Residents of a Smokey Point neighborhood acknowledge that their corner of the city has seen increased congestion and its attendant problems over the past few years. But a city plan to help relieve some of the traffic traveling on 172nd St. NE (SR 531) is meeting with tough opposition from locals.
At a Dec. 2 meeting, senior engineer Eric Scott and the city's community development director, David Kuhl, laid out a plan to build a secondary east-west arterial from Smokey Point Blvd. to 43rd Ave. NE at 173rd St. NE, just one block north of the state highway. Approximately 30 residents attended the public meeting, and all of them raised strong objections to the idea.
"Based on traffic statistics, there's an average of one accident every five days" along the stretch of SR 531 between Smokey Point Blvd. and 43rd St. NE, explained Kuhl. Creating a secondary road, which would include a well-marked walkway, would increase safety for both pedestrians and drivers, according to Kuhl.
Commercial development along the major road has apparently spurred the city to prioritize the street project. A 2-story La Quinta Inn is set for construction as part of the Smokey Point Town Center development. To the immediate east of that property, the Smokey Point Ambulatory Medical Center is scheduled to be built by the end of 2011.
"The hotel is fully permitted, and my understanding is that they're waiting on financing," said Kuhl when asked about the timeline.
According to Scott, the City of Arlington has already purchased the right-of-way for the property at the corner of 173rd and Smokey Point Blvd. The development of the two commercial parcels to the east would enable the completion of a road to that point.
Beyond the ambulatory center property, it gets a little more complex. Acreage along the proposed traffic corridor is privately owned and, so far, those owners have refused to sell the city its right-of-way access.
The LDS church situated at the far east end of the new street would also be impacted, losing up to 70 parking spaces to the road project.
"I'm already losing property to WSDOT for the roundabout at 43rd Ave.," said a church spokesman, "and now you want me to give up 70 parking stalls too?"
The city has been hosting public outreach meetings about its West Arlington Sub-Area Plan for several months, and citizens felt that their input at those meetings had not been heard.
"It's obvious that this decision [about building the road] is all about these businesses, and revenue for the city," said one homeowner.
Another resident added, "The city just sees Smokey Point as revenue, not as a neighborhood."
Kuhl reminded those in attendance, "You are all living next to highway commercial zoning. Development is coming."
The creation of a road at 173rd St. NE would also include installation of a new traffic signal at 173rd and Smokey Point Blvd., just one block south of a similar light at 174th Pl. NE.
"The signals will be sequenced to avoid backups," assured Kuhl, but the locals maintained that three traffic lights within three blocks on Smokey Point Blvd. would become a traffic nightmare.
"I hope you have a Plan B, because Plan A stinks," remarked Linda Snider, a local homeowner who served on the Sea-Tac planning commission for nine years. "This [road] will adversely affect every single house in that neighborhood."
The West Arlington Sub-Area Plan addresses zoning and other future traffic improvements, including a possible east-west corridor just south of the new Walmart store from Smokey Point Blvd. to 51st Ave. NE.
"Development is a process, not an event," said Kuhl. "The time to get involved is now, while planning is going on."
Additional outreach meetings about the road construction project and other West Arlington issues are planned after the first of the year. Kuhl hoped to be able to share some possible solutions to issues raised by the homeowners, including increased crime, noise and congestion, along with a design for a buffer along the new roadway, at the next meeting.