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A recent decision by City Council regarding the proposed improvements to the neighborhood around the high school has created a surplus in the transportation budget even though the city had to forfeit some state funds in doing so.
The traffic improvement project planned for the 40th Street corridor, the area around the high school, will include adding traffic lights at 86th Avenue S.E. and 40th, improve left and right turn lanes onto Island Crest Way and onto Gallagher Hill Road, and a new, separated pedestrian path. The transportation surplus came about from a study session on alternative plans for the corridor at the City Council meeting on April 9. The Council chose a simpler and lower cost version of improvements that would have less impact on the neighborhood.
City Council saved about $300,000 by asking for the less extensive traffic improvement project along S.E. 40th Street but gave up $200,000 from a state transportation fund that would have contributed to the construction costs.
With Council approval, this surplus could be used to cover other transportation projects, according to city staff. For instance, Council could decide to fund the installation of signals at Merrimount Drive and Island Crest Way. Many Islanders have been asking for traffic lights at that intersection for years and the city currently plans to install them in 2010.
The intersection is widely- known to be dangerous. Two weeks ago, a three-car accident occurred in the intersection when a 17-year-old driver heading to the high school was hit while crossing Island Crest Way from Merrimount Drive to S.E. 44th Street. One vehicle was flipped onto its side after being struck and slid several feet to hit another car stopped at the intersection.
The cost of installing the signals at Merrimount would be about $500,000 according to the city’s Transportation Improvement Plan, so the surplus would not cover the entire cost. To get the remaining funds, Council would have to approve postponing another transportation project scheduled for the current biennium to allocate the funds for signals at Merrimount.
City staff estimated the total cost of the 40th Street Corridor improvements would be slightly more than $1.39 million, with about $600,000 coming from a state transportation fund. The city will cover the remaining $790,000, which is significantly less than the allotted $1.125 million.
Councilmembers expressed their preferences for a sidewalk design that requires less private property seizure along the roadways.
Councilmember Dan Grausz argued in favor of the less expensive, less extensive option because he said it accomplished the main goal for a significant amount of less money.
“This option puts the area far ahead of other parts of the Island and gives us a chance to spend [the money] on another project,” Grausz said.
City staff, however, said the money was already budgeted for this project and urged Council to take full advantage of the available state funds.
Councilmember Sven Goldmanis favored the maximum option because he feared the new PEAK facility planned for the area would create more traffic and bring more pedestrians, who will need to be protected and isolated from the road. Had Council selected this option, then it would have qualified for an additional $200,000 from in state funds.
The state funds, which will provide 60 percent of the construction costs, require the city to separate the sidewalks from roadways with a landscaped buffer in-between, which in the end, Council decided would provide the necessary pedestrian protections.
“At this point I’d have to say I am leaning more toward (the first) option because they put the raised sidewalk in my neighborhood near the middle school and I don’t think it’s made a big difference,” Deputy Mayor Jim Pearman said.
The city is currently accepting public comments for the 2008-2013 Transportation Improvement Plan, which covers roadway, pedestrian, bicycle and other transportation improvements. Comments must be submitted by April 25 and may be made on the city’s Web site at www.mercergov.org.
For more information contact city transportation planner Nancy Fairchild 236-3580