Road safety bill could reduce fatal crashes in rural Yakima County

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — A new bill prefiled by Rep. Chris Corry would provide funding for counties to make road improvements to prevent traffic fatalities in rural communities like those in the Lower Yakima Valley.

“As a rural legislator, I have some of the most rural roads in Washington state here in the 14th and one of the things we found is that there’s some really bad accidents out there,” Corry said.

House Bill 1605 would establish a “reducing rural roadway departures” program using money from the state’s transportation budget. Counties would be able to apply for funding to use for road safety improvements in high risk, rural areas.

“The ability for us to be able to locally identify what needs to be fixed and work with models to get that done, rather than having it all handled out of Olympia, I think would be very important for our county,” Corry said.

Corry said the bill is based on recommendations made by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission in its Target Zero plan, which aims to have zero deaths and serious injuries on state roads by 2030.

The commission found that lane departure problems are one of the top causes of serious injuries on state roadways, especially in rural areas. That’s why Corry said he wants to make sure counties get the funding they need to reduce the risk of fatality crashes.

“We don’t have to build an entire new road,” Corry said. “You don’t have to build entire barricades or, you know, centerline dividers. You can do mitigation efforts that will improve visibility and reduce these traffic deaths.”

Improvements could include repainting road lines for better visibility, adding signs, putting up new lights or fixing road surface treatments. According to the 2022 Washington Highway Safety Plan, motor vehicle crashes have killed 168 people in Yakima County over the past five years.

Many of those deaths occurred on or near the Yakama Nation Reservation, oftentimes where Highway 97 intersects with other roads. According to the commission, while Native Americans make up just 3.7% of the population in Yakima County, they account for 25% of all traffic fatalities.


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