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City will widen intersection at SW 336th Street and 21st Avenue SW
Federal Way had initially planned what's known as a "Michigan left" or a "median U-turn" at the intersection of SW 336th Street and 21st Avenue SW, However, the city revised its plans after an extensive study of the intersection.
Instead, the city will proceed with a traditional widening of the intersection, after the council gave the go-ahead Nov. 15 for the traditional widening plan.
Rick Perez, city traffic engineer, gave a presentation to the council on the approximately $5 million project. Perez said the traditional widening, median U-turn, a roundabout and a hybrid alternative were all examined before the city staff settled on the traditional widening method.
"What we found is a little bit different than what we anticipated," Perez said.
For the median U-turn method, Perez said the extended study discovered that right-of-way issues would arise from the project, and accordingly, so would the cost.
One of the most significant issues would have been access to local businesses if the median U-turn project had been given the go-ahead.
"The other issue we knew would be an issue all along was access impacts. Because, in order to make that work, you would be eliminating all left turn access between the intersection of 21st and 336th and the U-turn locations," Perez said. "This impacts the shopping center on the southwest corner of the intersection, which is the one that has Safeway and Rite Aid and Chase Bank among others. Roughly a third of the volume that comes into that shopping center, comes in through that left turn movement."
Perez said the three lane roundabout alternative had some positives, namely increasing safety with minimal impact to local business access. The alternative also would shorten traffic delays for drivers. Perez said the roundabout required a significant right-of-way purchasing element, increasing the cost to the city and throwing a snarl into the established business that would have to give up buildings and property.
"The right-of-way impacts were very significant. It would require buying the buildings at Bank of America, Chase Bank and Taco Bell," he said.
The traditional widening project still improved safety and capacity at the intersection, Perez said. That's something the state Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) needed to see — in order for the TIB to fund $3.4 million of the $5 million project.
Councilman Jim Ferrell was pleased with the work of Perez and city staff, and said this was an example of government working well.
"We had a really good idea, creatively, that was being used elsewhere, but then we applied it to our scenario…I'm glad to see we moved in this direction," Ferrell said.
Councilman Jack Dovey wasn't as positive about the change in plans, saying he felt the original intent of significantly improving safety at the intersection was being betrayed by cost considerations and inconvenience to local businesses.
"I thought the initial presentation for this was a need for more safety over everything else. And now we're going to do a traditional thing that is moderately safe. Do we really want to continue with this project, is this something that is a high priority?" Dovey asked. "It almost seems like we're stepping back. You came to us with this great way to make it really safe, and now you're coming back to make it somewhat safe, and now we're changing it."
Mayor Skip Priest addressed Dovey's concerns in something of a tongue-in-cheek manner, saying if access is cut off to the businesses affected by the projects, then safety would also increase.
"One point is, if nobody's going to the businesses, it's a lot safer," he said. "It's the staff's responsibility to balance the priorities, which I think they've done."
Deputy Mayor Dini Duclos said she supported the traditional widening plan, as did council members Linda Kochmar and Roger Freeman. Duclos said she was happy with the traditional widening because it won't "starve out another section of business." Kochmar referenced a public meeting in which the "Michigan left" idea met strong opposition. Freeman simply said he was happy the city was going traditional.