Olympia’s ‘most important intersection to fix’ is finally getting some TLC after decades

The intersection of State Avenue and Plum Street in downtown Olympia has been in need of renovations for more than 20 years.

Olympia’s Mayor Pro-Tem Clark Gilman says he was told a decade ago it was the most important intersection to fix in the city.

Council member Dani Madrone said it’s one of the most dangerous intersections in the city for bicyclists and pedestrians. The streets are wide and the crosswalks are poorly marked.

Council member Lisa Parshley said crossing the road on her walk to work feels like Russian Roulette.

But the intersection is now set for some well-needed upgrades aimed at protecting cyclists and pedestrians. The City Council accepted a $867,530 bid for a construction contract from Active Construction, Inc., to provide improved crosswalks and bicycle lanes, pending approval from other stakeholders. The project is estimated to cost about $1.4 million in total.

Project Manager Randy Wesselman showed the council what’s in store for the intersection during the Sept. 27 council meeting. He said the intersection was identified as an area of concern through the city’s 2014-2018 Street Safety Plan. According to the plan, there were eight pedestrian/cyclist-involved crashes there during those years, the most of any intersection.

Plans for the State Avenue corridor from Chestnut to Pear streets include several renovations aimed at making it safer, including for those taking public transit. But some of the updates will result in more traffic congestion.

Wesselman said there will be raised pedestrian islands at the intersections along State Avenue, shortening the crossing distance and separating cars from bicyclists at the light. The bike lane will come up onto a raised sidewalk and follow the pedestrian walkway. There also will be green bike lane crossing symbols painted on the road for additional driver and cyclist awareness to prevent collisions while turning.

The curb ramps also will be updated, and some of the crossings will be moved further into the street and away from the intersection. The pedestrian push buttons will be getting a voice, too.

A major change for drivers on the one-way road will be the removal of the dedicated left turn lane from State Avenue to Plum Street. Wesselman said it makes room for the protected bike lane and other pedestrian island improvements.

Near the gas station, there will be a raised concrete area at a bus stop that simultaneously allows buses to stay in the lane of travel and for those using the buses to get on and off safely. It’ll include green striping to caution cyclists and pedestrians the same as the intersections at Chestnut, Plum and Pear streets.

The city originally applied for grants for construction in 2020, but the project was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Later that year, the Washington State Department of Transportation awarded the city a grant totaling more than $780,000 for project construction.

Wesselman said the bid for construction came in higher than the city’s engineers expected, so they had to apply for additional grant funding through WSDOT. They were able to secure an additional $280,000 or so that will go toward construction, engineering and inspection costs.