As of last year, the unimproved portion of state Route 18 that stretches from Issaquah/Hobart Road to Raging River, has accounted for 18 percent of annual deadly accidents, while only 3 percent of the average annual traffic travels on that road, according to the Matt Larson, mayor of Snoqualmie.
Because of the magnitude of accidents and congestion on that area of Highway 18, cities from around the area have created a coalition called SEAL TC or Southeast Area Legislative Transportation Coalition, to come together and think of ways to improve that highway and other transportation issues in the area.
According to Covington Mayor Jeff Wagner, the current goal is to advocate for the widening of Highway 18 on that seven-mile stretch of road. On that portion of highway, there are only two lanes and no barrier between the west and east bound lanes, causing a higher rate of accidents.
He added, widening the highway would not only prove to be safer, but it would also be good for economic infrastructure.
The coalition started with just the chambers of Covington and Maple Valley Black Diamond, but soon grew to all three of those cities, along with the city of Issaquah, city of Snoqualmie, the Snoqualmie Casino, the Snoqualmie Tribe and the city of North Bend.
Wagner said representatives from the city and the chambers get together at least once every other month to talk about what they can do to improve the roads in the Southeast King County area.
According to Erica Dial, CEO of the Maple Valley Black Diamond Chamber of Commerce, the Southeast portion of King County is kind of forgotten about when legislatures in Olympia talk about road improvements.
“Really what we’re trying to do is get some visibility down here in Southeast King County. We’re always kind of left off the map whenever the state is talking about highway improvements, or road improvements,” Dial said. “Part of the problem is the state is requiring growth projection in this area, we have such rapid growth, but they’re not keeping up with the infrastructure.”
That’s why on Jan. 22, representatives from each city/chamber went to Olympia to speak their testimonies to the Senate Transportation Committee.
Wagner said right now the process of widening Highway 18 is still in the “infant” stages. He said Sen. Steve Hobbs, chair of the Transportation Committee, created a transportation package that he is trying to feel out to see if there is any support for it, which is another reason why the SEAL TC went to Olympia — to show support for the idea of widening the highway.
Currently, there is no money set aside for a large project like this, Wagner said.
“They have to look at finding a way to come up with (funding). So if they have enough interest in the project list, they need to find out if there’s enough interest in the revenue, whether it’s going to be gas tax, property taxes — there’s a variety of different things that Sen. Hobbs has brought up of possible funding methods for it. So it’s just in the infant stages, but at least it’s on the radar, we’re planting seeds to make people aware that this needs to get done sooner than later,” Wagner explained.
He said the estimated cost for widening Highway 18 is $285 million.
About $100 million of that is going toward culverts, both Dial and Wagner said.
A culvert is a structure that allows water to flow under a road, according to Webster’s Dictionary.
Dial also said the Snoqualmie Casino has offered $1 million toward the project because a few of its employees died on their way to work on that stretch of Highway 18.
While this is a large project that has a long road ahead before it is completed, Dial said she is confident the legislatures are on board and fully support the project.
Wagner agreed and said the few legislatures they have talked to have been very supportive of the idea of widening Highway 18.
“It’s great how many people have just gotten together to work together for the common good for everyone in the area,” Wagner said.
Contact reporter Kayse Angel at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 425-358-3259.