Doug Ramsay photo, dougramsayphoto.photoshelter.com
First Street business owners question need for signal
Work on First Street-Avenue D traffic light to begin this spring
SNOHOMISH - The city is planning to install traffic lights at the First Street and Avenue D intersection, but business owners nearby say they don’t think that’s necessary.
The city hosted an open house last week on the project, which includes installing traffic signals to replace the four-way stop and intersection improvements.
Comments gathered last week suggest some people think it will actually worsen traffic at the city’s southern entrance into town.
The city says the light and associated landscaping will be a “focal point” for the downtown, but some business owners think it will take away from First Street’s main street character.
Most business owners at the open house questioned why the traffic signal is needed at all.
“Of course there’s going to be backups (on First Street),” Twin Eagles Cafe owner Susan Williamson said.
The cafe is about six car lengths from the intersection.
When traffic gets backed up, shoppers get stuck in their parking spaces.
People park on the south side of First Street to avoid getting boxed in during the morning rush hour, Williamson said.
Even so, by Williamson’s observation, traffic flows smoothly enough through the current four-way stop.
“No, I just don’t think there’s a need for a light there,” Williamson said. “I’ve never seen an accident there.”
The city must add traffic lights because traffic gets too backed up during rush hour, traffic engineer Andy Sics said last week.
The improvements are expected to cut rush-hour wait times at the intersection from nearly 1 minute to about 15 seconds.
The intersection received a failing grade in a past analysis for the city’s transportation plan, requiring the traffic signal, Sics said.
The failing grade means drivers wait more than 50 seconds during the busiest hours of the day: 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“Once the signal is installed, this delay time is expected to be quite a bit less, more like 15 seconds during the morning and evening commutes,” Sics said.
People at the open house were unsure the traffic signal would alleviate much, and some thought it could make traffic worse.
“Honestly, I think it’s going to back up traffic,” real estate representative Dione Carberry said.
Carberry and broker Aaron Haack represent two clients interested in property near the intersection, including the site of Walt’s Auto Body Shop near Second Street and Avenue D. Both grew up in Snohomish.
Adding a traffic signal on First Street “takes a little bit of the old charm” from the historic district, Haack said.
“Personally, I don’t think (traffic) will be expedited,” Haack said.
The city will build the intersection in two phases. The light should be up by late this year or early next year, Sics said.
The project also requires temporarily closing the intersection on two occasions. The closures would be for one week at a time.
During the closures, the city will post electronic signs along Highway 9 and Marsh Road warning drivers to use the Second Street exit instead of Airport Way.
Additionally, drivers can plan ahead by viewing the project webpage on the city’s home page, which will provide ongoing project updates, especially for potential road closures or detours drivers can expect, Sics said.
The city also will add shrubbery and other landscaping at each intersection corner.
City economic development manager Debbie Emge is excited about the aesthetic improvements.
“It’s going to be a great entrance to town,” Emge said, calling it a “focal point” for the city.
People at the open house praised the idea, but questioned why the landscaping would eliminate parking spaces.
Avenue D Gallery owner Doug Thede worries people will try to “beat the yellow” coming into the intersection.
“Being a business owner half a block from it, I hope it’s well-managed,” Thede said.
He added: “It looks nice, it sounds nice, I hope there isn’t a lot of delays.”
The traffic signal will be synchronized with the light at Second Street and Avenue D, design consultant Lori McFarland of OTAK said.
First Street and Avenue D will be open throughout most of the construction, Sics said.
The first phase requires tearing up the intersection to add utility lines for the light. The city will add better sewer lines there while the road is torn up.
That work should be conducted between May and July, Sics said.
The traffic signal poles will be installed later in the year, Sics said.
The project adds one angled space in front of Chuck’s Seafood Grotto that will replace two parallel spaces.
The project also adds a raised cement crosswalk along the east side of Avenue D across First Street.
The project is estimated to cost between $650,000 and $800,000 and state gas tax dollars cover 85 percent of the cost, Sics said.
Most of the remaining 15 percent will be covered with city traffic impact fees.
“We wouldn’t be constructing it without that state grant,” Sics said.
During the recession, the city has been unable to fund many of the street projects it has on its to-do list.
The recent creation of the transportation benefit district, as well as grants, make it possible to do street improvements during the recession, public works director Tim Heydon said.
“Before the recession, we were getting a lot more money from construction sales taxes and also from real estate excise taxes because properties were being built and changing hands a lot more,” Heydon said. “So we were able to fund projects through those sources and now those funding sources are not available or they’re reduced.”
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Additional reporting by Michael Whitney.
Published Feb. 8, 2012