Council taps brakes on undercrossing

July 28, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

City Council members yielded to environmental concerns last week and delayed a pact crucial to construction of the long-planned Interstate 90 Undercrossing.As the City Council was set to consider a development agreement related to the undercrossing, officials and residents raised concerns about wetlands near the site of the proposed roadway.

Council members were set to consider a development agreement with the U.S. Postal Service, which owns land where part of the undercrossing will be built. In return for allowing the city to use a right-of-way on the land, development rules would be eased for the postal service if developers built on the parcel.

But the issues related to wetlands at the site prompted officials to postpone a July 20 vote and send the pact to the city River & Streams Board and Council Land Use Committee for further review.

The undercrossing would link Northwest Gilman Boulevard to Southeast 56th Street via a two-lane roadway built from the traffic signal at the post office. Crews plan to connect the road into the rail corridor behind Gilman Station. The roadway would continue beneath the existing I-90 overpass.

The road would be built within the former railroad right of way. North of I-90, the road would form a T-shaped intersection at Southeast 62nd Street, then continue north along 221st Place Southeast to Southeast 56th Street.

Planners want the undercrossing to alleviate traffic congestion at the existing Front Street North and state Route 900 interchanges.

The price tag for the undercrossing is listed as $13.1 million in the city Transportation Improvement Program, a wide-ranging document that outlines plans for roadwork and construction through 2015.

City Public Works Engineering Deputy Director Sheldon Lynne said the project would have better chances of receiving federal dollars if the undercrossing were “shovel ready.” Before construction can begin, however, city officials must approve a development agreement with the postal service.

Officials hope to open the roadway by late 2010.

City and postal service representatives said a development agreement took years to negotiate.

The agreement calls for the city to build the undercrossing and install a traffic signal at the post office entrance. City crews would also be responsible for street improvements at the site.

Janet Wall, a member of the city River & Streams Board, raised questions during a public hearing about the agreement and how the undercrossing construction would impact wetlands. She emphasized she was not there in her official role.

“I am generally in favor of the I-90 Undercrossing project, because I feel it may help deal with some of the traffic congestion on Gilman,” she said.

City planners identified several small wetlands on the land.

“It still looked like there was plenty of ample space, that they could build a number of buildings on the property without impacting those wetlands,” Wall said.

Donald Marcy, a Seattle attorney representing the postal service, said agency and city officials negotiated for years to reach the agreement. Marcy described the pact as beneficial to both parties. He said the undercrossing would allow the city to address traffic congestion and the development agreement would aid the postal service in dealing with its surplus property.

“The wetland issues have been dealt with in the agreement,” he said.

The pact calls for the postal service to give the city an easement along the east side of the undercrossing for future street expansion.

The agreement also waives requirements for environmental or development studies if the site were developed. Under the agreement, no transportation improvements would be required if the postal service develops the property.

Wall also asked officials how the agreement would relax development rules for the postal service.

“I would hope that the agreement doesn’t completely cut the post office out of some responsibility in the environmental review process,” Wall said. “They should have to go through the same type of procedures that anyone trying to develop their property would do.”

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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