News

Meet your new downtown access

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Now that the teams studying how to improve access to Federal Way's city center have narrowed the choices to a more manageable two, the public is invited to take a look at the options, ask questions and offer input.

An open house is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 3 in the City Council chambers of City Hall. Those attending will be able to view displays about the project and the alternative transportation improvement options, see traffic simulations, learn forecasted traffic in downtown and submit comments.

City officials will present two alternatives plus one that was eliminated after further consideration by the teams. The eliminated option included "ring roads" around the city center that "didn't meet the purpose and need of the project," senior traffic engineer Maryanne Zukowski said.

The two options that will be considered are an access to Interstate 5 at South 312th Street and a bridge crossing at South 324th Street.

Zukowski acknowledged there is some opposition to an access at South 312th because of its potential traffic impacts on Steel Lake Park and the surrounding area.

"To me, it's very important to look at both" options, she said.

After the open house, city officials will meet with a stakeholders team Feb. 9 to review and summarize the public comments. Those summaries will be presented to the core team of transportation planners and experts one last time to apprise that group of public opinion. Then, the comments and recommendations will be presented to the city's Land-Use and Transportation Committee and the full City Council.

If the council gives the go-ahead to continue, officials –– armed with public opinion and the experts' preliminary analysis –– will start the environmental review of issues like traffic, pollution, noise and potential mitigation factors.

The environmental analysis usually takes a few years, Zukowski said, and the design process after that would take another few years. Buying right-of-way –– the land the city would need to construct the project –– can take even longer, up to five years in some cases when there are objections or if the city used it powers of eminent domain.

Zukowski said she doesn't anticipate that will be an issue for either the South 312th or South 324th options.

"There's not a lot of eminent domain issues because it's on land that's undevelopable," she said. "We'll just need to mitigate environmental issues, and there's cost, but it's not taking people's homes away. That's huge, and it happens."

A new city center access is a long-range plan to ultimately alleviate the congestion on and around South 320th Street. Construction probably wouldn't begin until close to 2010. In the meantime, local officials will try to drum up support and funding from state and federal organizations.

"Getting money is difficult," Zukowski said, adding the city wants to hear from people if they're supportive of the project. "The more people who support it is very, very helpful. Legislators listen to people, and that's where you get money."

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

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