After discussing alternatives ranging from three up to five lanes, the Sunnyside City Council last night opted to stay with the current two lanes and a center turn lane on Yakima Valley Highway.
During the Monday night meeting, Public Works Director Jim Bridges said a traffic count was done last May, when the highway was four lanes, and this past October, when the two lane/turn lane change went into effect.
Bridges said contrary to the complaints of some, the average traffic speed on the highway remained at 30 miles per hour after the change. He also contended that with fewer lanes to negotiate there was a safety advantage for both pedestrians and motorists trying to cross the highway.
A five-lane alternative was also broached, in which the highway would have the four traffic lanes and a turn lane, thus satisfying those who want four lanes while still allowing for a turn lane.
Bridges said that alternative may pose even more problems because it would present yet another lane for those crossing the highway.
In public comment, Pete Sartin said he is one of many who wants to see the highway returned to four lanes. Noting "the general population of Sunnyside" is against the new format, Sartin said council would be "going against the grain" if it didn't return the road back to a four-lane highway. Sartin, who has operated a business along the highway for 40 years, said, "I love the four lanes. I do not stand alone."
Citizen Don Outhet cautioned that if the roadway remains at two lanes and the side fog lines are striped accordingly, then semi trucks will park in the empty space between the fog line and the end of the roadway.
Councilman Bruce Epps said he was initially like Sartin in opposing the two-lane change until he saw pedestrians nearly run down when a motorist tried to pass on the left. He said he'd rather have a safer roadway and take a few extra minutes to get where he was going than to see a pedestrian struck in the road.
Striping the roadway was also a concern last night, as Police Chief Ed Radder called Yakima Valley Highway a "moving parking lot."
Council told Bridges and his department to streamline the ordering process for striping paint so that both the yellow lane lines and white fog lines could be put down at the same time as soon as possible.
Following a question by Councilman Tom Gehlen, Bridges said the city would still have access to the extra roadway outside the white stripes in the event increased traffic flows required moving the highway back to four lanes.
The decision to stay with two lanes and a turn lane not only came with the proviso for striping as soon as possible, but for increased law enforcement for those who still try to drive the highway as a four-lane road.