Highway 99 improvements pegged at $173 million — and federal grant money harder to get, council learns

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Making the two miles of Highway 99 through Edmonds a safer place for both pedestrians and drivers has been a key component of the city’s plan — approved in 2017 — to revitalize the roadway and nearby neighborhoods. But the Edmonds City Council learned Tuesday night that funding the entire project will be challenge. The estimated price tag is nearly $173 million, and federal grant dollars —  a key dollar source for past major Edmonds construction projects — are increasingly hard to come by.

City of Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams told the council that the criteria for the federal grant program “has changed quite dramatically” since 2017. To be successful, a city needs to have a local dollar match of over 60 percent. In contrast, the city’s recent $7.83-million project at Highway 99 and 228th Street Southwest required no local match, while both the 5 Corners roundabout project and 212th and 76th intersection improvements needed a 13.5 percent match.

“That whole thing has been flipped upside down now and they are looking to fund projects where there is a huge percentage of local money already committed,” Williams said. “It just changes the dynamic about how you get these projects going.”

Williams and City Transportation Engineer Bertrand Haus noted that the city recently applied for two federal grants for Highway 99, but both requests were rejected.

“This is a huge project from start to finish,” Williams said.” The path forward to get that project completed is a little fuzzier.”

The city was awarded $10 million from the state for the Highway 99 project, but so far has received a $1 million advance from that, which has been used for planning purposes. The city plans to ask for another $1 million advance during this legislative session.

During Tuesday night’s presentation, Haus and Lisa Reid of consultant SCJ Alliance went over data shared last year with the council, indicating that roadway improvements can reduce crashes caused by unrestricted left turns and numerous driveways.

Data shows that for a three-year period — from 2014-17 — there were a total of 747 vehicle collisions from 244th Streets to 212th Streets Southwest. A total of 436 involved only property damage with the remainder involving some level of injury (two were listed as unknown) and 25 including a pedestrian or bicyclist. There were no fatalities during those three years.

Of those 747 total crashes, 442 occurred between controlled intersections. The largest number of crashes — 132 — took place between 224th Street Southwest and 220th Street Southwest. The second-highest number — 120 — occurred between 238th and 228th Streets Southwest.

Given the high cost of doing the entire project at once, Haus and Reid recommended Tuesday night that the council look at approaching the work in segments, prioritizing the area with the most crashes during a three-year period studied — between 220th and 224th Streets Southwest.

Haus also said that the city is looking at the possibility of making temporary improvements to improve highway safety while continuing to work on obtaining grant dollars for permanent fixes.

Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas replied that although that identified section of roadway is a problem spot for vehicle crashes, the improvements don’t address another major safety issue on the highway: Pedestrians, “who are getting hit by cars because we don’t have enough crosswalks.”

“I’m not sure I agree with starting with 220th to 224th with cars when we’re actually hitting people on the road,” she added.

Instead, Fraley-Monillas said, the city should be focused on placing a pedestrian crossing between 238th and 228th Streets Southwest. There are crosswalks and traffic signals at either end of that stretch but nothing for the approximately 10 blocks between.

In response, Haus said that the city is looking at placing a traffic signal at 234th Street Southwest, pending approval from the Washington State Department of Transportation, which oversees the highway.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she would prefer to use the estimated $51.2 million for placing utilities underground into pedestrian safety. Public Works Director Phil Williams said that no recommendation was made to underground utilities, but the information was included based on past discussions for improving the aesthetics of the highway.

After confirming that the $173 million cost covers all aspects of the proposed project, which includes wider sidewalks, new street lighting, stormwater management and other enhancements, Councilmember Mike Nelson asked staff to supply an estimate of the safety improvements alone so that the council could determine how to prioritize them. He added that Haus’s suggestion of temporary solutions to address safety issues on the highway “should be the number-one priority. The aesthetics can wait.”

“I want to make sure that we’re focusing on just those key safety things,” Nelson said.

Existing Edmonds Marsh conditions, courtesy City of Edmonds.

