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Everett demands options to gridlock

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Jim Haley / Herald Writer
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By Jim Haley
Herald Writer
EVERETT -- Senior government leaders in Everett doubt that temporary traffic improvements proposed by the state will significantly ease the congestion resulting from Monday's closure of a bridge on northbound Highway 529 for repairs. And Everett officials are disappointed that the state has rejected two plans they think would ease the crunch, including making southbound lanes of Highway 529 reversible for the evening commute. Since Monday, motorists have steamed, simmered and waited at intersection after intersection, trying to reach I-5 to go north. Many are used to taking the northbound lanes of Highway 529 to reach the freeway at Marysville, but the northbound Steamboat Slough bridge at the east end of the Snohomish River delta will remain closed for weeks because of an $8 million refurbishing project. "We've suggested alternatives. If our suggestions won't work, I guess I hope the Washington Department of Transportation professionals will come up with some alternatives," Mayor Ed Hansen said Thursday. "We need to increase the (vehicle) capacity the department is taking away from us." On Wednesday night, top state transportation officials appeared at an Everett City Council meeting. They apologized for the traffic mess and offered some solutions. City officials don't think it was enough. However, during the evening commute Thursday, the congestion appeared to have eased somewhat, with shorter lines at routes out of town. Still, Everett Avenue, where there's a northbound I-5 onramp at the east end of town, was backed up to Broadway at 5 p.m. State officials rejected Everett requests to:
  • Make the two southbound lanes of Highway 529 reversible for the evening commute. In other words, the city wants to funnel outgoing traffic north to either Marysville or the freeway via the southbound lanes.
  • Restripe the Hewitt Avenue trestle to make it three lanes leaving Everett eastbound instead of the two there now. "Based on what we've seen, we still have very serious safety concerns" about the reversible lane idea, Transportation Department district engineer Lorena Eng said Thursday. She said engineers fear that motorists, including those conducting business on Smith or Spencer islands, will be confused and travel the wrong way. That spells potential head-on collisions, she said. Besides, the department is reluctant to send a large volume of traffic into Marysville, further clogging that city's streets. Also, the state has been reluctant to squeeze three lanes onto the Hewitt Avenue trestle, despite repeated requests by local officials to do so. A year ago, Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, Hansen, Lake Stevens Mayor Lynn Walt and others made a written request for the three lanes instead of two. Eng said that move is not likely to ease the current problem, although a lot of folks have been using the trestle to seek routes to Highway 9 or Sunnyside Boulevard to go north. The department is encouraging employers to allow workers to have flexible hours, avoiding a surge of traffic. Although the state won't do what the city wants, it offered some help. It will allow two lanes of traffic to enter the Everett Avenue onramp to I-5, doubling capacity at lest for a short distance. The state Thursday was looking for a contractor to do that, Eng said. It also will:
  • Continue paying for Washington State Patrol traffic control at several intersections on Everett Avenue.
  • Station a tow truck near the Everett Avenue interchange to remove stalled vehicles quickly if problems occur.
  • Allow free rides for all Everett Transit riders and for those using Community Transit Route 210, which picks up northbound patrons near Everett Community College. The bridge repair project is scheduled to be completed Sept. 7, although the state hopes to offer the contractor incentives to finish earlier. "We'll keep our fingers crossed to see if the proposed actions of the department will solve the problems," Hansen said. "We're concerned it will take substantially more than what the department is considering." You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447 or send e-mail to haley@heraldnet.com.
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