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January 26, 1998

Local News

Intersection work angers business owners

tires

Photo by Andrew Walgamott

On 131st Street showing the Sir Plus and Texaco street access.

     by Andrew Walgamott
   WOODINVILLE--While recent improvements to the intersection of N.E. 175th St. and 131st Ave. N.E. may have pleased motorists, businesses on that corner aren't pleased with a pair of long, low yellow concrete curbs blocking traffic that might have otherwise turned left into their shops. "They basically put a fence around me here," says Mark Gifford, owner of RJ Tires and Service. "They" is the City of Woodinville and Washington Department of Transportation (DOT) who installed the medians (the fences) between oncoming traffic on 175th and 131st when an extra left-turn lane was added to eastbound 175th earlier in January. The purpose of the improvements was to relieve congestion. Sometimes traffic backs up from the intersection over the Sammamish River to McCorry's. The second left-turn lane was expected to add 1.6 to 1.7 times more capacity.
  
   Safety was also a consideration.
   Mark Leth, a Wash DOT traffic design engineer, says there have been 40 accidents at the intersection in the last two years causing $1 million in damages. But the problem for businesses is one of ease of access, getting customers, suppliers and employees in and out with the least amount of hassle. The medians block vehicle access to RJ Tires from eastbound 175th and northbound 131st. It also forces Gifford's employees and customers to drive to McCorry's to turn around and head back towards banks and restaurants on the other side of town.
  
   As for road testing cars, it used to be a matter of driving to Chateau Ste. Michelle and back, Gifford said. Now it requires driving to Kingsgate, back on I-405 and State Route 522, a drive that takes too long, he adds."Once you drive out, it's not easy to get back into my business," says Gifford, who's owned the auto repair shop since 1991. His solution: remove the back half of the median on 175th and let trucks turn left into one of his two driveways on that street.
  
   Across the street, it's much the same story.
   Randy Jaffe, owner of Sir Plus, wants the barrier on 131st removed so impulse buyers can drop into his outdoor outfitting business. Jaffe says that there is no way those shoppers can turn into his store without a time-consuming U-turn. Gifford bemoans the loss of new customers. "A business, if it doesn't grow, doesn't maintain, you have to lay off. You can't hope that it will get better," Gifford says.
  
   But according to Ron Cameron, Woodinville public works director, it's not up to the city to remove the medians. They are required by the state to have intersections with double left-turn lanes. The state is involved because 131st from State Route 522 to 175th and 175th to the Woodinville-Redmond Road is also known as State Route 202. Cameron said the city had appealed to the state to remove some of the medians. But state engineer Leth didn't see that happening. "No, at this point I don't see us removing them," Leth said. He said that though the state didn't design the improvements with blinders to business on, they also were considering mobility. Leth said there was too much traffic in the area to allow left turns in and out of driveways. Cameron notes that some of the city's highest traffic counts come near that intersection. About 36,000 cars pass under the railroad trestle on 131st every day, he said.
  
   The solution, Gifford says, is to build a bypass to State Route 522, something Cameron says is not on the books, and Leth says there is no money for. But the city is pursuing $6 million in grants that would be used to improve the intersection of 131st and N.E. 177th Pl., the bottleneck near McLendons. Funds would also go to expanding 177th which hooks into the TRF project via a new railroad crossing.