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City Center Access: Traffic project at S. 312th Street awaits a green light from council
The Federal Way City Council is not ready to vote on a downtown traffic project that's been six years in the making.
On March 3, the council unanimously ruled to delay a decision to designate City Center Access improvements at South 312th Street as the final solution to traffic relief. The council overwhelmingly said there are too many unanswered questions about the project — and its significant impact to residents, neighborhoods and Steel Lake Park.
"This is really the first opportunity we have had to substantively weigh in," city council member Jim Ferrell said. "I'm not ready to vote on this. Once this is done, it's done."
Years in the making
The project began in 2003. The goal: Get current and projected traffic in 2035 moving faster downtown.
What started with 47 possible solutions was narrowed down first 15, then two options, by city staff, a core project team of transit agencies and a stakeholder group.
Early this year, staff announced it preferred Alternative One: South 312th Street as the best opportunity to meet its goal. This is likely to get approval from the Federal Highway Administration. This plan would improve downtown traffic flow, requires only a handful of property acquisitions and includes road changes currently in the 20-year Capital Improvement Projects, project manager Maryanne Zukowski said.
The solution includes:
• Widening the South 320th Street/Interstate 5 interchange bridge.
• Installing a new bridge at South 312th Street.
• Extending South 312th Street east across Interstate 5 to Military Road.
• Modifying the South 320th Street/Interstate 5 north and south interchanges to add lanes that would run alongside the freeway the length of South 320th Street to South 312th Street. The lanes will allow motorists to access South 312th Street directly from the freeway — bypassing the city center — or travel forward onto new Interstate 5 on-ramps at South 312th Street.
• Widening South 312th Street to five lanes between 24th Avenue South and 28th Avenue South, between the north and south sides of Steel Lake Park.
"I lean (toward) moving forward with the 312th (Street) option," city council member Eric Faison said. "I say that because it's best for the community as a whole."
Residents who spoke at the city council meeting did not agree.
Laurie Hagedorn moved to 28th Avenue South this past June. She originally avoided Federal Way because of its heavy traffic, she said. When her family found a place near the lake in an area that does not appear overly congested with traffic, she committed to the city.
Now, Hagedorn is upset. Her real estate agent never told her about the City Center Access project, and Hagedorn did not research upcoming city projects before making her move, she said. She worries the road changes will bring increased traffic and crime.
"I'm feeling like I don't know anything about something that was a big huge surprise," she said. "I'm behind the ‘eight ball’ here in learning about the project."
The proposed five-lane street through Steel Lake Park — as opposed to the current two lanes — was the focus of other comments. The expansion would ruin the city's largest and most comprehensive public park, speakers said. It would endanger the park's pedestrian traffic and permanently change its serene atmosphere. It would not be fair to the community, longtime Steel Lake area resident Deanna Riddle said.
"It's a community," Riddle said. "It's not just some place a road can go through."
Some city council members were also alarmed by the street expansion. Council member Linda Kochmar said she thought the street would be three lanes.
Long time coming
Expanding that section of South 312th Street has been part of Federal Way's comprehensive plan since 1995, Zukowski said. At that time, a lengthy list of capital road improvement projects was established by staff and the city's former council members.
"That happens regardless of this (City Center Access) project," Zukowski said. "It's part of the city's plan, regardless."
After years of working on the project, staff hoped the council would give its approval to continue an environmental assessment on Alternative One. Once the council gives its go-ahead, the assessment will be completed on the preferred method; an Alternative Two option, which calls for changes at South 324th Street, will be discarded. Design work and construction for the South 312th Street option — to be completed in 15 to 20 years, depending on when the city acquires the money — will follow.
"I would rate this decision as one of the most challenging our council has faced and is going to face," city council member Jeanne Burbidge said.
The city council is prepared to make a decision at 7 p.m. March 17 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S., on whether to allow staff to proceed with studies of the South 312th Street option. Staff will be present to answer questions from the city council and the public.