Sammamish to start review of transportation network
February 6, 2013
By Ari Cetron
Sammamish is embarking on a study of its transportation network that could finally, officially kill the East Lake Sammamish Parkway project.
The City Council Jan. 22 directed city transportation planners to review the way Sammamish sets its standards for its transportation network. As the city changes the standards, it may, among other things, mean that the city would no longer need to improve the parkway, a project which has stirred controversy for years.
Under state law, localities have to develop transportation systems which accommodates current residents and plans for future growth. One facet of the plan involves assigning each road a “level of service” which the locality deems acceptable.
Levels of service are graded – just like school an “A” is the best. The locality then decides what level is right for that road. If the road does not meet that threshold, or if new growth (and the extra cars that come with the new houses and businesses) would force the road to dip below the acceptable level, the locality must develop a plan to bring it back to the right level.
The plans must account not only for existing development, but for possible future development – it assumes that every piece of the land in the city will one day be developed to the maximum allowed under current zoning.
Current traffic models predict that the East Lake Sammamish Parkway will eventually become sub-standard, so there are plans on the books for the city to widen the northern end of the road.
The council had discussed making modifications to city standards in May 2012, with an eye toward removing the parkway, and reviewing possible complications that could be caused by traffic generated by town center. At the time, city staffers had suggested a possible solution could be to average out the capacity of different roads in an area.
For example, beside the parkway, 228th Avenue/Sahalee Way and 244th Avenue also act as northern route to enter and leave Sammamish.
The city could use traffic models which assume that if one of those routes becomes too congested, drivers will switch to an alternate route which is less congested.
But that would be cold comfort to the people who live on or near that congested route and have no practical way of making the switch.
City staffers have continued to review the options, and now recommend that the council instead simply change the acceptable amount of traffic on some select sections of road.
Besides East Lake Sammamish Parkway, officials might review the status of Southeast Fourth Street, Issaquah-Pine Lake Road and Duthie Hill Road, among others.
City Councilwoman Nancy Whitten was concerned that the plan might be simply a way of avoiding some needed construction projects.
City engineer Jeff Brauns and City Manager Ben Yazici both said that was not the case. The reclassification can be used to better reflect traffic conditions as they actually are, Brauns said.
There is a precedent for lowering standards in a targeted fashion, particularly when a section of road cannot be improved in a cost-effective manner. Brauns noted the intersection of 228th Avenue and Northeast Eighth Street/Inglewood Hill Road.
While that intersection has some issues with excessive congestion, further widening of it is impractical due to reasons of cost and the negative impact widening would have on pedestrians crossing the street.
As a result, the city has decided that a lower level of service for that intersection is acceptable.
The next step for the review is the planning commission which will likely take up the issue in the next month or so. The commission will review possible changes to road standards, and the impacts that could have on other policies and the city’s overall transportation plan.
If all goes as planned, city staff may be able to present the council with recommendations from the commission later this year. The council could then review new standards and choose whether or not to adopt them by the end of the year.