Issaquah Highlands road link opens to vehicle traffic

May 15, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

By Dona Mokin

Issaquah Highlands residents, long limited to a single east-west route uphill through the hillside neighborhood, celebrated the opening of another road link May 10.

The city opened a pair of connected roads — Northeast College Drive and Northeast Falls Drive — to connect motorists to the area from Grand Ridge Elementary School to a proposed retail complex downhill from the campus.

The roads supplement the existing east-west corridor, Northeast Park Drive. The project is also meant to address congestion caused by morning and afternoon drop-offs and pick-ups at Grand Ridge Elementary.

The link starts at Central Park, runs behind the school and terminates at 10th Avenue Northeast. The link — completed by developers — is meant to offer additional access to the school, residences and a planned Bellevue College campus. (Hence the name Northeast College Drive.)

Developers shouldered most of the roughly $1.75 million project cost.

Highlands residents raised concerns throughout the years about a major earthquake or another natural disaster leaving Northeast Park Drive impassable.

“Since the highlands was first built, there’s basically been Park Drive as your only east-west corridor, and this provides an alternative route,” said Doug Schlepp, project manager for the road link. “At times of emergency, there’s another way in and out of the highlands.”

Crews also added 13 parking stalls behind Grand Ridge Elementary to offer some relief during busy student drop-off and pick-up times.

“This also will allow people who choose to drive their kids to school another means of pick-up and drop-off,” Schlepp said.

The school is a frequent bottleneck along Northeast Park Drive during the school year.

“This is going to take pressure off of Park Drive, especially people heading westbound and wanting to turn into the school,” Schlepp said.

Though the roads opened to traffic May 10, crews continue to finish landscaping and paving.

The city plans to open additional road connections in the summer, including 15th Avenue Northeast at Northeast College Drive, and 14th Lane Northeast and the adjacent alley.

“That north-south connection will also provide a different route for people, especially if, say, you’re coming home and you want to go through the new commercial area, then you don’t have to get back on Highlands Drive or Park,” Schlepp said.

The retail complex received approval from the Urban Village Development Commission on May 1. Construction could start as early as next month and businesses could start to open next year.

Councilwoman Stacy Goodman, a highlands resident, said the road link is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

“It hopefully provides another convenient access down the hill,” she added. “When all the roads are done and connected up there, hopefully there’s more than just one way to get in and out.”

Schlepp said a highlands resident excited about the opening waited along the road for city crews to arrive and remove the barricades at about 12:15 p.m.

“I got a picture of the first person to legally use the road, and she had a big smile on her face,” he said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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