Traffic Q&A: U-turns at Fife intersection illegal — and jurisdiction is jumbled

Question: Every afternoon on my way home I see countless people cruise through the intersection of state Route 509 and South Taylor Way in Fife, only to flip a U-turn to avoid waiting for the left turn signal south.

Not only are these people making a U-turn in front of oncoming container traffic, they’re also crossing railroad tracks.

My question is, first, is this legal?

If not, who has jurisdiction in that area to report this? (Port of Tacoma? City of Fife? The State Patrol?)

It’s as an accident waiting to happen with all these folks making U-turns just to avoid a red light. — Aaron, Tacoma

Answer: It’s not legal.

Drivers headed north on Taylor cross into city of Tacoma police jurisdiction after they cross SR 509, and Tacoma is even more restrictive than most places about where you can make U-turns.

The Tacoma Municipal Code prohibits U-turns throughout the city, except in uncontrolled intersections and where authorized by a sign or signal. (See section 11.05.550 of the Tacoma Municipal Code.)

That’s more restrictive than the state’s Model Traffic Ordinance in the Revised Code of Washington, which says U-turns are generally OK as long as you make them safely and you’re not on a curve or hill where your vehicle isn’t visible for 500 feet in either direction.

Tacoma adopted the Model Traffic Ordinance in 1992, but it deleted the section on U-turns.

The issue of jurisdiction is complicated at that intersection. The Washington State Patrol has primary jurisdiction on SR 509; Fife police have jurisdiction on Taylor south of the intersection and Tacoma has jurisdiction to the north.

The U-turn problem is well-known to police.

“I’ve seen people at the left-turn lights do the U-turns on all sides of this intersection,” said Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool.

The backups — and the frustration — are worse on the Fife side, Cool said. “The traffic for the left-turn lane can get backed up all the way to next intersection with a traffic light.”