Northwest NEWS

December 21, 1998

Local News

SR-522 would be widened under governor's budget

by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter

   Widening State Route 522 is a top priority under Gov. Gary Locke's proposed $2.9 billion, two-year transportation budget.

   The highway, considered by some to be among the most dangerous in the country, would be expanded from two lanes to four between Woodinville and Monroe to improve capacity and reduce the accident rate. Eastbound and westbound lanes would be divided, and reportedly, two new intersections would be built, if Locke's plan is approved.

   Locke unveiled that and other parts of his plan at a Federal Way weigh station last week. "My transportation plan will help move Washington drivers into the fast lane," Locke, the first-term Democrat, said in a press release. "With the passage of Referendum 49, we have an opportunity to address urban congestion by directing new revenues to projects that will produce benefits within the next two years."

   Locke had called the referendum as "credit card spending," but now appears to be working with the voters' decision. Over one-fifth of his proposed $2.9 billion budget for the 1999-2001 biennium would come from a $1.9 billion bond sale authorized by Referendum 49.

   Over the next six years, Locke calls for a $9.2 billion investment in the state's transportation system. More than one billion dollars of that would go towards relieving congestion in corridors like SR-522, as well as adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes on heavily traveled roads, and roving service patrols.

   Rep. Dave Schmidt (R-Mays Pond), whose district is transected by SR-522, said work on the highway has been a long time coming."I'm glad to see it's so high on his (Locke's) list," said Schmidt.

   The highway is used by many commuters, heavy trucks, and travelers to get to back and forth between the Monroe area and Seattle. In previous years, there have been proposals to widen SR-522 and pay for it through a toll on cars.

   During the afternoon rush hours, the highway is a rolling slowdown from Woodinville to Maltby. According to the state, Puget Sound commuters spend the equivalent of two weeks a year stuck in traffic jams.

   Sen. Jeanine Long (R-Mill Creek), who also represents the 44th, said she'd be working to ensure revenue from Referendum 49 goes to SR-522.

   Elsewhere in Schmidt and Long's south Snohomish County district, the governor's budget would fund widening the Mukilteo Speedway from I-5 to Paine Field and complete car pool lanes on I-405.

   Locke also calls for hiring more state troopers for patrolling and more detectives to fight auto theft, creating an eight-member methamphetamine response team to crack down on meth labs, adding more weigh stations on highways and more Department of Licensing staff, as well as making driver's licenses renewable every six years.

   To the relief of some, Locke didn't propose any funding for I-605, a proposed north-south freeway through the Snoqualmie Valley. A Mercer Island state senator has raised the subject as a way to ease traffic loads on I-405 and I-5.

   As it stands, the legislature still must approve Locke's budget."It's going to be an interesting process," said Schmidt. "Every legislator wants to have his piece."