City Council approves key I-90 Undercrossing agreement

August 19, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 5:45 p.m. Aug. 19, 2009

After business leaders and residents voiced support for the Interstate 90 Undercrossing, City Council set aside environmental concerns and voted Monday to approve a pact crucial to the development of the roadway.

Residents raised concerns in July about wetlands on U.S. Postal Service property near the undercrossing site, prompting officials to review the development agreement. City and postal service officials negotiated a development agreement to allow the city use of a right of way on the land.

Councilman David Kappler supported the agreement, but said before the vote that he had concerns with “the sausage making of this process.”

He said he was concerned about using public land to mitigate wetlands on private property. Wetland mitigation is the process by which new wetlands are created to replace wetlands removed by development or other activity.

Plans call for wetlands to be created at Emily Darst Park to offset the loss of wetlands at the postal service site.

Kappler said the undercrossing “is going to be a very important project for our city.

“Unfortunately, it’s not going to build it, but it’s going to allow part of it to be built at some point when we have more funds,” he added.

The price tag for the undercrossing to link Northwest Gilman Boulevard to Southeast 56th Street is about $13 million. Planners hope the roadway will alleviate traffic congestion at the existing Front Street North and state Route 900 interchanges.

Officials hope to advertise the project to contractors in the fall and open the road by the end of 2010.

Councilman Fred Butler lauded postal service officials for working with city staffers to forge the agreement. He said the undercrossing would be a key transportation link.

“This is one of our highest [priority] transportation projects not under construction at this time,” he said. “It is an important next step, it moves the project forward.”

Council members voted unanimously for the agreement.

Under the agreement, the postal service will give the city an easement along the east side of the undercrossing for future street expansion.

The pact 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.

Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Bott said the infrastructure improvement could help burnish the city’s image.

“We believe that approval of this project sends a very clear message to businesses and families considering relocating to Issaquah,” he said.

Chamber leaders rallied members to voice support for the undercrossing by e-mailing council members and speaking at Monday’s meeting.

Salmon Days Festival organizer Robin Kelley told council members how gridlock often slows her cross-town trips. She endorsed the undercrossing plan.

“I was raised in Issaquah, so I’ve seen a lot of change and a lot of development,” Kelley said. “And one of the things that’s proposed now is something that I really think would be an asset to the citizens and the businesses.”

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.

Issues related to the wetlands prompted the council to postpone a July 20 vote and send the pact to the city River & Streams Board and Council Land Use Committee for additional scrutiny.

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