SEASIDE — For disgruntled drivers traveling through Seaside, hope is on the horizon.

Widening a commonly congested .38-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 – from roughly C Street to South Holladay – topped the list of recommended construction projects for the region for 2015 to 2018.

“This is really a feather in our hat,” said Seaside Mayor Don Larson, “and we’re really excited about this, because it’ll really help with traffic congestion.”

The widening, which was the top recommendation by the Northwest Area Commission on Transportation (ACT), will create a center turn lane, alleviating some of the traffic congestion that often builds from cars attempting to turn across incoming traffic from the highway’s single lane.

The project “will give us the third lane there so you can do left turns without backing up the whole line of traffic,” Larson said.

Larson, the Seaside Planning Commission, Seaside Public Works Director Neal Wallace and representatives from the Oregon Department of Transportation made their case at a meeting Thursday in Tillamook.

Northwest ACT, which oversees Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook and the rural part of Washington County, had 18 proposals to start the day before ultimately narrowing it down to 10.

Seaside not only secured the top spot, the city also received the ninth slot for its proposal to improve and update the intersection of Broadway and Highway 101. The recommendation to improve the Broadway intersection was just icing on the cake.

“The highest priority was adding the center turn lane,” said Bill Carpenter, who sits on the Seaside Planning Commission and is Clatsop County’s citizen representative for Northwest ACT.

Though it wasn’t their top priority, the Seaside group made a compelling case for improving the intersection at Broadway and Highway 101, which halts traffic and can be dangerous for pedestrians.

Wallace presented the argument for redoing the intersection, and he focused on proving the project’s pertinence to not only the city, but also to the state’s highway system.

“My presentation was basically to point out to them that, no, this is critical to both,” Wallace said. “This is very much a highway project.”

The confusion and congestion at the Broadway intersection can also cause havoc for drivers on Highway 101: the two-lane east- west-bound portion of Broadway is too skinny, and the straight and left-turn lanes share space, sowing indecision and uncertainty in both directions.

“Because there’s no turn signal, the turn lanes don’t function well – the straight ahead movement and the left-turn movement are in the same lane,” Wallace said. “It’s a big jumbled-up mess, and when people get a chance to go, they go. ... It’s a very, very dangerous pedestrian intersection.”

In his presentation to the commission, Wallace emphasized the frequency and severity of accidents: The intersection has averaged approximately three accidents per year over the last 10 years, and the last two years have been particularly unsafe.

In the last two years “there was one fatality and one very serious injury accident – a life-changing injury accident,” Wallace said. “We hadn’t had that before.”

On the morning of June 6, 2012, Richard Brown of Seaside was struck by a westbound vehicle turning north from Broadway onto Highway 101 as he crossed the street. He died later that day from injuries sustained in the crash.

“Fatality accidents change the way people perceive intersections,” Wallace said. “The truth is, the Broadway intersection, the way it functions right now, is a little bit of a free for all.”

Though redoing the Broadway intersection would be a useful upgrade for both the city and motorists on Highway 101, a spot on the list of Northwest ACT recommendations – especially ninth – does not guarantee funding. The commission simply recommends how state funds will be distributed for the northwest part of Oregon.

“These are just the Northwest ACT recommendations for the projects that they think should be funded,” said Bill Johnston, an ODOT transportation planner who prepared ODOT applications for the area. “There are several committees at the state level that will review these applications.

“We have these 10 projects, but if we move into the debate, they may decide we can only fund five or six of those projects,” Johnston said. “That’s why it’s important to be ranked higher, because usually they just go down the list until they reach the allocation.”

The region’s allocation from the state for 2015-18 is $17.6 million, according to Wallace.

“That’s a ridiculously small amount of money,” he said. “Funding is very, very tight.”

The top-rated Highway 101 widening project will cost approximately $3.5 million, and the updates and improvements to the Broadway intersection are estimated to cost roughly $1.8 million.

Though the proposed changes are well off in the distance, widening Highway 101, in particular, seems a near-certainty.

“This was one of the projects that was recognized as being really critical,” Wallace said Friday. “We did really well.”

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