In other action Tuesday night, the council heard an update from city staff and consultants on the Willow Creek daylighting project. The city has been working for several years on plans to daylight — or open — the waterway, which currently flows through the marsh, then enters a 1,600-foot piping system, to Puget Sound. Officials have said that the piping system prevents salmon from being able to return from Puget Sound to Willow Creek to spawn.

The project is also expected to reduce flooding in the areas of State Route 104/Dayton Street, Harbor Square and the holding lanes for the Edmonds/Kingston ferry, and address future climate change impacts of sea-level rise and predicted storm surge increases, among other improvements.

The city can’t move forward on the daylighting project until it can get permission to build across the Unocal property between the marsh and Puget Sound. That land — the site of a recent Unocal cleanup of contaminated water and soil vapor from its former fuel terminal — has been in escrow with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) since 2005, according to the Unocal Edmonds cleanup website.

But the property can’t be transferred to WSDOT until the Washington State Department of Ecology signs off on the Unocal cleanup — and the city learned in a phone call Tuesday that Ecology approval isn’t expected until this summer, Public Works Director Phil Williams said.

WSDOT had planned to use the Unocal property’s lower yard for a relocated ferry terminal and passenger/commuter rail station known as Edmonds Crossing. However, in its most recent draft long-range ferry plan, WSDOT has removed all references to the Edmonds Crossing project, leading many to believe the ferry system no longer intends to use the Unocal property for a relocated terminal.

Some on the council — in particular Buckshnis and Nelson — weren’t happy that the preferred alternative for the Willow Creek alignment presented to the council Tuesday night would accommodate the ferry system if it decided in the future to build a terminal.

Instead, they said, the city should push for an alignment option with a larger buffer, which they believe would provide better protection for both the marsh and the salmon habitat.

“I think we should be able to push back with WSDOT and have them work with us more and have bigger buffers,” Nelson said.

You can see the entire presentation including the various alignment alternatives here.

Next steps for the project, according to the city, are the initial design phase, permitting, final design phase, coordination with Marina Beach Park redevelopment, stakeholder engagement and land owner/land control and tenure negotiations. Project construction is estimated to begin in 2022.

In other action, the council also authorized a supplemental agreement with Quiet Zone Technologies for the city’s wayside horn project, aimed at reducing train noise. You can learn more about that project here.

Due to the lateness of the hour, the council postponed a discussion and possible decision on whether should change its quasi-judicial role in land-use permit decision-making.

— By Teresa Wippel

9 Replies to “Highway 99 improvements pegged at $173 million — and federal grant money harder to get, council learns”

  1. I agree that the first need are those places where pedestrians cross the Highway; and those have been identified. But it’s not only adding safe crosswalks, it’s somehow protecting folks who also cross just about anywhere along the highway, especially in the dark. This happens more times than not. The highway remains a difficult place to crossover and the sooner works begins, the safer will be this stretch of Highway.

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  2. Regarding the Edmonds Marsh Restoration Project, the WSDOT Ferries Long Range Plan (to the year 2040) is a final document, not a draft (see https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/planning/long-range-plan/the-plan) and was on the State House Transportation Committee’s agenda on January 22nd (yesterday).

    The final Long Range Plan does not include moving the Edmonds Ferry terminal to the old Unocal site. During the October 4, 2018 Ferries Open House in Edmonds, WSDOT staff told Edmonds residents that WSDOT decided not to move the Ferry Terminal due to costs, and that they had no plans for the old Unocal site though they would still be taking ownership of it.

    The proposed tidal/stream channels across the old Unocal site should be designed to maximize the environmental benefits of the Edmonds Marsh Restoration Project, not a defunct plan to move the ferry terminal. The Edmonds community needs to rally together to get WSDOT to get off their high horse and begin helping, not preventing, the restoration of the Edmonds Marsh.

