Edmonds hires firm to tackle downtown traffic snarl

EDMONDS — The downtown traffic snarls caused by the convergence of ferries, trains and automobiles have plagued the city for decades. Now Tetra Tech, a Seattle consulting firm, has been given the challenge of finding a solution.

Tetra Tech will be working with a group appointed by the city to look at what the choices are available for solving the backups caused by a convergence of transportation systems — rail traffic that can block access to the waterfront, the lineup of cars waiting to board the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, and incoming traffic on SR 104 and 524.

The city has collected $690,000 for the study. Money for the project came from the state, Sound Transit, the Port of Edmonds, BNSF Railway, Community Transit, and the city’s budget.

The traffic analysis and a recommended solution is expected to take about a year, said Rick Shaefer, senior program manager at Tetra Tech. There’s a number of competing interests in a relatively compact area of downtown, he said.

“We have ferry traffic, both vehicle and pedestrian,” he said. “We have everybody trying to get to a (waterfront) park, and we have several there.” There’s the senior center west of the railroad tracks, restaurants, a scuba diving park, and the Port of Edmonds, he said.

“Safety and access go right together,” Shaefer said. The fire department has talked of its safety concerns for the area in public forums, he said.

The city estimates up to 40 trains pass through each day, blocking access to the waterfront for about 90 minutes. By 2030, that number could increase to up to 100 trains a day. And each year some 3.8 million people either drive or walk on to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry. They have to cross the tracks to do so.

One of the most recent suggestions to solving the traffic issues is to dig a trench to allow passing freight and passenger trains to get through the downtown waterfront area below grade. Overpasses or underpasses have also been suggested as work arounds for getting traffic over the train tracks. There also has been talk of moving the ferry terminal, but those plans were scuttled by the recession.

Tetra Tech is planning on having several opportunities for the public to provide its ideas on solving the problem, Shaefer said. The dates of those meetings are expected to be announced in about a month.

Tetra Tech will work with a group of four other companies on the project outlining solutions to the downtown traffic snarls. They will help in tasks such as engineering, environmental reviews, expertise in rail issues, and the design of whatever plan is finally adopted.

Both short-term and longer-term projects are being considered. “Something needs to be done sooner, not just later,” Shaefer said.

Of the $690,000 the city has for the traffic solution study, about $50,000 will go to compensate the city for staff time on the project, said Bertrand Hauss, the city’s transportation engineer.

The exact amount of the Tetra Tech contract has not yet been set but is expected to be in the low $600,000s, he said.

The advisory group appointed by Mayor Dave Earling to work with the contractor are: City Councilman Mike Nelson; Jim Orvis, a Port of Edmonds commissioner; Edmonds residents Kirk Greiner, Cadence Kerr and Phil Lovell; Joy Munkers, director of planning and development for Community Transit; Rick Wagner, manager of BNSF’s public projects Northwest division; Lynne Griffiths, assistant secretary, Washington State Ferries; Lorena Eng, regional administrator, Washington State Department of Transportation; Rob English, city engineer; and Patrick Doherty, director of the city’s Economic Development and Community Services.

Earling called the selection of a project consultant an important step for the community. “While there’s interest in several different potential solutions, we don’t have any answers until we go through a process like this,” he said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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