Some residents along Wiggins Road say the two-lane thoroughfare in southeast Olympia is downright dangerous.
Traffic has risen in the past decade on a 1-mile stretch of Wiggins Road. The road has no shoulders. A steep ditch — with a 6-foot vertical drop in some parts — runs along the road’s western edge.
Amy Besel calls them the “ditches of death.” Besel and her family have lived on Wiggins Road for 14 years, and in that time, several vehicles have veered off the road and into the flood-prone ditches.
Besel also bemoaned the lack of sidewalks along a road where drivers routinely ignore the 35 mph speed limit. Despite living about a mile away from McKenny Elementary School, said Besel, “there was no way in hell we were going to have our children walking on Wiggins Road.”
And when the Besels want to ride bikes on the nearby Chehalis-Western Trail off Herman Road, the family loads their bikes in the car and drives half a mile to the trailhead.
“The fact that there’s no shoulder makes it really unsafe for any sort of pedestrian or bike traffic,” Besel said.
Four roads dead-end at Wiggins Road, which has seen a steady increase in traffic, 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.
Lou Guethlein wants to see a slower speed limit, a double-yellow line, road shoulders and more patrols — anything to make the road safer.
“You take your life in your hands as you attempt to pull out of your driveway,” said Guethlein, who has lived on Wiggins Road for 15 years. “It should be known as Wiggins Speedway.”
As for safety measures, the city has installed reflective guideposts on southbound Wiggins Road and signs that indicate the lack of a road shoulder.
A roundabout is planned at the intersection of Wiggins and Herman roads, but that project is at least six years away, said Randy Wesselman, the city’s transportation engineering and planning manager. Other future projects include a bike path that would connect Wiggins Road to the nearby Chehalis-Western Trail.
The deep drainage ditch along Wiggins Road dates back to the 1940s when the land was under the county’s jurisdiction, said Marcus Goodman, the city’s stormwater and wastewater operations supervisor.
If constructed today, the ditch would not meet standards, he said. Design criteria for roadside ditches is a 3:1 ratio between the ditch’s depth and side slopes. Goodman noted that with its current depth, the Wiggins ditch would need to be significantly wider in order to meet that ratio.
“They did whatever they did to drain the land and make it more usable back in the day,” Goodman said of the ditches. “What is there today is what we’re stuck with.”
As a guideline, 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 road shoulder width between 2 and 8 feet for local, collector and arterial roads in both rural and urban areas.
The ditch along Wiggins Road serves a purpose: It accommodates water that drains from north to south as part of the Chambers Lake Basin.
In that regard, the city is doing basic maintenance on the ditches this month to prepare for the wet winter season. Through Aug. 14, crews will replace culverts along Wiggins Road between Morse-Merryman and Herman roads. Many of the culverts pass beneath driveways that span the ditch. Travel on Wiggins Road will be restricted to one lane with aid from flaggers. Drivers are asked to find an alternate route during construction.
‘Better shape’ now
Wiggins had flooded more frequently in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Andy Haub, the city’s water resources director. That was before larger culverts were installed to reduce clogging.
“It’s in better shape than before,” he said, acknowledging that the ditch’s configuration and depth predate today’s standards. “It’s very essential in wintertime.”
Construction is a sensitive topic for some residents in that area. Nearby is a 74-acre parcel known as the Trillium property, site of a proposed housing development called Ashton Woods. However, the housing development is in limbo while the city tries to buy the land for park purposes.
This brings relief to resident Lou Guethlein, who has helped fight such housing proposals for years. Aside from traffic, a longtime concern for the area has been flooding and stormwater drainage on both sides of Wiggins Road. In response to potential environmental burdens, Guethlein and other residents formed the Association of Citizens Concerned About Chambers Lake Basin.
More development means hundreds of extra vehicles driving on Wiggins Road. More housing would also cause contamination and flooding because of tree removal and more impervious surfaces, according to the association.
The residents have long kept an eye on the Chambers Lake drainage ditch, which was originally carved 100 years ago for agricultural purposes. The ditch runs southwest through several properties before crossing beneath Wiggins Road, connecting with the Wiggins ditch and continuing through the Wilderness neighborhood in unincorporated Thurston County. The water ultimately makes its way to Puget Sound.
The Chambers ditch is straddled by Emilie Case’s property on Fuller Lane, situated off of Wiggins Road and just south of Olympia’s city limits. She said the ditch often fills to the brim with stormwater runoff and seems to double as a holding pond.
Case has also grown concerned with the number of vehicles using Wiggins Road. She routinely sees backups at the nearby intersection of Herman Road.
“That is a very dangerous corner,” she said, adding that city officials “do nothing about the traffic.”