Highway project crucial to Stanwood

STANWOOD — Highway 532, the only connection to I-5 for people on Camano Island and in Stanwood, is to receive major improvements worth $80 million to improve traffic flow and safety.

Rapid population growth in the area has increased the highway’s traffic by about 70 percent over the past 10 years. The two-lane road now carries about 20,000 vehicles a day on some of its busiest stretches.

“There’ve been some serious accidents” along the highway, said Pat Richardson, a land developer in Stanwood.

The project includes adding turn lanes and pockets, improving signal timing and intersections, and replacing a narrow, aging bridge.

The highway is expected to remain a two-lane road. Crews plan to widen it in segments to add a slow-vehicle lane for trucks. Many trucks carrying produce and gravel now use the road, delaying other vehicles.

The project is mostly funded through by a 9.5-cent gas tax increase in 2005. The work is considered one of the larger road projects set to start early next year in Snohomish County, said Mike Cotten, a project manager for the state Department of Transportation. Construction for Highway 532 is expected to wrap up in winter 2010.

Richardson, who uses the highway to commute between Camano Island and Stanwood, is happy to see it getting some attention.

“Eventually, it’s going to be (four lanes) whether you like it or not,” he said. Stanwood “is not a cute little town of 1,500 people anymore. We have about 5,000 people.”

The highway won’t get those four lanes immediately, said Robyn Boyd, a state Transportation Department project engineer.

“We just don’t have enough money. We are trying to prioritize projects,” Boyd said.

The highway runs about 10 miles between Stanwood and Camano Island, flanked by several businesses.

Instead of bringing shoppers to town, many drivers just keep going because the highway doesn’t provide easy access to Stanwood businesses, said Richardson. “Improving the ability for people to be able to get on and off the highway makes a big difference for businesses in town.”

Outside Stanwood, the two-lane road runs through farmland. That matches the small-town atmosphere that Christie Connors of Camano Island cherishes.

“I’m not interested in seeing a four-lane highway going through Camano or Stanwood,” said Connors, executive director of Stanwood Camano Community Resource Center in Stanwood.

The most expensive part of the Highway 532 project is to replace the Gen. Mark W. Clark Memorial Bridge at the western end of Stanwood, Camano Island’s land link to the outside world. Engineers estimate it will cost $33 million to replace the 1949 span, which has no shoulder space.

“That’s a concern for people,” Connors said. “If there’s an accident on the bridge, you can’t get around.”

A new bridge will have two 12-foot-wide lanes for vehicles, separated by a 4-foot-wide median. In addition, there will be two 8-foot-wide paths for pedestrians and bicyclists. The bridge will be built wide enough to accommodate four lanes at a later date, according to a state Transportation Department Web site.

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, said that the old bridge has been a safety issue for many people for a long time.

“I support doing whatever needs to be done regarding safety improvements,” Bailey said. “I know the bridge is old.”

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.

Get involved

The state has set aside $80 million to improve safety and traffic flow on Highway 532. Information about the project is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov.

Those who may share ideas about the project may contact Robyn Boyd, a project engineer for the state Department of Transportation, at 425-225-8754 or BoydRL@wsdot.wa.gov; or Patty Michaud, a spokeswoman for the department, at 425-405-1785 or michaup@wsdot.wa.gov.

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