Road names bedevil Walla Walla-area emergency responders

Dispatchers and first responders face a knowledge gap on the part of callers referring to the linkups of old and new Highway 12.

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Walla Walla City/County dispatcher Renee Lyden works on background information for a call co-worker Jennifer Harrison (background) is working from her desk at the dispatch office. Recent confusion from callers trying to identify precise locations near where sections of the old and new Highway 12 run parallel has lead to calls for better signage in the area. Wednesday, February 2, 2011

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Walla Walla City/County dispatcher Jennifer Harrison works on a call from one of the four dispatch computer arrays in the office. Trouble identifying precise locations from callers near old and new sections of Highway 12 have prompted calls for better signage in the area. Tuesday, February 1, 2011

WALLA WALLA -- An old highway is still creating new worries for emergency responders.

New names for the road that used to be U.S. Highway 12 remain a source of confusion for people calling dispatchers, said Peter Erb, 911 supervisor. The 911 center continues to get many calls in which people confuse the old highway with the new section of U.S. Highway 12, he said.

The situation was highlighted in January when a serious crash occurred on Old Highway 12 near Frenchtown. The caller was convinced he was on Heritage Road at the new U.S. Highway 12, about five miles to the east.

Although the dispatcher "tried and tried" to determine the actual location to direct police and fire units to the scene, minutes were lost as responders searched for the actual site, Erb said. This is why he and other emergency workers want to urge people to be aware of the name changes.

"This is deserving of a major dose of public education," Erb said. "People calling in on 911 want us to get the best information that we can have, but they must get it to us."

The confusion began last summer when road signs bearing the wrong name were put up on the old highway in conjunction with the opening of the new stretch of U.S. Highway 12. Those signs, bearing the name "Vintage Loop" were eventually taken down and signs with the correct names were posted.

The roadway going west from Myra Road to the curve leading past Martin Archery, a distance of about two miles, is now named Heritage Road. At that point, Old Highway 12 begins and runs for about 5.6 miles west until it intersects with U.S. Highway 12 near Frenchtown.

Additional signs to help people identify which road is which will be added soon, said Randy Glaeser, Walla Walla County public works director.

"We have ordered a number of new road name signs to place at the intersections of all the crossroads (such as) Frenchtown, Last Chance, Spaulding (and) Swegle roads," Glaeser said.

"The signs should arrive soon and we will get them up once they come in, hopefully within the next two weeks. These signs will allow people to see the appropriate name at every point of entry onto either Old Highway 12 or Heritage Road.

"We're hoping the existing signs, together with the new road name signs and an article in the U-B will help clarify this for the public," he said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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