HOV lanes could be coming to SR 303

After two years of studying long-term traffic issues on State Route 303, a committee of transportation officials and community members decided to go with the least controversial solution.

The committee once looked at building additional bridges across Port Washington Narrows and creating new arterial routes. But at its final meeting Feb. 28, the group endorsed widening SR 303 to seven lanes from 11th Street in Bremerton to Fairgrounds Road. The plan also calls for widening the Warren Avenue Bridge to six lanes.

The new lanes would accommodate high occupancy vehicles, such as buses and vanpools, during peak traffic periods.

“When we looked at the new bridge crossings, we saw a lack of strong support from the community, increased environmental impact and cost,” said Nita Jackson, a transportation planner with the state Department of Transportation. “All of which caused us to focus in on SR 303.”

Kitsap Transit officials hope that adding HOV lanes will boost bus ridership.

“This is designed to move people and not vehicles, and we believe that’s what we need to be looking at all over the county. If transit had a high quality of service it could offer, it could encourage developers to take a look at high-density housing that is transit-friendly,” said John Clauson, Kitsap Transit’s service development director. “Folks wouldn’t need that second car or maybe even that first car anymore.”

Jackson said the plan also calls for eliminating the current two-way left-turn lane to improve traffic safety and adding u-turns at all signal-controlled intersections. Other improvements include standardizing speeds, message signs, bicycle and pedestrian access, landscaping and transit systems.

Jackson said the improvements, which would be implemented over the next 30 years, will be “very costly, but cheaper than the other options,” which involved building an all-new bridge.

Clausen said he hoped that work could begin by 2014.

A nearly completed environmental assessment of the SR 303 work has been funded, but there currently is no money for construction of the additional lanes or other safety improvements. Jackson said an additional $500,000 was requested from the state Legislature to complete an environmental impact statement and create a preliminary design for a seven-lane SR 303.

With the Legislature still seeking a transportation funding bill, Jackson was unsure if any funds were going to be allocated to the project.

There’s still work to be done, including a transit planning study which includes a long-range transit plan and a short-term implementation plan.

“This will help us identify how we can construct a service that would meet the preferred option and how we could perform that service effectively,” Clausen said. “The first thing we need to figure out is what we want to do and then figure out how long that is going to take.”

While the committee outlined its long-term goals, Jackson said a number of more attainable short-term goals were being discussed with local transit authorities.

“We could make safety improvements, intersection improvements and standardize the speeds,” Jackson said, “but we don’t have money to do that either.”

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