Big changes coming to roads in popular North Creek area

Snohomish County Public Works is planning arterial improvements on 43rd Ave. SE from SR 524 to Sunset Road at 180th St. SE. (Map courtesy of Snohomish County)

BOTHELL — After neighbors on a rural street at the edge of the state’s hottest new housing market complained about an onslaught of traffic, roads officials blocked off the street from nearby subdivisions.

That happened this summer. But 43rd Avenue SE won’t remain a dead end for long.

A traffic study released this fall suggests that the county needs to step on the gas to make sure the road grid keeps up with population growth in the North Creek area of unincorporated Snohomish County, near Bothell and Mill Creek. One potential remedy for increased car and truck traffic is punching through 43rd Avenue in two spots, to turn it into a north-south arterial. That’s one of a half-dozen future road projects recommended in the study. That comes in addition to work already planned for widening stretches of nearby 35th Avenue SE and Seattle Hill Road.

“With the growth we’re seeing, we know the improvements need to happen,” said Doug McCormick, the county’s transportation and environmental services director.

“The upshot, in a nutshell, is it told us we needed to accelerate the 43rd Avenue project,” McCormick said.

The combined roadwork is estimated to cost up to $50 million, county roads officials said. Major arterials would grow in urban areas to three lanes, with a bike lane, a curb, gutter and sidewalks on both sides.

The recent study looked at the area between the Bothell-Everett Highway to the west and Highway 9 to the east, from 180th Street SE in the north to 228th Street SE in the south. It’s mostly unincorporated, but includes small parts of the cities of Bothell and Mill Creek. It takes a closer look at some of the growth challenges examined as part of the county’s 2015 comprehensive plan, which looked at needs over the next 20 years.

The population in the study area tops 20,000 now. It’s expected to grow to 28,000 by 2035. The county during the past five years issued building permits for more than 2,300 single-family homes there, as well as permits for 250 apartment and condo units.

The construction boom also has caused enrollment to billow at local schools. The Northshore and Everett districts serve parts of the area, and are working on plans for new schools as they get by for now with the help of portable classrooms.

A few dozen homeowners along 43rd Avenue SE are unintentional rural holdouts who are watching as the landscape transforms around them. While they live on property that generally restricts development to one house per 5 acres, houses on the other side of 188th Street SE allow six or more homes per acre.

Their street had been been a dead end, until the county in 2014 opened it up at 188th Street.

Roads officials reversed that decision this summer by blocking off the road. Soon after, however, people living on the street received notices about the county’s long-term plans to extend and widen 43rd Avenue. The news from the traffic study comes as no surprise to people such as Chuck Austin, who has been petitioning the county to add his neighborhood in the urban-growth boundary. He’s OK with them modernizing the road, if they also update his zoning to reflect what’s happening all around.

“We would like for them to use 43rd, and to allow us to be rezoned, which they have not committed to do in any manner,” he said.

Austin and other neighbors have submitted a rezone request to the county. The County Council isn’t due to reach a final decision before 2019, if it gets that far.

Also weighing on Austin’s mind is the new North Creek High School, on land between his back yard and 35th Avenue SE. It’s built for 1,600 students. He wonders how that might affect traffic when the school opens in 2017.

“Once that school opens up, it’s going to slam that road so hard that it’ll basically shut down the area,” he said.

Council Chairman Terry Ryan, who represents the area as part of Council District 4, supports 43rd Avenue and other road upgrades.

“The fact is we need more north-south capacity and connectivity,” he said. “But the earliest it would happen is in six years.”

Ryan also said he considers the rural zoning on parts of 43rd Avenue a mistake that should be set right.

Major work is on the horizon for nearby county arterials.

A project to widen Seattle Hill Road to three lanes between 35th Avenue and 132nd Street SE is out to bid now and expected to start construction next spring, McCormick said.

Once that segment is complete, the county plans to start widening 35th Avenue from Seattle Hill Road down to 180th Street SE. A second phase of that project will widen 35th from 180th south to Maltby Road.

The recent traffic study also calls for several improvements on north-south arterials.

Improvements on 43rd Avenue would include two new sections, one from 184th Street SE up to Sunset Road and another from 196th Street SE to 200th Street SE.

Widening on 39th Avenue would broaden the route to three lanes from 228th Street SE to 207th Street SE.

Over the long term, the county also may consider extending 51st Avenue SE from 196th Street SE, where it stops now, down to Maltby Road. That’s a lower priority than many of the other projects outlined in the study and is likely years further away.

Other widening projects are recommended in the study are on the east-west routes of 180th Street SE and 228th Street SE.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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