Pasco's Road 68 to lose 'suicide lanes'

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldApril 24, 2013 

Road 68 improvements

Changes are coming to the stretch of Road 68 near Burden Boulevard and Rodeo Drive in Pasco with funding from a federal grant that will pay for improvements said City Managaer Gary Crutchfield.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Pasco's plan to replace the so-called "suicide lanes" on Road 68 and Burden Boulevard pleased one man who lives nearby.

"I am one of those people who drives across all five lanes of traffic to go from Yoke's to Walmart. When somebody is doing it the other way, it's suicide alley," said Bill DeBoard, 70, at a Wednesday open house about the city's planned road improvements. He was referring to the two-way left turn lanes.

The meeting, attended by nine people, was the first of two planned public sessions.

DeBoard, who lives on nearby Snoqualmie Drive, said he also was glad to see plans to coordinate traffic signals on Road 68, which are designed to reduce travel times by keeping traffic from unnecessarily stopping.

Shannon Toranzo, owner of In Bloom Maternity and Baby Boutique on Burden just east of Road 68, liked the six new turning lanes going in on a 3,900-foot stretch of Burden.

"It will help people be able to get in the parking lots and off the road," she said. "It will make the business area more accessible."

Along with the new turn lanes on Burden, a 3,000-foot stretch of Road 68, between Burden to the south and Sandifur Parkway to the north, will have a raised median with another six left turn lanes.

Gone will be the two-way left turn lane, or "suicide lane," as city of Pasco senior engineer Maryanne Zukowski called it.

"Those are being eliminated all across the nation because we're required to manage safety on our roadways," she said.

The area of Road 68 that will be improved sees between 45,000 and 50,000 cars per day between the north and southbound lanes, Zukowski said. And traffic is increasing by about 3 percent a year.

Pasco Public Works Director Ahmad Qayoumi said the project will interconnect at least eight lights on Road 68, including those at the Interstate 182 interchange, which the city had to work on with the Washington State Department of Transportation. Several pedestrian crossings also are being improved with displays that count down the amount of time people have to cross.

The $1.2 million project is being paid for primarily with a pair of federal grants, with the city picking up a 15.5 percent match, Qayoumi said.

During Wednesday's 30-minute presentation at city hall, he said the road project is the result of a traffic study, which itself involved several public meetings. The plan was approved by the Pasco City Council in July 2012.

"During the study, we found that the accident and safety problems are really problematic," he said.

Qayoumi said the federal grants stipulate swift work, so construction is expected to start in mid- to late summer and be wrapped up in the fall.

Brad Barnes, who owns the Dutch Bros. Coffee location on Burden, said the city was doing a good job with the improvements.

"Working within the confines of what the city has, it addresses the problem, it's a pretty simple fix, it doesn't shut down the roadway," Barnes said. "I'm all for it."

Toranzo, who lives farther east on Burden, said her only concern with the project is that construction will lead to drivers trying to avoid traffic by taking side streets.

"It seems like they have it spread out enough that it shouldn't be too much of an issue," she said.

The project is designed by HDJ Design Group, which has its Pasco office along the stretch of Burden where construction will take place, an area near TRAC and the sports complex.

"We're happy to be impacted by this as well," said HDJ principal Greg Jellison.

Another open house is planned for May 22. By then, Jellison said designers will take the project from a conceptual stage to 90 percent planned.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com

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