Cities to State: Fix ‘Critical Deficiencies’ of I90, SR 18 Interchange, Widen HIghway

Tuesday afternoon, October 28, 2014, along the SR 18 approach to I-90, two semis and a minivan collided. It was a major accident, with one semi rear-ending the van, leaving it almost unrecognizable. The 81-year old minivan driver was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition.

SR 18 was closed between Issaquah Hobart Road and I-90 for roughly three hours. That closure created a traffic nightmare for much of the day, with alternate routes and side streets in Issaquah at a standstill long after SR 18 re-opened.

Many drivers say this section of SR 18 is treacherous, compounded by large semis traveling 60+ MPH over the tight, steep two-lane (except for passing lanes) highway that summits Tiger Mountain. Once dark, there are no street lights. Add rain to the drive and it can leave even the most experienced drivers with white knuckles.

Chevy Astro Van after being   struck by semi truck in a collision on SR 18 near I-90, on 10/28/14.  Photo:  WSP Twitter Feed

Chevy Astro Van after being struck by semi truck in a collision on SR 18 near I-90, on 10/28/14. Photo: WSP Twitter Feed

City Officials Concerned with Busy Interchange

The I-90/SR 18 interchange is a busy, often bottle-necked traffic adventure for drivers. Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson says for the past 10 years the interchange has been a big concern for city officials, as traffic projections showed it would be a growing concern.

Many blame the growth of Snoqualmie Ridge, with approximately 4,500 new homes, but Mayor Larson says that growth only represents 17% of the impacts at the I-90/SR 18 interchange. Larson says the vast majority of the traffic pressure comes from the growth down in Maple Valley, Covington and other areas south of I-90.

Over the past 10 years, SR 18 has  become the north/south freeway for residents on the Eastside’s eastside; a primary north-south connector linking communities and the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle, the Kent Valley, I-405, eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana.

When SR 18 backs up, it has a traffic domino affect, especially in the north areas of SR 18 like SR 169, Issaquah-Hobart Road and Front Street in Issaquah. It also dangerously forces waiting traffic onto I-90 near Snoqualmie and up Snoqualmie Parkway.

Adding to the concerns, a big percentage of vehicles using the I-90/SR 18 interchange are semi trucks moving critical freight. I-90 and SR 18 are both considered primary freight routes and Washington State strategic freight corridors. The freight tonnage moved along these freeways each year is estimated  in the millions.

Sound Cities Association Members Push for Critical Improvements

On Friday, October 31, 2014, the Sound Cities Association (SCA), representing 36 King County cities, held a transportation summit to discuss regional traffic priorities before the next state legislative session begins in January 2015.

In preparing for the meeting, Mayor Larson, who is the SCA Vice President, and the City of Snoqualmie drafted a letter to the legislature; a letter that received support from the cities of Auburn, Black Diamond, Covington, Maple Valley and North Bend.

That letter calls for funding improvements to address the “critical deficiencies” at the I-90/SR 18 interchange AND widen SR 18 to a four-lane highway between I-90 and Issaquah Hobart Road, stating these are the top two transportation priorities for their cities.

WSDOT says ‘Show Me the Money’

For years, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has identified these traffic issues as needing serious improvement.

WSDOT states they are “working on early project developments” to widen SR 18 and “completing early environmental and design work” for new, direct ramps at the freeway interchange, but they lack funding to actually do the projects.

State Representative Jay Rodne says the I-90/ SR 18 issues are his “#1 transportation priority,” but the bottom line is these projects have to be part of a larger, statewide transportation package that will be decided during the 2015 legislative session. In 2014, law makers did not pass such a package.

Mayor Larson says due to the legislature’s big focus on funding the $2 billion education gap to comply with the McCleary decision, the SCA isn’t hopeful that a statewide transportation package will be passed in 2015. As a result, the SCA may ask the legislature to consider a “sub-regional solution within the four counties of King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish.”

