Council approves key I-90 Undercrossing pact

August 25, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

After business leaders and residents voiced support for the Interstate 90 Undercrossing, the City Council set aside environmental concerns and voted Aug. 17 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 had negotiated a development agreement to allow the city use of a right of way on the land. The measure returned to the City Council last week.

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, a provision allowed by the agreement. 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.”

Planners said they hope the roadway will alleviate traffic congestion at the existing Front Street North and state Route 900 interchanges.

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.

Planners estimate the undercrossing will help remove about 2,000 to 4,000 cars from Northwest Gilman Boulevard and 3,000 to 6,000 vehicles from Front Street North. Gilman Boulevard handles 29,000 cars per day; Front Street handles 49,000, according to city figures.

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, and 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.

The price tag for the undercrossing to link Northwest Gilman Boulevard to Southeast 56th Street is about $13 million.

City Public Works Engineering Director Bob Brock said the council delay did not alter the schedule for advertising undercrossing bids to contractors. Brock said he hopes to advertise the project within the next two months. Officials said they hope to 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 it, 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 the Aug. 17 meeting.

Business owner Bob Power talked about the Issaquah Medical Building he has planned for the former Zetec Inc. property, a parcel between westbound I-90 and Pickering Trail. The undercrossing will be built just east of the site.

Construction of the medical building is contingent on construction of the undercrossing.

“I think it’s a real unique opportunity to have a new and exciting medical building in Issaquah, as well as another bypass for the city,” Power said.

Salmon Days Festival organizer Robin Kelley told council members 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.”

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