MARYSVILLE — Traffic coming in and out of the expanding Smokey Point shopping district west of I-5 is a perennial hot topic.
Many of the complaints come down to a single intersection.
Longtime Lake Goodwin resident Linda Kuhlman frequents the area for appointments and shopping.
“With all of the recent development in the area — apartments, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc. — the traffic has become a nightmare at the 27th Avenue intersection” with Highway 531, she noted. The highway also is known as 172nd Street NE in that stretch.
Other drivers have noted similar angst.
Staff with Marysville and the Washington State Department of Transportation say they continue to look at ways to improve congestion in the short-term, while waiting on future development for bigger-ticket improvements in the long-term.
The biggest improvement in line so far is a new road that would provide an alternative to 27th Avenue for Lakewood-end drivers.
The new connector would be an extension of 169th Place NE west and 23rd Avenue NE south to meet. That would connect drivers from the Highway 531 roundabout at 23rd Avenue to Lakewood Crossing, with 169th Place entering the complex between Best Buy and Target.
Design work is scheduled for this year. Construction could begin as early as 2018.
The city has budgeted $2.5 million to build a two-lane road, said Connie Mennie, a spokeswoman for Marysville. It would fall to a developer building in the area to eventually expand the road out to four lanes.
It’s just one of many new roads called for in the area under the city’s 2015 comprehensive plan. More long-range plans, for example, would extend 19th Avenue NE south and 169th Place NE further west to meet. That project was estimated at $9.3 million in 2015.
In the more immediate future, proposed fixes for the traffic glut include:
Re-stripe 27th Avenue to allow for a longer left-turn lane. The city is doing a traffic study to see if it could work. If it does, it would be rolled into the regular annual striping program, with work in late spring or early summer.
Currently, the left-turn lane has capacity for only about six vehicles. Many more drivers aim to turn left, however, onto westbound Highway 531, which means the line often spills over into the through lane.
Eliminate the ability to make U-turns. Not many drivers make U-turns on Highway 531 at the westbound intersection with 27th Avenue. But about 12 percent of the collisions at the intersection are related to U-turns, Mennie said. And collisions cause backups. WSDOT is working to remove the U-turn option this year.
“We want to complete it as soon as possible,” spokesman Tom Pearce said.
Prevent traffic exiting southbound I-5 to turn left at 27th. It’s allowed, but it’s not easy. Traffic exiting southbound I-5 onto westbound Highway 531 has to cross three lanes of traffic within about a block’s worth of space to turn left at 27th Avenue.
New curbing and signage could prevent that dash, instead sending drivers to the 23rd Avenue roundabout to do a U-turn there, Mennie said. Those changes could come as early as 2018.
All of the fixes will make a dent in the problem. But larger solutions will have to wait.
Development brought us traffic. And it will take more development to apply big-ticket improvements.
“In theory new developers would be required to construct new roadways or widen the roadways in front of their properties,” Mennie said.
That could include widening Highway 531 to four lanes, between 27th and 19th avenues, a needed project that was estimated at more than $8.5 million in 2015.
Other plans call for roundabouts along Highway 531 at 19th Avenue NE and at 11th Avenue NE, as well as extending 27th Avenue farther south.
In addition, state funding is in hand for WSDOT to turn the 156th Street NE overpass at I-5 into a full interchange, which would spur further new roadwork by the city in the area. Preliminary work on the $42 million interchange is expected to start in 2025.
Relying on developers has been a typical funding route in recent cash-strapped years. The roundabout at 23rd Avenue NE was constructed as part of commercial development, for example. So, too, were 27th Avenue and 169th Place.
New development also spurs fresh traffic studies, which can bring their own changes.
That could include something like an added right-turn lane eastbound on Highway 531 at 27th Avenue, something Kuhlman suggested.
Like others, Kuhlman also wondered about the role of the roundabout at 23rd Avenue, which already seemed undersized for the area when it opened to traffic last year.
The roundabout is working as designed, Mennie said. “It slows you down — that’s why it’s there.”
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