Mayor Larson says he has also pressed the staff of U.S. Representatives, Susan Delbene and Dave Reichert, about the growing concerns regarding traffic and safety along the I-90/SR 18 corridor.

The mayor warned, though, that given the busy interchange will require both state and federal funding to improve, “it will take some time to arrive at a funded and viable solution, even if in phases.”

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Nancy Witt says

    Having moved from Snoqualmie, to Bonney Lake, we contend with the choice between the extreme slow traffic on SR167/I-405 or SR 18, deciding between taking Hobart Road or 18 over the pass. I agree Tiger Mtn. Summit is not only scary, especially in dark and wet weather! The number of huge trucks is daunting, and they do go fast. Hobart Road, at 8:30 in the morning, can take one hour between 18 and 90 in Issaquah, hence the pressure to go all the way to Snoqualmie and then head west. From what I hear developments with literally thousands of homes are starting up between Maple Valley and Enumclaw. The back roads are already bulging with rush hour traffic. In the SoCal area, they had to create/widen an interstate to handle the traffic from the port at Long Beach. Tacoma is a very significant port. You should see the trucks on SR167 at 4-4:30 AM…slow as molasses. Washingtonians have turned down road taxes, gas taxes and people in Issaquah have refused a bypass. Thirty years ago, I was part of a panel which whole-heartedly encouraged mass transit from North Bend to Seattle along I-90, such as trains, express busses and park and rides. The end result is a shadow of what we thought should happen…now look at 90! Gridlock is occurring ever more frequently. I am spending 4, sometimes 5 hours round trip commuting to my job in Issaquah. We left Snoqualmie because the builders all want to build for families, not seniors…I sure hope that something can be done with SR 18. and I think it should be 6 lanes over the summit to accomodate for slow vehicles…

  2. Actually, Washington State already has among the highest gas taxes in the nation. Yet the Transportation budget next year will fall from $5 billion annually to only $1 billion annually – costing over 80,000 road construction and repair jobs. The real problem is that the legislature gives away more than $45 billion annually to wealthy multinational corporations like Boeing (who last year made over $20 billion in profit and would have still made over $20 billion in profit had they paid State taxes like everyone else does). Until we roll back these massive corporate tax breaks, we will not be able to fully fund either public schools or public roads.

    • Debbi Cleary says

      I agree David. I hear there are a few large companies in WA that are getting ridiculous tax breaks. Our schools, public transportation and roads are really suffering from it. It’s really disappointing.

  3. I travel this corridor frequently (I am not a truck driver) and I think the main concerns are rude passenger vehicle drivers who speed and cut others off, and lousy lane markings that disappear in dark, wet weather. Plus the glare of oncoming traffic, often from cars that have the highbeams on, make that even more challenging at night and in bad weather! Fixing this would be a good place to start!
    Truck drivers usually behave themselves more, although there can be exceptions.

  4. While I applauded the work done 15 years ago to widen 18 from Auburn thru Hobart Rd, it’s just funnelled many more times the traffic into the road between i90 and Hobart Rd – turning it into a parking lot northbound in the mornings from just over the south side of the summit thru i90, and then again in the evening as the traffic from the West backs up halfway to Preston. Mornings leaving Snoqualmie to get onto i90 are insane as well – taking 15-20 minutes just to go the distance from the area around Jeanne Hansen Park to the onramp. Add in all the rude individuals who are too important to wait in line and decide to butt in, and you have a lot of very heated individuals joining up on i90 and crossing many lanes of traffic to make up for lost time in their commute. Any discussion of completing the SR18 widening to i90 is at least 10 years overdue and should have been included in any transportation budget since, especially the one Gov Locke proposed and passed just under a decade ago.
    We can issue bonds for school levies – why cant we start something along the lines of a Kickstarter or Transportation Levy to cover off the remaining due diligence and fund the lobbying of the federal government to get this going. It’s only a matter of time before we hit a real disaster with a multi-vehicle pileup on i90 and/or SR18 – and then it will be too late.

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