U.S. 2 bypass plan is set

MONROE – A proposal to build a U.S. 2 bypass around Monroe in phases was revealed this week, turning a longtime vision into a concrete plan to improve the congested, dangerous highway.

“In the long run, it’s going to be cheaper and safer” than expanding the existing highway sandwiched by business buildings in the city, said Sultan Police Chief Fred Walser, who has been leading efforts to improve the highway.

City and the state officials want to build the two-lane bypass in three phases. First, they plan to extend Highway 522 from its interchange with U.S. 2 about 3,000 feet northeast and build a roundabout, said Tom Gathmann, the city’s engineer.

Then, they want to build a 1.2-mile eastward road from the roundabout to U.S. 2 east of the city limits.

The project’s third phase is to build a road westward from the roundabout to U.S. 2 west of Monroe. But traffic projections indicate that final phase won’t be needed before 2030, Gathmann said.

Monroe spent $58,000 estimating the cost of the bypass project and conducting a traffic analysis, Gathmann said.

The project is expected to improve safety and traffic congestion on U.S. 2, officials said. Since 1999, 43 people have died in accidents on the two-lane highway between Everett and Skykomish, according to state records. Of those fatalities, 14 occurred in head-on collisions.

The proposed bypass is one of the improvement projects suggested by state officials in a $1.3 million safety study. The study is due in spring 2007.

State engineers also suggest widening the highway from the current two lanes to four lanes from Snohomish to just west of Monroe. They propose the same thing east of Monroe out to Gold Bar.

Just completing the first phase of the bypass project could substantially reduce the number of vehicles that use U.S. 2 daily in Monroe, Gathmann said.

The first phase would cost $40 million to $50 million and take a few years to construct. Phase two could cost $90 million to $110 million and take five to six years in construction, Gathmann said.

No money has been secured for the project. In 2007, the Snohomish County Council plans to include the project’s first phase in its list of transportation projects for consideration by the Regional Transportation Improvement District.

“Phase one is in. Phase two is a maybe,” Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers said.

The district – consisting of Snohomish, King and Pierce counties – collects taxes for transportation projects in the three counties. Voters are expected to vote on the district’s projects in November 2007.

Building the bypass has been considered for decades.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the state bought land for a U.S. 2 bypass right-of-way north of Monroe. But the lack of money continually put off the project, said Richard Warren, a corridor planning manager of the state Department of Transportation.

“We felt it was going nowhere,” Monroe Mayor Donnetta Walser said. “Forty years and nothing.”

The state doesn’t have all the right-of-way to finish phase two, Gathmann said.

Building the bypass is a top priority for the U.S. 2 Safety Coalition, a group of local residents and officials aiming to make the highway safer, said Fred Walser, who leads the coalition with his wife, the Monroe mayor.

“Monroe itself is a burgeoning city,” Fred Walser said.

The city’s population grew by more than 350 percent from 4,278 to 15,178 between 1990 and 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of vehicles using U.S. 2 in Monroe has increased by more than 50 percent since 1990, from 21,400 per day to 33,000, according to state records.

“It’s so hard to get through Monroe,” Fred Walser said.

In that time, new businesses have opened along the highway in Monroe. Developers also plan to start construction on a new shopping center north of U.S. 2 in spring 2007.

“The problem in Monroe is it’s all built out along the highway,” Somers said. “There’s no place to expand it.”

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