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Traffic summit looks for regional answers to local road congestion

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By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

Like politics, all traffic problems are local, which is why Bonney Lake City Councilman Mark Hamilton and Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney organized Saturday's Traffic Summit.

The morning meeting at the Public Safety Building brought together city politicians and staff from Bonney Lake, Orting, Sumner and Pierce County. Also attending were staff from the Washington Department of Transportation and representatives from the Cascadia development, including Chief Executive Officer Patrick Kuo.

Hamilton posed the central question to the group early on in the meeting.

“Why are we all stuck in traffic?” Hamilton asked. “With all of our planning, why do we have the congestion problems we have today?”

Larry Toedtli from the Transpo Group, a consulting firm from Kirkland hired by Bonney Lake to analyze traffic problems in the region, said the total cost of improvements in the region would be $500 to $600 million; his assessment did not include the cross-base highway or an extension to state Route 167.

Of the $500 to $600 million, at best about 15 percent is funded according to Transpo. Some of the big-ticket road jobs on the list include either expanding Rhodes Lake Road or constructing another east-west connection off the Plateau to state Route 162 and expanding the capacity of SR 162, which runs between Orting and Sumner. Looking north-south around Bonney Lake the jobs include connecting 198th Avenue East, expanding the capacity of 214th and 218th Avenue East around Lake Tapps, a south Plateau connection - and the list goes on.

Bunney pointed out the root of the problem is the state not keeping up its economic end of the bargain as people move into the region.

“Money from this region has been imported to other areas,” Bunney said. “We have links and projects that need to get built in the region.”

If there was a one note in the song that everyone knew, it was money.

“The issue is we have a small amount of recourses,” Bonney Lake Councilman Jim Rackley said. “The question is how do we use those recourses best for the region?”

The region is staring at a break-neck pace of development with no end in sight. Falling Water is building the first of its 1,000 home development and Cascadia is set to start constructing its first four plats next year, about 500 of the 6,500 home development.

“I've always seen this area of the county as dysfunctional,” Sumner Mayor-elect Dave Enslow said. “This meeting is great. It brings people together.”

Hamilton said there was no clear-cut direction decided by the group, but a meeting is planned for this week with Bunney, Hamilton and the three newly elected mayors, Neil Johnson of Bonney Lake, Enslow and Orting's Cheryl Temple.

“Its a difficult subject,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully the group will see it's better to work together on a regional answer to these problems then trying to do everything locally.”

Bunney said a delegation of East Pierce representatives could help bring the area's problem to the front burner in the county and state Legislature.

“We want to make sure we are there at the table and our priorities are made clear,” Bunney said. “We have not done as well as King County in making the case for economic relief concerning congestion.”

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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