By Steve Hunter
Rodney Watkins fights heavy traffic every weekday driving between his home on Kent’s East Hill and his job in South Seattle.
When Watkins leaves home as early as 5 a.m., he can cover the 21-mile drive to his job as a garbage hauler at Cleanscapes in about 30 minutes. But when he tries to return home at about 4 p.m. or so, the drive can take twice as long.
“Coming home is hell,” Watkins said. “When you get to Interstate 5 near Southcenter, no matter where you go there’s no fast way home.”
Watkins is one of the many Kent residents who tries to navigate through Kent streets between home and work.
“Everybody knows the shortcuts, so no matter what you’re screwed,” said Watkins, who has commuted 16 years to Seattle.
Kent city officials know drivers struggle to go north or south through the valley as well as between the valley and the East Hill and West Hill. The city has identified more than $600 million worth of proposed projects over the next 20 years to address traffic problems, and so far, no money to pay for them.
Watkins drives home via Highway 167 and up South 212th Street to 132nd Avenue Southeast, where he heads south toward home. Traveling up the South 212th Street hill to get to the Benson Highway, also known as 108th Avenue Southeast, remains a struggle.
“Once you get past the Benson, you’re fine,” Watkins said. “But it can be a nightmare getting up to the Benson.”
In the morning, Watkins leaves early so he can get onto Highway 167 at Central Avenue before the traffic signals for the onramps start up at about 5:15 a.m. or so.
“Once those start, traffic can back up on Central past Denny’s,” Watkins said, describing the restaurant near the highway entrance.
Watkins struck out on a fast route when he tried alternate roads besides the Kent hills of South 212th Street, James Street or Smith Street.
“There’s no good way to get around Kent,” he said. “I tried the Maple Valley Highway and it’s just as bad.”
Highway 18 can work from Kent’s East Hill to Federal Way or Tacoma. But no clear route exists between the East Hill and Seattle without traveling streets loaded with traffic signals.
“There is no good way to get to the east side of Kent,” Watkins said.
Watkins looked at commuting by bus, but found out that would take him nearly 90 minutes. And the Sounder train has too-limited a schedule for his job that doesn’t always end at a certain time. The new light rail runs from Tukwila to Seattle.
“You would still have to commute through Kent to get to the park and ride,” Watkins said.
Steve Hunter is a writer at the Kent Reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.