Sometimes it feels like we live on an island.
We’re surrounded by abundant, natural beauty, skirted by sparkling Puget Sound, dazzled with incomparable views of the Olympics and Mount Rainier. It all adds up to make this place extraordinary.
Again and again, we hear visitors ask, “How could it be that I never knew about this secret place?” And it’s tempting to wish the Key Peninsula remained a secret, remained just like it is.
Preserving and protecting the quality of life on the Key should be our top priority. The entire region is experiencing unprecedented growth; and road safety on the Key Peninsula cannot be side-stepped any longer without consequence.
State Route 302 and the Key Peninsula Highway grow increasingly dangerous as more drivers need to use those roads. Our state legislators, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Pierce County Council, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office and the Key Peninsula Fire Department are aware of the safety issues and inadequacies of our local highways. For decades, studies have documented the problems and mapped out new route options for SR-302. WSDOT has made a few safety improvements with better-marked crosswalks and bolder center line striping. Sadly, there are other infrastructure projects with higher priority for more-populated areas, more-vocal constituencies.
Pierce County, responsible for the highway south of SR-302, acknowledges trouble spots and has acquired state funding to resolve one glaring safety issue at the intersection of Lackey Road, Jackson Lake Road and the KP Highway. (“Transportation Improvements Drive Forward…” KP News October 2017). But even with a safer intersection, the highway presents an even larger unsolved problem.
Anyone stuck in the miles-long backup the afternoon of Friday, April 13, felt the frustration of being unable to get anywhere. The KP Highway is the only access to the southern end of Key Peninsula.
A single vehicle smashed into an electrical pole that afternoon. Shortly after, the pole toppled and blocked the road. Peninsula Light crews responded quickly but the resulting backup with no alternate route left drivers stuck. School buses, work vans and civilians all lined up to wait for the road to clear.
Here’s the truth: If an accident occurs anywhere south of Lackey Road on the KP Highway, everyone living south of that point may as well be living on an island.
When this single point of entry and exit is blocked, it cuts off entire communities. There is no alternate route to or from Home, Herron Island, southern Lakebay and all of Longbranch whenever the highway is blocked south of Lackey Road, making emergency services and access to medical facilities impossible except by air or water.
There could be a simple answer. If Jackson Lake Road was extended south for approximately 1,000 feet, it would intersect with 186th Avenue NW to create a much-needed alternate route connecting the entire southern end of the Key Peninsula.
We’ve known for a long time that a catastrophic emergency like an ice storm or earthquake could isolate us. Now we know just one vehicle can shut down everything for south-end residents.
While we wait for alternate routes, there are ways to make driving safer for us all.
Despite a new law to curb distracted driving, it remains just as common to see people using phones behind the wheel, weaving back and forth, crossing the center lane and veering onto the shoulder. For me, I’m too much like Pavlov’s dog to the ping of a new message. My conclusion? The phone rides in the trunk.
And then there’s driving under the influence. If you have more than a couple of drinks, don’t delude yourself that it’s okay to drive home because we live in the country. Either call a friend for a ride, have a designated driver or sober up before you get behind the wheel. Whatever it takes, just don’t drive impaired.
There are a few things we can do as individuals to improve safety on our highways. We can turn on our lights during daylight hours. We can make a genuine commitment to stop using our phones while driving––not because we’re afraid of being ticketed, but because we have made a commitment to ourselves, our families, our community that we all want to be safer drivers. It’s a mutual thing.
The more our population grows, the more reliant we all become on transportation and safe access. Having safe roads and routes is only one part of the solution. We all need to drive—let’s do it as safely as we can.