Extra traffic patrols planned for U.S. 2 Sunday

By Yoshiaki Nohara, Herald Writer

Law enforcement agencies on Sunday are set to put extra patrols along U.S. 2 to crack down on speeders, drunks and aggressive drivers along the narrow, winding highway.

Nice weather is expected to draw many people to the road, including those heading to a popular motorcycle show in Snohomish on Sunday. Patrols are scheduled all day on Sunday along the highway between Everett and Stevens Pass, using an aircraft to spot aggressive drivers, Washington State Patrol trooper Keith Leary said.

"We want to have a zero fatality rate. That's our goal," Leary said.

Up to 16 State Patrol troopers will be working on Sunday in east Snohomish County, focusing on U.S. 2, Leary said. Other local enforcement agencies are also set to send patrols to the highway.

In March, U.S. 2 was designated as a safety corridor, making federal money available for education, engineering and enforcement efforts aimed at improving highway safety. The new designation gives the State Patrol overtime money to increase its presence on U.S. 2.

In addition, the State Patrol added patrols by six new troopers to U.S. 2 at the end of April, as directed by the state Legislature, Leary said.

Since 1999, 48 people have died in crashes and accidents along the highway between Snohomish and Stevens Pass, according to the state Department of Transportation. A third of those fatalities occurred in crossover crashes.

Backers for U.S. 2 safety improvements wanted to increase the number of patrol officers along the highway, especially during spring and summer when festivals and special events take place, said Angie Ward, a spokeswoman for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

"The community has been very vocal about the needs for more enforcement," Ward said.

Patrol officers don't aim to surprise people, but make the highway safer, Ward said.

"The bottom line is that we'd like to see fewer collisions," Ward said. "We'd be happy if we didn't need to give one ticket."

Jay Prueher of Gold Bar was injured in a U.S. 2 accident in July 2007. The Gold Bar City Councilman supports extra patrols on the highway.

"The best we can hope for is that people will be reluctant to pull illegal, inconsiderate maneuvers on U.S. 2," Prueher said.

The highway needs improvements, but people also need to focus on their driving to prevent crashes, Prueher said. Overall improvements for U.S. 2 are estimated to cost about $2 billion.

"Inattention in what they are doing causes most of the accidents out there," he said.

The highway's safety problems have gained attention from state leaders, including Gov. Chris Gregoire, who toured the highway on Sept. 11. The state Legislature set aside $13.9 million this year for U.S. 2 safety improvements. Of the money, $3.9 million will be spent to install centerline rumble strips along the highway between east of Monroe and Stevens Pass. The work aims to prevent crossover crashes; it's set to start in early June, said Meghan Soptich, a spokeswoman for the department of transportation.

The U.S. 2 Safety Coalition, a group of residents, officials and business people in the Skykomish Valley, is set to meet on Monday in Monroe to decide how to use the remaining $10 million to make their highway safer.

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.