LAKE STEVENS — No one knows when drivers will get relief from the daily bottleneck getting on the U.S. 2 trestle and heading west to I-5.
And no one knows how long it will be before the aging westbound span is replaced.
But pieces of this mega-project puzzle are falling into place, generating a greater degree of momentum than Lake Stevens Mayor John Spencer has measured before.
“The biggest issue for me right now is to not lose the little bit of momentum we’ve got started to try to fix the trestle,” he said.
He and members of the Lake Stevens City Council will carry the message to members of Congress and federal transportation officials in Washington, D.C., later this month. Federal dollars will be essential to getting work started and finished.
“We’re very hopeful if we keep moving forward that we’ll be first in line when something comes out,” he said. “We need to keep the momentum going because without that we’ll get overtaken by other priorities.”
This is shaping up to be a critical year for an undertaking with an estimated pricetag of $1 billion today.
A report due out in June will reveal what city, county and state folks think is the best way to unclog traffic where Highway 204, 20th Street SE and U.S. 2 converge on the east end of the westbound trestle.
Those compiling the Interchange Justification Report started with eight concepts, looked at three of those more closely and have zeroed in on a preliminary preferred alternative.
“We’re progressing exactly as we thought we would,” said Cathy George, an engineering manager for the state Department of Transportation who is shepherding the report to the finish line.
This preferred alternative creates the potential for four lanes on the trestle — three for general purpose and one for carpools and high-occupancy vehicles.
Highway 204 and 20th Street SE would be separated with the highway following a roughly similar alignment onto the trestle, she said. What drivers would find newest is 20th Street SE would be constructed over Highway 204 — known as a flyover — and connect with the trestle farther west.
U.S. 2 would be generally the same alignment and stay as two lanes, rather than reducing to one lane.
Once the report is done, the potential environmental impacts must be examined. Not wanting to lose time, lawmakers from Snohomish County are working to secure $2 million in state funds for the work in the supplemental transportation budget. It may take two years to finish after which the conversation on designing and building can get serious.
Meanwhile, another study released in January took a first crack at how to pay for a new interchange and trestle. No surprise the primary options included federal funds, a state gas tax increase, tolling, taxes collected through a transportation benefit district and a public-private partnership.
Under its “best-case scenario” — in which required studies are done on time and a source of funding locked in — construction could begin in mid-2023 and last around five years, according to this report.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, pushed to get the study done even before knowing how much it will cost. As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, he knows of the public’s distaste of tolls and gas taxes and it’s going to take time to talk through the options.
“We’re not going to build a trestle this year,” he said. “You want to have all the knowledge about all the tools, get the information to the public and see which ones they want.”
As the trestle project moves along, two area elected officials think it’s time to consider building another road to get commuters in east Snohomish County onto I-5.
The idea is to extend Highway 526, also known as the Boeing Freeway, from I-5 to Highway 9 where a new bridge is to be built across the Snohomish River, and eventually to U.S. 2 in Monroe.
Cars would travel from the interstate across farmland to Lowell Snohomish Road on the route eyed by Sam Low, a Republican Snohomish County Councilman, and Mark Harmsworth, a Republican state lawmaker from Mill Creek. The highway would run parallel to the local road up to the bridge. A later phase would extend it farther east.
They’re not wed to a specific route and figure there are experts who will determine that.
“We need to put our trust and faith in to the great engineers we have in Washington state,” Low said.
The purpose is to get other options for the influx of residents in that part of the county.
“The issue is capacity,” Low said. “We need more east-west, west-east capacity to handle all the growth into our region. We need to continue working with (Department of Transportation) on the trestle, but we really need to focus on a second route.”
It won’t be cheap. In 2006, a proposal to extend Highway 526 as a four-lane toll road from I-5 to U.S. 2 near Bickford Avenue was considered for inclusion in a ballot measure. The “ballpark” cost of that project was $1 billion.
Harmsworth is seeking $100,000 in the state transportation budget to pay for a study on whether the idea could work.
“I think we can spend a little money to tell us if this concept is doable,” Harmsworth said.
They’ve broached the subject with Hobbs, Spencer and a handful of other elected officials in the community.
“I don’t think that it’s a viable option,” Hobbs said. “It doesn’t make any sense to build something that costs more than the trestle.”
Spencer isn’t enamored with the idea either. And he’s concerned it could impede the all-important momentum for a fix.
“Maybe it fits into a larger strategy but not at the expense of getting this trestle fixed,” Spencer said. “I need both of them to say Highway 2 and the trestle are the highest priorities to be fixed. That is the bottom line.”
Harmsworth is on board.
“We still need the trestle done,” he said. “I don’t want to slow that down.”
Herald writer Noah Haglund contributed to this report.