Sunday Drives

Throughout my career as a transportation engineer I have always been intrigued at the prospect of being able to drive through a project that I had a hand in designing and experiencing the improved conditions firsthand. There is a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that I get from this experience, as well as an acknowledgment that I contributed to improving the lives of others.  This has always been a source of motivation for me to seek out the next opportunity that I can undertake.

As a relative newcomer to Reid Middleton (I started with the company 10 months ago), I wanted to experience firsthand the recent projects the transportation group has accomplished and share some ideas for an interesting Sunday drive.

Gateway to Island Getaways

Photo courtesy of WSDOT.

One such project that I have driven through many times since it was constructed, as a frequent weekend traveler to the San Juan Islands, is a roundabout in Anacortes, Washington located at the intersection of Commercial Street and SR 20 . This intersection, with a stop condition on one of the legs and free flow conditions on the other two, had previously been an awkward intersection to drive through.  Several years ago as a consultant with another firm, I had a conversation with the Anacortes City Engineer in which I was asked my opinion about implementing a roundabout at this intersection.  As a frequent user familiar with the operational characteristics of the intersection, I immediately gave him a favorable response describing how roundabouts are particularly suitable at locations with high left-turn volumes and could enhance safety at this intersection without sacrificing a lot of capacity.  In addition to being the gateway to the San Juans and Vancouver Island via the Washington State Ferries, Anacortes is something of an island destination in itself with plenty of waterfront related activities and recreational opportunities on Fidalgo Island.

Farmland and Flowers

Photo courtesy of Skagit County.

Another project that I already had familiarity with from my weekend excursions was the intersection  of Pioneer Highway and Fir Island Road in Skagit County. I often travel through this intersection as an alternative route to going through Mount Vernon on my trips to and from Anacortes as it provides an opportunity to get off the beaten path of I-5 and experience the agricultural countryside of Fir Island, which actually reminds me of my midwestern roots.  Not only is the area flat but there is the occasional farm implement vehicle traveling slowly along the road.  The Pioneer Highway/Fir Island Road intersection was another awkward intersection with free-flowing traffic on Pioneer Highway and a stop condition of Fir Island Road that made entering Pioneer Highway treacherous.  The close proximity of another intersection on Fir Island Road at Main Street, which leads into downtown Conway, also made access from Main Street to Pioneer Highway a difficult proposition, particularly if there was any waiting traffic on Fir Island Road.  The roundabout solution at this intersection greatly improved access onto Pioneer Highway not only for Fir Island Road but also for Main Street, which was provided with a direct leg into the roundabout.  It can easily handle the increased traffic associated with the annual Tulip Festival and is also on an emergency bypass route for I-5 should there ever be another shutdown of I-5 across the Skagit River.

Northwest Corner of the Pacific Northwest

A couple of destinations along the coast of the Strait of Georgia just south of the Canadian border include Birch Bay State Park and Semiahmoo Resort. To get there from I-5 you will take the exit at Lynden-Birch Bay Road.  Just west of I-5, Lynden-Birch Bay Road intersects with Porter Way, which is another signalized intersection that Reid Middleton designed for Whatcom County.  Porter Way was widened at the intersection to improve vehicle capacity and access onto Lynden-Birch Bay Road.  One of the unique aspects of the signal design is using two conventional signal mast arm poles oriented opposite one another across this skewed intersection for mounting all of the signal displays.  This feature saved more than $50,000 over the use of a signal bridge or a more typical installation with four poles – one in each corner.  Immediately west of the intersection is the busy BNSF mainline railroad crossing, which is the primary west coast route into nearby Canada.  The intersection improvements provide communications between the traffic signal and train signal systems so that traffic will be clear of the tracks during a train crossing.

Closer to Home

For a shorter Sunday drive in the Seattle area you might consider heading to the west side of Lake Sammamish. Reid Middleton designed improvements to reconstruct a portion of West Lake Sammamish Parkway from 181st Avenue SE to SE 34th Street that included replacement of the existing roadway surface and pedestrian safety improvements. A paved trail was provided along the west side of the roadway and two mid-block pedestrian crossings with rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB’s) were provided.  This segment of West Lake Sammamish Parkway is adjacent to two popular recreational destinations along the lake: Vasa Park Resort and SAMBICA.  With heavy pedestrian use along this corridor, especially in the summer, the trail and enhanced pedestrian crossings provide much needed safety improvements for visitors and local residents alike.  Continuing north on West Lake Sammamish Parkway offers a winding scenic route through residential neighborhoods along the lake that eventually ends up at Marymoor Park.

With summer coming up around the corner, taking a Sunday drive on one of these routes or heading to one of the adjacent destinations may be just the remedy you need after a long hard winter in the northwest. Reid Middleton is proud to be a part of successful transportation projects like these that improve the experience and quality of life for our communities.

So, roll down the windows, enjoy the scenery, and drive safely!