South 288th median is raising eyebrows


Staff writer

The Federal Way City Council last week asked city officials to further investigate the collision history of the South 288th Street corridor off Pacific Highway South and examine whether nearby property owners were notified that the city planned to construct a median along the corridor prior to the sale of land.

The $2.7 million project, already underway, will add left-turn lanes eastbound and westbound on 288th at Pacific, and add left-turn lanes at the 18th Avenue South intersection.

Although the project was approved last April by the council and is slated to be finished by May, two business owners said they just recently became aware of the plans to construct a median.

It’s significant, they say, because it will hurt their businesses by preventing the left-hand turn across the westbound lanes of 288th.

And, they argue, the U-turn that will be allowed after the median is installed is simply not possible. They’ve both tried it.

“I didn’t know about the median until the Shell (gas) station owner next door told me about three or four weeks ago. That’s kind of why we’re upset,” said Randall Norstrem, a veterinarian who runs Crestwood Animal Hospital, situated along Pacific Highway at the southeast corner of the intersection

He told the council last week that many of his clients are elderly and would have to drive a mile stretch along Pacific before they can turn.

Now that construction has started, Norstrem said, “I’ve had a lot of complaints all day long every day from my clients.”

Harjinder Atwal, who in January became the new owner of neighboring Redondo Shell, shares Norstrem’s concerns.

Motorists traveling west on 288th would cut through traffic and turn into an alley to get to the station or nearby Crestwood Animal Clinic, both located on the southeast corner of the intersection.

But once constructed, the businessmen argue, the median will prevent access to their businesses by forcing motorists to take roundabout routes to get to the businesses.

And the U-turn, they say, will be impossible.

But the city’s traffic engineer, Rick Perez, disagrees.

“The vast majority of passenger vehicles should be able to do it without encroaching on other traffic,” Perez said.

He said he came to this conclusion by laying a template over the construction plans on a light table, but conceded that he has not yet attempted to make the U-turn.

As for the businessmen’s claims about the U-turn, he said, “There is a learning curve in that people in Washington state are not used to making U-turns.”

The purpose of construction is to ease traffic congestion along 288th and reduce the number of collisions in the intersection, Perez added.

During the same council meeting last week, Perez presented the findings of a collision history study along the 288th corridor between 1997 and the first quarter of 2003. During that time, there were 63 collisions.

There were also 22 collisions between Pacific Highway and 18th Avenue, as well as 91 collisions at the 18th Avenue intersection.

Six of those incidents involved pedestrians, Perez said. Three were at the east leg of 288th and three were at the south leg of Pacific.

None of the collisions resulted in loss of life, Perez said.

“This project was pretty much driven by concurrency and safety issues,” Perez said. He said the additional lane on 288th will ease congestion and increase safety.

Councilman Jim Ferrell asked the city to look into how many collisions had been caused by westbound motorists on 288th cutting through lanes to access the Shell station and nearby animal clinic.

The answer is expected at next Monday’s Land-Use Committee meeting.

“I’m concerned for this business,” Ferrell said. “I understand that putting this median up will have very negative consequences for that business and the veterinary clinic.”

But, he added, the city is liable for accidents at the intersection.

“The number one issue here is we have to make sure the roads are safe. As far as I’m concerned, the issue isn’t settled yet,” Ferrell said.

Councilman Jack Dovey, chairman of the Land-Use Committee, has agreed to research business owners,’ motorists’ and pedestrian’s concerns more.

“There’s always time to make changes if the cement’s not dry and the road’s not finished,” Dovey said.

The council also asked city staff to look into whether the property owner of the Shell station and the property owner of Crestwood were told about the median construction plans before they both agreed to sell the city strips of land needed to widen 288th and add another lane.

William Baldwin, owner of the property on which the animal hospital sits, said the city purchased a 20-foot strip of his land about a year ago, explaining the land was needed to widen 288th.

“I was well aware of the project but I was never informed there was going to be a median there,” Baldwin said.

Atwal, on the other hand, said he learned about the median plans well after he promised the former Shell station manager in November last year that he would take over the station.

Atwal claims the previous station manager did not know about the median plans. The median came as a surprise when Atwal called the city to inquire about the construction.

Atwal said he could have legally backed out of the agreement at that point, but considers his word his honor.

Shell Co. owns the property that Atwal leases the station from. Company executives could not be reached for comment.

Atwal is not giving up. He has started a petition asking the city to consider alternatives that will allow motorists to easily access his business without having to make a U-turn or take roundabout routes. So far, he says, he has 600 signatures.

Norstrem has started a similar petition.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565,

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