Roads to nowhere a part of ‘rural’ life

Connecting north-south roads across the county line would take a Herculean political effort.

Perry Lea bought a house on Echo Lake near the Maltby area. He soon regretted it.

“The area there is definitely beautiful,” Lea said by phone from his current residence in Idaho. But the “monumental traffic jams every single day” are a source of soul-sapping frustration.

“When you’re in southeast Snohomish County, there’s basically only two routes to get to any kind of thoroughfare or artery,” he noted. Those are Echo Lake Road, the most direct route to Highway 522, or High Bridge Road, a more circuitous route that takes you to Highway 203.

Widening the rest of Highway 522 is an obvious need. But there’s also a need for more north-south roads, Lea said. “At least for safety… You could have a situation like Paradise, Calif., and you could have no way out.”

There doesn’t need to be a natural disaster either. For example, an Echo Lake Road culvert replacement will close Echo Lake Road at 214th Place SE for about two weeks in summer 2019. The full detour stretches nine miles onto other busy roads, including Fales Road.

Meanwhile, Lea can stand at the end of his road, 131st Avenue SE, and see another road, 216th Avenue NE, that continues south.

“It’s in visible walking distance. In fact there’s a gated walking path,” he said.

But no pavement fit for a car.

It’s one of many such gaps that, together, are the most visible sign of the invisible boundary between Snohomish and King counties.

There’s little chance of connecting such roads.

“At the closest point, Snohomish and King counties’ right of way ends about a quarter mile before the county line on each side of the border, separated by private property,” noted Doug McCormick, a Snohomish County engineer. “Therefore to make these connections, much right of way would need to be purchased by both counties, which is costly.”

To make such a move, both Snohomish and King counties would have to coordinate efforts and update their comprehensive plans. And it likely would require building bigger roads, not extending smaller residential streets.

As it is, the county’s current transportation policy calls for avoiding major new roads in such areas, McCormick said.

That policy, influenced by both the Growth Management Act and the Puget Sound Regional Council, states: “To maintain rural character, major new rural roads and major expansions of existing rural roads should be avoided. Where increased roadway capacity in rural areas is warranted to support safe and efficient travel, measures should be taken to prevent unplanned growth.”

(Believe it or not, the Maltby area is still considered rural — barely.)

Snohomish County has started the preliminary work on its next comprehensive plan update, to be completed by 2023.

“There will be opportunities for public involvement during that process and we would love to hear community input like this,” McCormick said.

Those opportunities are expected later in 2020.

Lea likely won’t be part of the conversation.

The Wisconsin native had been moving farther and farther northwest, hoping to get to the Seattle or Portland area, closer to Microsoft, his employer. “I never thought I’d be living for a long time in Idaho,” he said.

But now? He’s planning to sell the Echo Lake house and keep working remotely.

Melissa Slager’s last day at The Herald was Dec. 21, after more than four years as the Street Smarts reporter. Her last column runs next week.

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