Federal Way abandons City Center Access traffic relief proposal

The City Center Access Project, and its proposed infrastructure upgrades at South 312th Street, were abandoned April 21 during two separate city council votes.

“Kaput. Done. Close the books,” Mayor Jack Dovey said.

The decisions come at the cost of six years of labor and $2 million. But pieces of the larger approximately $280 million enterprise could resurface for discussion as soon as May 5.

The council rejected, in a 4-3 vote, city staff’s recommended traffic solution Alternative One: Infrastructure improvements, including Interstate 5 on/off ramps, at South 312th Street.

Council member Dini Duclos made the motion. City council members Jeanne Burbidge, Linda Kochmar and Jim Ferrell followed. Duclos expressed grave concern that, despite years of work on the project, the city had not made state legislators aware of it and had not begun preparing to seek state and federal money to assist with costs.

Duclos noted it has taken several years for the city to secure a portion of funding for another transportation improvement priority: The Triangle Project, at the Highway 18/Highway 161/Interstate 5 interchange.

“I’d like us to put our efforts into getting the Triangle Project done,” Duclos said. “I think this is diverting us.”

Dovey, along with Deputy Mayor Eric Faison and city council member Mike Park, voted to finish an environmental study on Alternative One before deciding if it was a viable traffic solution.

It’s a waste of money to get so close to finishing the study and then decide to write it off, Dovey said Wednesday.

Whole project follows

Immediately after the first vote, in a 6-1 decision, the council killed all efforts on City Center Access, which included two more gridlock relief options considered less desirable by city staff. Alternative Two (infrastructure improvements at South 324th Street) and Alternative Three (build nothing) were also possibilities. Council member Mike Park was the only dissenting party in the second vote.

“This is not a popularity contest,” he said. “My decision is based on what is best for the almost 90,000 population.”

The votes were meant to give staff direction on whether to proceed or stop the environmental study on Alternative One; they were not intended to determine whether to throw out the entire City Center Access undertaking, Dovey said Wednesday.

City Center Access background

In 2003, the City Center Access project began.

The council directed staff to begin research on downtown transportation improvements. The project was driven by traffic projections for 2035 in downtown Federal Way. Agencies such as the Federal Highway Administration and Washington State Department of Transportation, city staff as well as citizens and volunteers worked to narrow 47 suggestions to the three options presented to the council.

Before Tuesday, environmental studies and preliminary design work on Alternative One and Alternative Two were in progress. Staff was seeking the council’s go-ahead to move forward in the study with Alternative One and stop further efforts on Alternative Two. To date, $2 million has been spent on the endeavor. Had the council given the go-ahead for Alternative One, nine months to one year’s worth of environmental studies would have occurred before the project would have gone before the council once again for a final approval and discussion on mitigation efforts.

Public weighs in

Heavy public input on the proposed South 312th Street option and its impact to Steel Lake Park was heard for months preceding the votes. Federal Way resident Julie Vance gathered more than 800 signatures from residents who wished to see the park undisturbed by the planned widening of South 312th Street to a five-lane road between 23rd Avenue South and 28th Avenue South as part of the multimillion-dollar endeavor. The people who signed the petition played a role in the council’s final decision, Vance said.

From here

An air of uncertainty hung in the air following the votes. Traffic engineer Rick Perez said he is unsure what comes next and what, if any, traffic relief efforts the city council will direct staff to pursue.

"That is a big question in our minds," he said.

Council members showed an interest in bringing parts of the City Center Access Project back for consideration at a later date. Widening of the South 320th Street overpass is one improvement likely to find its way before the council again, Dovey said Wednesday. Pieces of the project in the Steel Lake area, as well as one additional left-turn and one right-turn lane on the southbound Interstate 5 to South 320th Street off-ramp will also be discussed, beginning at the May 5 city council meeting, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. It is uncertain at this point if further environmental studies will be needed.

"It's not dead yet," she said. "Pieces of it will come back for discussion."

Some citizens were not quite sure what to think of the vote either.

"I still feel like it isn't true," said resident Gary Anderson, who was among the handful of residents that faced losing their homes and properties to the project.

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