Highway 26 Corridor project kicks off

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Apple Cup week one of the most heavily trafficked for stretch of road

OTHELLO After successfully curbing fatalities on Highway 17, Basin and state authorities are going after Highway 26.

With the help of the Washington State Patrol, the Adams County Sheriff's Office, the Othello Police Department and the Washington State Department of Transportation, the "Safety on 26" highway corridor project has officially started, seeking to reduce the fatalities on the highway that runs from Vantage to Colfax.

Adams County Undersheriff Kevin Fuhr said that in 11 years in the county he has seen many families devastated by accidents on Highway 26, a road that sees up to 5,300 vehicles per day.

"The goal is to reduce the number of tragedies," he said.

The project has designated a stretch of road from the Grant/Adams county line on the west to Irby Road on the east as a target. Accidents that range from speeding to failure to yield, to drunk-driving have occurred on that stretch.

Out of 101 collisions between Jan. 2000 and Dec. 2002, there were 23 accidents due to speeding, 21 due to failing to yield, 16 due to driving drunk and 12 due to improper passing. Most of the crashes occurred in daylight and with dry, clear weather.

"There is not one offense creating most of the accidents," Larson said.

Jennene Ring, regional maintenance traffic engineer for the WSDOT, said that despite that fact, accidents at intersections were more of a factor than they had been in the recently ended Highway 17 corridor project.

The Highway 17 corridor project has been lauded by many as a success, and Larson said he hoped this project could imitate that success.

The success of the Highway 17 campaign was measured by the degree of community involvement it reached, through meetings, radio ads, information stands at fairs and diverse events, as well as improvements to the road itself, such as striping and added signage.

A similar strategy is planned for this project.

The Safety on 26 campaign is set to last for two years, and it intends to focus on what Larson called "The Three E's: Engineering, education and enforcement."

Engineering will deal with whatever changes are needed for the stretch of road, such as striping, signage, etc. Enforcement will have to deal with the application of laws and compliance with them, such as seat belt laws and reduced speed limits. Education will have to deal with involving and making the community aware of the project and what it entails.

The project kicks off on one of the weeks where Highway 26 has some of its heaviest traffic, Apple Cup week. However, given that Othello is right in the middle of the designated stretch of road, local drivers will receive just as much attention as those coming and going to Washington State University.

Sanders and other area authorities said that although people believe WSU-bound traffic is responsible for most accidents, the reality is different.

"Two thirds of the accidents involve local residents," Sanders said, who added that many of the people involved are between the ages of 18 and 34 as well as Hispanic, which demands that the campaign focus on Spanish-speaking people, too.

"We need to have an Education Night for Hispanics," she said. Material in Spanish will be made available.

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