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    1. While the Edmonds Marsh Restoration presentation was very beneficial for those not following the entire process of the project, Council was not allowed to provide input on the Shannon Wilson “alternates”. While I am not a scientist, I have sat on the WRIA8 grant funding committee for five years and I can say that “braided channel(s)” throughout the Marsh will definitely assist in storm surges or unexpected weather events, as well as the natural barriers that Shannon Wilson identified. Additionally, not only is large woody debris needed for fish foraging but lots of shade along the banks of the channel(s) and native plants in the area will also be of great assistance.

      With the government shutdown, I am not surprised as to the delay from Ecology. Having said that, our City’s grant writer need to reach out to agencies and tribes that have specialists that may assist which also has not occurred and Council needs to determine if more assistance is needed in this area.

      In February, the presentation from Windward (Council’s consultants) regarding the baseline environmental/wildlife habitat of the Edmonds Marsh will be presented.

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  3. I agree, that the first priority should be for pedestrian safety rather than vehicle crashes. And underground utilities is a huge plus, because you can then plant larger trees that won’t get caught up in power lines.

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  4. What a surprise, federal grant money is reduced. Seems that this was very predictable given the state of budgets and politics in WA DC. This causes me to question the City’s funding plan or lack thereof for sidewalks in our neighborhoods. For example, is there a predictable flow through reduction of state grants that should also be considered by the City? Perhaps our council should ask the bureaucrats, get an answer, and budget accordingly.

    Maplewood Drive is a prime example of the City’s infrastructure approach which is no longer viable as grant funding dies out. This road is designated as an arterial and has picked up more cut through traffic over the years…but has no sidewalks and barely has a paved shoulder. Back in 1996 the neighbors submitted a petition to the City for a sidewalk which went over like a lead balloon and was never heard from again. Continued growth and higher density will undoubtedly increase the traffic volumes. This should be pretty basic stuff: there have been enough cars on that road to justify the City building sidewalks for decades and now they want to add more cars with no plan to add sidewalks. Somehow our City Council and Mayor find a way to dodge that responsibility year after year. I speculate that there are many other busy roads in our neighborhoods that are in similar straits.

    I was told last year by the engineering department that the City will need a grant in order to add a sidewalk on Maplewood Drive. How is that plan looking now? Will the council or one of the mayoral candidates step up and come up with a program to add neighborhood sidewalks? I say if the City wants to push through upzones to allow all the increased housing development we are seeing they need to take care of the infrastructure so pedestrians will not be dodging urban traffic volumes on neighborhood streets.

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    1. Great points John! School and parks near by too. Long over do to add some nice sidewalks in Maplewood for safety for the kids and to support a really great Edmonds Neighborhood. Always see people walking up on side of road crunched by incoming cars.

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    2. As you may know, the 2019 budget now includes funding for a city Walkway Crew. Myself and Councilmember Johnson have been asking for this for years (close to 10 when our Transportation Committee days are included). The hiring process has begun with the goal of having a crew in place by Spring time. We estimate that our city will be able to build 3x the amount of walkways using our own crew versus our usual design-grant-build process. This is genuinely goods news and represents a strong collaborative effort between the city administration and the Council to get this done.

      Having said that, I am fully supportive of implementing safety elements on Hwy 99 where they will do the most good. Our studies show that most pedestrian/car accidents happen at intersections, not mid-block. We need to make sure we address the actual source of the problem. Anyone for slower speeds on Hwy 99 through Edmonds yet?

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  5. The sidewalk crew is a great start and should help. Thank you Councilmember Tibbott for your work. Sidewalks are not free even if they are part of a grant. We pay some form of matching dollars when they are part of a grant and will likely pay the full cost when we do it ourselves.

    Our city streets are also in a declining state and to keep them up to even a moderate standard will require more than $2m per year. Probably a bit more in the beginning to do the needed catch up. Grants do not cover the needed road repair so that will be out of our budget. Typically cost for $2m budget item is about $120 per year per household. Anyone willing to start to pay for our roads?

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  6. Thanks for the information Council person Mr. Tibbott, that’s great news. Using our own Crews this spring to start breaking ground on some repairs and additional sidewalks would be tremendous.

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