Drivers circle a roundabout at 204th Street NE and 77th Avenue NE in Arlington. It’s the latest traffic control in a series of major transportation projects in the city. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Drivers circle a roundabout at 204th Street NE and 77th Avenue NE in Arlington. It’s the latest traffic control in a series of major transportation projects in the city. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

As Amazon moves in, Arlington’s roads are already strained

The city and state are spending millions to improve traffic flow with more lanes and roundabouts.

The old two-lane roads cutting east and west through Arlington are getting crowded, and that’s probably going to be their daytime condition in the years ahead.

Population growth estimates, soaring housing costs closer to Seattle and employment surges caused by the likes of Amazon moving in are creating busy roads. Highways 530 and 531 are prime examples of the commute clogs.

Both highways averaged over 20,000 vehicles per day a couple of years ago. Amazon’s planned distribution facility at 4620 172nd Street NE, south of Arlington Municipal Airport, is projected to add between 4,000 and 4,500 daily trips, a Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson said.

Traffic and transportation projects abound in Arlington, a city of about 20,500 residents, according to U.S. Census data. Roundabouts are being installed and planned, and the city plans to install a traffic signal at a busy intersection.

A recently built $2.48 million roundabout at 204th Street and 77th Avenue NE/Olympic Place caught the attention of nearby resident Floyd Ply, who was worried about speeding through the area. Ply said he has noticed more drivers going “way too fast” on Jensen Farm Lane, which connects 204th/207th Street NE with Olympic Place north of the roundabout.

“There has never been any kind of speed enforcement, even those (temporary) ‘your speed is’ devices,” Ply wrote to The Daily Herald. “Smokey Point has permanent devices of this sort just a couple of miles away on Cemetery Road. Just want to know if a child must die or maybe just a serious accident before this end of town is considered.”

Drivers speeding through that area was not on the radar for Arlington Public Works director Jim Kelly. But the city is bolstering a traffic-calming program.

“We are continuing to develop the program as Arlington grows and travel patterns change with the growth,” Kelly wrote in an email.

The city’s police and public works departments review speed and traffic volume data collected by radar monitors across Arlington’s roads, Kelly said. If speeds exceed the limit, the city can increase enforcement and patrols or install a digital speed detector that flashes vehicle speed at drivers going too fast.

Roundabouts are the traffic control infrastructure of choice in Arlington, where the state plans to install four on Highway 531 intersections at 43rd, 51st, 59th and 67th avenues northeast.

“Roundabouts have improved safety and managed congestion,” WSDOT spokesperson Kris Olsen said. “They are safer than traditional stop signs or signalized intersections.”

The state also intends to double the highway’s lanes to two in each direction to help address employment and population growth projections.

“This is an area that is continuing to develop and increase the annual amount of traffic,” Olsen said. “The highway needs to keep pace with it.”

WSDOT’s project has a $39.3 million budget funded by the state’s previous Connecting Washington transportation package. But work on it is expected to be delayed until 2023 because of interruptions to other state transportation work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Olsen said.

Widening the highway will require a lot of right-of-way acquisition and road building in an area where Arlington Municipal Airport, farms and fields line the shoulders.

It’s a complicated project. The state has to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration about relocating lights south of the airport. The flatness of the land there, which makes for great agricultural and air travel uses, also causes problems when it rains on the highway.

“The corridor is very flat, which means water does not drain well,” Olsen said.

West of the state’s projects, the city is planning a traffic signal at Highway 531 and 40th Avenue NE. That project is estimated to cost $1.4 million and was slated to begin later this year or in early 2022.

Just north, Arlington is planning a new two-lane road, 173rd Street NE, between Smokey Point Boulevard and Airport Road. The project is set for phases, with the first connecting from Smokey Point Boulevard to 40th Avenue NE. The city’s goal for the new street is to alleviate some traffic on 172nd Street NE. Work could start this summer.

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