Category Archives: Why

Kirkland on move to more places, more often

Kirkland resident Sally Brown carries a pedestrian flag while crossing Central Way in downtown Kirkland recently with her daughter, Caroline Schmale, 7. Photo by Carrie Wood.

Kirkland resident Sally Brown carries a pedestrian flag while crossing Central Way in downtown Kirkland recently with her daughter, Caroline Schmale, 7. Photo by Carrie Wood.

By Carrie Wood
Reporter Newspapers
On any given afternoon, chances are you can find Daryl Grigsby riding his bike along the streets of downtown Kirkland.
Grigsby leads by example, as the city’s Public Works director who manages the city’s operations for transportation, among other services.
Looking at the future of transportation in Kirkland, he refers to the city’s transportation strategy as a three-legged stool: active transportation, building projects to deal with capacity and intelligent transportation. The city hopes the strategies will meet its vision of “more people, more places, more often.”

Active transportation
The city recently completed its Active Transportation Plan that outlines city plans to add more sidewalks, bike lanes, bike facilities and pedestrian connections.
The city’s approach is to look at what projects could keep traffic moving at a reasonable level, while promoting other modes of transportation, such as walking, cycling and transit, Grigsby said.
“A lot of people don’t know – and this is the under-riding premises of this plan – but one quarter of all trips we take out of our house are less than a mile,” he said, noting the plan aims to take that percentage of trips and convert them from a car to walking, cycling or transit. This would alleviate congestion, reduce gas emissions and facilitate a healthier lifestyle, he added.
The plan outlines several goals that the city expects to reach in the near future, including to develop a section of Cross-Kirkland Trail on the Eastside Rail Corridor by 2015.
The plan also aims to reduce crash rates involving pedestrians and cyclists by 10 percent between 2010-2015.
The overall goal is to increase the number of pedestrians and cyclists, because “ironically the more pedestrians and bicyclists there are, crash rates actually go down,” Grigsby said.
One way to get more people on the streets is through the city’s commitment to pedestrian safety, he noted.
Deputy Mayor Joan McBride says the city has been a leader in pedestrian safety for years. Kirkland currently has pedestrian flags at about 70 locations throughout the city – more than any city of a comparable size, she said. In addition, the city has 30 flashing in-pavement crosswalks.
“We try to be a city that pilots new pedestrian safety tools and we’re very proud of that,” McBride said. “I’m sure with this new plan we’ll continue to look for all those new tools to slow down traffic a little bit.”
Continuing this commitment to safety, the city will improve lighting at all uncontrolled crosswalks on higher volume streets, which could be funded in 2010 and future CIP programs.
The city also has focused on installing more sidewalks, with the recent completion of sidewalk and bike lanes on 116th Ave. N.E., from the Houghton Park & Ride to 60th St.
The city also received grants for sidewalk projects and recently installed sidewalk on 99th and 100th avenues in Juanita, and off 132nd Street in North Rose Hill.

"A lot of people don't know - and this is the underriding premises of this plan - but one quarter of all trips we take out of our house are for less than a mile." - Daryl Grigsby

"A lot of people don't know - and this is the underriding premises of this plan - but one quarter of all trips we take out of our house are for less than a mile." - Daryl Grigsby

By 2016, the city plans to complete sidewalk on one side of all principal and minor arterials, as well as sidewalk on one side of all school walk route segments by 2019.
In addition, the city will increase the number of children who use active transportation to travel to and from school by implementing programs at Kirkland Junior High, Lake Washington High School and Juanita High School by next year.
Also next year the city will begin work on installing sidewalks on school walk routes, using a half million dollar grant Kirkland received from the state’s Safe Routes to School Program.
The Active Transportation Plan also aims to make bicycling more convenient in Kirkland.
Through an on-line survey, residents told the city they wanted improved bicycle parking, better on-street bicycle facilities, more directional signs and a way for cyclists to activate traffic signals.
The city recently installed new pavement markings to help cyclists trigger traffic signals. The city also plans to re-stripe streets so that space is reallocated to bicycles and away from cars by 2011, and complete installation of 50 percent of directional signs by 2011 and 100 percent by Dec. 2013.

Driver accommodations
Though the city promotes active transportation, it still can’t ignore that many people do drive, Grigsby says.
Some projects the city recently completed to accommodate drivers and deal with capacity include an addition of two left turn lanes at the intersection of Northeast 124th Avenue and 124th Avenue Northeast in Totem Lake, as well as the installation of a traffic light at the intersection of Third Street and Kirkland Ave. that has helped mitigate traffic.
The city has also begun work on 85th corridor improvements and within the next couple of years will install a signal at the intersection of 85th and 124th streets that will increase turning capacity for drivers, sidewalks on both sides of 85th and underground utilities.
The extensive project, currently in the design phase and largely funded by Sound Transit, will require property acquisition and negotiation, Grigsby said.
“The city’s long-term vision is to make 85th Street a true business district, where there’s pedestrian activity,” he noted.
In partnership with King County Metro and Sound Transit, the city has also just begun work on a new downtown Transit Center that will be completed by Oct. 15.

