Finishing Highway 522 widening? Add it to the long(shot) list

There are a lot of high-priority road projects out there that are lost in planning la-la land until the actual money to complete them shows up.

The Highway 2 eastbound trestle between Lake Stevens and Everett is perhaps the most notorious.

Widening Highway 9 to bring relief to an increasingly clogged corridor is another.

And those who live in Monroe and other communities in east Snohomish County would quickly and loudly add the completion of widening Highway 522.

The proposed widening of Highway 522 between Paradise Lake Road and the Snohomish River Bridge remains unfunded. The highway on either side of the section is widened, thanks to past state projects. But the gap has yet to be closed.

The reduction from four lanes to two sucks traffic into a bottleneck.

“It stays bumper to bumper until I hit the (Snohomish) River bridge,” said Pamela Cook of Monroe, who works in Bellevue. Backups get so bad, it can take 45 minutes to travel just 10 miles.

“Let’s hope the funding comes through,” Cook said. “Everyone is complaining about 405 toll lanes, but the 522 part of my commute is so much worse.”

Some funding secured

Highway 522 improvements were practically a done deal in 2007, until voters rejected a massive Roads and Transit package that included a key piece of the project.

Eight years later, the project still is not complete, though a baby step has been secured.

The most recent state transportation budget set aside $10 million to design a new interchange at Paradise Lake Road, which currently is managed with a traffic signal. That doesn’t address the unfinished widening project. And the money won’t even be released, at this point, until 2025. There’s no construction money earmarked.

Until lawmakers can pool their influence and agree on a plan of attack, it’s the best that can be hoped for, said state Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, who crafted the amendment. The section of highway that remains to be widened is in his district.

That cold reality is true far beyond 522, Moscoso added, which doesn’t make getting 522 done any easier.

“Having been on the Transportation Commission now for five years, and until last year not really having a revenue package that could address anything — let alone putting it off for 10 or 12 years — is extremely frustrating,” Moscoso said. “We can look at the DOT schedules and the support and the requests from the local community… (But) unless we can find a sustainable revenue source to catch up, I don’t know how we’re going to get ahead on these projects.”

Tangled history

As far as state lawmakers involved at the time were concerned, the deal was done with the Regional Transportation Investment District agreement that sparked the failed ballot measure.

State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said Snohomish County government still has a role to play — the project can’t all fall on the state’s shoulders. “Very few people know the history lesson,” he said.

A pile of dirt was even left by state crews for the county to finish the project, he said. It’s still sitting there near the Paradise Lake signal, said Kristiansen, who commutes the corridor himself to Woodinville.

Leadership at Snohomish County has turned over a few times since then, and many projects stalled during the Great Recession.

“Snohomish County Public Works will continue to work with WSDOT to get this project built as soon as possible to best serve our residents,” said Owen Carter, deputy director of Public Works.

Still speaking up

Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas, Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick and U.S. 2 Traffic Safety Coalition’s Fred Walser of Sultan are among those leading the charge to secure funding.

Both city councils as well as the Monroe School Board have passed resolutions calling for funding and asking the county for help pushing for the project.

The next legislative session starts in January, and they plan to be back in Olympia making their case.

“We are concerned that if something is not done to fund to finish State Route 522, that it could be decades before the final improvements are made,” Thomas said.

Timeline

2001: WSDOT finished widening Highway 522 between Highway 9 and Paradise Lake Road

2003: Legislature expects RTID funding package to include continue widening Highway 522 to the Snohomish River

As a result, Legislature assigns Nickel Funding to logical next step, widening Highway 522 from the Snohomish River to U.S. 2

2006: New interchange at Echo Lake Road opens to traffic

RTID projects list drafted, including $1.5 billion for Snohomish County projects

2007: Voters turn down proposed $17.8 billion Roads and Transit package on Nov. 6 ballot, which included $127 million to widen Highway 522 to the Snohomish River and add a Paradise Lake Road interchange

2008: When construction could have begun if Roads and Transit package passed

2011: Construction on widening highway from Snohomish River to U.S. 2 starts

2012: New flyover ramp to eastbound U.S. 2 opens to traffic

2014: Added lanes from Snohomish River to U.S. 2 open to traffic

2015: State transportation funding package includes $10 million for design of Paradise Lake Road interchange, starting in 2025

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