Congestion on 522 highway is causing
kids to be late to school
MONROE — Morning traffic congestion on state Route 522 infuriates drivers, but it’s the hundreds of kids who arrive late to school by bus that has perked up the ears of legislators.
Hidden River Middle is right off of the 522 intersection at Paradise Lake Road, meaning the only practical route is to take the highway after picking up students inthe city. District data also showed delays for Maltby-area kids
being bused the opposite direction up 522 to Monroe High School.
A school district analysis showed that, as of Feb. 28, there have been 91 late arrivals to Hidden River Middle this school year. The buses carry about 40 kids, meaning traffic delays caused at least 4,000 instances of kids arriving late. The delays were usually no more than 10 minutes after first classes start, but it means middle schoolers shuffle in during the learning session. Bus Nos. 53, 57 and 68 are affected most often.
It used to be worse.
Modifications to Hidden River’s bus routes have improved the tardiness situation this year, two people closely familiar with the situation told this paper. Buses are being dispatched into neighborhoods earlier and then stage themselves there to do their pickups in a more timely manner, one source said.
The data is what makes for the twist that seems to pique Legislators’ interest when 522 advocates address them.
Lawmakers hear dozens of pitches for roadway
funding to fix problems for people trying to get to work. Their demeanor changes when you’re talking about kids being late to school, County Councilman Sam Low said last month. He spent a week in Washington, D.C. last
month talking with U.S. senators and representatives from this state about this
and other issues.
State Route 522 has two big chokepoints. Every commuter can tell you: One chokepoint comes before where the Snohomish River bridge narrows toward Echo Lake Road, and the other chokepoint just after Paradise Lake Road gridlocks evening traffic heading
In 2015, the state completed a $145 million project to widen the highway to four lanes for most of the stretch from Monroe to Woodinville.
Why the highway wasn’t widened the whole way through is the result of a gap in funding after a failed ballot measure.
Part of the funding plan relied on having a Regional Transportation Improvement District, or RTID, pass. It was one of the options on the table to fund the highway, and Snohomish, King and Pierce counties chose to take the tax measure to the ballot.
The 2007 vote failed — about three-fifths of the electorate rejected the multimillion dollar measure.
The RTID had the bones of Sound Transit 2 contribute to its sheer girth. The ST2 package was split off as a second ballot measure
that voters approved.
At a meeting March 8 that brought out more than 200 people to Monroe High School, state Department of Transportation officials laid down a selection of small fixes to help ease congestion in the three-mile gap. The State Route 522 Coalition brainstormed these ideas, a Transportation spokes-woman said.
Transportation has $1 million to strategize a plan.
Some fixes may seem small. A traffic metering light at the onramps from Echo Lake Road, for example, would shave a couple minutes off commutes and cost about $500,000.
Larger projects include widening the road by ten feet to construct peak use shoulder lanes on 522 inside the gap. Three miles of peak lanes on both directions of the highway would cost roughly $60 million.
All of these widening
projects involve replacing fish culverts, an unavoidable subset project that can
add $7 to $15 million to a project total.
There’s also a separate $50 million cost estimates for turning the 522 traffic light intersection at Paradise Lake Road and Maltby Road into separated interchange using a series of ramps. In 2016, legislators allocated $10 million to design this interchange around 2025.
One balancing act that Transportation has to
consider is that the project to widen the 3-mile gap to four lanes itself would cost
about $60 million. The more expensive options lead to a question of spending wisely, indicated John White, a Assistant Regional Administrator for Transportation.
Angling for more money to finish the gap, though, is widely acknowledged to be an uphill battle.
City officials have been lobbying local leaders vigorously on the issue
A bit of geography is in play. The state has now
built out 522 in Legislative District 39. The remaining chokepoints are in Legislative District 1, which crosses into King County, meaning it’s in the district domain of state Reps. Derek Stamford and Shelley Kloba.
“Political boundaries are getting in the way of common sense,” Mayor Geoffrey Thomas told the audience in a rare showing of irritation.
They have at least one ally: State Sen. Guy Palumbo, a Democrat representing District 1, made 522 one of his key campaign items.
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