Intelligent transportation
On a recent afternoon, Iris Cabrera watched live footage of an intersection on 124th Street from her computer screen at City Hall.
A transportation engineer for the city, Cabrera described how she is able to monitor seven intersections in the city on her computer. The intelligent technology allows her to see how a traffic signal is operating. King County remotely manages the 124th corridor and can temporarily modify the signal timing if needed.
Grigsby said the City Council hasn’t invested a lot of money in this type of technology yet, but it recently completed its ITS (Intelligent Transportation) Strategic Plan that outlines ways ITS can help the city improve its transportation system.
Its a way to use technology to get more out of the city’s road and signal system, instead of adding more lanes, Grigsby added.
Carrie Wood is editor of the Kirkland Reporter. She can be contacted at editor@kirklandreporter.com.

For more information about the City of Kirkland’s Active Transportation Plan, visit www.ci.kirkland.wa.us/depart/Public_Works/Transportation_Streets/Active_Transportation_Plan.htm

Bothell hopes I-405 projects ease congestion

Last month, workers put the final touches on the Interstate 405/State Route 522 ramp to the University of Washington, Bothell, Anecdotally, a retaining wall built for the ramp is said to be the biggest in the state, if not a good portion of the Northwest. Photo by Andy Nystrom.

Last month, workers put the final touches on the Interstate 405/State Route 522 ramp to the University of Washington, Bothell, Anecdotally, a retaining wall built for the ramp is said to be the biggest in the state, if not a good portion of the Northwest. Photo by Andy Nystrom.

By Tom Corrigan
Reporter Newspapers
According to Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian, the major road issues in his turf, so to speak, are hard to miss.
“When you listen to the radio, the choke points are always the same,” he said.
And one of those choke points is often Interstate 405 through Bothell. There are a couple of projects – one finished and one on the way – that might not keep Bothell out of the traffic reports, but according to several sources should ease some of Bothell’s and I-405′s routine congestion.
For those motoring past Bothell on the freeway, probably the most notable project is the rapidly moving plan to add a new lane to the northbound side of 405 between Northeast 195th Street and State Route 527.
Several sources labeled the 405/195th interchange, especially during the afternoon rush hours, as one of the most congested spots along the 405 corridor. But even as that project moves forward, one troublesome situation in close proximity to that choke point should be greatly alleviated, at least in theory, by the time you read this.
On Sept. 18, WSDOT and the University of Washington, Bothell were scheduled to hold a ribbon cutting for the new I-405/State Route 522 ramp leading to the campus of the university and Cascadia Community College. Among other benefits, the ramp project was designed to reduce traffic congestion in and around Bothell. It was to open to the public the week following the ribbon cutting.
As for the additional lane on 405, the plan greatly was sped along with the infusion of federal economic stimulus money, according to Denice Cieri, WSDOT deputy director for project development. WSDOT 405 Engineering Manager Brian Nielsen said the additional lane originally was part of a much larger package aimed at improving traffic flow on 405. When federal stimulus money became available, state officials quickly removed the 195th Street scheme from the larger plan.
Nielsen said federal officials were looking for “shovel-ready projects.”
“Because we had done some preliminary work,” he added, “we felt we could get this project out quickly.”
On Aug. 21, the state awarded a $19.3 million bid to Kiewit Construction of Renton to design and build the new lane. I-405 Project spokesperson Susan Hoffman said the apparent best bid was 36 percent less than the available funding of $30 million. According to Kim Henry, eastside corridor project director, Kiewit not only came up with the lowest bid, but also the quickest construction plan.
If the bid gains final approval, construction could begin later this fall, state officials said. The work could be finished and opened to traffic in one construction season, meaning the summer of 2010.
In a press release, Hoffman talked about the auxiliary lane improving traffic flow in a section of 405 which has experienced more than 100 collisions in the past three years. Of those accidents, the state blames 84 percent on traffic congestion. And of that 84 percent, 60 percent resulted from stop-and-go traffic as well as weaving traffic entering and exiting the freeway between 195th Street and 527.
“This allows extra space for cars to sort themselves out,” Nielsen said.
“We think it will substantially improve traffic flow,” Safavian added.
A WSDOT benefit and cost analysis showed the project exceeds a 4:1 benefit ratio, numbers Cieri called “very, very good.”

