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City council scraps street widening projects, seeks construction criteria

When it comes to Federal Way's capital road improvement projects, aesthetics ought to be considered alongside functionality.

On Tuesday, the city council approved the city's 2010-2015 Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). The plan lays out 23 road construction projects the city hopes to finish in the next six years. The council members were not in agreement on some long-standing projects that were to affect South 320th Street. Some members valued retaining trees and natural beauty over widening streets to accommodate traffic. But they all agreed the council and city staff need to discuss criterion for placing road construction projects on TIPs. (Scroll to the bottom of this story to see the TIP prioritization criteria)

An unscheduled vote resulted in the removal of three projects that were slated, in upcoming years, to affect the South 320th Street arterial. The motion was moved by deputy mayor Eric Faison and city council member Jim Ferrell. The council voted 4-to-3 to scrap the projects, which were scheduled to bring street widening to South 320th Street between Pacific Highway South and 1st Avenue South. The work would have expanded 1st Avenue South, at the 320th Street intersection, to a five-lane roadway northbound and included more turn lanes at the intersection.

Widening of the city's streets will not solve Federal Way's traffic problems, Faison said. The city council often charges ahead with street projects with little consideration to how they affect the city's visual appearance, he said. Eight-lane roadways make the city look ugly, Faison said.

Mayor Jack Dovey and council members Linda Kochmar and Mike Park voted to include the projects on the current TIP. Faison, Ferrell and council members Jeanne Burbidge and Dini Duclos voted to remove them. They will not be completed unless the city staff adds them to a future TIP and that plan is approved by the council.

The construction was scheduled as a way to meet growth management requirements set in place by the county. Eliminating them means housing developments along the corridor could be turned away due to the street's inability to handle the corresponding traffic, traffic engineer Rick Perez said. Because the city is required to accommodate more growth, the developments could be placed elsewhere. Safety issues did not drive the projects' inclusion in the TIP, Perez said.

"There hasn't been a huge safety issue on that corridor at this time, and I'm hoping it stays that way," he said.

Priority projects

The three projects have been included in a TIP since 1998. They were to cost about $43.6 million total and were scheduled to take place several years out, public works director Marwan Salloum said. Due to recent budget cuts, the city likely would not have had the funding to support the projects, had they been kept on the current TIP, he said.

Instead of investing in those projects, several members of the council showed an interest in installing sidewalks along 28th Avenue South. The idea was suggested by resident H. David Kaplan. Several youths and elderly residents walk the street to reach Steel Lake Park and bus transportation, Duclos said in approval of the project. The project is a priority, but it does not rank as high on the prioritization list as the 320th Street work did, Perez said. Improvements to 28th Avenue South would be tricky, costly and would require adjustments to residential driveways, property acquisition and a newly installed drainage system, Salloum said.

Duclos suggested the city council and staff discuss the 10 criteria used to determine which projects are placed on a TIP. The plan is too heavily dependent on the rating system rather than reality, she said. Perez agreed a conversation about the system would help staff determine which projects to include in upcoming TIPs.

"That's one of the future conversations we need to have," Perez said. "Are we going to put less emphasis on the need to provide capacity for a development and more on providing pedestrian safety?"

Learn more

City staff uses the following unweighted criteria when deciding if a capital improvement project should be included in its Transportation Improvement Plan:

• Collision rates

• Collision severity rates

• HOV supportive

• Non-motorized supportive

• Community support

• Air quality

• Ease of implementation

• Benefit/cost ratio

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