A truck pulls out onto U.S. 2 from Main Street in Sultan on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A truck pulls out onto U.S. 2 from Main Street in Sultan on Thursday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

As Sultan grows, city backs a 4-lane highway with roundabouts

Already the state is in the early design stage for a U.S. 2 roundabout to replace the signal at Fern Bluff and Old Owen roads.

U.S. 2 travelers could be side-by-side across four lanes through Sultan within two decades, according to a city-funded long-range report about the highway.

Earlier this year, community, regional and technical groups along with the Sultan City Council agreed to pursue a four-lane highway as the preferred option. The report proposes to replace existing traffic signals with roundabouts, add a roundabout at Main Street and build new four-lane bridges with room for bicycles and sidewalks for an estimated $177 million.

“There’s a lot of steps before we accomplish this,” Mayor Russell Wiita said during the City Council meeting Jan. 26.

Most of the money for it remains to be secured, but already some pieces are in early design stages.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is working toward swapping out the traffic signal at Old Owen and Fern Bluff roads. It is part of $17 million in safety improvements that also include curb ramps, pedestrian crossing markings, reflectors, rumble strips and truck aprons between Gold Bar and Monroe.

Design on the safety improvements project started in February, with the project estimated to go out for bids in late 2024 and be finished in June 2027, WSDOT spokesperson Eric Zackula said Wednesday.

“Sometimes they slip forward, sometimes they slip back.” he said.

The city is leading work to build a roundabout at the highway’s intersection with Main Street. The Puget Sound Regional Council backed the estimated $3.3 million project with $780,000 in federal funding.

It’s a tangible step toward potential major changes to the highway known for heavy traffic backups, especially on weekends, that can leave residents feeling trapped at home.

Over 100 people attended an open house in May 2022 to hear about four options initially proposed. Each proposed between three and five lanes for the highway, some with roundabouts some with signals.

An online survey between May and July got 920 responses. Most of the respondents said they came from Sultan and traveled to Monroe or Everett.

Travel time and difficulty making a regional trip were the top problems, according to survey results. Adding lanes was the favored solution, with bolstered transit, bike lanes and pedestrian crossings a distant second.

But the effect of four-lane roundabouts could be limited as it still connects to a two-lane highway with bridges where lane width can’t be added by making shoulders smaller.

“It really is important to look at it as a unit,” Victor Salemann, president of the city’s consulting firm Transportation Solutions, told the council. “Everything we do at each intersection is affected by both bridges and other intersections both upstream and downstream.”

Eventually, the goal is to make U.S. 2 into a four-lane highway through Sultan city limits, according to documents submitted to the Puget Sound Regional Council.

Highway expansion critics point to the problem of “induced demand” in which shortly after a road widens, drivers rush to fill it, as reported by The New York Times in January. Other publications such as Bloomberg and Wired have noted this trend in the past decade.

But Sultan is served by one state highway and meandering county roads that aren’t designed for the traffic surges they host now. Its options for traffic relief and routes are limited.

The city has an estimated 6,200 residents, according to U.S. Census data.

An average of 23,000 vehicles used U.S. 2 through Sultan every day in 2021, according to state data.

Population grew in Sultan, like much of the state, in recent years and more housing is coming, but improvements to the highway haven’t kept pace, State Sen. Brad Hawkins wrote in an email.

“Making safety and traffic flow improvements along (U.S.) 2 are a must have and definitely of statewide significance, considering the vast numbers of drivers travelling across (U.S.) 2 in both directions of our state,” Hawkins wrote.

His legislative district includes stretches across Chelan, King and Snohomish counties. In the session this year, Hawkins sought $5 million in the transportation budget for design and right-of-way acquisition for a bridge replacement and to build a roundabout at Sultan Basin Road and U.S. 2. Like a lot of new projects, it didn’t make it into the budget.

But Hawkins said he is committed to seeking state funding and supporting federal funding for U.S. 2 projects, as well as moving to zero-emission vehicles and transit options along the corridor. But the the latter two won’t succeed without new lanes, he said.

Traffic hovered around 21,000 vehicles a day even when the highway was closed during the Bolt Creek wildfire in September. The fire coincided with a seven-day traffic count by Transportation Solutions, Salemann told the council.

“There were enough people in Sultan that want to travel that that filled up the road the same amount as regional traffic,” he said.

The report splits 10 projects across four phases, which could take decades to complete.

The first phase includes roundabouts at Fern Bluff and Old Owen roads, Main Street and changing the 339th Avenue SE roundabout from one lane each direction to multiple lanes. A developer would pay for the 339th Avenue SE roundabout revision.

Phase two includes the downtown Sultan section and converting the intersection at Sultan Basin Road into a roundabout.

The third phase calls for wider bridges across the Sultan River and Wagleys Creek.

The fourth phase includes widening the rest of the highway within the city limits.

Have a question? Call 425-339-3037 or email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

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