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Council discusses speed limits, turnoffs on 172nd St. NE
ARLINGTON — Traffic conditions on 172nd Street NE made up much of the focus of the Arlington City Council’s workshop meeting on Monday, Sept. 23, as Council members considered proposed ordinances to lower the speed limit on 172nd Street NE and to publicly advertise for construction of the 173rd Street Utility Improvement Project.
City of Arlington Public Works Director Jim Kelly presented both ordinances to the Council that evening, starting with the proposal to lower the speed limit to a consistent 35 miles per hour on 172nd Street NE between Interstate 5 and State Route 9, which he prefaced by noting that the speed limit on 172nd Street NE is currently 50 miles per hour between 67th and 43rd avenues, and 35 miles per hour along the rest of its length between I-5 and SR 9.
“After a lot of prodding and cajoling, WSDOT finally measured motorists’ speeds on 172nd,” Kelly said, referring to the Washington State Department of Transportation study which also analyzed traffic and accident volumes along 172nd Street NE. “They found that, at 3 p.m. on weekdays, motorists were going between 5-10 miles per hour on 172nd.”
“And that’s on a good day,” Council member Steve Baker laughed.
“So rather than going from 35 to 50 back to 35 miles per hour, they agreed that it should be 35 miles per hour all the way through,” Kelly said.
“Could we see about making the speed limit more consistent on SR 9 too, then?” Council member Randy Tendering asked.
“Little steps,” Kelly said. “This took us about a year, almost a year and a half to get pushed through.”
“The city was denied by the state three times on this one,” Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert said. “It seems simple, but it took a lot of public support and the efforts of folks like Kirk Pearson to make this happen.”
Indeed, Kelly explained that WSDOT is guided by very strict rules on this score, requiring them to measure the speed at which 85 out of 100 cars travel at or below, as well as the 10-mile-per-hour range of speed that most vehicles are driving at. Nor does that mark the end of the state’s involvement, since the city would need to pass an ordinance lowering the speed limit along the designated stretch of 172nd Street NE before the state could consider following suit and making it official.
“But 20 years down the road, when we have five lanes on 172nd, are we still going to want the speed limit to be 35 miles per hour?” Council member Ken Klein asked.
“With the roundabouts that we expect to install at its intersections, I think those will keep it at about the same speed,” Kelly said.
“This is a good thing,” Tolbert said, echoing Council member Marilyn Oertle’s expressed opinion that the current alternating speed limits along 172nd Street NE complicate traffic too much. “That’s a dangerous section of road right now.”
When Oertle, Tendering and fellow Council member Dick Butner deemed the left turn off 172nd Street NE eastbound into the Stillaguamish Athletic Club and Weston High School to be an especially unsafe area, Kelly segued into a discussion of the proposal to construct water and sewer utilities for Phase 3 of the 173rd Street alignment, between 43rd Avenue and Airport Boulevard.
“From the beginning of January of 2011 to the end of June of this year, we’ve had 115 accidents on 172nd,” Kelly said, citing the WSDOT collision analysis. “Most of them were right in front of the Stillaguamish Athletic Club. Once 173rd is in place, we can make that turn off 172nd into a right-in, right-out only for the Athletic Club and Weston High School, but we need those utilities to be in place before we build that road.”
Kelly advocated installing the utilities this year, to take advantage of an unusually dry year to date.
“Normally, our water table is only three feet below the surface, but right now, it’s eight feet below,” Kelly said. “That alone would yield us $350,000 in construction savings.”
“If we have the money, let’s do it,” Oertle said, after Kelly described the capital reserve fund as sufficient to cover the $1.2 million engineering estimate for the project.
Because Sept. 23 was a workshop meeting, the Council took no action, but at the Council’s next regular session meeting on Monday, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m., city staff are recommending that the Council adopt the lower speed limit and grant staff the authority to bid the 173rd Street Utility Improvement Project, the latter pending review by the city attorney.