The overpass named for Walla Walla Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Estes came too late to save his life.
But officials said it is already saving others from death and injury.
Between 2006-10, the year before construction started on the project, 76 crashes occurred on Highway 12 in Burbank between the traffic signals at Highway 124 and Humorist Road, said Don Whitehouse, state Department of Transportation regional administrator.
About half of those crashes caused injuries, with three deaths reported, he told a group of about 50 people Wednesday.
“We experienced T-bone accidents,” he said. “We experienced a huge number of injury accidents.”
In 2013, the first full year after the overpass replacing the traffic signals opened, there were two accidents — one involved a vehicle hitting a deer and the other a rear-end collision with “possible injuries,” Whitehouse said.
The $22 million project, which also includes roundabouts at the Highway 12 on- and off-ramps, will prevent crashes like the one in February 2007 that killed Estes from happening again, said Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz.
“I think it’s really neat to make that happen,” he said, adding that he wished it didn’t have to be there under the circumstances.
Law enforcement officers, elected officials and motorcyclists were on hand when Estes’ family members unveiled a green highway sign with white lettering proclaiming the bridge the “Deputy Sheriff Michael Estes Memorial Overpass.”
Relatives then went to the top of the bridge to see a plaque in the deputy’s honor.
The plaque says that Estes “made a significant contribution to the well-being of our nation and state through his service in the Army, National Guard,” as well as with the sheriff’s office. He was the first Walla Walla deputy to die in service.
Estes was responding to a Burbank 911 call with his emergency lights on when his patrol car was hit broadside by a loaded flatbed truck as he attempted to cross Highway 12 at the Highway 124 intersection.
He was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, where he died eight days later.
The state transportation commission approved naming the overpass, which opened in 2012, for Estes in December 2013.
Walla Walla Fire District 5 Chief Mike Wickstrom, who knew Estes, came to the crash scene in 2007.
Wickstrom said he was hopeful the improvements wouldn’t stop at the overpass. He wants to see Highway 12 widened to four lanes all the way to Walla Walla and also see upgrades to Highway 124.
“We need to press on, continue to move forward with this,” he said.