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Lights out for Merrimount

By the time school starts next fall, city planners hope to have completed the installation of a curb separating the two northbound lanes of Island Crest Way at Merrimount Drive and S.E. 44th Street.

Members of the City Council approved the initial incremental measure with the hope of improving the safety of the Island’s most dangerous intersection last Monday.

Rather than speed up implementation of the traffic signal planned for 2010, the Council opted to restrict left turns to and from S.E. 44th Street. However, left turns from and onto Merrimount will be allowed. A curb on the northbound side of the roadway and some re-striping will enforce the new regulations.

The new curb will convert the left lane of Island Crest Way northbound to a left-turn only lane south of the intersection, heading onto Merrimount. On the other side of the intersection, the left lane will be a protected entry for traffic merging onto Island Crest Way.

Councilmember Jim Pearman expressed a concern about how long the curb would be and whether it could affect the driveways to the houses along Island Crest Way. The Council asked city staff to take that factor into account in its planning.

Council members chose the curb over the signal because accelerating the construction of the light is now estimated to be $750,000 or $820,000 if additional designated left-turn lanes are added to Island Crest Way’s existing four lanes.

“We’ve concluded the best thing was putting in a traffic light, but that’s expensive,” Mayor Bryan Cairns said.

Adding the curb to restrict the left turns is estimated to cost $85,000, according to the agenda bill. Those costs include the planning, construction and providing information about the changes to the public.

While the Council decided to implement the restrictions as a cost-effective compromise, the city still has plans for the construction of the traffic signal in 2010, city engineer Patrick Yamashita said.

“Whatever we do here is going to be significant,” Councilmember El Jahncke said. “We may not know the consequences. As long as we’re not getting locked into a final decision, let’s try something. I don’t want they city to make permanent traffic islands that can’t be removed in the future if something changes.”

Yamashita said he would need to have the improvements in place for at least six months to effectively test their success. He also said school would have to be in session for the tests to be accurate. The intersection will be monitored during the upcoming winter and results of the curb will be presented in the spring of 2008.

That section of Island Crest Way will also be re-paved in five years, so the incremental measures won’t leave an enduring impact.

“This is a good opportunity to see what can happen,” Yamashita said. “That section of Island Crest Way is planned for concrete overlay in 2012 so there is a chance to redo the street after testing it.”

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