In October we reported that city officials were pushing the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to utilize the I-90/SR 18 interchange weigh station return lane as a dedicated I-90 on-ramp from Snoqualmie Parkway.
City officials are concerned peak commute backups on Snoqualmie Parkway would become even worse during the future interchange construction project estimated to be complete in 2022-2023. Officials see this return lane as a viable way to alleviate backups many residents regularly complain about.
In responding to the city’s request for this solution, WSDOT officials said it was too costly – estimated at $1.2 million – for a temporary solution and were opposed to using part of the project’s $150 million budget on a ‘throw away’ investment. 5th District Senator Mark Mullet, though, said he was committed to advocating for the City of Snoqualmie with WSDOT.
As the 2019 legislative session began this month, Senator Mullet reached out to Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson saying he might have more luck securing the needed funding if the city was willing to share the estimated $1.2 million cost to transform the weight station return lane into a dedicated on-ramp.
Mayor Larson brought the topic to the January 14th city council meeting, asking council members whether the city should make this large monetary commitment for the on-ramp.
According to Larson, “While a strong majority of the City Council expressed support for funding the $600k match, they also strongly encouraged my administration to pursue cost reductions with WSDOT and contributions from other benefiting cities in southeast King County. I have already had an encouraging conversation with the mayor of Covington and have provided more detailed information to the cities of Maple Valley and Kent and members of the South East Area Legislative Transportation Coalition (SEAL-TC).”
The new Snoqualmie Parkway on-ramp could also benefit southeast King County commuters as the interchange’s current signal timing controlling the left turn lane onto westbound I-90 could be increased for eastbound SR 18 drivers, which could improve congested morning traffic over Tiger Mountain.
Councilmember Sundwall also brought the cost sharing topic to citizens on Facebook, where a majority responded positively. It was discussed that the city could consider a temporary (two-year) Transportation District Fee that would be assessed on car tabs for residents. This solution would mean other city capital projects – like planned sidewalk repairs, street tree replacements and pavement overlays – would not lose funding to the on-ramp project.
On Friday, January 18th, Senator Mullet said he had secured the needed funding – that WSDOT was receptive to the cost-sharing idea and agreed to use $600,000 from the interchange improvement project to turn the weigh station return lane into an I-90 on-ramp.
Mullet commented, “We want to try and mitigate the impact of replacing the interchange for Snoqualmie residents as much as possible.”
Timeline: WSDOT could begin improving and constructing the on-ramp as early as summer 2019. They guaranteed the on-ramp would be in place for at least two years. The following two years would have less certainty due to the 90/18 improvement project using the weigh station site as a construction staging area, which will be a dynamic, changing work site.
It could be known by the end of January where the 90/18 weigh station will relocated, another required step before the Washington State Patrol – which owns the land and station – will close it. Currently, WSDOT is studying moving the weigh station to an eastbound I-90 location between North Bend and Snoqualmie Pass. The City of North Bend is opposed to a location near Truck Town, as such WSDOT is currently exploring a spot near milepost 45, but that location has not yet been finalized.