November 21, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 31

SR 904: If we can't get more pavement, how about patrols?

In our opinion

The long string of taillights on SR 904 that greeted those traveling out of Cheney Nov. 9 well after the conclusion of the Big Sky Conference football game between Eastern Washington and Montana State was a telltale sign.

Because by 4:45 p.m. that day most all of the more than 10,000 fans that packed Roos Field to watch the Eagles dismantle the Bobcats 54-29 should have safely passed through the five-mile gauntlet that bottlenecks traffic traveling to reach Interstate 90.

Instead of clear sailing through to various destinations, the backup came as a result of the exceedingly poor judgment exercised by a 47-year-old Spokane Valley resident, Curtis Cooley, who not only allegedly drove under the influence, but did so with his young son in the backseat.

Cooley compounded the process by being impatient with the slow traffic and letting his possible impairment think it was OK to pass on a double-yellow line and crash into 21-year-old Cheney resident Raquel Caballero.

Luckily, despite the ugly result of crushed metal and the miscellaneous pieces and parts that still litter the shoulders of the roadway, no one died. Cooley’s son was initially in critical condition – and reportedly nearly did die from complications – but was later upgraded to stable condition.

This incident – and yet another wreck the day before that apparently had less severe injuries or damage – serves to illustrate a couple of obvious problems to the Cheney Free Press editorial board. Number one is to NOT drive under the influence of alcohol. And two, something has to be done to improve 904 – sooner rather than later.

We had hoped our area legislators would put up a fight for part of a proposed transportation package in Gov. Jay Inslee’s hastily-called special session in Olympia starting Nov. 7.

Maybe they’d have enough clout to find money to once and for all fund the remainder of the nearly 70-year effort to build the North-South freeway, an estimated $750 million. And then, some relative pocket change – $15 million according to Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove who quotes a DOT estimate – tossed in for a better, wider and safer 904.

But that $10 billion in funding fell off the radar in a session ruled by Boeing tax breaks designed to entice them to keep their 777x aircraft production in Everett.

With a serious need to try to do something to handle the roughly 16,000 vehicles a day that travel the stretch of road to and from Cheney, the next best thing, for now at least, seems to be a less costly enhanced law enforcement presence.

It’s frustrating to be driving along and all of a sudden come up to someone who’s puttering along at 40 or 45 mph. This precipitates the potential of impatient drivers acting like Cooley and choosing to violate the law where no passing zones are the rule.

Emphasis patrols come and go, generally because of increased outside funding or cooperative efforts with other law enforcement agencies. But it seems that rarely, if ever, is there one on SR 904.

If nothing else, even the periodic sight of a Washington State Patrol or other agency cruisers would likely up the level of honesty of drivers and be at least a stop-gap fix while we wait for the real deal.

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