With an aerial map of Bothell behind him and various project specs in front of him, Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian talks easily about traffic problems in and around the city for which he works. Photo by Tom Corrigan

With an aerial map of Bothell behind him and various project specs in front of him, Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian talks easily about traffic problems in and around the city for which he works. Photo by Tom Corrigan

Hoffman noted one other benefit of the additional lane is allowing drivers better access to the business parks on 195th Street as well as the UW-Bothell campus.
WSDOT spokesperson Meghan Soptich Pembroke said the $52.3 million UW-Bothell ramp was completed eight months ahead of schedule. Originally slated to be finished in the spring, even landscaping work was instead to begin this month. The ramp creates a new southern entrance to the UW-Bothell and Cascadia campus, the only entrance previously being at the northern end from Beardslee Boulevard at the outskirts of downtown Bothell.
The ramp is significant for a number of reasons, according to various sources. Safavian and others talked about it obviously relieving congestion around the campus’ northern entrance. UW-Bothell Transportation Coordinator Ruth Honour said she expects the new ramp will carry 80 percent of the traffic headed for the campus. Safavian said city officials clearly are counting on the new entrance to reduce the amount of campus traffic using city streets, confining more of that traffic to 522.
“I can tell you the entrance is an absolutely critical piece of campus infrastructure,” said Marilyn Cox, UW-B vice-chancellor for administration and planning.
The ramp and new entrance were part of a bargain struck between the city of Bothell and UW-Bothell officials, the deal being that funding for the ramp had to be obtained before the combined student population at Cascadia and UW-Bothell exceeded 3,000. Director of government and community relations for UW-Bothell, Kelly Snyder said the number of students attending the campus should have hit 5,000 this fall.
“The vision to open this campus to its full potential has been achieved with the (ramp) project,” said Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb.
Tom Corrigan is a writer for the Bothell Reporter. He can be contacted at tcorrigan@bothell-reporter.com.


Transportation Q&A with Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger

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Q: Transportation is a critical concern in Bellevue and residents perennially list it as a top issue in the city’s annual performance measures survey. What is Bellevue doing to help commuters, residents and visitors get around?
A: We are working on several fronts to improve our transportation system. Regionally, we’re working to remove the remaining impediments to construction of a new SR 520 bridge and improve that vital corridor. Also, we have devoted a great deal of attention to the expansion of light rail to the Eastside.
In Bellevue, the council has identified critical mobility projects necessary to improve traffic flow into and out of downtown. Some of these improvements are underway on I-405; others are road projects within downtown, the Wilburton area and the Bel-Red corridor. Keeping in mind that we cannot just pave our way out of congestion, we are expanding critical roadways in a very targeted way that will get us maximum mobility for our money.
Other efforts include commuter programs providing good options to driving alone and upgrades to our pedestrian and bicycle networks.

Grant-DeggingerQ: What are some examples of roadway projects that make travel in Bellevue more convenient?
A: In recent years Bellevue has partnered with the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) on major projects designed to make it easier to get in and out of Bellevue. One of those, called Access Downtown, expanded the capacity of downtown interchanges to I-405 and added a special bus and carpool ramp that conveniently connects the freeway to the Bellevue Transit Center. Currently, we’re partnering with WSDOT to extend Northeast 10th Street across I-405, tying downtown to the city’s growing medical district. We’re also coordinating with WSDOT on the I-405, South Bellevue Widening Project to reduce congestion on one the region’s toughest stretches of freeway, south of downtown approaching I-90. Finally, the so-called braided ramp project on I-405, north of Northeast Eighth Street, will begin soon. This project, designed to eliminate the freeway “weave” between downtown and SR 520, is funded in part by the federal stimulus package.

Q: Why’s it so important to improve the transportation system in the downtown area?
A: Downtown Bellevue is the second largest employment center in the region. Currently there are roughly 40,000 people who work downtown, but that number is expected to jump to 63,000 by 2020; the number of downtown residents, approximately 5,500 now, is projected to hit 14,000 by 2020. We simply must find new ways to move people more efficiently if we are to keep up with anticipated growth. We think the key to our transportation future is a gradual shift away from solo driving and toward alternatives that are convenient, economical and environmentally friendly.

Q: What other steps is Bellevue taking to maintain a balanced transportation system in the future?
A: Last year, the City Council approved a Mobility and Infrastructure Initiative designed to improve access to and from downtown and the Bel-Red area. The initiative features a mix of road building, “intelligent transportation” improvements to the city’s traffic signals system, improvements that compliment Metro’s “Rapid Ride” bus service between Bellevue and Redmond – scheduled to begin in 2011 – and improvements to our pedestrian and bicycle system. Another significant improvement, albeit one that won’t arrive for a while, is Sound Transit’s light rail service.

