Highway changes at Burbank will save lives

The local Highway 12 Coalition has helped move traffic safety forward in this county.

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Completion of the interchange and overpass along U.S. Highway 12 through Burbank is great news for folks in the Walla Walla Valley. It makes to the drive to Tri-Cities and beyond far safer.

And it should also enhance economic development efforts in the western part of Walla Walla County.

The $22.2 million project removed the two stoplights on Highway 12 -- one at Humorist Road and the other at the intersection of State Route 124 -- by blocking access from those roads and sending traffic over bridges.

The project had its official opening Wednesday with a ribbon cutting. The two stoplights were the last stoplights on the highway between Walla Walla and Seattle.

Although locals were aware of the dangers, highway speed combined with fog and other weather hazards made the intersections deadly.

In a 12-year period six people had been killed on this stretch of highway and 56 were injured. One of those killed was Walla Walla County sheriff's Deputy Michael Estes.

In 2007, Deputy Estes was responding to an emergency with his lights flashing when his patrol car was struck on the passenger side by a commercial flatbed truck. Estes died eight days later.

It was clear the two intersections were a danger that needed to be fixed.

The local Highway 12 Coalition targeted the intersection for an upgrade as part of its long-term effort to get a four-lane highway built from Walla Walla to Pasco.

Much progress has been made. The four lanes from Walla Walla to just outside Lowden have made the trip safer and faster as drivers no longer have to make risky passes of slow-moving vehicles.

It's going to take years before funding is available to complete the Coalition's vision.

Nevertheless, the progress made will certainly save lives.

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