MONROE — Congestion on a two-lane stretch of Highway 522 and at an overtaxed Paradise Lake Road intersection isn’t just vexing commuters forced to endure bumper-to-bumper traffic.
It’s also to blame for delaying school buses, hampering emergency responders and hobbling area businesses.
Now, civic, business and political forces are uniting to make state lawmakers aware of the severity of the situation and the need to accelerate plans for widening the highway and redoing the interchange.
They formed a coalition, dubbed #Finish522, and are using a website, a video and a collection of white papers to provide those unfamiliar with the area with a portrait of the problem. And in February, members will travel to Olympia to ask lawmakers directly for state funding to complete the two projects — either from existing sources or through a new statewide transportation package.
The city of Monroe is the driving force. In November, city councilmembers approved spending $5,500 to hire a consultant to make the video, create the web page and establish a Facebook presence.
On Jan. 9, a community meeting will provide an update on the effort. It is set for 6:30 p.m. in the Monroe City Council chambers.
“The goal is to raise the profile of Highway 522. We’re building support for our legislators and making sure folks in our community are behind it,” city administrator Deborah Knight said. “It’s not just Monroe. It’s everyone in the Sky Valley.”
The mayors of Duvall and Sultan are on the coalition’s executive committee. There are also representatives from the Snohomish County Council, Economic Alliance Snohomish County, Community Transit, Monroe Chamber of Commerce, Monroe School District plus area hospitals and fire protection districts.
In his December newsletter, Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas encouraged residents to take part by signing an online petition asking the Legislature to prioritize redoing the intersection and widening the highway which collectively would eliminate the bottleneck.
“While the Executive Committee is able to keep our message to #Finish522 front-and-center at home, we need your help to get the message out to State Legislators in Olympia,” he wrote.
Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, attended the December executive committee meeting.
“This group is going to put pressure on people like me to figure out a solution,” he said. “They should put pressure on us.”
Highway 522 is a critical route for those trying to get from the growing communities of east Snohomish County to I-405. Its much-diagnosed problem is that the four-lane highway is reduced to two lanes for a three-mile stretch from Paradise Lake Road to the Snohomish River.
The state Department of Transportation is in the early stages of designing a new intersection. In December, it came up with a preliminary preferred concept that would have traffic entering and exiting Highway 522 using new on- and offramps. Also, the plans call for a new road to connect Highway 524 to Paradise Lake Road and to raise Highway 522 to run over the new joined roadway.
At this point, not much more work can be done as the Legislature provided $750,000 to get this far. There is $10 million set aside for preliminary design funding in the $16 billion Connecting Washington package approved by lawmakers in 2015. But that money does not become available until 2025 and does not cover final project design, environmental work, right-of-way acquisition and construction.
”The sooner we get the design done, the sooner we can get the money,” said Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby. He represents the 1st Legislative District in which the interchange is located.
There is no money in the 2015 package for widening the two-lane stretch of highway, which is also in the 1st District. It might require as much as $160 million to get both done, Palumbo said.
The coalition “will help immensely” in building public understanding and support for the projects, and the need for a new transportation package containing money to get them done, he said. If no new roads package emerges, the hope is lawmakers will make the $10 million available sooner.
“Everybody knows what projects got left behind in 2015,” said Palumbo, who also attended the executive committee meeting. “This group also helps educate the public that new gas taxes are needed to fund these projects. “
The legislative session will begin Jan. 14 and is scheduled to last 105 days.