State Route 202 detour causing delays

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - With State Route 202 shut down between Fall City and Snoqualmie due to earthquake damage, many drivers are facing congested roads and more time-consuming commutes as they are forced to use Interstate 90.

Two of the main intersections soaking up the excess traffic are at Preston-Fall City Road and SR 202 in Fall City and the highway overpass at Preston-Fall City Road and I-90.

Employees of businesses near I-90's Preston exit, or Exit 22, have faced difficulties getting onto the highway because they must yield to non-stop traffic on Preston-Fall City Road. The intersection backs up during rush hour, which runs from 7 to 8 a.m. and again from about 3:30 to 5 p.m., for those getting on and off the interstate.

"I've heard a lot of horns blowing out here, I can tell you that," said postal worker Nancy Dafler. "And I've noticed that between 3:30 and 4 p.m., I used to see it a little bit busy, a steady flow of cars, and now it's at a dead stop during that time."

"You can sit at that stop sign for five minutes, easily," SanMar employee Cari Witter said of the I-90 Preston exit. "The overpass is so full of cars waiting to go east that you can't turn." SanMar is a sportswear distribution center located on the north side of the interstate.

Witter explained that the traffic situation was frustrating before the earthquake damaged SR 202, and now it's worse because of the added vehicles that are forced to travel the intersection.

"It backs up as far as I can see on I-90 now, people getting off the exit," said George Chandler, a landscaper and salesman for Marenakos Rock Center, next to SanMar. He said it took him six minutes to turn east on the highway at the intersection, where the frontage road literally sits within a few feet of the interstate - about twice the wait he experienced before SR 202 was shut down.

"You just deal with it and be patient, that's all you can do," he said.

Marenakos employee Keith Graham, who dispatches trucks for rock products, said many of the drivers have expressed frustration over getting to the highway so they can deliver their product.

"If they don't put a three-way [stop sign] there, they are going to have problems, because people just won't let you out," he said. "The way it is now, you can't do anything. They need to do something about it."

Aside from the traffic inconvenience, many Preston and Fall City businesses are finding increased patronage because of the detour.

"It's been mad. It's been very hectic, but it's hard to get in and out of our parking lot," said Fall City Market and Deli employee Angela Hill. The market also sells gas and is located near the corner of Preston-Fall City Road and SR 202 in downtown Fall City. Hill added that many customers complained about traffic the first couple of days after the quake, but they've stopped now that they are used to the congestion.

"It has helped business, those passing by us now stop," said Nell Engel, branch manager of Sno Falls Credit Union in Fall City. She guessed that many people who drive up SR 202 had previously bypassed that intersection, and therefore hadn't noticed the bank or other businesses along the road.

Valley residents can expect to deal with the detour for at least one year while the quake damage is repaired. During the earthquake, a 900-foot-long crack ripped through the pavement, rendering the road too risky to drive on because of potential landslides and loosening of road material.

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials said major repairs are needed, and they are currently creating a plan and timeline for the project. The project's funding is still being sought, with most of it expected to come from the federal government.

For now, WSDOT is installing additional detour signs on roads that access quake-damaged SR 202. Phil George, maintenance superintendent for WSDOT, said more detour signs are needed because people are still trying to drive on the closed road.

"Everybody wants to stop and see what's going on, and they don't realize they're putting themselves in harm's way," he said. The new signs, made in the department's shop in Yakima, will be put in place this week. They will join several flashing, illuminated signs that warn of the closure.

George said transportation officials are trying to find the best way to fix SR 202, and geotechnical engineers are studying the stability of the slope on which the highways sits.

"No matter which fix is selected, it's going to take a lot of time," he said. "The reason the road is closed is for public safety. Part of several hundred feet of the cracking goes right down the middle of the road, which means that under the right circumstances, 202 is on land that could slide down the hill."

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