The 1992 State Route 302 corridor study (see Key Peninsula News, March 2004) has pretty much stopped at that— being a study. No more funding from the state has been allocated for major improvements in the near-future, and based on conversation with various state agency representatives, this highway is likely to maintain its status quo without other funding sources.
There is some good news: A few smaller improvements are on the way. A portion of SR-302, between State Route 3 and Elgin-Clifton, will be repaved this year and in 2005 a roundabout will be built there; also in 2005 slope stabilization work will be done in the area of the Victor slide, and a traffic signal may be needed eventually in the area of 94th Street NW (but is pending anchor tenant/developer negotiations).
Still, that work is mostly cosmetic, not addressing traffic congestion or safety on the infamous “Wauna curves.” The problem is that Key Peninsula’s road plight is not unlike that of any other rural area in the state. While the traffic problem is a big deal for residents, the challenges here are small compared to the network overall.
“The hard part is that highways like this one are not designated as highways of state significance,” said King Cushman, strategy adviser with the Puget Sound Regional Council, which prioritizes road projects for the region that includes Pierce County, then makes recommendations to the Department of Transportation. “Most highways of state significance are freeways.” To make the priority even lower, SR- 302 is not considered to have high congestion —- an important factor that plays into the funding probability formula.
Cushman says one way to rock the boat is by contacting state and federal legislators, bring the problem to their attention. He says such grass-roots efforts have been successful, as long as there is merit to the case and agencies like DOT are on board. Sen. Bob Oke, who was successful in funding the Burley-Olalla Interchange, says he welcomes such public input and that the Burley- Olalla funding was successfull exactly through the same strategy: pressing the issue, educating other colleagues. Of course, it took a few years.
At county level, the picture is just as bleak, with Initiative 776 reducing the transportation budget by about $5 million per year, according to Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee. But, short of any
local grass-roots campaign for lobbying elected representatives, Lee may have the most hopeful answer for the Key Peninsula residents, called RTID, or Regional Transportation Investment District.
The RTID is a coalition of Pierce, King and Snohomish counties, a regional plan that would fund local projects identified as priorities. Establishing a new corridor for SR-302 is one of those potential projects, estimated to cost about $1.3 million of the total $12.4 billion, 15-year package. One possible solution would be to widen existing road in the area of Elgin-Clifton to 144th Street NW and build a new corridor from 144th to the area of SE Pine Road off State Route 16. According to RTID estimates, a new corridor would cut congestion time by about an hour and about double the speed of evening commute. Without the new corridor, the study estimates congestion to average three hours a day by 2015, with afternoon travel speeds at 22 mph.
Lee said in February he would continue to push for keeping SR-302 on the RTID plan. In March, the RTID board voted on a $12.4 billion package, slightly smaller than one proposed a few months ago. The project list would now have to be adjusted, and a final vote on the projects could come as early as April, amidst some reported disagreements within the group on the size of the total funding, between Seattle and the rest of the regions, Sound Transit participation and light-rail funding. But
there is one catch to this solution: it’s a tricounty measure, with voters in three counties having to agree on a tax increase, which would be a combination of higher sales tax, license fees and other options. The proposal would likely head to the ballot in November.
“The RTID will have to come and pick up those projects (not funded by state),” said Oke. “The thing that worries me about RTID is we’re faced with three counties (voting)…” The vote of Seattle residents could also make or break the deal, and there have been long contradicting polls and discussions on whether Seattleites are more likely to approve the RTID funding if light rail were included. Lee says the RTID proposal would be well thought-out when presented to the public, and says without it there are not many choices left for better local roads.
“The gap created by I-776 at local level is a challenge. Everything is starting to shift backward,” he said. It’s a gap that once again is not unique to Pierce County, and it seems to only widen the
closed circle of transportation woes. “I’m not against initiatives, but people may not understand their full ramifications,” said Cushman. “I feel compassion for the DOT and the counties in dealing with their transportation plans when the money may get rerouted after an initiative.”
Whether or not these same citizens who gave a resounding yes to these initiatives would like to see their pockets get hit again remains to be seen. Some local residents say they are already paying enough but not seeing any services —-take those complaints times three counties and that grass-roots lobbying effort seems easier by comparison.
A meeting to address problems with local roads will be hosted April 6 at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, with state Sen. Bob Oke, state Rep. Lois McMahon, and Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee as guests.