Overpass work under way

The commuter-hour traffic that jams Highway 522 in Maltby is legendary, say those unlucky enough to get stuck on the two-lane road each weekday morning and evening.

The most-congested – and most-accident prone – section of the highway is where it intersects with Fales and Echo Lake roads, an intersection just northeast of where the highway narrows from a four-lane divided highway to a jam-packed two-lane country road.

Construction started Wednesday on a $36 million overpass that will allow highway traffic to flow over Fales and Echo Lake roads. It will eliminate one of the worst choke points on one of the most-congested roads in Snohomish County, said Victoria Tobin, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman. The project is scheduled to finish in fall 2006.

Locals have been waiting a long time for the intersection to be improved.

“We wished it would have started last year,” said Greg Stephens, vice president of the Maltby Neighborhood Alliance.

He said the traffic’s so bad that during the worst hour or so of each commute. “It’s faster to walk.”

Traffic backs up to Monroe on the morning drive to I-405 and often to Woodinville in the evenings, said Dave Lindberg, project engineer for the state transportation department.

Lindberg said the agency only has money enough to build one bridge at the overpass, but added the footings for a second are being built so another bridge and third and fourth lanes can be added when more money is available.

The state does have funding to widen Highway 522 to four lanes from the Snohomish River to U.S. 2, a $111 million project scheduled to start in 2009 and finish in 2011. That money will come from the nickel-a-gallon gas tax increase the state Legislature approved in 2003.

There’s also a plan but no funding to finish widening the highway from Paradise Lake Road to the Snohomish River. Nor is there money to build a planned overpass at Paradise Lake Road.

Ramps on the south side will be built first and will be used as a detour while the bridge and other ramps are built.

“Traffic will be unimpeded,” Lindberg said, adding there will only be intermittent closures during noncommuting hours.

The bridge will be the Puget Sound region’s first “single-point intersection.” That means it will have ramps meet at one traffic signal, rather than having two signals on both sides of the overpass, a format called a cloverleaf.

The new approach will speed travel time across the overpass and will be cheaper because it uses less space, Tobin said.

Stephens said he’s making a pitch for the state to include a wildlife corridor large enough for deer, bear and other animals that move through the area. He said the state has been receptive, but told him he will have to seek grants and other help to pay the $500,000 extra cost.

Stephens’ plan would replace the state’s planned culvert into nearby Evans Creek with a 20-foot wide, 12-foot tall culvert that would allow wildlife and hikers to cross the highway unimpeded.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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