Council expected to approve new traffic plan

NORTH BEND - Though the thought of a giant concrete circle that substitutes as a traffic signal might not keep the majority of residents awake at night, the issue became the hot topic of the city's latest traffic plan update that started in October.

Supporters of the traffic circles, also known as roundabouts and more commonly found in Seattle neighborhoods, said the circles would be less expensive to construct and maintain. In addition, supporters cited federal safety reports that showed due to the low speeds at which vehicles needed to approach the circles, there was a 37-percent reduction of car crashes at intersections converted to circles in the United States.

Opponents said the traffic circles were a nuisance and that a traditional traffic signal was the best fit for North Bend drivers. Traffic circles, opponents said, were cumbersome in many ways, including making it difficult for emergency vehicles and for those pulling trailers to maneuver through.

Earlier this month the City Council decided that traffic signals were preferred over traffic circles and were expected to approve the transportation element of the 2003 Comprehensive Plan update on April 20, after the Valley Record's deadline.

The plan update establishes preferred guidelines for traffic policy, indicates problem areas and outlines suggested projects to improve traffic around North Bend.

The $34-million, 20-year plan spent months in the discussion phases but the result, according to City Councilman Mark Sollitto, is a "milestone" in the city's history.

The last plan, Sollitto said, was approved prior to the establishment of zoning set forth in the state's Growth Management Act.

"The current plan puts in place a system that recognizes the vision, vision plan and vision zoning of the city," said Sollitto.

Among the major projects outlined in the plan are:

* The construction of an Upper Valley Park & Ride.

* Earmarking $100,000 per year for the Pavement Overlay Program.

* The creation of a bypass connecting Bendigo Boulevard to North Bend Way near the Nintendo property.

The transportation plan update is the valuable third step in the city's ongoing process to improve traffic, said Sollitto. The first piece was passage of a concurrencey plan that requires developers to pay for traffic improvements, he said, with the second being the yearly funding and establishment of the pavement management program.

In June, the City Council will be asked to adopt the latest six-year transportation improvement program's list of projects slated to start in the next six years. The plan, which prioritizes funding for projects, is an extension of the comprehensive plan amendment. Among those expected projects are:

* Placing a traffic signal at the intersection of Bendigo Boulevard and Park Street;

* Placing a traffic signal at the intersection of Cedar Falls Way and East North Bend Way;

* Construction of a North Bend Park & Ride;

* Placing traffic signals at both the Bendigo Boulevard and Interstate 90 off ramps;

The initial plans have been discussed but will have to be approved by the City Council that will then solicit public input on the proposals.

Although a number of the projects expected to be in the six-year plan are partially or fully funded, money will play the key role in implementing the overall plan, said Public Works Superintendent Ron Garrow.

"The plan is only as good as we can fund it," said Garrow. "If we can't get funds to implement the plan, problems that have arose in the past will continue."

One of the options outlined in the plan that could be used in the future if approved by the council, Garrow said, is instituting a traffic impact fee for residential construction.

Although roundabouts are not preferred, Garrow said they will remain an option when it comes to the planning of projects.

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