News

Medians become great divide

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Business owners along Pacific Highway South in Federal Way remain concerned about raised medians that will prevent left turns into their businesses, but city officials maintain the curbs are necessary for public safety on the busy highway.

City traffic engineering officials made recommendations to the City Council’s Land-Use and Transportation Committee March 15 against authorizing median breaks at two spots on Pacific –– South 288th and South 333rd streets. But committee members decided to allow a break at one.

Though all seven council members attended the committee meeting, the committee’s decisions will be forwarded to the full council, which will hear the requests again at its April 5 meeting.

Harjinder Atwal, owner of the Shell gas station at Pacific and South 288th, told the committee he’s not against improvement to the highway, but said he and his neighbors would like a break in the median so people could turn left onto South 288th.

“It’s a great inconvenience to community members who live nearby,” Atwal said. “It will make a huge impact on (the) station, as well.”

Bill Baldwin, owner of nearby Crestwood Animal Hospital, questioned the accident rate and safety data presented by the city to justify the solid medians. He added the city should have notified business owners when they notified property owners about the project — a sentiment agreed with by several council members.

City traffic engineer Rick Perez said the medians will improve safety by preventing dangerous left turns onto South 288th.

While there’s only one collision associated with someone leaving the Shell station — and that driver was turning right — and there are none from the animal hospital, long lines of drivers at the stop lights makes it dangerous for drivers to turn left, he said.

“When you’re trying to get through a standing queue, it’s hard enough,” he said. “To get a gap simultaneously in three lanes is a trick, number one, but getting across three lanes makes it worse.”

Perez said the danger is compounded because the business driveways on Pacific near South 288th are close to each other and to the stop light. That means in addition to looking for oncoming traffic, drivers also have to look for people pulling out of other driveways and coming from three directions through the intersection.

“You can’t see clearly enough or far away enough to dart through,” Perez said.

But because of the lack of accidents directly attributed to the animal hospital and the gas station, Councilman Jim Ferrell was skeptical about not leaving a break in the median.

“It sounds like we’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said, adding he’s concerned the inconvenience would cause some drivers to skip those businesses and go to ones farther up on the same side of the street.

Perez confirmed the solid medians are likely to have an impact, at least on the gas station.

“Anything related to convenience, like gas stations, is severely impacted,” he said, though he added locations tend to continue attracting their clientele, with business sometimes improving because people feel safer getting there.

Committee members ultimately recommended denying the request for a median break at South 288th.

Samantha Creighton, a cashier at the gas station, where she’s worked about 18 months, is upset about the prospect of solid medians.

“I hate them,” she said. “It’s impossible for us to stay in business with that median in. Slowly but surely, we’re going to shut down.”

She said that’d be a loss to the low-income patrons who buy groceries from the store, and the elderly women who’d have to walk a mile up the hill to a 7-11 store or take a cab or bus to Safeway. In addition, she’d have to find a new job, Creighton said.

“They’ve got quite a fight on their hands,” she said. “That’s the only way we’ll stay in business.”

The committee did authorize a median break at Pacific and South 333rd Street following a request from Ick Kim, who owns a business at the southeast corner of that intersection.

Kim hired his own traffic engineer, Victor Bishop, president of Transportation Planning and Engineering, Inc., to conduct traffic analysis at the site.

Perez said it might be a bad idea to break the median at South 333rd because it might look like the city negotiated in bad faith with other property owners and businesses, who were told they wouldn’t be allowed to have median breaks at their properties.

Some council members expressed concern about fairness, though Mayor Dean McColgan said Kim’s and Atwal’s requests involve separate issues.

Perez said South 333rd is a bad spot for a break because it’s so close to South 332nd, which will eventually be used to access the new city hall and a proposed city-built community center, as well as a potential bus barn and a proposed expansion at Ernie’s Federal Way Truck Stop.

With the potential for trucks and buses lining up to turn left on South 332nd, he said, it might be a bad idea to have a left-turn pocket at South 333rd because the left-turn lanes would have to be side by side to accommodate traffic. The city would have to add another lane of travel on one side of Pacific.

Perez opposed a break, but committee members decided otherwise, authorizing one until the city needs the left-turn pocket for cars turning onto 332nd.

While the city could ultimately fill the South 333rd median break some day, Councilman Eric Faison said it would make more sense to make 333rd a grid road instead of 332nd because 333rd extends farther east.

Raised medians are nothing new to Federal Way. The city has installed them on South 320th and South 348th streets, on First Avenue South and, more recently, along stretches of Pacific Highway between South 312th and South 340th.

There are three breaks between South 312th and South 324th.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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