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'Human error' blamed for narrow lane striping job on Snohomish County road

The Snohomish County Public Works Department said human error by a subcontractor is how sections of a double yellow line got off by up to three feet in one section of Storm Lake Road in Machias. (Photo: KOMO News)

MACHIAS, Wash. - Human error: that's how sections of double yellow lines in the middle of a Snohomish County road got way off center, according to the County's Public Works Department.

Public Works Deputy Director Doug McCormick said he wasn't even aware of the new permanent striping until concerned drivers called to complain.

A quarter mile of Storm Lake Road is all the talk in Machias - especially at the Storm Lake General Store and Gas Station.

"The first time I drove it, I almost drove into the ditch," said Jennifer, who lives and works in Machias.

"Last week was pretty close, I almost got sideswiped by a semi," said Justin, an electrician working on a housing development under construction nearby.

Same goes for Ray, he's working the project too, laying concrete. Both workers said visibility, especially in the morning and night, can be tricky.

"It's real tight coming around the corner," said Ray.

In the last week or so, and without any advance notice, and no traffic or lane change signage, drivers said sections of the two lane road abruptly changed.

For a quarter of a mile, south of Storm Lake General Store, sections of the double yellow center line are off center on Storm Lake Road.

In two spots, the road goes from two lanes, about 11 feet in width to differing widths.

In one section of roadway, one lane measures about 13 feet, the other just over 9 feet, and in places the shoulder is less than two feet wide and borders a slight embankment.

"There is not even a caution sign on the road to warn you. I thought it was something they had to do," said Jennifer, who works at the Storm Lake General Store.

She drives the stretch of roadway every day to work.

The county said because Storm Lake Road is considered a low traffic volume rural road, handling only about 1,000 drivers a day, no caution signs are required and a lane just 8.5 feet wide is acceptable.

That said, McCormick wants the lanes closer to 11 feet each.

He said the county first learned about the off center yellow lines on Thursday afternoon, when drivers complained.

He said his department sent a crew out Friday morning to inspect the lanes, and determined the developer of the nearby housing project hired a sub-contractor to do road work.

"It looks like someone made a human error, on the striping crew, when they went out," said McCormick, referring to the sub-contractor.

McCormick said his crews found a lane on the road that measured just 8.5 in width.

Most standard cars he said are about 6 feet wide.

McCormick reiterated that's not unsafe, but not ideal.

"From a driver expectation that is a small, narrow lane to drive in," said McCormick.

"I'm just worried someone is going to get hurt," said Jennifer, who said people also use the roadway to walk their dogs.

McCormick told KOMO he learned the developer was required to widen parts of the quarter mile section of road, due to increased traffic volume from their construction work and then cover and replace the center lines with temporary double yellow lines.

He said instead of temporary striping, the developer's subcontractor put down new, permanent striping.

How that happened, the county is still investigating.

"We will worry about how it happened afterwards," said McCormick.

The county said the priority now is to correct the mistake.

Repair work began Monday afternoon, but crews need dry weather to redo the striping.

McCormick said with most roads, County Public Works does the permanent striping, not sub-contractors, unlike in this case.

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