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Wednesday, December 24, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Arlington
Drivers' relief just down the road

By Peyton Whitely
Times Snohomish County bureau

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ARLINGTON — In less than 1½ years, the temper-blowing bottleneck at the Smokey Point interchange could be just a bad memory.

Money has been approved to widen the 172nd Street Northeast bridge over Interstate 5, the scene of notorious traffic backups as motorists maneuver over the two-lane road to get on the freeway.

The bridge has remained unchanged since it was built in 1968, even as the entire Smokey Point area of shopping plazas and other businesses was developed on the eastern edge of the freeway.

The plan is to place advertisements May 3 to seek bidders for the work, said Pat McCormick, an engineering manager for the state Department of Transportation. Work could start by about July.

"Our goal is to get it open by the end of 2004 or early 2005," McCormick said. "The desire is to get it open to traffic by the end of 2004.

"My bet is the spring of 2005."

That's still a fast schedule for a job that McCormick said he'd normally expect would take nine to 12 months. But such a pace could be possible with an aggressive contractor and good weather, he said.

And though the route will be open, the project likely won't be completed until probably the end of summer 2005, when access ramps, sidewalks, lighting and other finishing touches are to be done. Initially, the new bridge will have four or five lanes.

After more than 30 years of waiting, the job will culminate a long-standing goal of making it easier to drive from the Smokey Point area onto southbound I-5, the direction the vast majority of motorists who use the interchange travel.

As it is now, by about the middle of most afternoons, a milelong line of traffic is backed up in the westbound lanes of 172nd Street Northeast, or Highway 531, waiting to get into a left-turn pocket leading to I-5 that's big enough for about four cars.

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The work to be done in the next year will significantly change that, although it's still only a first step.

"What this will do is give us the ultimate bridge," McCormick said of the proposed project. "This will give us two left-turn lanes so we can clear things out faster to the east."

This first step is expected to cost about $6.5 million. It's part of a bigger planned interchange that would cost about $29 million and include a sixth lane on the bridge, a park-and-ride lot and a loop ramp that would take traffic from westbound 172nd Street Northeast to southbound I-5, rather the left-turn lanes being put in now.

But that bigger job is dependent on more funding, which would likely come through a public vote, perhaps by next November. The rest of the work could be done by about 2008, McCormick said.

Until then, the $6.5 million job will have to suffice, but he said it's a substantial change by itself.

That the work is being done at all is largely the result of a group of residents, businesses and political leaders called TRAP, or the Marysville-Arlington Transportation Relief Action Plan. The group overcame obstacles that included political setbacks and a poor economy, to push through financing and planning for the $6.5 million job.

"They started turning over rocks to see what could be available," McCormick said.

Though some documents remain to be signed, the money will come from a variety of sources: About $2.9 million has been approved by the state Transportation Improvement Board; about $2 million to $3 million is included in federal fiscal 2004 appropriations; a joint contribution of $750,000 is being provided by the cities of Arlington and Marysville; and a $100,000 contribution is being made by Snohomish County.

In addition, $1.6 million could be raised through a proposed local-improvement district.

When the initial work is done, the change will mean there probably will be one through lane eastbound, one or two through lanes westbound and two left-turn lanes leading to southbound I-5.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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