It was standing room only during the Key Peninsula Community Council meeting May 13. Residents and business owners gathered for the council-sponsored forum to discuss the fully functioning traffic signal project proposed for the intersection in Key Center. The light will be installed at the intersection of Key Peninsula Highway at Cramer Road and Olson Drive.

Officials from Pierce County spoke to about 40 people, explaining the reasons for the traffic signal project. They also answered questions and listened to concerns.

Mike Baum, a member of the Safety, Transportation and Crime Committee, along with Kevin Flower and Robert Sprague, presented a slide show that addressed a proposed roundabout at the same intersection in place of a traffic light. It is something the county officials agreed could be an alternative, but an expensive one.

“It would have a large impact on the adjacent properties,” said Brian Stacy, county engineer. “We are wrestling with the budget and there is already a deficit for this project.”

Cost of the project would increase because the county would be required to pay fair market value for the property and relocation of the businesses, he said. The current budgeted project calls for $260,000 in right of way acquisition, a number Stacy said would climb unless business owners step forward and offer their land for free to the county for a roundabout.

In addition to these downsides, Stacy also cautioned that to look at the roundabout option would mean stopping the process and starting over, something neither he nor Pierce County councilman Terry Lee were in favor of doing.

The fear is that delaying the project would increase the cost, and the ability to get funding for the project could become even more difficult. As it is the $1.9 million project is at a deficit of $800,000.

The rest is coming through a grant and traffic impact fees, Stacy said.

Lance McMillan, a member of the Key Peninsula Community Council, said it isn’t a risk the community should take. He said stepping back could mean the intersection would sit as is for many years.

Greg Calahan said cars routinely cut through O’Callahan’s parking lot to avoid the intersection, and Jessica Smith of ReMax Red Door echoed that complaint.

A new fully functioning traffic signal is planned to replace the flashing beacon light at the inersection of Key Peninsula Highway, Cramer Road and Olson Drive. Photo by Karina Whitmarsh

“It is dangerous to even go out to get in your car,” she said.

Mitigation measures are included in the traffic signal project to build up the curbs and gutters, which project designer Pat Baughman said would help with that problem.

“The curb and gutter will limit the number of accesses adjacent to the signal,” Baughman said.

Ann Larson, a resident who attended the meeting said she hates traffic lights.

“Couldn’t it be possible to have a stop during busy hours and a blinking light on off hours,” she asked.

In addition to this suggestion, Stacy said he heard a few others he will consider as good options. One of those suggestions is a second crosswalk that would allow pedestrians to cross the road from the Key Center Library. It is something that can be accomplished separately from the project, Stacy said.

“We want to digest all that we heard here,” Stacy said.

The project has been in the planning stages since August of 2004. It originally began as a study to replace the existing flashing beacon with a new one, Baughman said.
However as the study continued, it became clear the intersection needed more than a flashing light.

Associate traffic engineer Marlene Ford said the intersection needs improvements, and in the traffic studies the county has conducted, it meets the criteria for a fully functioning traffic signal.

Tests indicate the level of service is low at the intersection, she said.

“Today with the two way-stop there is a level of service at C on one leg and D on the other,” she said. “An A indicates lots of mobility, and F is stop and go and very poor conditions.”

By 2020, Ford said the level of service would be F at the intersection on both Cramer and Olson.

The Council will resume discussion of the traffic signal during the next Key Peninsula Community Council meeting June 10 at 7 p.m. at the Key Center Library.

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