State OK’s money for SR 410 study

Those who regularly travel the stretch of highway between Enumclaw and Buckley can share tales of vehicular angst, commiserating over bumper-to-bumper traffic jams that seemingly stretch from Black Diamond to Bonney Lake.

Traffic on Enumclaw’s side of the White River bridge on a rainy day. Photo by Kevin Hanson.

Those who regularly travel the stretch of highway between Enumclaw and Buckley can share tales of vehicular angst, commiserating over bumper-to-bumper traffic jams that seemingly stretch from Black Diamond to Bonney Lake.

That’s an exaggeration, of course, but it’s based in the reality of too many vehicles packed into just two lanes of blacktop. A morning commute of 15 minutes becomes an afternoon crawl that can hit the 45-minute mark.

A second reality is this: the problem will not be addressed without a formal study. The political world dictates that a serious issue gains no governmental traction until experts examine the issue and draft some sort of game plan.

The good news, for those whose motoring routine includes a slow roll over state Route 410, is that money has been allocated for just such a study.

BUT FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND

It’s not like the highway hasn’t been studied. Both Enumclaw and Buckley have commissioned corridor studies in the not-too-distant past but in each instance, things were viewed solely from a municipal standpoint: in each case, SR 410 was looked at only within the boundaries of the individual communities.

Things took a turn with the election of Kim Lauk to the Enumclaw City Council. She was the impetus behind the creation of the Plateau Cities Collaboration, essentially a lobbying organization on behalf of the congested highway. It includes representatives from city governments in both Enumclaw and Buckley, alternating meetings between the two. Current members include mayors Liz Reynolds of Enumclaw and Pat Johnson of Buckley; city administrators Chris Searcy of Enumclaw and his Buckley counterpart, Dave Schmidt; and Enumclaw council members Lauk and Anthony Wright and, from the Buckley council, John Leggett and Marvin Sundstrom.

In a recent development, the city of Bonney Lake has joined the effort.

The PCC was successful in landing a $300,000 grant from the state legislature, money that will pay for a comprehensive study of the traffic situation on 410, all the way from the Garrett Street intersection in Enumclaw, through Buckley and on to 234th Avenue, which happens to the be easternmost edge of Bonney Lake.

During the PCC’s most recent meeting, held last week in Buckley, the group received an additional bit of good news: already assured that the $300,000 was on the way, representatives from the state Department of Transportation reported the all-important study would begin in July and culminate in the summer of 2019.

Lauk said it will entail a comprehensive look at state Route 410, from basic things like traffic counts and choke points to the related impacts of huge housing developments like Oakpointe in Black Diamond and Tahaleh south of Bonney Lake.

The importance of a formal DOT study cannot be underestimated, Lauk said, because the legislature will not fund road projects until that hurdle is cleared.

“Until you have a piece of paper that costs $300,000,” she said with a laugh, there will be no progress.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE, PERHAPS TWO OR THREE

An old adage holds that there’s strength in numbers. And that’s certainly the case with the Plateau Cities Collaboration, where outreach is the name of the game.

“As a small city we can’t sit here and think we can solve things on our own,” Lauk said. “The only way we can solve the problem is by working together.”

With that in mind, the PCC has been busy garnering friends and supporters. Now on board are both King and Pierce counties, along with agencies like the police and fire departments in both Enumclaw and Buckley.

Lauk is particularly pleased that the Puget Sound Regional Council took the initiative to contacting the PCC, wanting to lend its support. The PSRC is a major player in governmental circles and lends additional credibility to local efforts.

Added to the list of fans are the many citizens who contacted Lauk after she penned a letter that was printed in The Courier-Herald. The letters are part of a packet she makes available to those who hold positions of power and influence.

NUMBERS AND LETTERS TELL THE TALE

A fact sheet prepared by the PCC provides a crucial number (2,200) and a rather disheartening letter (F). The former is the number of vehicles traveling SR 410 from Enumclaw to Buckley on an hourly basis on a typical weekday, during the afternoon drive-time hours of 4 and 6 p.m. The latter indicates the official “level of service” given by the DOT to the intersection of 410 and Park Avenue in Buckley; the ratings don’t come any lower than an F.

The corridor study conducted a few years ago by Enumclaw shows that things will only be getting worse. All key highway intersections through town will become increasingly difficult to navigate, the study revealed.

SOME POSSIBLE REMEDIES

Plateau Cities Collaboration has outlined some possible remedies to 410 gridlock, suggesting they be included in the upcoming DOT study. Among those are expanding the highway to five lanes from near the White River bridge to Bonney Lake, thus doubling the traffic capacity while adding a left-turn lane. Another, more ambitious suggestion, is constructing a second bridge over the White River, placed somewhere between Enumclaw and Auburn, with connecting roadways allowing movement between King and Pierce county.

The suggestions are just that ­— suggestions. And they’re made without dollar figures attached.

But that’s exactly what should come out of the two-year DOT study, Lauk said. All alternatives will be looked at and, perhaps more importantly, a laundry list of minor fixes could be developed – an inventory of smaller projects can be included that would help chip away at a growing and slowly moving problem.

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