News

Is one-way the new way downtown?

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

The City Council has approved for further screening five ideas –– including one-way streets that worry transit agencies –– to improve access and circulation from Interstate 5 into downtown Federal Way.

The teams involved in a city center access study are on the last leg of a process to eventually narrow the list to one option to recommend to the council.

As consultants prepare traffic analyses on the remaining options, city officials are planning meetings with the state Department of Transportation, transit agencies, the Federal Highway Administration and the public to gather input.

The five options on the table include:

• Spot improvements at failing intersections throughout the study area to alleviate some of the congestion and the heavy use of South 320th Street.

• Do nothing and defer to the city's comprehensive plan, which calls for eventual widening of the South 320th interchange and constructing a South 312th Street bridge crossing I-5.

• Complementary one-way roads configured clockwise around the city center core, with the option of a new bridge crossing the freeway 5 at South 324th Street.

• Modifications to the South 320th interchange, gaining access to I-5 at South 312th.

• Modifications to the South 320th interchange with a new access in the South 324th area.

In a letter to the city, transit officials said they're concerned the creation of one-way streets downtown would slow bus service enough to require several extra routes in Federal Way.

The ring road –– which would operate eastbound on South 316th Street, southbound on 23rd Avenue South, westbound on South 324th and northbound on 11th Place South –– would require extra King County Metro and Pierce Transit buses to provide service to the Federal Way Transit Center currently under construction by Sound Transit. Up to seven additional buses would be needed for five Metro routes, according to Metro. The cost of adding the routes was estimated to be $2.7 million a year.

If the agencies can't afford to increase the number of bus runs, they'll have to cut service in Federal Way, transit officials said.

Access in and out of the transit center would be negatively impacted if South 316th and 23rd Avenue become one-way streets, the officials added. Currently, South 316th is expected to be the primary access for the center's parking garage.

Several members of a stakeholders team appointed to provide input and review options for the access study expressed opposition to the South 312th Street bridge option, and said they plan to oppose the idea when comments are taken during work on updates to the city's comprehensive plan.

Stakeholder David Kaplan said adding a bridge at South 312th would require the street, which runs past Steel Lake Park and the city's skate park, to be expanded to three or four lanes. A wider street and the resulting increase in traffic would conflict with pedestrians and park visitors, he said.

Kaplan added there are wetlands at 28th Avenue South and South 312th and on the western boundary of the park on the south side of South 312th, which would raise the price of construction to account for buffer zones and environmental mitigations. Several stakeholders agreed.

Later this month, traffic analysis data will be presented to state transportation department, transit agencies and the Federal Highway Administration. The agencies in turn will provide guidance to ensure the city is on the right track, officials said.

The city's Land-Use and Transportation Committee will get another project update in January, and a public open house is scheduled for Feb. 3 at City Hall, officials said. Public comment will be taken back to the stakeholders group and consultants for some final touches before a preferred alternative is recommended to the City Council in March.

The council allocated $200,000 in the city's 2005-06 capital budget to pay for environmental work –– the total cost of which would be $3 million –– on the final recommendation to identify sensitive areas and create a mitigation plan. City officials are hoping the $200,000 will serve as seed money to encourage grants from state and federal agencies.

Traffic engineer Maryanne Zukowski, the city's lead on the project, said the Federal Highway Administration recently indicated the agency might be willing to providing some funding.

"We've earmarked some ideas for where funding could come from," she said. "I have some good feedback."

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

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