Yacolt residents along Kelly Road want safety worries addressed

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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YACOLT — No one was hurt when a loaded dump truck and trailer barreled through the intersection of Northeast Kelly Road and Northeast Lucia Falls Road and into a creek bed last month, but the crash was another flash point for some residents in their long-running dispute with Clark County.

David Rogers, who lives up Kelly Road not far from the crash site, has been lobbying the county for some kind of change in the road rules for years.

On Feb. 9, the date of the crash, Rogers received three phone calls about the crash before he was out the door to see what happened.

“The neighbors — we’re just tired of this,” he said. “Someone’s going to get killed.”

Quarry neighbors have multiple concerns about the mining in the northern parts of the county, but traffic has been high on the list. It’s an old debate.

In 2004, after a hearings examiner denied a permit, county commissioners voted to overrule the denial and a Superior Court judge affirmed their reversal, the county granted a mining permit to J.L. Storedahl & Sons to develop a quarry to provide aggregate from Yacolt Mountain.

Rogers said he’s heard stories from people narrowly missing incoming trucks, and said with the speed limit what it is, the sight distance for most driveways onto Kelly Road is hazardously long: It’s hard for vehicles pulling in or heading along the road to see each other in time to stop.

What’s more, he said, the slope down Kelly Road is fairly steep.

Often, he hears air brakes rumbling down the hill. Once, a bus’s brakes caught fire after the driver rode them down the length of the hill, he said.

The intersection has seen a handful of crashes over the years.

From 2010 through 2016, there have been eight crashes around the intersection, according to information from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Out of those eight crashes, four people suffered apparent injuries.

All but two crashes — where passenger cars and trucks or vans weighing less than 10,000 pounds collided — were single-vehicle crashes.

By WSDOT’s count, three of the single-vehicle crashes involved a truck, whether a flatbed, van or commercial vehicle. Two involved a single passenger car. One involved a single truck or van weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

Investigations revealed that three of the crashes happened due to defective equipment, two for excessive speed, two for inattention and one for disregarding a stop sign, according to WSDOT.

The most recent crash was caused by brake failure, according to the county.

Rogers said he and other neighbors have tried to get the county to legislate some kind of solution, from creating a commercial vehicle speed limit to re-routing trucks along Gabriel Road, which is flatter.

“We’ve had all kinds of stalls by the county,” Rogers said.

J.L. Storedahl & Sons declined to comment.

Carolyn Heniges, transportation manager at the county public works department, said the county has extensively studied that area at the request of residents, and there’s no indication vehicles are significantly operating outside of expected speeds for a county road like Kelly Road.

“Road restrictions are only implemented if they are warranted,” she said. “Our traffic engineering analysis does not support a speed change.”

Lowering the posted speed, the county worries, could lead to drivers trying to pass slow trucks, which would create even more hazardous situations.

Creating some kind of truck route doesn’t seem like much of a solution either, she said.

“Every time you limit the use of the road, you benefit some at the inconvenience others, to move traffic from one location to another — you just move the problem.”

Rogers isn’t convinced, and said he and others intend to keep advocating for some kind of relief.

Rogers is among a regular chorus of speakers at county council meetings asking for redress related to mining traffic, and he has a running file, now two plastic bins’ worth, of documentation and research.

He thinks having so many new faces in county government over the past few years might mean residents will have a better chance finding a sympathetic ear, or at least having their concerns taken more seriously.

“What we’re hoping for now, is we can embarrass the councilors” into action, he said.