Officials tackle transportation priorities

May 12, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

City officials will consider how and when to spend dollars to update facilities and roads as they review the voluminous Capital Improvement Plan during the next month.The plan outlines city projects related to items such as city facilities, parks, transportation and utilities. The sweeping document prioritizes projects and determines which efforts city staffers will tackle first. CIP projects are slated for implementation in the next six years.

In the next four weeks, City Council committees will review projects outlined in the plan. Legislation detailing CIP priorities is scheduled to return to the full council June 15.

How projects are prioritized will ultimately be decided as staffers craft the 2010 budget, officials said.

Up first: Council Transportation Committee members reviewed the transportation portion of the CIP last week.

Transportation projects included in the CIP were earlier reviewed as part of the Transportation Improvement Program, which the City Council approved May 4. Officials use gas tax revenue, as well as other state and federal dollars, to pay for transportation projects. Projects must be listed in the TIP in order to be eligible for half-cent gas tax money.

Staffers included 36 transportation projects in the CIP. The plan lists projects from 2010-2015. Included in the top priorities are long-term efforts like building the Interstate 90 Undercrossing and payments to King County for construction of Highlands Drive, which is referred to in the CIP by its original designation: North Sammamish Plateau Access Road. The road connects the Issaquah Highlands to Interstate 90 at the Sunset Way interchange. The city shoulders about $8 million for the Highlands Drive construction through an agreement with the county. The city has already paid about $2 million.

Other high-priority projects listed in the CIP include efforts to analyze traffic patterns and address congestion, and improve city sidewalks and streets for bikers and pedestrians.

Transportation Committee members also discussed safety projects listed in the CIP and TIP, including a $274,744 project to modify the intersection of Southeast 56th Street and 221st Place Southeast — between East Lake Sammamish Parkway and Lake Sammamish State Park — and make left turns safer.

“If I were king of the world, I would always do the safety projects first,” said Councilman John Rittenhouse, a Transportation Committee member.

Committee members said they were wary of prioritizing the entire list of projects, because next year, council members will review an updated CIP outlining projects from 2011-2016. Instead, they focused on projects related to safety and efforts included by the City Council among its 2010 goals.

“This is a universe of 36 projects,” said Councilman Joshua Schaer, another Transportation Committee member. “Some of these are projects that are obligations. I’m not suggesting lopping anything off.”

Schaer asked how city staffers ranked projects.

“In looking through the 36 projects on the list, one thing that I was struck by is that they’re all just sort of all over the map — no pun intended,” he said. “Some of them have construction dates in 2010, some of them have construction dates in future years and some of the ones that have construction dates four years from now have higher priorities than ones we want to do next year.”

Grants are weighted on whether the city is ready to break ground on a project.

“Getting the design done sooner provides the city the opportunity to be shovel-ready for federal grants and other grants, which is a major criteria that all the granting agencies are using and have been using for the last five years or so,” Public Works Engineering Deputy Director Sheldon Lynne said.

Councilman Fred Butler, another Transportation Committee member, cautioned against sinking too much money into designs before projects had been finalized.

“You can spend all of your money on design and never build a doggone thing,” he said.

Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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