Q: Sound Transit’s light rail line expansion approved by voters last year includes East Link, which will run from Seattle, through Bellevue to the Overlake area of Redmond. What has Bellevue done to make sure the route best serves local and regional interests?
A: Prior to the release of a draft environmental review of East Link late last year, Bellevue embarked on a year-long “Best Practices” effort. A panel of citizens who serve on our boards and commissions studied light rail systems in other West Coast cities in order to learn lessons that could be applied in Bellevue. The work resulted in many changes to the city’s comprehensive plan and serves as a guide to help protect neighborhood character and make sure the East Link route delivers efficient, reliable service in a manner that’s compatible with our city’s goals and values.

Q: Council members and others have expressed a desire to have a light rail tunnel beneath downtown Bellevue, rather than the street-level system recommended by the Sound Transit Board. Why is a tunnel important?
A: The council is very concerned that running light rail on the surface through downtown will seriously back up traffic and slow down the light rail service. A tunnel option would prevent both of these impacts. Plus, projections show that a tunnel would attract higher ridership than the surface option. We are continuing to work with Sound Transit in finding ways to address the tunnel option.

‘I-5 alternative’ plan is logical, but is it likely?

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By Mark Klaas
Auburn Reporter
Valley Freeway, meet I-405.
Two of Puget Sound’s most congested highways could meet halfway in a bid to alleviate regional traffic trauma.
So hope state transportation and legislative leaders.
Different in personality but similar in function, more rural State Route 167 and more urbanized Interstate 405 hold a critical, direct link in whether the state ultimately can create a 50-mile-long “I-5 alternative” for commuters all too familiar with workday gridlock.
The Washington Department of Transportation is conducting an I-405 and SR 167 Eastside Corridor Tolling Study – a phase-by-phase, option-by-option inquiry to determine if a vastly enhanced north-south freeway alternative is possible in the years ahead.
Auburn’s Senior Activity Center recently staged a WSDOT open house/discussion session with the public. Few attended, but many officials hope the campaign will catch on. Comments will be included in a report to Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature in January.
“People want a choice,” said Denise Cieri, WSDOT engineer and deputy project manager. “The biggest challenge is getting people educated on what the benefits would be.”
The study seeks public input to determine if east can meet south, buoyed by a smoother I-405/SR 167 connection, additional express toll lanes and other time-saving means to serve commuters.
In these difficult economic times, it is a daunting attempt to explain the benefits of a creative, yet expensive “I-5 II.”
The big question in all of this is: Who will pay for it?
Options include raising the federal gas tax, utilizing toll revenue and securing federal funding.
“We’re trying to leverage any money that’s available,” said Janet Matkin, WSDOT spokesperson. “It’s a good plan. It’s finding the funding to implement it.”
To make it possible, the WSDOT wants to pay for the project carefully by introducing it step by step.
Some Auburnites, however, remain skeptical.
“If they put in a toll, what convinces me they won’t raise it?” said one woman.
The I-405 Corridor Program would involve more than 150 individual, coordinated projects to relieve congestion and improve mobility for motorists, transit and freight users along the freeway’s 30-mile length. The master plan for repairing snarled I-405 traffic includes many transportation modes, adding up to two new lanes each direction to I-405, a corridor-wide bus rapid transit line and increased local transit service. It will fix bottlenecks such as the SR 167/I-405 interchange mess, improve major arterials, expand transit centers and add about 1,700 new vanpools and more than 5,000 park-and-ride spaces.
“The connectivity to 167 is a key expansion puzzle piece,” Cieri said.
The Valley Freeway is a major player in all this, and Auburn stands to gain. The project aims to improve safety and relieve congestion on 27 miles of SR 167 between Renton and Puyallup.
Do nothing and traffic promises to worsen.
In the Green River Valley, the population grew by 68 percent 1980 and 2000, and is projected to grow another 39 percent by 2030, according to WSDOT numbers. Employment nearly doubled between 1980 and 2000 with growth projections of another 50 percent in 20 years. This could mean another 90,000 jobs in the Valley by the year 2030, which is good news. Increasing development, however, often brings more bumpers and exhaust pipes.
A corridor that carried 15,000 vehicles per day in 1970 now carries 120,000 vehicles on a busy weekday. Without future investments, southbound travel time on the corridor could zoom from an average of 20 minutes to more than an hour by 2030.
For now, transportation officials are considering the addition of up to two express toll lanes that would connect with existing high occupancy toll, or HOT lanes, on state Route 167.
A nine-mile stretch along Auburn has served as a mildly successful pilot project for WSDOT. During peak hours, more commuters are using HOT lanes where drivers pay on average of a dollar to use the lanes, even if driving alone, to save an average of 10 minutes on a commute.
State officials say traffic flow on the general purpose lanes of SR 167 has improved as a result of the HOT lanes project.
If approved, phase one would turn existing carpool lanes on sections of I-405 into HOT lanes.
Officials said in years to come, if funding is available, there could be a 50-mile HOT lane corridor running from Puyallup in the south to Lynnwood in the north.
The plan is worth a close look and consideration.
Seattle-Tacoma is not Southern California, where freeway options abound. Nationally, more cities are resorting to tolls to build and maintain freeway systems.
Perhaps it might be time for this region to face the music and consider such an alternative.
Note: The public can take an online project survey.
Auburn Reporter Editor Mark Klaas can be reached at editor@auburn-reporter.com.

