Traffic from growth could create costly nightmare

The thought in Therese Quinn’s mind when she moved a decade ago into her home south of Lake Stevens was: Traffic? What traffic?

“I didn’t even really notice it. One of the things I was impressed with was the lack of traffic,” Quinn said.

Part 3 of 4

Stretching the Limits: A look at how the county will handle its population boom.

Today: Improving the county’s tranportation system.

Wednesday: Building new parks for new residents.

Now 10 years later, Quinn, like other motorists, doesn’t make a move without considering traffic.

Even quick trips close to home can turn out to be not so speedy.

“The traffic can be really horrible. Something that takes you five minutes can turn into a half-hour really quick,” Quinn said.

As Snohomish County officials update their growth plans – and decide where to funnel the next wave of growth that may mean a population spurt of 330,000 more people living here by 2025 – roads across the county will have to be improved to handle the crush of more cars on an already stressed system.

Look at the potential traffic troubles by the numbers and it’s staggering.

County planners have identified more than 100 areas where traffic will worsen. The number of trouble spots rises to 132 under the fastest growth scenario the county is considering.

Fixing these problems won’t be cheap.

Estimates range from $603 million to $903 million. And the county faces revenue shortfalls even if officials decide on a slow-growth scenario and fewer roads need fixing.

The budget gap could be between $202 million and $477 million. Add to that the cost of just maintaining roads over the next 20 years: $1 billion.

Deciding how to cover that cost is the tough part.

Suggested solutions include limiting the expansion of urban areas, phasing growth and charging developers more money for their projects. Those ideas, however, are sure to be opposed by the building industry.

Other ideas include raising fuel taxes to 2.8 centers per gallon, reinstating the $15 license fee on vehicles and raising property taxes. Though lately, cutting taxes has been more popular with the public than raising them.

There’s also the idea of taking tax money away from parks and spending it on roads instead. Even if that approach is approved, it won’t cover the money gap for building and maintaining roads.

Cory Ryan, a marine engineer who commutes from Everett to Seattle for work, said he’d like to see developers pay more when they build.

“I feel like developers have gotten away with a lot over the years. They should have more of an impact fee,” Ryan said.

James Monroe, who lives south of Lake Stevens, disagrees.

“Those (fees) are going to be passed onto the consumer,” he said, the people who are buying new homes.

“That really doesn’t fix anything,” he said.

Improving mass transit, and getting more cars off the road, might be a solution, Monroe said.

Quinn agrees. But for her, it’s not an option right now.

“I would have to drive halfway to where I’m going to get on a bus,” she said.

And because her neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks in many places, Quinn is worried that it wouldn’t be safe for her children to walk to a bus stop.

One thing the county can do is refuse to allow growth to continue where roads aren’t fixed, Quinn said. Instead of allowing road improvements to lag up to six years behind development, improvements should be finished by the time people move in. Or sooner.

“We’re sort of becoming really urbanized in a lot of ways, but we don’t have that urban infrastructure,” Quinn said.

“I’d like to see the county making sure that when they do allow more houses to be built, that the infrastructure is there, before the people get there.”

Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or kelly@heraldnet.com.

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