Small steps could make highway safer

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The stretch of two-lane road between Lowden and Wallula Junction is dangerous enough that lawmakers targeted it for major improvements.

Unfortunately, that’s not likely to occur this year. Yet, the safety concerns can’t be ignored.

The most obvious dangers are head-on collisions.

It might be worthwhile to put up more signs along the highway letting motorists know how far it is to the next passing lane, such as the one at Nine Mile Hill.

Another relatively inexpensive way to alert drivers of the highway’s danger could be for the state or an organization to adopt a program run like the one though the American Legion in Montana. White white crosses are placed at every spot where a fatality occurred.

In the last 20 years alone more than 30 people have been killed in more than 1,000 wrecks on Highway 12. Seeing each spot marked in some way would send a somber message to drivers. Currently the markers on the highway are only about alcohol- or drug- related deaths.

Earlier this year, the state House Transportation Committee ranked expanding U.S. Highway 12 to four lanes from Lowden to Nine Mile Hill seventh on a draft list of 27 highway improvement projects in Washington.

The state doesn’t have the money to fund all those projects. It can’t even fund the top 10, which is why funding for the project was contingent on approval of adding a dime to the gasoline tax to bring in $8.5 billion.

The tax increase wasn’t embraced by the public nor many lawmakers. It’s going to be a tough sell in Olympia as lawmakers slog through their 30-day overtime session called so a two-year state budget can be approved.

The list of 27 major projects include building a replacement bridge over the Columbia River connecting Vancouver and Portland and reconstructing the North Spokane Corridor.

The U.S. Highway 12 project in Walla Walla County is fairly small in comparison to some of the huge projects. Yet, funding likely won’t be available to put four lanes of highway to Wallula Junction unless a gas tax increase near 10 cents a gallon is approved.

Right now, lawmakers with a dog in the fight (a chunk of roadway on the list) are getting pressured and enticed with deals (vote trading, for example) to support the tax.

But the political climate in Washington state doesn’t seem to favor higher taxes for any reason. A dime tax on a gallon of gas is a particularly tough sell when gas is hovering around $4 a gallon — increasing 11 cents nationally in the past week.

Still, the need to improve Highway 12 has been acknowledged by lawmakers. When the economy finally levels out and tax collections return to usual levels, perhaps a new stretch of highway from Lowden to Nine Mile Hill will be funded.

Until then, let’s make the two-lane road as safe as possible.

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