Anyone else find themselves in the U.S. 2 creep this summer?
I did, a couple of times for work and once for a family matter in Omak.
The scenery is a marvel every time.
Rivers and roads. Mountains and fields. Towns and waterfalls.
The scene, however, is a seemingly endless stream of cars, minivans, SUVs and trucks, braking and gassing.
That’s not even considering this year’s heightened drama farther east near Index at Eagle Falls, where hordes flocked to the river and parked along — and sometimes in — the travel lanes, causing serious slowdowns.
At any intersection with a signal or a roundabout, there’s bound to be congestion. The highway had an average daily traffic count of 27,000 vehicles in 2019 through Snohomish, per Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) data. The number dips to 5,800 as you travel east to Gold Bar, but that’s still a lot of bodies, emissions, seats, steel and rubber every day, and it obviously spikes on holidays and weekends.
People passing through know the drill: slowdowns in Gold Bar, Index, Monroe, Startup and Sultan.
“In the 20 years I’ve lived in the area, one thing I can always count on are miles-long traffic backups due to the stop lights in Sultan, especially on weekends/holidays,” Kai Paul of Everett wrote to The Daily Herald. “Since there will never be money for a second lane or the mythical ‘bypass’ highway, has the county/state ever studied replacing the lights at Old Owen Road, Mann Road, (or) Sultan Basin Road with roundabouts? Are there any pending solutions to address this issue?”
The state’s $17 million Connecting Washington transportation funding for highway safety improvements doesn’t include roundabouts at Old Owen Road, Mann Road and Sultan Basin Road, WSDOT spokesperson Frances Fedoriska said in an email.
Of course, the challenge is money.
With 64 miles of road between Everett and Stevens Pass, $17 million can’t complete every need identified by the cities, county and state.
The traffic that’s a headache for weekend warriors is a nightmare fact of life for people who live there, especially in the smaller cities and towns. Dolly Green told my Street Smarts predecessor Lizz Giordano last year that she and her husband don’t leave their house from noon Sunday until Monday because vehicle congestion makes navigating their way around town so difficult.
That’s why Sultan’s leaders and WSDOT are considering traffic control changes at one intersection in the city of about 5,300 people. Plus, like much of Snohomish County, Sultan is seeing a building boom that’s causing internal growing pains as well.
“We are currently working with WSDOT on a roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and U.S. 2,” Mayor Russell Wiita said in an email. “This roundabout would address safety concerns at that intersection as well as improve traffic flow through that section of town. Part of this plan would also reconfigure the traffic lanes through the Fifth Street/Mann Road and U.S. 2 intersection, further helping with traffic flow.”
The roundabout would replace the stop sign from Main Street to the highway there now.
That “mythical bypass” Paul mentioned is evidence of the hard reality that funding presents for decision makers. Back in 2011, the Legislature estimated the cost at $326 million. Labor, land and materials have risen since then.
So instead of separating local and commuter traffic streams, cities, Snohomish County and the state are improving the road where and when they can.
That’s why we get smaller (but still costly and significant) project proposals like the roundabout at Main Street and U.S. 2.
A roundabout already helps manage highway traffic in Sultan. The structure at the 339th Avenue Southeast intersection near the McDonald’s opened in 2012. About 14,000 vehicles went through that stretch of U.S. 2 every day in 2019.
Sultan applied for grant funding to build the Main Street roundabout and has matching funds available for its portion, Wiita said. The city should learn the fate of its application this year.
“While this is not an all encompassing solution, it is one piece of a larger effort to address safety and congestion concerns on U.S. 2,” he wrote.
Elected leaders from Gold Bar, Lake Stevens, Monroe, Snohomish and Sultan signed a letter to Sen. Maria Cantwell urging her to fund projects for the highway. The traffic problems were in stark focus this summer, especially in late July, according to the letter.
“We faced unprecedented levels of congestion both directions especially through the communities of Monroe, Sultan, and Gold Bar, and Index,” the mayors of cities along U.S. 2 wrote. “Residents could not get where they needed to go and traffic, which is often relegated to Friday and Sunday afternoons, took over our communities for the better part of a week.”
Another project on the far horizon that could help locals is a connection between 339th Avenue and Sultan Basin Road. The “collector” road would be in the north end of the city near 124th Street Southeast and 132nd Street Southeast. The estimated $11 million project is in the city’s six-year transportation improvement plan.
Until then (and even after), we’ll just keep creeping along.
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