Bye-bye to the Boalch Avenue bounce? Rural roads crisis needs a fair, long-term solution

Bouncing down Boalch Avenue the other day, I did a double take when I saw the cyclist headed the wrong way at me along the shoulder. Then I saw the full-size pickup headed my way in the opposite lane.

Normally, I rely on sparse traffic and occasionally borrow part of the other lane to thread the cratered surface of the torn-up, wetland-plagued road. This time, it was a slow-motion running of the gauntlet. All three vehicles squeezed by, but I had to wonder whether the cyclist was aware of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail a few hundred yards north, wide open and welcoming.

I’ve been adventure-driving on Boalch for what feels like forever. But the cratered thoroughfare is far from alone in the category of crummy Valley streets. Several streets in Snoqualmie are well and truly cobbled, and until recently, Meadowbrook Way was pretty iffy, too.

When I asked North Bend Public Works Director Ron Garrow what the deal was with Boalch, he gave me a reasonable answer: Basically, ‘we’re working on it.’

When Garrow takes a complaint about the road, he tells people that it’s on the priority list for repairs, part of a long-term road improvement plan. All he needs now is the money to do it.

North Bend is floating a 0.2 percent sales tax increase this fall to pay for roads, and only roads. It’s well worth your consideration and probably won’t be noticeable to your pocketbook at about $10 for every $5,000 spent in town.

Broken system

Besides traffic dodge ‘em, it seems we’re also in a waiting game. King County gave notice this week of its new five-tiered road safety and maintenance plan, which spells out how road work will be prioritized by the county— and also sounds an alarm about the government’s  road budget.

A recent study showed that King County has hundreds of millions of dollars in road repair needs that it can’t pay for. So the new plan, unveiled last week, is to triage—manage the most pressing problems that affect the most people first, with the resources available.

Depending on their road, residents in unincorporated areas will see reduced or no storm response and snow removal, road wear and tear, lower speed limits and even road closures. So if you’re at the end of the line, lower your expectations.

I understand and accept the concept of triage. Needs must when the devil drives, but prioritization is a sign that the funding mechanism for roads is broken and needs repair. With 1 million daily trips in unincorporated King County, how long will it take before our roads really go to pot?

Half of all drivers on county roads originate from urban areas, but annexations have shrunk the number of people that the county can bond or tax. County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert told me that the cities have taken the people, but the county still has to take care of 73 percent of the roads. That’s not fair, she says.

Lambert wants the legislature to consider mandating payment of road bonds by residents in annexed areas. Such residents are now opted out when they become city residents.

Spreading out the tax burden sounds like a fair way to fix our road woes. It also sounds like a painful pill to swallow. However, we need ideas that are workable and just.

County residents do have a say. Contact the governor’s office or your legislator, and let them know that the Governor’s Task Force on Transportation needs to find a solution that’s fair for all residents.

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