I-405: Yes, there is some good news

Going north to Bellevue from Renton at freeway speed - 60 mph - should take about 14 minutes. Anyone who drives the freeway regularly knows that doesn't happen. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Going north to Bellevue from Renton at freeway speed - 60 mph - should take about 14 minutes. Anyone who drives the freeway regularly knows that doesn't happen. Photo by Chad Coleman.

By Dean A. Radford
Reporter Newspapers
First the bad news, which should be no surprise to anyone.
That 14-mile stretch of Interstate 405 between Renton and Bellevue is the most congested piece of freeway in the state. That’s not much solace when you’re trying to get to work. But at least you have lots of company.
But the good news is that the state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on I-405 from Tukwila to Bellevue and beyond by widening and removing bridges, including the Wilburton Tunnel in Bellevue, and adding lanes to shave minutes off that commute.
So how does the state arrive at its congestion estimation?
Going north to Bellevue from Renton at freeway speed – 60 mph – should take about 14 minutes. Anyone who drives the freeway regularly knows that doesn’t happen.
Here’s the reality.
“For someone to get to their destination, they would need to give themselves an hour,” said Stacy Trussler, the I-405 deputy project director for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Going southbound, she said, the congestion is even worse.
And then there’s the other bottleneck that adds aggravating minutes – lots of them – to the northbound morning commute from Kent or Auburn to the Eastside.
That bottleneck is the complex interchange at State Route 167 (the Valley Freeway) and Interstate 405 in Renton. It has the distinction of being in a tie with the junction of Interstate 5 and I-90 in downtown Seattle as the most congested freeway interchange in the state.
“That is a critical link to relieving the congestion on the Eastside corridor,” Trussler said. The state will seek federal dollars to help make necessary improvements.
That congestion also causes backups on southbound 405 through downtown Renton when drivers queue in the right-hand lane to take the SR 167 exit to Kent and Auburn.
But help is already on the way, from Renton to Bellevue and all the way to where I-405 runs again into Interstate 5 north of Bothell.
When built, I-405 was intended as a relief valve for traffic on Interstate 5. Now, 405 has become the key freeway thoroughfare to handle the Eastside’s growth.
Already, the traffic is moving faster on 405 between Renton and Bellevue, thanks to the addition of a northbound lane between 112th Avenue Southeast in Newcastle and I-90. And because of that, Trussler says, the transportation department has received “a whole lot of love letters,” thanking the state for improving the commute and cutting down on travel times – about 20 or 25 minutes at certain times of the day.
The worst congestion from Renton to Bellevue has been reduced dramatically, with bottlenecks gone, Trussler says. But the state can’t yet consistently promise a 14-mile trip in 14 minutes, if that’s even a realistic goal. That’s because the state still doesn’t have the money to add capacity – more lanes – to 405 starting at about the Maple Valley Highway in Renton.
That work is being planned, at least conceptually, in a 405 master plan. In fact the state transportation department has a team that’s specifically charged with figuring out how to make the entire Eastside transportation corridor work better.
Already the state has $1.5 billion either spent or committed for “hot spots” and strategic improvements on the entire length of I-405, from its junction with I-5 at Tukwila to the south and its reconnection to I-5 to the north.
“We are well under way with the strategic and safety projects,” Trussler said.
About $180 million of that money is going to improvements in Renton, from roughly Southcenter to the Maple Valley Highway.
The work in Renton is being done in two stages. The first one will be completed this year and adds lanes to 405 between SR 167 and Tukwila. The second stage – visible now because of the massive earth-moving project near Renton City Hall – will add a freeway off-ramp and an onramp, easing traffic in downtown Renton.
The “Your Nickel at Work” signs at 405 construction sites refer to the 5-cent increase in the gas tax that voters approved in 2003. The federal government is also a major source of funding for the 405 projects, including some money from President Obama’s stimulus package.
The South Bellevue project, at a cost of about $124 million, is about 95 percent complete. It helps relieve congestion at one of the worst I-405 bottlenecks – the drive in and out of Bellevue.
That project included the removal of the Wilburton Tunnel, which carried the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks over the freeway. The project also included that much-loved new northbound lane starting near Newcastle.
The project also included between I-90 and Southeast Eighth Street in Bellevue:

  • Building one new lane in each direction from I-90 to Southeast Eighth Street
  • Building a new three-lane southbound bridge over I-90
  • Converting the existing southbound bridge over I-90 to carry the northbound HOV lane.

