Snoqualmie Casino is offering the state $1 million to accelerate safety improvements on Highway 18 after two casino employees were killed in a head-on collision at Tiger Mountain summit.
Maria Wong and Jasmine Lao were on their way to work early Oct. 12 on the highway when a pickup crossed the centerline and collided with their vehicle.
The truck driver was arrested on suspicion of two counts of vehicular homicide. Wong and Lao, who were mother and daughter, were mourned by their co-workers at Snoqualmie Casino.
“They were the sweetest but also the most hardworking people,” said Brian Decorah, the casino’s CEO.
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The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has been planning to study possible safety improvements to Highway 18 and estimated costs of construction, with state money that becomes available next July. The casino is offering $1 million to speed up the process.
Highway 18 runs between Federal Way and Snoqualmie. With rapid growth in Snoqualmie and surrounding communities, the interchange at Highway 18 and Interstate 90 has become one of the busiest in the state.
It’s a popular route for truck drivers because the highway connects to warehouses in Auburn and can provide a shortcut between I-90 and Interstate 5. Its southern end also is not far from the Port of Tacoma.
WSDOT says it plans to engage with the community over how to “provide better traffic flow and congestion relief” and conduct traffic and environmental analyses. Construction is set to begin in 2021.
“There are no simple — or low-cost — solutions to improving” Highway 18 over Tiger Mountain, a WSDOT blog post says. Adding a center barrier to prevent head-on collisions would require widening the roadway, the post says.
“We empathize with all of those impacted by the recent losses on SR 18. We also place great value on partnerships with jurisdictions and employers that help address safety issues on the transportation system,” WSDOT spokeswoman Kris Olsen said in a statement. “We are working to determine how Snoqualmie Casino’s funding offer could be utilized and look forward to coordinating with partners in this area.”
Decorah sent the offer letter to WSDOT Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar, Gov. Jay Inslee, the tribal liaison with WSDOT, and King County, with a stipulation that action be taken within the next 90 days.
Other road projects have received financial support from private organizations. The Cowlitz Tribe paid for interchange improvements at Interstate 5 and Northwest La Center Road near north of Vancouver where a new casino is located.
Wong worked as a slot attendant for nearly 10 years. Lao joined in the summer of 2016 as a security officer. They had both received the employee of the month award.
“From my perspective in a leadership role, what made it difficult was when you look out and see your team in such pain,” Decorah said. “The only thing I could think of to ease the pain, besides bringing Jasmine and Maria back, was to do something.”