Going east from Lynnwood, Highway 524 curves down a ravine to swampland that remains evident along the roadside, skirts Bothell’s city limits and eventually ends at Maltby.
The highway directly connects four communities: Edmonds, Lynnwood, Bothell and Maltby.
In Lynnwood, its five lanes are 196th Street SW. East of city limits at 24th Avenue W, the highway winnows to two lanes. During afternoon rush hour, that bottleneck creates backups into Lynnwood.
But a bit of relief could be on the distant horizon.
A proposed House transportation package includes $15 million toward widening fewer than three miles between 24th Avenue W and and Bothell city limits, but it will have to survive negotiations and the governor’s pen. The $15 million would revise environmental work and finish design, but a planning-level estimate from a coalition of Snohomish County groups puts the total project’s cost around $100 million, Snohomish County Public Works deputy director Doug McCormick said.
Highway 524, which spans 196th Street SW, Filbert Road, 208th Street SE, Maltby Road and 212th Street SE, between the Edmonds Ferry Terminal and Yew Way in Maltby has been the subject of growth desires for decades.
But after voters rejected a transportation tax proposition in 2007, hopes to widen the highway were sidelined. Instead, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) cobbled together smaller projects over the years, including roundabouts at intersections with Larch Way and Locust Way/Magnolia Road.
Interest in adding capacity to the road has persisted for people in the area, including Michael Scherping, who asked The Daily Herald if there was any progress on road expansion.
“I was curious to know what the plan is with widening Highway 524 between Bothell and Lynnwood now that Lynnwood has an ambitious city center plan,” he wrote in an email. “I imagine this road will be widened sometime before 2024 when light rail is operational, but my research only turns up abandoned plans in favor of some roundabouts? Is that really all they intend to do? This road needs widening pronto. I’ve lived in the area for 20 years and it’s always been a disaster.”
He’s not alone. State Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, said she’s heard from people in the 21st Legislative District for the past three years about traffic along the two-lane highway.
“We’ve got to do something to widen that highway,” she said. “It’s at capacity at this point.”
For two lanes, it’s a busy stretch. About 22,000 vehicles per day traveled between the Larch Way and Locust Way roundabouts in 2019, according to WSDOT data.
One issue hindering some relief of the car congestion is that the 35 mph road is too narrow for buses.
Community Transit’s district covers the area, including bus routes along Highway 527, I-405, and through Bothell. But the only Highway 524 service is in Lynnwood along 196th Street SW and goes west toward Edmonds.
Part of the reason is the width of the road, especially a bridge over Swamp Creek too narrow for buses. There are no sidewalks between 24th Avenue W and Ninth Avenue SE, which means Community Transit can’t install stops. But a wider road could create enough space for buses, sidewalks and stops.
“We are excited to see infrastructure improvements being discussed for Highway 524 in the southeast part of the county,” Community Transit spokesperson Monica Spain said.
Details about the project aren’t available. If it survives the final days of the regular legislative session, a report about it will be furnished that examines the roadway more closely, Ortiz-Self said. Improving bus access is one of her priorities for the highway.
“If we can increase transit through there, and then we have Sound Transit where people can go from one transit mode to another, that will save us a lot of traffic jams as well,” she said. “Plus, it’s more environmentally agreeable.”
In Lynnwood, the city recently started work to widen 196th Street SW from five to seven lanes with a planter median and wider sidewalks. The $50 million project is part of the city’s response to and anticipation of population growth, especially in light of light rail operating in Lynnwood in 2024.
Widening the road beyond city limits will ease traffic congestion as people drive east, Lynnwood city engineer David Mach said.
“If you look at aerial imagery of the area over the last 20, 30 years, you see a lot of development has happened,” he said. “But the roads are still the same old roads. There are a lot more people living and working in the area, and that trend will continue.”
Bothell made similar improvements. The House package proposal would connect them.
“It really needs to have that widening in that stretch to tie into the widening that Bothell has done to the east and what Lynnwood has done to the west,” McCormick said.
On the distant horizon, Lynnwood has designed a six-lane bridge from Poplar Way to 33rd Avenue W. It would cross over I-5 from from 196th Street SW, letting northbound drivers avoid the existing circuitous route to reach Alderwood mall and other destinations off of 33rd Avenue W.
“By putting another connection through I-5, it spreads the load and reduces the congestion on the other crossings,” Mach said.
There’s a long journey before any Highway 524 work could begin. First, the House and Senate transportation budgets need to align. Some project give-and-take is likely. Then Gov. Jay Inslee has to sign the bill without any further changes. With funding in place, WSDOT could plan and oversee the work.
“My hope is we’ll be able to get that into the Senate budget and pass it,” Ortiz-Self said.
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