The graphic shows the preferred alternative for a new interchange on Highway 522 at Paradise Lake Road in Maltby. (WSDOT)

The graphic shows the preferred alternative for a new interchange on Highway 522 at Paradise Lake Road in Maltby. (WSDOT)

Editorial: $5,500 and a hashtag might help finish Highway 522

#Finish522 is meant to help make the case for ending a traffic bottleneck between Maltby and Monroe.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Snohomish County has no end of transportation frustrations: creeping rush-hour (and other-hour) traffic on I-5 from Marysville south; a deteriorating U.S. 2 trestle; more rush-hour creep on I-405; and overall greater demand to get where we’re going in a county that has increased in population from 338,000 in 1980 to nearly 802,000 today.

That frustration — in particular for a 3-mile stretch of Highway 522 between Maltby and the Snohomish River where the four-lane highway (two lanes in each direction) narrows to one lane each way — was enough to convince city leaders in Monroe to pony up $5,500 of the city’s own money to help make their case to state lawmakers and the public to widen the two-lane bottleneck and improve the highway’s interchange with Highway 524 at Paradise Lake Road.

The $5,500 for a consultant bought a professionally produced five-minute video, a website and — since no public campaign is complete without a Twitter feed these days — a to-the-point hashtag: #Finish522.

Highway 522 stretches 25 miles, connecting I-5 at the Green Lake neighborhood in Seattle, I-405 and the University of Washington’s Bothell campus, and U.S. 2 at Monroe. Sections of the highway saw daily vehicle trips of more than 96,000 as of 2016, according to a state Department of Transportation report.

“The goal is to raise the profile of Highway 522. We’re building support for our legislators and making sure folks in our community are behind it,” city administrator Deborah Knight told The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield last week.

Monroe will provide an update of its effort at 6:30 p.m., Jan. 9, in its city council chambers.

The problem isn’t uncertainty over what to do. Widening the highway to four lanes between Maltby and the Snohomish River is a straight-forward fix. And thanks to an earlier state investment of $750,000 from the last major state transportation budget, there’s a basic outline of work that needs to be done to redesign the highway’s interchange with Highway 524 at Paradise Lake Road, including a new connection of Paradise Lake Road and Highway 524 that diverts traffic beneath Highway 522, eliminating a four-way intersection and a source of congestion and rear-end accidents.

There’s even $10 million set aside for preliminary design work for the interchange, but that money isn’t scheduled for release until 2025. Funding — for work that is estimated to cost about $160 million for final design, right-of-way acquisition and construction — has yet to be included in a state budget.

Those who rely on Highway 522 face frustrations familiar to commuters on any of the county’s thoroughfares, but the video produced for the campaign makes the case that finishing the highway will ease a traffic bottleneck that often results in backups of two to three miles, improving the commute, the region’s economy, its environment and quality of life.

For Hidden River Middle School teacher and mother Jessie Crowther it could mean a reasonable daily commute to the school off Paradise Lake Road that now takes her 45 minutes to an hour to travel eight miles. For the area’s first responders it would reduce the frequency of accidents from the 58 injury wrecks reported in the last year. Because about a dozen fish-blocking culverts would be replaced and stormwater detention ponds would be built, more than five miles of streams would again be opened to spawning salmon and the habitat improved. And, with Amazon opening a new fulfillment center in Maltby this year, it will improve mobility for the region’s commercial and service businesses in a region that continues to grow.

Monroe deserves credit for hitting on a high-profile way to get its message to state lawmakers. The county’s legislators should be encouraged to push fellow lawmakers for a transportation budget that — at the least — moves up the $10 million for design work and puts the Highway 522 project on track for funding.

But that can’t be the last that state lawmakers hear of Snohomish County’s transportation needs.

With state leaders hoping to convince Boeing to build what’s informally dubbed the 797 here, an investment in transportation is needed for a county that’s home to the state’s aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries and is a significant hub for high-tech industry and higher education, while attracting residents who seek more affordable housing than they’re finding in Seattle.

In other words, we’re going to need more hashtags.

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