Skagit County staff presented plans to the county Board of Commissioners on Tuesday for a roundabout at the intersection of Farm to Market and Josh Wilson roads.
Project Manager Sonny Andrew said a roundabout is the safest and most efficient way to make the intersection safer. Construction is expected to begin this summer.
Citing state and national research, Andrew said roundabouts reduce traffic delays, improve driver safety and are less expensive than traffic signals, making it the ideal choice for this project. On average, he said the county can expect a 37% reduction in collisions, and a 90% reduction in fatal collisions.
The intersection near Bay View is a meeting of two narrow roads with 50 mph speed limits. Josh Wilson, the east-west road, has stop signs, but Farm to Market does not.
The intersection has also been a site of a number of traffic fatalities, most recently in January 2018 when the death of Bay View resident Karen Wolf prompted residents to petition the county for safety improvements.
Andrew said roundabouts have a natural “traffic-calming effect,” compelling drivers to slow down as they approach.
County Engineer Paul Randall-Grutter said roundabouts have been used successfully to improve safety at dangerous intersections.
Before a roundabout was put in at Best and McLean roads, Randall-Grutter said it was “the most dangerous intersection in the county,” and contributed to at least one fatality a year. He said he remembers only one serious accident since it was installed.
The estimated cost of the roundabout to be put in at Farm to Market and Josh Wilson roads is between $1.4 million and $1.8 million, and will be funded through the county road fund. Andrew said he is working with Public Works staff to apply for grants to supplement local funds.
Construction is set to start in June, but the completion date depends on whether the county closes the intersection during work, Andrew said.
If the intersection is closed during construction — Andrew’s preferred option — he estimated work would be completed in about 3 1/2 months. If the intersection is kept open with limited lane closures, construction would take about eight months.
“While it does disrupt traffic and require detours, it does help improve safety and speed ... and reduce overall project cost,” Andrew said of closing the intersection during construction.
County Commissioner Peter Browning said he expects he and his fellow commissioners will make a decision soon on whether to close the intersection during construction.
On the one hand, he said a three-month project window is compelling. However, many nearby agriculture businesses use this intersection frequently during the summer, and detours would be difficult for them.
Regardless, he said the improvements here are a long time coming. He said drivers on Josh Wilson Road don’t always realize traffic on Farm to Market Road doesn’t have to stop, and pull forward when it’s unsafe. This contributes to collisions and fatalities, including that of a childhood friend of Browning, he said.
“It’s really easy to make a bad decision there,” he said.