Tri-Cities Blue Bridge: The Most Dangerous 2 Miles In Washington?
Last night, a Kennewick man was killed on US-395 when a semi hit his car just on the south-side of the Blue Bridge in Tri-Cities Washington. I wish I could say that was an isolated incident, but accidents happen around that 2 square mile area of the Blue Bridge all the time. It is another reminder of just how dangerous that stretch of road is. Just how dangerous is that section of road and what are the reasons causing it?
IS IT THE DESIGN? The area around the Blue Bridge has been changed over the years, and I think the current version is the most dangerous. Just do a simple google search for "blue bridge accident" and you will get pages upon pages of articles. There are 7 different on-ramps for merging traffic in that 2 mile stretch around the bridge. All of them have limited visibility, high rate of speed, or both. Even the Lewis Street on-ramp to US-395 has good visibility however it is designed to merge into the "fast" lane where people are usually 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. Then everyone slams on their brakes to get over to merge again onto HWY-240, once again another large cause of accidents.
WHICH SIDE OF THE BRIDGE IS WORSE? The south-side of the Blue Bridge is probably more dangerous then the north-side, illustrated by the death last night. Both directions on the south-side have merge lanes with limited visibility and again a high rate of speed. If traffic is busy and moving fast, it can be almost impossible to safely merge. Personally I find the on-ramp from Columbia Drive the worst because of visibility but both directions are bad. The south-bound lane has more room to merge but traffic moves fast up that hill making it difficult.
ARE SPEEDERS TO BLAME? The area is also designed with little room for police to patrol the area so speeding is rampant. Heading south from Court Street all the way up US-395 to Clearwater, the area condenses but the speed increases. I feel the lack of police presence in the area has led to a large portion of the traffic traveling at an unsafe speed. If people just drove the speed limit and followed the law then it would be much safer and there would be far less accidents.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? I think the cause of the danger are both the design and the lack of police presence in the area. Technically the lack of police presence is because of the design problems with no shoulder space to patrol. There are a few things I think could make the area safer.
First slow the speed down even more. The speed limit heading down the hill north on US-395 is 45mph but should be more like 35mph. Traffic usually goes more like 60mph down the hill and around the corner to the Columbia Drive on-ramp making that section deadly.
Second, I think the on-ramps should have a dedicated lane to merge into. Meaning the traffic before the on-ramp would merge to 1 lane, forcing the "merge" to happen before the on-ramp and giving 1 lane to safely merge onto 395. That keeps merging traffic from having to fight for a place in the lane. This would be especially useful at the the Lewis Street on-ramp. Columbia Drive would be tricky because it already lost 1 lane making that merge even tighter.
HOW CAN THIS BE FIXED? First leaders need to admit that there is a problem and that the whole area needs to be re-thought with a new safer plan. My suggestions do not come from years of engineering experience but it does come from years of driving through that area every day. I am sure anyone else that drives that way will agree that something needs to be done and done fast before we lose anymore life on that dangerous section of road.