.

Davari said that number includes about 10,000 trucks daily and 40,000 vehicles getting onto Highway 240.

It was challenging to have construction in the middle of one of the Tri-Cities' busiest roads, he said.

"But we made it through," Davari said.

The road also has been one of the Tri-Cities' most dangerous, but Washington State Patrol Lt. Jay Cabezuela said the new inter- change has reduced the number of accidents on the blue bridge by more than half.

Fewer people are getting into accidents while trying to merge onto the bridge, and fewer people are getting injured in the accidents that do happen because the roundabout has slowed them down, he said.

"It's working exactly how it's supposed to," Cabezuela said.

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