Highway 2 drivers can look forward to a safer road next spring as part of efforts to reduce the number of collisions and deaths the road...

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Highway 2 drivers can look forward to a safer road next spring as part of efforts to reduce the number of collisions and deaths the road claims annually.

In October, Gov. Christine Gregoire added the “Highway of Death,” as many drivers call it, to the state’s traffic-safety-corridor list, which designates roads with the highest collision and fatality rates and makes them eligible for improvements.

Among the improvements planned are the inclusion of 24-inch rumble strips — wider than typically installed on state highways — along with reflectors and permanent double striping between Monroe and Gold Bar. Standard, 9-inch rumble strips will be installed from Gold Bar to Stevens Pass.

Construction begins in May and will be finished some time in 2009, said Meghan Soptich, a spokeswoman for the Washington state Department of Transportation.

In addition to the rumble strips, the state plans to include new signs alerting drivers to the dangers on Highway 2, and the Washington State Patrol will increase the number of motorcycle units on the highway.

Similar improvements on other state highways named to the safety-corridor list have resulted in a 34 percent reduction in fatalities, Gregoire said in October.

Statistics show that the majority of accidents in the Highway 2 corridor — more than 2,600 between Interstate 5 and Stevens Pass since 1999 — are because of drunken driving, people falling asleep at the wheel or drivers aggressively trying to pass a slower vehicle. Of those, about 40 accidents have been fatal, claiming nearly 50 lives.

The spring improvements will cost about $3.6 million, split among local, state and federal funding sources.

The rumble strips are the only funded project part of a larger list the state DOT says need completing to improve safety and traffic conditions on the road.

The state finalized in November a corridor study based on a draft plan that began circulating in November 2006. The study contains 56 projects costing more than $1 billion between the city of Snohomish and the town of Skykomish.

“The corridor study is the first step toward getting funding for these projects,” Soptich said. “Now it’s up to local communities, agencies and state legislators to decide how and when they can fund those projects.”

But funding for much of the plan will be difficult, officials say, as the state pot of transportation money grows thinner each year. While Highway 2 is important, projects like the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Highway 520 bridge also are competing for improvement money.

Still, the rumble strips are a positive first step, said Fred Walser, former Sultan police chief and chairman of the Highway 2 Safety Coalition.

“It’s a kind of a Band-Aid approach to improve safety out there,” he said. “But if it can reduce the number of crossover deaths, then we’ve made progress.”