Trees giving way to cars

A small forest hemmed into the I-5 median in south Everett is set to be cut down today.

The 15 acres of second-generation trees need to be clear-cut to make room for a $41 million Sound Transit park-and-ride and direct access I-5 interchange just north of the 112th Street SE overpass.

The new park-and-ride is scheduled to open by the end of 2007. The project includes widening 112th Street to six lanes.

The logging plan is to cut 10 acres of maple, alder, hemlock, fir and cedar by the end of October. The rest will get the ax next year, said Travis Phelps, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

“We’re trying to get a good portion of the trees north of 112th Street tackled before the end of the month,” he said. “It’s weather-dependent.”

The work was supposed to start in September, but scheduling conflicts delayed the job, Phelps said.

Losing the trees has some commuters concerned.

There has to be a way to cut fewer trees, said Kristi Neeleman, an Arlington resident who drives along I-5 to get to work in Seattle.

“It’s a great green buffer,” she said, far better to look at than the concrete barrier that is in the middle of the freeway along much of the Everett-to-Seattle route.

“It bothers me that they’re cutting down 15 acres,” she said. “Try 5 acres. Wal-Mart doesn’t have 15 acres for parking.”

Phelps said $500,000 would be spent to plant new trees and shrubs after the work is done.

“We’re not removing trees just to remove trees,” he said. “We’re removing just enough to be able to build the park-and-ride.”

The park-and-ride’s 400 parking spaces will take up much of the room, but not all.

Much of the 15 acres of cleared land is needed to build carpool-only ramps that will connect the park and ride directly to I-5 carpool lanes.

Those lanes need to be long to allow the buses that will stop in the park-and-ride to get up to speed before merging onto the freeway, Phelps said.

Estimates are that it would cost taxpayers an extra $10 million to $12 million if the park-and-ride were not built on land the state already owns, said Lee Somerstein, a spokesman for Sound Transit.

Jan Larsen of Lake Stevens thinks the money to build the park-and-ride would be better spent adding lanes.

Spending $41 million to take 400 cars off the road doesn’t add up, he said.

“It’s just a drop in the bucket,” Larsen said. “It’s totally meaningless. They’re just not thinking. They’re not thinking at all.”

Somerstein said the park-and-ride is part of a regional solution to gridlock, the same as adding light rail and more freeway lanes.

“This part of a regional system and a network,” Somerstein said. “One piece by itself doesn’t make it work.”

Somerstein said the middle of the freeway was selected as the site to build the park-and-ride because the state owns the unusually wide median at that location. That means it won’t have to buy or condemn private property to make room.

Any trees in the freeway forest that are large enough will be milled into lumber. Cherry Valley Logging will be paid $148,000 to remove the trees, Somerstein said.

Two retention ponds will be built to collect rainwater runoff. Several small wetlands on the project site will be left alone.

Locating the park-and-ride in the middle of the freeway will put riders and buses closer than the out-of-the-way lot now used in the Eastmont neighborhood, Somerstein said.

The new location should shave nine minutes off a round-trip bus ride to Seattle from south Everett, Somerstein said.

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