Between December 13, 2017 and October 12, 2018, there have been six deadly accidents and seven deaths on an approximate 7-mile portion of SR 18, stretching from just east of Issaquah Hobart Road to I-90 near Snoqualmie. Five of those deaths were caused by vehicles or debris crossing the center line in areas where there are no roadway dividers.
This part of SR 18 is notorious with drivers who regularly use it, as it is only a 2 to 3-lane highway with large sections lacking street lights, many portions lacking roadway dividers and it also covers Tiger Mountain with its steep incline/decline and winding roadway. Once you reach Issaquah Hobart Road, SR 18 becomes a safer, 4-lane highway.
On Friday, October 12th, the Washington State Patrol published a news release saying so far this year there have been 38 deaths on state routes and interstates in King County.
Six of those deaths in 2018 happened on this 7-mile stretch of SR 18. According to WSDOT traffic data, this portion of SR 18 accounted for only a small part – about 2-3% – of average annual daily traffic volume (AADT) on King County state routes and interstates last year. [Note: only 6 or 7 deaths were included above as one occurred in late 2017]
Over the past decade, as traffic on 405 and 167 has increased, SR 18 has become a common commuter route to the Eastside for southeast King County residents of cities like Maple Valley, Covington, Black Diamond and Kent. It is also a main freight route for commercial trucking between busy Puget Sound ports and the eastern U.S.
As a result, every weekday morning.there are long eastbound SR 18 backups over Tiger Mountain approaching the I-90 interchange. Then in the evening, the westbound backup forces waiting cars into eastbound I-90 traffic – sometimes a mile deep.
Some Help is Coming.
WSDOT will soon begin a $150 million project to redesign the SR 18/I-90 interchange and widen SR 18 from I-90 to near the Raging River. It is expected to be complete in 2023, but there is not enough funding to widen SR 18 all the way to Issaquah Hobart Road. The most recent state budget, though, did provide $1 million for WSDOT study this last remaining expansion of SR 18.
The most recent SR 18 accident – involving a suspected impaired driver that left a mother and daughter dead – left many residents asking why the state can’t take measures to make SR 18 safer until a permanent fix happens.
WSDOT stated that it cannot add cement dividers to all parts of SR 18 over Tiger Mountain due to the lack of roadway. It needs an extra six feet to accommodate the two-foot wide barrier and then two feet on each side. To do this would require either widening SR 18 or hardening the shoulders to handle traffic weight in an environmentally sensitive area.
Making SR 18 safer is 25-year Affair for Washington State.
Since 1992 the state has been working to expand SR 18 from a two-lane rural highway to a four-lane controlled access freeway to make it safer. The last widening/lane expansion finished at Issaquah Hobart Road in 2007. In 2011 the state also improved the SR 18 connection to I-5, changing it from a signal-controlled intersection to a fly over interchange.
The section between Issaquah Hobart to I-90 is the last portion to be improved. 5th District Senator Mark Mullet says it’s a high priority for him. He commented, “My top goal this [legislative] session is to secure funding so we can make SR 18 four lanes all the way to Issaquah Hobart Road.”
The 6 fatal accidents on SR 18 between Issaquah Hobart Road and I-90 include:
- 12/13/2017: one fatality when debris from truck came loose, caused a driver to cross the center line
- 2/5/2018: one fatality when a car crossed the center line, hit a semi
- 5/15/18: one fatality when a car crossed the center line
- 8/6/18: one fatality due to a wrong-way driver
- 10/6/18: one fatality due to a driver drifting, hitting cement barrier and flipping into oncoming lanes
- 10/12/18: two fatalities when a suspected impaired driver crossed the center line
Prior to these most recent fatalities, according to WSDOT accident data, this stretch of SR 18 also had 17 serious collisions involving 55 people between 2010-2017. There were also four fatal collisions between 2010-2016. [Serious collision mean a person involved in the accident sustained a serious, not minor, injury.]