Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson could have simply hit send and emailed the city’s request that the I-90/SR 18 improvement project be added back to the State Legislature’s Transportation Bill.
But instead he hand delivered that message on Thursday, March 26, 2015, speaking to the House Transportation Committee during a Public Hearing in Olympia – hoping the personal gesture would have more impact.
Mayor Larson said via email that he thought his testimony was “well received” by the committee and stated there is a possibility the interchange could make it back onto the project list before the transportation bill goes to the House for a vote.
5th District Representative Jay Rodne confirmed that the Mayor’s testimony was very helpful. Rodne stated he is working to draft amendments for the bill that would include the I-90/Sr 18 corridor, but warned that the project is very expensive – so if included, the estimated $800 million project that would add flyover interchange ramps and widen SR 18 from Issaquah Hobart Road to I-90, would have to be done in phases.
Senate Transportation Bill Overlooked SR 18/I-90 Project
The Snoqualmie Economic Development Commission recommended the mayor make the trip to Olympia last week after the Senate’s $15 billion Transportation Bill overlooked the safety and congestion issues at the busy interchange – a freight and vehicular choke point that WSDOT has already spent millions studying and says needs fixing.
It’s been over a decade since Washington made a large investment in its transportation system. City leaders worry they don’t have time to wait that long again.
And WSDOT has the preliminary plan ready and waiting, but it currently sits unfunded.
East King County Growth + Freight Traffic = Congestion Nightmare
Many blame the growth of Snoqualmie Ridge, with approximately 4,500 new homes, for the interchange bottleneck, but Mayor Larson stated last fall that Snoqualmie Ridge growth only represents 17% of the impacts at the I-90/SR 18 interchange. The vast majority of the traffic pressure comes from the growth down in Maple Valley, Covington, Auburn and other areas south of I-90.
Last October, the Sound Cities Association (SCA), representing 36 King County cities, held a transportation summit to discuss regional traffic priorities. Mayor Larson, along with the support Auburn, Black Diamond, Covington, Maple Valley and North Bend sent letter to the legislature calling for improvements to the “critical deficiencies” at the I-90/SR 18 interchange AND to widen SR 18 to a four-lane highway between I-90 and Issaquah Hobart Road.
Tens of thousands of east King County residents now bypass 405 and I-5 and use SR 18 to access I-90 for jobs. Almost 18 million tons of freight is transported by semi trucks annually along SR 18, a designated T-1 Primary Freight Route and Washington Strategic Freight Corridor.
Drivers waiting at the busy intersection are often backed up onto I-90, which many drivers say is just a bad accident waiting to happen. Accidents on SR-18 at Tiger Mountain frequently close the narrow highway, making a mess of alternate traffic routes through neighboring Eastside cities.
Improvements Now or Possibly Wait Another Decade
Snoqualmie Economic Development Chair President Carolyn Simpson says if the I-90/SR 18 intersection doesn’t get funding in this current transportation bill, it could be another dozen years before it gets brought to the table again.
Simpson believes the I-90/ SR 18 improvements can’t wait another decade, saying, “That is too long and the problems at this interchange would grow from a bad dream to a nightmare.”
In a recent King 5 report, Auburn’s State Senator and Vice Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Joe Fain, said he fought for the project to be included, but other projects were priorities. He added that he would love to see the House put the project in their transportation package so it can be discussed again.
State Representatives Vow to Fight for Project
At a March Town Hall Meeting in North Bend, 5th District Representatives Chad Magendanz and Jay Rodne both stated they were working to get the 90/18 interchange project included to the House Transportation Bill – and if it was not, they would vote no. Rodne has repeatedly stated the project is his biggest priority this legislative session.
According to Mayor Larson, “Vehicular volumes at the I-90/SR 18 interchange have reached critical mass and are affecting regional operations.”
Representative Rodne said via email that the House Transportation Committee should be voting on their version of the Transportation Package next week, with the full House vote expected in mid-April.
See Mayor Larson’s Letter to the House Transportation Committee HERE.