Already completed is one of the so-called “nickel projects” in Kirkland. The transportation department is constructing a Stage 2 project that will add a lane northbound from Northeast 70th to Northeast 85th and southbound from SR 522 to Northeast 124th and Northeast 85th to SR 520.
The state transportation department has also selected Kiewit Pacific Co. of Renton to design and build a new northbound freeway lane in Bothell, at a cost of about $19.2 million. Crews will build the lane between Northeast 195th Street and State Route 527, where afternoon commuters face severe backups daily.
Dean A. Radford is Editor of the Renton Reporter. He can be contacted at editor@rentonreporter.com.

Federal Way’s I-5/HWY 18/HWY 161 interchange project is a work in progress

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By Jacinda Howard
Federal Way Mirror
The state Senate is keeping $109 million for Federal Way’s “triangle project” intact.
The money, distributed from the Senate’s roads budget, will remain earmarked for the project — the Interstate 5/Highway 18/Highway 161 interchange — for another year.
The interchange was constructed in the 1960s and is no longer safe to accommodate daily traffic, plagued with traffic collisions and back-ups. The city and Washington State Department of Transportation are collaborating on the funding efforts.
Federal Way has chased funds for the better half of a decade, assistant city manager Cary Roe said.
Construction will be completed by the Washington State Department of Transportation, but Federal Way has a strong interest in the project due to its proximity to the city’s busiest and largest intersection: Highway 161 (Enchanted Parkway) and South 348th Street. The intersection features triple left-hand turns and cannot safely get any larger, Roe said. Addressing the triangle area will improve safety at the intersection.
To date, just shy of $112 million of the proposed $240 million needed for the project has been secured. Gas taxes, federal money and existing state funds all contributed to this. The project received a big boost in 2005 when it got the $109 million from the state, much of it from gas taxes.
But the money is not a sure thing. Each year during its budget cycle, the state can choose to re-allocate dollars it has dedicated to the triangle project toward another state effort, Roe said.
Local legislators and city staff ramped up their efforts to convince the state that taking away triangle project funding now would be detrimental. Making a case for the project this year was difficult due to the state’s budget crisis.
Maintaining the $109 million in state funding guarantees that work on the project will continue.
Two cloverleaf loop ramps will be replaced with “flyover” ramps to serve traffic traveling westbound Highway 18 to southbound Interstate 5 and eastbound Highway 18 to northbound Interstate 5.
Direct access to Highway 161 from southbound Interstate 5 and westbound Highway 18 will be served by new exit ramps at South 356th Street and South 359th Street. Other improvements are also scheduled. The work will eliminate weaving traffic and is slated for completion in an undetermined number of phases.
Design work and environmental assessments on the first phase will wrap up this year, and construction is expected to begin in early 2010. Construction will last until 2013. Holding on to the $109 million makes this work possible, Roe said. Future phases will begin as funding is available.
Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way) is a leader in the state Senate in fighting for the triangle project. She has been behind it since its beginning. City staff has lobbied for federal money for the project for several years. City council members and staff traveled to Washington, D.C., at the end of March where they attempted to capture money for the triangle and City Center Access projects, Roe said.

Jacinda Howard is a writer for the Federal Way Mirror. She can be contacted at jhoward@federalwaymirror.com.

In search of a national transportation plan

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen tells attendees at the forum that "it is vital that the federal and state efforts complement each other - that's a no-brainer." Photo by Chad Coleman.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen tells attendees at the forum that "it is vital that the federal and state efforts complement each other - that's a no-brainer." Photo by Chad Coleman.

By Jake Lynch
Reporter Newspapers

Travelers, miners, and adventurers, clad in animal skins and weighed down with trunks of Klondike gold and stories of exploration, used to gather at the Arctic Club Hotel to drink whiskey and share tales.
It was the gold coming down from the Yukon which built their luxurious, men’s only club in the early 1900s.
A few years ago, this historic landmark was transformed into a top of line hotel, combining its historic charm with modern conveniences and design.
And so it was fitting that in the same rooms that once entertained stories of pioneering exploration, a new vision of our transportation future was launched recently that hopes to change modern life in America in the same way that gold and the railway changed it 100 years ago.
The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a Washington, D.C.-based group consisting of former senators, congressmen, civic leaders and policy experts, launched “Performance Driven: A New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy,” in the club on Aug. 27.
It was the first in a series of national events designed to draw attention to the plan and foster discussion among transportation officials and the public ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline to bring a new national surface transportation bill before Congress.
“The deadline for the new authorization will not be met,” said project co-chair and former U.S. Sen. Slate Gorton in his introduction at the Arctic Club. “The Senate seems to have little interest in doing so.”

