Traffic concerns linger as new Pilot J nears grand opening

A traffic study estimated the addition of 3,465 trips to the new Pilot Travel Center at Highway 530.

Pilot, the nation’s largest chain of interstate truck stops and travel centers, is building a complex in Arlington. (Contributed artist rendering)

Pilot, the nation’s largest chain of interstate truck stops and travel centers, is building a complex in Arlington. (Contributed artist rendering)

Traffic concerns linger as opening day nears for the new Pilot Travel Center at Highway 530 and Smokey Point Boulevard, just east of I-5 at exit 208 in Arlington.

The expansive new complex sits just west of the triangle-shaped intersection. The odd bit of land — which touches state, city and tribal boundaries — has long dogged local leaders with safety concerns, even without the addition of thousands of big rigs.

The city most recently penciled out a $10 million plan for an Island Crossing roundabout on the east side of the triangle. The conceptual funding plan would have included $1.8 million from the Pilot Flying J developer, likely through a local improvement district.

Still, more than three-quarters of the funding would have had to come from state coffers — and that didn’t happen.

WSDOT has a project for the area on its to-do list, a first step.

The Legislature would need to provide funding for the project to move into formal design, which would include determining what type of improvement to make, said Mike Koidal, an assistant traffic engineer with WSDOT.

Since the city’s original roundabout plan, crafted in 2014, the state has come up with the idea of instead installing two single-lane roundabouts on either side of the triangle.

Nothing is settled.

“It could be something entirely different,” Koidal noted.

Either way, with nothing in the works, no improvement is expected for at least six years.

The eastbound highway is a main artery leading to corn mazes and other outdoor activities as well as downtown Arlington, before meandering on toward Darrington and the mountains.

Highway 530 averages a daily volume of 12,000 vehicles, according to a Herald Business Journal story last year. A traffic study estimated the addition of 3,465 trips in and out of the Pilot Travel Center daily.

City leaders highlighted the Island Crossing project at a recent meeting with state lawmakers.

“The eventual improvements will be needed in the near future, but they are not essential right now,” said Kristin Banfield, a city spokeswoman. “Of course, we would like to see the improvements done soon, before they are needed and we are at critical mass.”

In the meantime, a traffic mitigation plan approved by WSDOT will have to suffice.

There will be three access points to the Pilot Travel Center, including two on Highway 530 and one on Smokey Point Boulevard.

Generally speaking, all trucks leaving Pilot will need to exit onto Smokey Point Boulevard and join Highway 530 at the triangle. There will be no access to the business for westbound drivers on Highway 530.

A business access point off Highway 530, closest to the I-5 interchange, will allow inbound right turns for eastbound traffic and outbound left and right turns for general vehicles only (no RVs or trucks).

The next access point east, on Highway 530 closest to the triangle, will allow inbound right turns for eastbound traffic and outbound right turns for general vehicles and RVs (no trucks).

A third access point off Smokey Point Boulevard will allow inbound and outbound turns for all traffic.

“Pilot Flying J worked closely with the Department of Transportation and the city of Arlington to obtain the necessary approvals and permits,” said Stephanie Myers, a spokeswoman for Pilot Flying J. “We are committed to being a positive contributor to both the local community and economy.”

The 9,520-square-foot Travel Center building is expected to feature a drive-through Arby’s, Cinnabon and the Pilot company’s own food offerings, along with eight truck fueling lanes, 12 high-speed gas pumps for cars and three for RVs, parking and a scale for trucks. Amenities include showers and public laundry.

The business is expected to open in late November.

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