Hundreds of Valley residents from both Snoqualmie and North Bend had a chance to ask questions about the fixes and changes coming to Interstate 90.
On April 17 and 18, representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation held open house events in Snoqualmie and North Bend to educate residents on the details behind the project to improve the I-90 and state Route 18 interchange, relocation of the weigh station, and widening of SR 18.
WSDOT’s goal is to collect feedback and concerns to help make decisions on undecided elements of the projects, such as the relocation of the weigh station.
John Chi, engineer manager for the WSDOT project, said that while they have received several positive comments regarding the new diverging diamond design of the highway interchange, his team is paying attention to the more critical reception regarding the location of the weigh station.
The truck weigh station is currently adjacent to the I-90 and SR 18 interchange outside of Snoqualmie, but as part of the renovation and new design, it must be moved to another location.
A WSDOT study initially identified seven sites that were eventually narrowed down to three based on considerations of cost, environmental impact and project needs. The new weigh station is needed for eastbound freight traffic to enforce regulations around weight and safety precautions.
Of the three locations, many of the comments given by Valley residents were in opposition to the site at Milepost 33.5 along I-90 which sits across the highway from the existing Truck Town area on the east side of North Bend. Concerns are centered around pollution, noise and traffic impacts. The location is also close to Camp Waskowitz, a student-focused camp operated by the Highline School District.
Chi said the camp director, along with many North Bend residents, are opposed to the North Bend location as well.
The other possible location under consideration is at Bandera State Airport. The airport is both west of Snoqualmie Pass and outside of the city of North Bend, making it an appealing location, but WSDOT is currently working on logistics of how a weigh station could fit in that area.
The third choice is in Cle Elum, but the WSDOT project team said a location west of the pass to catch eastbound traffic before the pass is preferred.
North Bend residents Kurt and Stacey Sutter came to give their own feedback as residents of Southeast 150th Street, the street directly across from the proposed North Bend site. The Sutters and their neighbors will be the residents most heavily impacted by the project.
“We are basically right in the center of one of the project green zones. It’s pretty much across the street, and our house is 30 feet from Southeast 150th,” Kurt Sutter said. “Right now we have a modest green space between us, and the freeway which we’ve always had. This would obliterate that.”
Stacey Sutter didn’t have much hope WSDOT will choose another location. With cost differences for such a large project, she didn’t think WSDOT would favor the negative impacts to residents over millions in increased costs at another site.
“It sounds like it comes down to a cost issue. It sounds like the weigh station at our exit is considerably cheaper than doing it elsewhere, and so the people here have been very nice and helpful answering the questions, but I get the feeling it has already been decided and we don’t really have a say in it,” she said. “One of the folks here told me that the weigh station at our exit would cost $30 million, and to do it up at Bandera where there are no homes impacted would cost them about $100 million. Realistically I can’t see that they are going to be concerned about a few property owners when there is that kind of difference in price.”
The other elements of the project saw more support, with concerns centered around the project not widening SR 18 all the way south. David Mills of North Bend was supportive of the diverging diamond design of the highway but was still worried that crashes would occur farther down the road.
“It’s long overdue obviously — I know they are trying to get it fast-tracked. They are going with the diamond design to save money which I understand, but my biggest concern though is SR 18 not being widened all the way over Tiger Mountain,” he said. “That’s my big concern, not only because of the traffic problem that it causes, but because of the fatalities and the accidents that occurred on that stretch of highway.”
Chi said the agency is still in phase one of the project which will end when a preferred alternative for the weigh station is located.
“Our goal is to be able to get all this feedback and hopefully make a decision by the middle of next month before the next SAG meeting. We scheduled the meeting toward the end of May to be able to get all this information, provide that to them, and hopefully come up with a preferred alternative to present to them to be able to make comments to,” he said.
Once phase one is complete, WSDOT will begin working on the design and will continue to take feedback on the work. If the project remains on schedule, Chi said that construction could begin in 2021.
WSDOT team is still accepting feedback all month. Chi noted they have an “online open house” website that has all of their presentation information on the various elements of the project and links for public comment to be submitted. WSDOT will be collecting feedback until April 30. The online open house is available at i90sr18openhouse.com.