Joshua Schank, director of transportation research for the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group consisting of former senators, congressmen, civic leaders, and policy experts, noted that gas tax revenue was becoming a counter-productive source of revenue, and would continue to decline in the future as consumers looked for other modes. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Joshua Schank, director of transportation research for the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group consisting of former senators, congressmen, civic leaders, and policy experts, noted that gas tax revenue was becoming a counter-productive source of revenue, and would continue to decline in the future as consumers looked for other modes. Photo by Chad Coleman.

An extension of about 12 months is likely, and the BPC plans to use this extension to press upon legislators the importance of a dynamic and unified transportation framework, the first of its kind since Presidents Roosevelt and then Eisenhower oversaw the construction of a national highway system in the 1930s and ’40s.
Joining Gorton at the discussion were many of the state’s prime movers in transportation policy, including State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, former Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Secretary Doug MacDonald, CEO of Sound Transit Joni Earl, WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond, Chair of Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce J. Tayloe Washburn, Puget Sound Regional Council’s Transportation Planning Director Charlie Howard, and Commissioner of the Washington State Transportation Commission Dan O’Neal.
In the audience were mayors and former mayors, senators and civic leaders.
They heard that commuters, freight operators, the economy and the environment are all suffering from the lack of a unified national transportation plan, which is encouraging a fragmented, inefficient system.
“At the federal level, transportation has lost any real sense of goals,” Gorton said. “I think it’s most important that we focus laser-like on the proposition of how we measure success. What kind of metrics do we use, and how do we determine how discretionary grants are awarded? What is success in the transportation field?”
The BPC claims that federal transportation policy, which hasn’t been overhauled in decades, needs immediate reform.
“There is no federal requirement to optimize returns on public investments, and current programs are not structured to reward positive outcomes, or even to document them,” it says in the BPC executive summary.
Their National Transportation Policy Project (NTPP) calls for transportation projects to be seen as components of a larger program of metropolitan investments, all designed with five major goals in mind: Economic growth, national connectivity, metropolitan accessibility, energy security and environmental protection, and safety.

Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton says the Senate seems to have 'little interest' in tackling a transportation plan at this time. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton says the Senate seems to have 'little interest' in tackling a transportation plan at this time. Photo by Chad Coleman.

How a centralized effort like this plays itself out is of course seen in the types of projects and infrastructure that are supported. The BPC wants such decisions to be “mode-neutral,” evaluated by performance toward achieving the goals and not hindered by bias toward a particular mode, be it public transit or roads expansion.
This mode neutrality matches the non-partisan nature of the group, which has stated a determination not to let political allegiances or corporate interests skew the plan’s intent.
Rarely are such lofty ideals matched with the political muscle to make it occur.
This is a group with real experience in the ways of Washington, and the group’s chairs, which include Gorton and former U.S. Congressmen Sherwood Boehlert and Martin Olav Sabo, and former Mayor of Detroit Dennis Archer, have spent the past month lobbying hard in the halls of power.
One of things they are pushing for is a funding approach where competition for federal investment in new capacity would be prioritized based partly on competition.
Whether it’s light rail, car pooling incentives, HOV lanes or expanded bus systems that prove to be the most effective solution to a particular problem, then that is one that is rewarded and funded.
“The federal government shouldn’t be concerned with how CO2 emissions are decreasing, just that they are,” said Joshua Shank, BPCs Director of Transportation Research.
Schank said that just building new infrastructure was not always the answer.
“For example, land use changes, or road tolling, might be a more effective solution than a large investment in something,” he said. “If it is, those people will get the money – they will be rewarded for innovative thinking.”
Schank said that gas tax revenue was becoming a counter-productive source of revenue, and would continue to decline in the future as consumers looked for other modes.
“New revenue should be linked to performance,” he said. “That’s we’re working on in Capitol Hill.”

The role of IT
But in order to build a program based around rewarding the performance of transportation projects, first they must provide a way to accurately record that performance.
A big part of the BPC plan is technology – better technology producing accurate and timely data.
A presentation by Information Technology Professor Thomas Horan demonstrated ways in which real time traffic information, utilizing cell phone technology and input from commuters and travelers, would give a clearer idea of what was happening on roads and the state of transit networks.
“Transportation may be one of the least innovative sectors of the economy,” Horan said. “We have this need for innovation, this need for better performance data. Into this problem space should come technology.”
With his own presentation beset by technical problems, however, Horan’s call for a long overdue improvement of transportation technology out in front of a faulty, flickering projector screen was a reminder of the huge gap that still exists between what makes sense and what actually goes on.
“Only 37 percent of urban freeways have implemented Intelligent Transportation Systems program,” he said. “The Department of Transportation does not have data in some critical areas.”
Horan said that this area was one in which the government would benefit from partnerships with the private sector.
“With all due respect to my colleagues at the DOT, it is not exactly a hotbed of innovation,” he said. “The U.S. constitutes the largest market for IT systems in the world. And a lot the developments were are looking for have export potential.”
Through private sector innovation Horan hopes to see “a credible IT system for assessing performance at a federal, state and local level.”
“Now, everyone has to measure their own performance. And they do a so-so job of it, because they don’t have the money for it,” he said.
Horan says that by employing a cutting edge system across the whole country, economies of scale would be achieved, saving money and providing reliable data.
He said that performance metrics, such as accident hot spots and historically congested roads, need to be not just for policy makers and planners, but for the end-users, who in term contribute to the information gathering.
Better technology would also make a variable pricing system more efficient, using higher tolls to encourage travelers to use less congested routes.
Bryan Mistele, CEO of Kirkland-based traffic technology company INRIX, said that the technology for better traffic monitoring is already there, in the cars themselves.
“The vast majority of cars built today by the top three car companies are embedded with chips to send data back to the manufacturer,” he said. “They are already tracking things like fuel use.”

