Any major highway construction project is complicated, but the I-90/ SR 18 interchange is proving even more so. Why? Well, because of the number of stakeholders involved. In addition to WSDOT, this project involves the Washington State Patrol (WSP) which owns the truck weigh station at the busy interchange and wants a guaranty that it will be relocated; the City of Snoqualmie which wants the project done ASAP to alleviate congestion and improve safety; and the City of North Bend, where the state is proposing moving the weigh station.
The first step of the project is relocating the truck weigh station. Since WSDOT announced the preferred location for the new station, the City of North Bend has been very vocal in its opposition to the eastbound I-90 location near Truck Town.
City officials are worried they’re getting another truck stop – as the initial designs included up to 70 parking spots. The city is also concerned about the station’s proximity to Camp Waskowitz; a nearby sensitive water well area; noise and air pollution; and especially worried that trucks attempting to bypass the proposed station would use North Bend Way, causing congestion and damage to city streets.
The Washington State Patrol – which is in charge of commercial vehicle enforcement – wants the new weigh station near exit 34 for public safety reasons – i.e. that’s where the trucks are due to the truck stop location; it’s where WSP closes the freeway during snow storms at Snoqualmie Pass; and where they say more commercial vehicle enforcement is needed to help North Bend deal with ongoing truck issues like parking on city streets and off-ramps. For WSP, this spot makes the good sense.
Currently WSP uses the exit 25 weigh station only sparingly at WSDOT’s request due to the traffic congestion caused at the interchange when it is open. They would like a new location that will allow them to increase commercial enforcement and have agreed to close the current station for the 90/18 project with a relocation guaranty. Their goal is to be without a weigh station for the least amount of time as a possible.
At a November 2017 Town Hall meeting on the topic, WSP Trooper Dahl said they plan to staff the proposed weigh station with commercial enforcement troopers. He said as Washington’s Pacific ports grow, they anticipate even more truck traffic in coming years. Dahl estimated about 5,000 trucks use I-90 through North Bend, hauling freight east, and said they need to be inspected. He said for every truck inspected at other Washington weigh stations, 28% are taken off the road. Currently there is no eastbound weigh station between the ports and Snoqualmie Pass.
After studying possible locations, near exit 34 is what WSP prefers. North Bend, though, is still opposed. It is home to the only truck stop in King County and feels it has already carried a big enough burden for the state when it comes to truck traffic. City officials are worried the large weigh station will become a second truck stop – and the city has already passed an ordinance banning new trucks stops or an expansion of truck town.
So for the past year, the state and North Bend have had ongoing negotiations about the weigh station relocation in an effort to ensure the 90/18 interchange project runs smoothly and on time.
According to 5th District State Senator Mark Mullet – who was very involved in the getting the 90/18 project timeline moved up – the critical first step of moving the weigh station will allow WSDOT the required space to reconstruct the interchange.
Mullet said earlier this month that they thought the involved parties (WSP, WSDOT and North Bend) had a verbal agreement on conditions that would allow the weigh station to move near Truck Town – the big concession was the number of parking stalls would be reduced from 70 to 15. North Bend agreed to draft a Memorandum of Understanding agreement and send it on to the state.
According to Mullet what arrived was a long list of conditions from North Bend beyond what the state was expecting, including $6 – $7 million of state funding for a North Bend city road project that would reconstruct SE 468th with two roundabouts and $100,000 of annual funding for road overlay work that would result in the city agreeing not to file a lawsuit over the proposed location.
North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing said the recent memorandum and its long list of conditions was meant to show the state just how opposed the city is to the location. He said it was intended to be a starting point for negotiations and give the state an idea of what will be involved if they want to move the station in North Bend. Hearing emphasized that the city is very interested in continuing collaborative negotiations.
Mullet said WSDOT and WSP do not feel the memorandum was constructed to be a collaborative negotiations starting point, but rather felt it read like a ‘blackmail list.’ He said the state is interested in keeping commercial truck impacts minimized in the City of North Bend, but finds the demands in the MOU ‘completely unreasonable.’
But the state does want to avoid potential lawsuits as Mullet said they most definitely could delay the interchange project which no one, including the City of North Bend, says it wants.
Mullet commented, “My top transportation priority for our community has been and continues to be fixing the I-90/SR 18 interchange. State Patrol and WSDOT have been working with North Bend to address the city’s truck traffic concerns caused by moving the weigh station at the interchange. State Patrol and WSDOT have already made concessions and I hope that North Bend can come to the table with a spirit of compromise as well. Fixing this intersection is going to save lives and anybody attempting to delay the project needs to consider that.”
Mayor Hearing made clear it clear the project has not been delayed at this point, but feels his city is being unfairly blamed for potential delays. He thinks WSP should also shoulder some of the responsibility since they won’t agree to close the current station without a new location signed off on. Hearing also said the city doesn’t ‘buy’ that the new station has to be near Truck Town either. WSDOT has said the location is the cheapest option, but city officials do not agree with cost analysis done on other possible locations.
Mayor Hearing prefers the new station be located near Roslyn, but WSP has stated numerous times that the location at milepost 33.5 (land owned by WSP) is where it makes the most sense for them for public safety – and where critical truck enforcement is needed. WSP has also stated that staffing is an issue with the Roslyn location.
So could the state move forward with the weigh station near Truck Town without North Bend’s approval? Hearing said it could happen. The land is not in the city limits. It is owned by WSP already. But because weigh station activity would impact city neighborhoods, North Bend has the legal right to comment on the development and ensure all environmental impacts are dealt with.
And yes, North Bend could also legally challenge the location. Mayor Hearing would not say if the city would pursue a lawsuit, but did comment: “We’re not sure if we will challenge, but we will sure make sure they follow all the rules if they place the station at exit 34.”
For now Hearing says the city wants to negotiate more in good faith.