Sometime this fall, motorists traveling in the vicinity of Key Peninsula Highway and State Route 302 will find their traffic habits altered. A stop light is being installed at the intersection by the Washington State Department of Transportation—Key Peninsula’s first traffic light (not counting the yellow flashing lights in Key Center).

The $331,873 project includes widening and resurfacing a portion of the roadway. The project started this July and will be completed in the fall.

“The intersection is considered a high-accident location, with a higher than normal number of accidents,” said John McNutt, WSDOT project manager.

According to WSDOT statistics, there were 24 total collisions involving 49 vehicles near the intersection between 2001 and 2003, including one fatality and 28 injuries. The state uses this type of data to prioritize its funds for safety improvement projects. The funding comes from the “old” general “gas tax” of 23 cents (not related to the new gas tax passed by this year’s Legislature or the “nickel tax”).

By mid-August, preparation work included installation of loop detectors, building the foundation for the signal and the slight modification of the island to allow better turning movements. McNutt said the project was proceeding on schedule and repaving of the road was expected at the end of August. An exact completion date was not known because the signal components are custom made, and their delivery date was not known at press time. However, McNutt anticipated the light to be functional by mid-October.

The system will use a so-called detection loop (usually a circle or rectangle cut in the ground) with a low-voltage wire in it; cars create a magnetic field of sorts that the loop detects. Once the signal is detected, the programming analyzes the traffic and eventually the light changes.

The original plans for the intersection called for a roundabout, but McNutt said, “I couldn’t imagine a roundabout at 55 mph.”

The traffic signal is expected to reduce the number of fender-benders in the area, although it may take a while for drivers to get used to the idea of having to slow down (especially those bound south on KP Highway). The signal would not create significant delays for drivers, McNutt said.

“We wouldn’t put it in there unless we knew it will improve the situation,” McNutt said. “It should substantially reduce the number and the severity of the accidents.”