Residents of Yarrow Point are chagrined at larger-than-expected changes to their town's main entrance related to the Highway 520 expansion. Guest columnists Tim Dillon, Dan Nordstrom and Carl Stork want the state to reconsider the design-build approach that is changing their community.
EASTSIDE residents living near Highway 520 are reeling as a state contractor clear-cuts trees, denudes hillsides and creates havoc in our neighborhoods with construction and traffic revisions. While we accept that the Evergreen Point Bridge must be replaced and look forward to safer travel to and from Seattle, the question is: at what cost?
Beyond the shock of environmental damage, we are stunned at the state Department of Transportation’s intransigence and apparent waste in the design-build process (which allows for contracts to be let before designs are complete).
While DOT held various meetings with some Eastside community leaders and a few residents to gain input, throughout this time residents were assured that the design-build nature of the contract would allow for needed changes.
But there was a catch. Actual dimensions and scale drawings were not provided until after construction was underway and workers began slashing trees. For Yarrow Point, this means that a quaint 40-foot traffic circle on 92nd Avenue at the community’s only entrance suddenly loomed instead as a 120-foot, five-legged roundabout covering a massive area at our doorstep.
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Traffic would exit the freeway without a stop sign, and proceed, potentially too fast and dangerously, through a confusing traffic configuration in a residential neighborhood where kids ride bikes and people walk their dogs.
The state’s own studies say that the existing exit design, a simple T-intersection with a stop sign, safely serves all. And they do not project any increase in traffic. Yet, Eastside Corridor Constructors, the state’s contractor, is forging ahead with an unwanted, unnecessary and costly solution to a problem that does not exist.
Many of us were alarmed and concerned about safety, waste and extra concrete that threatens the character of our community. In a single weekend, nearly 500 residents of our community (our town has just 320 homes) signed a petition asking the state to eliminate the roundabout leaving the existing stop-sign-controlled intersection. And our Town Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the same.
Although design-build contracts should allow for collaborative design and refinements in an economically efficient manner, this has not happened. The state and the contractor began stonewalling our community.
Even though our town engineer, who was part of the collaborative design process, still lacked drawings to scale, DOT sent our town a letter saying that no change could be considered — because of the impact on schedule and cost.
Citing the design-build contract, the contractor claimed that costs would soar for a change eliminating such a large structure. The logic is puzzling. Clearly the design-build approach is severely flawed if design details are not shared with the public and a reduction in scope cannot be considered without excessive costs.
Putting into context the lack of need for such a massive, complex structure, there has never been a pedestrian or bicycle accident at this site, and only one slight fender-bender in five years. Ironically, even the state now agrees that such a structure at our town’s only entrance is unnecessary and fully understands that the community doesn’t want it.
Yet DOT now claims that under the design-build contract it has with the contractor, simply eliminating the planned roundabout will increase costs by up to $5 million. This is outrageous.
We implore the governor to re-evaluate this broken process for everyone impacted by the Highway 520 expansion, as well as the specific need for the planned 92nd Avenue roundabout. The state has designed an elaborate solution to a nonexistent problem that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. This despite their agreement that this is unnecessary.
We know a steamroller when we see one, and all Washington state taxpayers should join in our outrage and determination to fight this abuse of process and misuse of funds.
Tim Dillon is a Yarrow Point councilman. Dan Nordstrom and Carl Stork are town residents