Wiggins Road in southeast Olympia has gained a reputation for danger, and the city of Olympia appears ready to do something about it.
The rural two-lane stretch of road has no shoulder, no turn lanes, no bike lanes and no sidewalk. It is flanked by drainage ditches where the near-vertical dropoff can reach 6 feet in some spots.
Safe pedestrian access is out of the question. On Thursday morning, Olympia firefighters helped an elderly woman who had been walking along Wiggins Road when she tumbled into a shallow ditch. She was uninjured.
However, rescue workers said vehicles often end up in the Wiggins Road ditch, dubbed by at least one local resident as “ditches of death.”
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One accident report from March describes how a man had been driving south on Wiggins Road when he approached a pickup truck in the northbound lane that was hugging the center line. The man veered to avoid a sideswipe collision. The vehicle’s tires caught the side of the roadway, sending him into the deep ditch on Wiggins Road’s west edge.
“We have cars in the ditch all the time on this road,” said Lt. Randy Haines of the Olympia Fire Department.
Many residents along the narrow road have grown accustomed to seeing a handful of vehicles in the ditch every year.
Ryan Dicrescenzo and his family live near the intersection of Wiggins and Herman roads. In the ditch outside his house is an entire bumper from a car.
In the past, he has found dead deer that failed to make it across the ditch.
“It seems deeper than any ditches I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I feel bad for bikers and walkers on that stretch.”
The deep ditch along Wiggins Road dates back to the 1940s when the land was under Thurston County’s jurisdiction. It was built to accommodate stormwater drainage in the Chambers Lake Basin and prevent flooding during the wet winter season. The water ultimately makes its way to Puget Sound.
In response to public concern about safety, Olympia’s public works department will recommend funding a study of ways to improve conditions along Wiggins Road.
“The council and community will be seeing that here over the next couple of months,” said Rich Hoey, public works director, at Tuesday’s Olympia City Council meeting.
The public works department has acknowledged that the road and its ditches fail to meet modern standards. The Federal Highway Administration suggests that, for safety purposes, roadside ditches should include slopes that allow a vehicle to travel across without tipping or rolling over. The administration also suggests a shoulder width between 2 and 8 feet for all roads.
Another issue with Wiggins Road is the increase in traffic during the past decade. According to city traffic counts, the average number of vehicles traveling on Wiggins at Herman Road was about 6,700 in 2000, but was reported at nearly 10,000 vehicles a day in 2012 and 2013.
Four different roads dead-end at Wiggins, which has evolved into a major collector road. The city also is expected to approve the extension of Log Cabin Road through the LBA Woods so that it will one day link up with Wiggins.
Before the plan fell through, a proposed housing development for the LBA Woods property had local residents nervous about even more traffic for the already overburdened road.
Future traffic-related projects for Wiggins Road include a roundabout at the intersection of Herman Road along with a bike path that would connect Wiggins to the nearby Chehalis-Western Trail. No timeline has been set for the projects, but they are at least six years away, according to the city.