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Thursday, July 15, 2004 - Page updated at 09:43 A.M.

State study revives idea of new Western Washington highway

By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

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Potential routes
The decades-old idea of building another north-south highway through Western Washington has reared its head once again.

A public meeting tomorrow in Bellevue will outline a $500,000 state study quietly ordered by the Legislature last year to explore the feasibility of a "Commerce Corridor" east of Interstate 405 and west of the Cascades.

The concept is being peddled as an eight-lane expressway stretching from Lewis County through the Snoqualmie Valley to the Canadian border, paid for partly by the private sector. It could include truck lanes, toll lanes for cars, freight and passenger-rail lines and utility transmission lines and pipelines.

It's the newest version of an old idea that has been called, in various iterations over the years, Interstate 605, the "outer beltway" and the East Side Freeway. And like previous proposals, this one promises to pit proponents against those who argue that this much new concrete is too much.

Supporters of the study say Interstate 5 congestion is stealing the time advantage that Washington's ports have over other West Coast ports in getting goods to and from Asia. The need to move goods swiftly between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement is another reason to explore a new freeway, they say.

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"We just physically don't have enough north-south capacity," said Sen. Jim Horn, R-Mercer Island, who chairs the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee. "With NAFTA, we really need an alternative. This deserves a serious look."

The study, which is being managed by the state Department of Transportation (DOT), will assess environmental, engineering and legal issues, develop preliminary cost estimates and evaluate potential community concerns and the interest level of private companies.

With the state already strapped for cash to complete roadway improvements that have been stalled for years, funding from the private sector would be key to moving forward with such a massive new project.

"What we're saying to various companies is, 'On what basis would such a corridor pencil out for you?' " said DOT Freight Office Director Barbara Ivanov, the project manager and facilitator.

The study is due to be completed by the end of the year. Preliminary documents released already show that the corridor could:

• Include room for truck and rail freight; cars and passenger trains; a 500-kilovolt transmission line; natural-gas and petroleum pipelines and telecommunications lines.

• Stretch from 500 to 700 feet in width.

• Include sections with 80 mph speed limits for passenger cars.

A DOT map of the alignments being studied shows a route that could start in Lewis County or as far south as the Washington-Oregon border, take several possible directions through Pierce County, cross the Snoqualmie Valley east of Highway 203, then head back near I-5 through Snohomish County and up to Canada.

But that's preliminary, said Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, who sponsored the study. If enough support doesn't surface west of the Cascades, he'd like to consider putting the road on the other side of the mountains.

"The people on the urban fringes are going to be the most adamant opponents," he said. "That might be what pushes this thing over the Cascades. The folks over there are hungry for opportunity."

The idea for another north-south freeway through King County emerged in the late 1960s, after a study commissioned by the Legislature warned of coming congestion on existing routes. But Bellevue residents opposed the plan, which called for six new lanes of concrete through their neighborhoods west of Lake Sammamish.

After 1,000 angry homeowners showed up at a legislative hearing in 1968, the proposal shifted to the east side of Lake Sammamish. But opposition surfaced there, too, and the concept died.

But talk of a new north-south freeway arose several times over the years. In 1998 the Legislature provided $500,000 to study whether Highway 18 should be extended north to Everett via the Snoqualmie Valley, creating a bypass from the Port of Tacoma to the Port of Everett.

The study found that a bypass would save drivers only five minutes during peak hours, and the Legislature took no action.

"Even the study of it is a waste of money," said Kevin Shively, policy director of the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition. "It's distracting the focus and resources from all the problems we already have, like the [Alaskan Way] Viaduct and Highway 520."

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or

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