Traffic is killing us. Could we fix it together? | KUOW News and Information

Traffic is killing us. Could we fix it together?

Mar 9, 2017

As we all know from living here, our region’s roads haven’t been keeping up with population growth.  If they were, we wouldn’t be sitting in so much traffic.

It’s a longstanding problem coming soon to Black Diamond, which is embarking on one of the largest developments in King County.

And it’s a problem cities across the region face by themselves. But Fred Butler, the mayor of Issaquah, has been questioning that.

“We are interconnected in a way that no one stands alone,” Butler said.

Butler’s problem is that traffic coming in from neighboring cities congests the main routes into Issaquah on their way to somewhere else. “The traffic is terrible,” he said. “The biggest issue in the community.”

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Butler also knows that Issaquah’s commuters are going through other communities on their way to work. Cities keep shoving traffic congestion toward one another.

“Regional pass-through traffic — it’s killing us,” Butler said.

Regional pass-through traffic congestion is what Maple Valley sees when it looks down the road at development-ripe Black Diamond.

“The roadway capacity between Maple Valley and Seattle and Bellevue and some of the other employment centers isn’t sufficient today," said Laura Philpot, Maple Valley’s city manager.

She said it often takes people an hour and a half to get between home and job. “So adding on the traffic from the new homes scheduled to be built in Black Diamond is only going to add to that.”

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Developers are supposed to expand roads capacity when they bring more people to an area.  Black Diamond's developer has agreed to improve roads in Maple Valley.

But the work doesn't continue all the way down the highway.

“I would not blame the developers,” said Peter Rimbos, who lives 11 miles away from Black Diamond and is concerned about the size of the development planned in Black Diamond. “They’re simply following what the agreements were.” 

Rimbos said developers’ agreements with cities and other governments haven’t delivered a regional roads network that is able to handle growth. There's often a lag before developers make improvements that help commuters.

Bicyclists take advantage of a sunny day to pedal past the Oakpointe construction site on Auburn-Black Diamond Road, a two-lane 25 mph road that leads to SR 169 and the main part of Black Diamond.
Credit KUOW Graphic/Kara McDermott

Controlling roads congestion is important in places like Black Diamond, which are too far out to be a stop on a light rail line. And because buses and cars share the road, people don’t look to public transit as a solution.

Related: Part of I-5's shoulder will open to buses this year

“The buses have no advantage,” Rimbos said. “They’re just stuck in the same traffic as everybody else.”

That’s why Rimbos volunteers in a citizen’s group concerned about the Black Diamond development. He said it’s not too late for Black Diamond to make their development smaller.

He also said something could be done about the laws that shape how government and developers pay for growth.

“There’s no easy solution unless the state or the region changes the law.”

In Issaquah, Mayor Butler is on the case. Late last year he got all the neighboring cities together with other leaders in the region, including King County and the Puget Sound Regional Council.

“Everyone came to the realization that the region needs to work together,” Butler said. “Something similar to Sound Transit 3” — the massive transportation funding package that extends light rail.

Voters passed it last November and are starting to pay for it. Butler said we need a tax package for regional roads for people to vote on. “It’s pretty simple, the money comes from our citizens.”

“I think it would be a tough sell,” said Philpot, city manager in Maple Valley. “The state just passed a rather large gas tax package and Southeast King County really didn’t get anything out of that. I think voters are going to be frustrated.”

And not only that: In the city, buses and trains are a big part of the solution. Would urban voters agree to pay for roads so that other people could drive?

Carolyn Adolph can be reached at cadolph@kuow.org. Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form.