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Monday, June 28, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Big Plans To Tame Deadly Roadway -- Fall Work Slated For Two-Mile Leg Of Highway 18

AUBURN - Nancy Suckow knows what it feels like to get clobbered on Highway 18, the two-lane roller coaster truckers nicknamed Blood Alley. She's a two-time victim.

"That road is treacherous, and they have to do something about it," said Suckow, a freelance lab technician. She was out of work for about a year after her first accident five years ago.

She's gradually getting her wish - plans call for the highway to be transformed into a four-lane freeway, with two separated lanes running in either direction. Work is being done piecemeal as financing becomes available.

Work on the next major project, a two-mile segment from the Auburn-Black Diamond Road to Southeast 312th Way - the turnoff to Green River Community College - is scheduled to get under way later this year.

Bids for the job, estimated to cost a maximum of $25 million, will be advertised next month and construction should start in the fall, said Azim Sheikh-Taheri, assistant project engineer. The project is expected to take about two years to complete, with the bulk of the work being done in the summer of 1994.

It will include two new bridges for westbound traffic on Highway 18 - one that clears the Auburn-Black Diamond Road and another over the Green River. The two existing bridges will be retained for eastbound traffic and a modified interchange will be created at the Auburn-Black Diamond Road.

Washington State Patrol troopers blame drivers for the accidents, not the highway.

"Our biggest problem on Highway 18 is driver error, driver-caused accidents," said Lt. Dick Smith, a WSP public information officer. "We have a tremendous amount of people who leave the interstates and they continue to drive 65.

"If you're a gambler I guess you'll continue to do that."

In addition to speeding, Smith said many drivers are refusing to yield the right of way, drinking and illegally passing other vehicles through a widening and resurfacing project over Tiger Mountain at the east end of the highway. The project, scheduled for completion in September, calls for an additional passing lane with a concrete barrier separating eastbound and westbound traffic.

"Personally, I don't think there is anything wrong with State Route 18," Smith said. "It's the drivers who are unsafe out there."

Over the past decade, six people have died and 124 have been injured in 80 pile-ups along the Auburn-Black Diamond Road over-crossing to Southeast 312th. In 1990 alone, three people died and 32 were injured.

The highway runs for more than 20 miles between Interstate 5 and Interstate 90 in the Cascade Mountain foothills. Last year, three people died on the highway, and in 1991 there were two fatalities.

But in 1990, a dozen motorists died. Ten were killed on Highway 18 in 1981 and again in 1988.

The latest victim was a 19-year-old Hobart man who died Tuesday when his van struck the rear of a pickup that had slowed to make a left turn at 236th Avenue Southeast.

"I just stay away from it, period," Suckow said. Woman still has pins in leg

The Federal Way woman still has pins in her scarred leg from her traffic accident. Amnesia has blotted the details. She was on the way home after eating dinner with a friend in Federal Way. The last thing she remembers is seeing the headlights of an oncoming car.

"And then I can't remember anything," she says.

On Jan. 20, 1988, Suckow, then 37, was driving east on Highway 18, northeast of Auburn near Southeast 312th Way, when a westbound car driven by 25-year-old Todd Stallman of North Bend crossed the center line and struck her vehicle.

Stallman died at the scene and Suckow wound up in Auburn General Hospital, along with Ross Ingalls, 26, the driver of a third car that plowed into the rear of her auto. All three drivers were wearing seat belts.

"I remember looking at his car and it was just a mess," said Ingalls, an auto-parts-warehouse employee who had minor injuries. "There was glass and debris all over."

About a year later, Suckow was rear-ended by another car on Highway 18 when she slowed so a vehicle in front of her could make a left turn. It happened the day she was moving from Kent so she could avoid the daily drive to work on the highway she calls "a deathtrap."

Rarely has she been back. In 1995, two additional lanes will be built on Highway 18 from Southeast 312th Way to the junction with Southeast 296th and 144th Avenue Southeast, the turnoff to Seattle International Raceway. A $30 million interchange also will be built near the intersection connecting 312th with Southeast 304th Street. $27 million project scheduled

Also scheduled to get under way next year is a $27 million project to put in a new Issaquah-Hobart Road interchange on Highway 18.

Last year, in an effort to improve safety, highway officials took the unusual steps of putting in traffic-light signals and left-hand turn lanes on Highway 18 at the 312th and 296th intersections. Those would come out when the new interchanges are built.

------------------ A TREACHEROUS ROAD ------------------

Total reported accidents that occurred on Highway 18 from Auburn-Black Diamond Road Overcrossing to Southeast 312th Way from Jan. 1, 1983 through Dec. 31, 1992.

Injury

Year Accidents accidents Fatalaties

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1983 12 1 0

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1984 12 5 0

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1985 9 2 0

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1986 13 4 1

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1987 11 5 0

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1988 23 11 2

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1989 25 11 0

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1990 32 16 3

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1991 17 6 0

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1992 22 13 0

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TOTAL 177 74 6

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Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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