County grant helps synchronize traffic signals


Staff writer

Traffic might still be sluggish on South 320th Street, but drivers could be spending less time stopped at red lights.

King County Executive Ron Sims announced Tuesday that Federal Way is among nine cities to receive part of a $410,000 county grant to synchronize 82 traffic lights countywide this year.

With $16,000 in grant money, the city will synchronize four traffic signals on South 320th between Pacific Highway South and First Avenue South.

This is the third year the city has received such a grant. Last year, the city synchronized traffic lights along South 320th Street from Pacific Highway to South Military Road.

This year’s county grant also paid to synchronize 16 signals in Renton, 14 signals near Woodinville, two on Lake Washington Boulevard near Kirkland and Bellevue, 27 in Seattle, four in Bothell, three in Kirkland, seven in Shoreline and five in Sammamish.

In the past, every jurisdiction that received funding and synchronized traffic lights along a stretch of road showed traffic flow improvement, Sims said.

City traffic engineer Rick Perez said last year’s synchronization project resulted in a 17 percent improvement in travel time in Federal Way. “Frankly, we were surprised it was that good,” he said.

Signal synchronization does a lot to smooth the flow of traffic, from reducing travel times and delays to reducing air pollution, he said.

But synchronizing traffic signals is a labor-intensive process, and traffic engineers have to be careful they’re not hurting traffic in one direction when they help it in another.

Typically, the signals are synchronized to give a particular direction with high traffic volumes more green time to keep motorists moving.

But increasing the green time for drivers on Pacific Highway, for example, means drivers on South 320th Street are spending more time at red lights. “There are systemwide issues we have to deal with,” Perez said. “You can’t just play with intersections.”

Traffic signal synchronization will serve as one of many efforts to alleviate congestion in Federal Way’s downtown core.

Construction is continuing on Pacific Highway to add high-occupancy vehicle lanes, a raised median, left and right-turn lanes, lighting and sidewalks, and to bury overhead power lines.

According to the city’s 2003-2008 transportation improvement program, Phase II of the project, from South 324th Street to South 340th Street should be finished in 2004. Phase III, from South 284th Street to State Route 509, is expected to be finished in 2006.

Respondents to a community investment survey conducted by the city last year said street improvements should be the highest priority to which the city should direct funds, with 54 percent saying the city should invest more and 34 saying the city should spend the same amount.

Traffic signals came in second, with 55 percent of respondents saying the city should spend more and 29 percent saying the city should spend the same amount.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565 and

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