April 3, 2000
Speaking for the multitude of frustrated Puget Sound drivers, I implore you to help our people, despite themselves.
I send you this letter which is critical of local planners, even after talking to a former high-level transportation engineer who long worked for the state and King County. He told me state and county engineers have been as frustrated as anyone by citizen protests that have blocked several projects planned in recent decades that could have alleviated our current traffic mess.
The current Novelty Bridge project, on NE 124th near Duvall, exemplifies the apparent backward thinking that has the emotions and traffic of this region so tied in knots. King County is demolishing the 80-year-old bridge, one of two primary access roads for the exploding population of the Snoqualmie Valley area south and east of Duvall.
As thousands of commuters could tell you, those two-lane access roads have been woefully inadequate for years, as have the two-lane Novelty Hill and Woodinville-Duvall roads they feed. Having only one road across the Valley until late next fall will seriously impact northeast King County commuters. But surely those commuters can hope for something better at the end of the tunnel, right? So guess how many lanes the new bridge will accommodate? TWO!
I'm guessing your mandatory stock response must be, "But the surrounding roads are only two-lane!" Isn't that a prime example of this region's "progressive thinking?" It suggests no plans to expand the major Snoqualmie Valley, Redmond, or Woodinville arterials to meet current needs, let alone future needs! And those bridge plans were drawn before I-695 limited highway funds, right?
I'm surprised more mayhem hasn't occurred on our roads. I'm afraid your planners invest too much faith in the famous "laid back" nature of our people.
I've lived my whole life in the Puget Sound basin, and have driven commercial and personal vehicles in King County for 35 years. I watched the state cripple I-405 traffic for months of repaving in 1980 without expanding the already-too-crowded freeway. Two other prolonged I-405 projects since have netted a total addition of two HOV lanes.
I have had enough of what seems like such bull-headed, willful blindness! I'm moving to Phoenix.
Please don't shock your planners with the fact that Phoenix has 4-to-6-lane, 40-to-50mph boulevards every mile, with several 6-to-8-lane freeways. One freeway under construction will soon complete a circular freeway route linking all parts of greater Phoenix, as well as other freeways. Although Phoenix landscape is less complex than ours, they don't use their many hills as an excuse to impede progress. They MAKE progress!
The sense of freedom emanating from Phoenix drivers--versus restrained frustration from Seattle "crawlers"--is palpable. I thought I was in highway heaven! Brace yourself for this one (and please reveal to your planners only in brain-sized portions): People actually step on the gas more than the brake there! Novel concept, huh?
San Diego planners also found a way to accommodate growth, rather than blocked inevitable progress with excuses that made it impossible!
To paraphrase one King County citizen's plea in a recent letter to the editor, "Forget taking away our cars and forcing people to use a pie-in-the-sky, piecemeal, light-rail system. Just build the roads we need!" That light-rail was limited from the beginning, because many tracks through logical routes--see Burke-Gilman and East Lake Sammamish--have been torn up for bike trails.
Please, use the right of eminent domain--or whatever it took to build the necessary roads in the first place--to expand our inadequate freeways and arterials.
I've tried to capture the difference between planning attitudes in the two cities:
In Phoenix they said, "If we build it, they will come" (apologies to Mr. Kinsella).
In Seattle they said, "If we don't build it, they won't come!"
Guess which were right?