Northwest NEWS

February 7, 2000

Front Page

DOT studies freeway through the Snoqualmie Valley

Proposal aims to ease congestion

by Lisa Allen, Valley View editor

   DUVALL--Stuck in traffic on a regular basis? If you are, you lost $1,165 last year. That is the amount the state figures the average Puget Sound-area driver loses annually in time alone, due to the region's heavily-congested roads.

   "That's not the cost of business lost," said John Okamoto, regional director of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) at a Duvall Chamber of Commerce meeting last week. "That's just the loss in time alone."

   Okamoto told Chamber members that the Puget Sound area is the third-most congested in the country, according to the Texas Transportation Institute's annual rankings. "We spend about 69 hours stuck in traffic every year," he said. "With the passage of I-695, the average car owner will save about $142. We traded that for $1,165 worth of lost time."

   Okamoto said it is clear that traffic congestion not only degrades the quality of life and impacts the vitality of the region, but affects the competitive edge the Port of Seattle has over California ports. "Southern California and Portland have invested millions in roadside facilities to erode that edge," he said. "We are dependent on the world's markets and are now a major player on the world stage. One in four jobs is trade-related."

   Okamoto said without taking action on congestion relief, the area's economic vitality will continue to erode. One proposed solution is eliminating HOV lanes, "a quick fix that doesn't work," he said, adding that I-695 reversed the largest investment the public made in Referendum 49 of $2.4 billion in transportation money.

   "We are now at a bare bones budget," he said. "We are hoping to continue Amtrak's run from Portland to Vancouver, but with a cut in improvements, and only until mid-2002. The ferry system is also questionable past mid-2002."

   On the highway side, there are only enough dollars to finish off improvement-type projects, he said.

   DOT area administrator Phil Fordyce said the roundabout planned for SR-203 and NE 124th was also a casualty of I-695. "We wanted to coordinate the project with the Novelty Bridge replacement, but now that won't happen," he said. "Two roundabouts planned for Fall City will also be delayed."

   Fordyce said a study of a possible new north-south freeway is still ongoing, but that the legislature must decide on whether it can fund new infrastructure. Two years ago, the legislature asked DOT to revisit an old proposal of an additional north-south freeway that would ease congestion on I-5 and I-405. The impacts of running a proposed freeway through the Snoqualmie Valley were included in the study.

   The idea of a new freeway, dubbed I-605 over 30 years ago, has surfaced from time to time. In the latest study, DOT studied impacts of plans that have it hooking up with SR-18 at I-90, then going north through Carnation and Duvall, to U.S. Hwy. 2 in Monroe.

   Carol Hunter, DOT engineer, told Chamber members that the potential freeway, or arterial/parkway, could go through downtown on SR-203 as a four-lane highway, or somewhere east of Duvall. Hunter said the study did not offer any recommendations, but is being forwarded to the legislature.

   Hunter said the study found that SR-203 averaged 750 truck trips a day, "a high percentage," she said. "We figured if a new freeway facility was put out here, at 2020 volumes, there would be a significant shift of traffic from I-5, but that the additional traffic would put SR-18 over capacity."

   Some of the issues raised during the study, she said, included Comp Plan compatibility and whether planned growth will overwhelm transportation capacity. "The area here is Rural Agricultural/Natural Resource Designation and Rural Character, with a designated watershed and floodplain with a seismic challenge," she said. "People are very concerned about the environment."

   She also noted there is no place east of Duvall that wouldn't be affected environmentally by a new freeway. But, she summarized that the study found sufficient demand that would justify a major infrastructure.

   "It would be a significant benefit," she said. "But we recognize the environmental constraints. Also, we decided the freeway would not need to be in East King County to receive the benefits."

   Chamber members and city officials were clearly concerned that the town could be split in two by a four-lane highway. City Engineer Elizabeth Goode asked Fordyce if limiting Main Street/SR-203 to two lanes in the Comprehensive Plan, which is currently being updated, would help.

   Fordyce encouraged the city to protect its interests in its Comp Plan update. "But four lanes through town is not in the immediate future," he said. "We need to make SR-203 a safe highway and it is a heritage corridor. We want to maintain the character of our local cities."

   Fordyce said the DOT has no plans yet to do anything with SR-202 or 203. "It's up to the legislature," he said.