Friday’s tragic accident on U.S. Highway 12 is yet another example of just how dangerous it can be driving between Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities.
Several stretches of roadway have already been upgraded to four lanes of traffic, but much of the highway remains two-lanes. Passing, even by the most careful drivers, can be scary. The entire route needs to be made four lanes.
On Friday Ruth E. Garcia of College Place was killed when the car she was a passenger in collided head-on with another vehicle. According to the Washington State Patrol, the car Garcia was in was headed west on Highway 12 about 12 to 15 miles east of Wallula Junction when the driver tried to pass and struck an oncoming vehicle. Five people were injured in the crash.
Those of us who drive this roadway on a regular basis understand the potential for disaster and generally display patience and good judgment. However, a variety of factors play into accidents — some of them beyond the control of the driver.
This is why local officials and community leaders have been working so hard to convince Congress and the state Legislature to four-lane the entire stretch of highway. The local U.S. Highway 12 Coalition (ushighway12.com) has made tremendous progress in convincing lawmakers to improve the highway. The stretch from the Boise mill at Wallua to Burbank is now four lanes and so is the highway from just east of Lowden into Walla Walla.
Getting this far has taken a great deal of political skill. Coalition members have traveled to Washington, D.C., and Olympia to make the case for four-laning the roadway. A plan has been approved to four-lane the entire roadway.
The project is being completed in phases as cash becomes available. It will take years until the roadway is complete.
It’s unfortunate that the most dangerous piece of roadway — the section where Friday’s fatal accident occurred — could not be completed first because the route and design were prohibitive.
So until that section gives way to a new highway, perhaps officials could add some more signs urging caution and alert drivers to their proximity to the four-lane stretches where it will be safer to pass. It might also be prudent to further limit legal passing areas of that segment.
Ultimately, however, these steps are merely a small patch on the problem.
Four-laning the roadway must be done as quickly as possible to prevent future tragedies.