Washington state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, left, Joshua Schank and Dr. Thomas Horan discuss possible changes to the U.S. surface transportation policy. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Washington state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, left, Joshua Schank and Dr. Thomas Horan discuss possible changes to the U.S. surface transportation policy. Photo by Chad Coleman.

The need for services
Part of the reason as to why the federal government hasn’t paid proper attention to transportation in the last few decades is that “it isn’t particularly sexy.”
“The president isn’t elected on a platform of transportation,” Schank said. “But if we can make people see how this is important, to see how their lives are affected, then we can make them realize how money spent makes their lives better.”
There are a couple of “sexy” aspects to the transportation debate – the environment, and national security.
Reducing oil consumption is at the heart of almost all high level conversations about transportation systems in America, and so to it is one of the BPC’s five core goals.
“One of the failures of the current system is that it doesn’t link transportation policy to energy security and climate change,” said Steve Marshall from the Cascadia Center for Regional Development. “97 percent of our transportation is fueled by oil. People literally do not have a choice. If you want to get from here to there, you have to burn oil.”
“We depend on imported oil for 60 percent of our total consumption,” Marshall said. “That’s $1 billion dollars a day during the peaks. You compare that to a stimulus investment of $700 billion over three years. A comprehensive investment in plug-in technology would amount to three days investment in foreign oil.”
In the audience, city of Everett councilman Paul Roberts asked how an increase in electricity use would impact the electricity grid.
“Will we need to look at retrofitting cities?” he asked.
Marshall replied that predictions on what increasing electric car use would do to power grids varied, “depending on how bullish your projections are.”
He said that the keys would be creating a usage system that took advantage of off-peak times, at night, and spreading the points geographically.
“But utilities move slowly, transportation systems move slowly,” Marshall said. “We need to start now so we don’t have this problem 10 or 15 years down the road.”

From the locals
Senator Haugen, while supportive of a nationwide focus on transportation planning, tempered the meeting’s optimism with some caveats.
“It is vital that the federal and state efforts compliment each other – that’s a no-brainer,” she said. “You are calling for performance audits, but they cost money. We need to make sure this doesn’t cause a lot of extra paperwork at the state level. Money from the federal level comes with tight strings. There needs to be more flexibility with the money we receive, at the state and local level.”
Senator Haugen, who lives on Camino Island, said that the goals identified in the BPC plan were in line with the state’s.
“Our first priority is preservation – we need to maintain our existing system,” she said. “The environment is a priority for the state of Washington too.”
Senator Haugen warned, however, that adopting carbon emission reduction programs like that in California would reduce revenue by $90 million by 2010.
Joni Earl and Paula Hammond both said they would be watching very closely to see how any new legislation proposed prioritizing which projects were funded.
What it boils down to is, do you fund projects in a certain area because they are doing the worst? Because their performance/congestion/safety is poor?
Or do you reward well-functioning systems, applauding them for high performance with money?
Under the BPC plan, while states will still receive “formula funding,” meaning pre-prescibed funding based on population and perceived need, there will be a growing emphasis on competitive funding, rewarding the brightest and the best ideas.
“I am not a big fan of the stick, I like the carrot better,” Hammond said. “This might a turning point to incentivize the way we fund transportation projects.”
Earl referred to the “modal wars” in the state – rail vs. road – and said that Sound Transit was very used to competing for money in this parochial and sometimes belligerent environment.
She would know. Earl who is widely credited with bring Sound Transit back from the brink of obscurity and securing the funding for the first phase of the Puget Sound area light rail system which opened recently.
“Performance criteria is important and integral,” she said. “We are not afraid of performance criteria at all. But competitive dollars are very speculative, and it makes planning very difficult.”
Late in September, the BPC will take their traveling show to the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, one of a number of stops in major cities around the nation.
Jake Lynch is editor of the Issaquah and Sammamish Reporter. He can be contacted at editor@issaquah-reporter.com.