Despite protests at the October 6 City Council meeting by two City Council Members over the Council approving the Final Scope of Work for the Sahalee Way road widening project before a
November 4 public meeting, staff tried to advance contract approval to today’s Council meeting (October 20), emails obtained by Sammamish Comment reveal.
Members Ramiro Valderrama and Nancy Whitten voted against the $15m project, both citing the lack of an opportunity for the public to review the Final Work Scope plans before a vote; and, in Whitten’s case, vociferous opposition to the design itself as inadequate and lacking a climbing lane southbound on Sahalee from SR202. The Final Work Scope was approved at the October 6 Council meeting on a 4-2 vote.
The vote, which was taken under the City Manager’s report and not on the Council agenda under New Business, or even under the Consent Agenda, left no indication to the public that action was going to be taken. Even Council Members didn’t know, complained Valderrama and Whitten.
Valderrama noted that there had been no public meetings since the summer.
Both complained that members of the public, particularly from the Sahalee gated community, had been promised an opportunity to review plans before decisions were made. But the next public meeting isn’t until November 4, the day after the City Council elections.
Emails obtained by Sammamish Comment reveal that before 8am October 8, Interim Public Works Director John Cunningham in an email sought to ask Perteet, the contractor, to have the contract ready for approval at tonight’s City Council meeting. The public meeting would still be scheduled for November 4.
The emails also reveal that the original intent for contract approval was November 17, after the public meeting.
Perteet could not meet the request to have the paperwork ready for tonight’s Council approval. The contract is now set for approval November 3 on the Consent Agenda. The Consent Agenda is a straight up-or-down approval for many items, usually a pro forma procedure that doesn’t result in rejection and it does not include Council discussion. Thus, the intent was to treat the contract with no Council debate or public discussion.
An item can be, and often is, removed from the Consent Agenda and moved to the regular agenda for discussion and sometimes public comment.
The next week, October 14, at the Council’s Transportation Committee meeting, Whitten continued her objections and was further angered when City Manager Ben Yazici casually mentioned plans to approve the contract at the November 3 City Council meeting, the day before the public meeting. November 3 is also Election Day.
At the Oct. 13 Council Meeting, and the next day at the Transportation Committee meeting, Yazici and other Council Members tried to cool down Whitten, who was still complaining about the process denied Sahalee residents and Council Members.
At the Council meeting, Yazici tried to assure Whitten and Valderrama that public input would be heard and would be meaningful. He said “minor tweaks” could be made to the work scope after the Nov. 4 public meeting, assurances that went nowhere with Whitten. She objected to the term “minor tweaks.”
The following day at the committee meeting, Whitten was still fuming, continuing to object to the fact the project came up under City Manager reports, not under New Business, and that neither Council Members nor the public knew in advance a vote would be taken. She objected to the characterization of the project as the “Final” work scope.
Committee chair Tom Odell noted that three times the proposed Comprehensive Plan rewrite had been labeled “Final,” and that changes were made.
At the Committee meeting, Staff indicated that special mailings will be made to the relevant postal codes on either side of Sahalee Way alerting them to the Nov. 4 meeting, which will be at the Boys and Girls Club.
The project calls for widening to three lanes most of the way, adding bike lanes and a sidewalk on the west side, from NE 25th to NE 37th would cost a projected $15m. The portion north of NE 37th, part of which is in the City Limits but most of which to SR202 is in King County jurisdiction, is not slated for improvements because the County won’t fund its portion.
The discussion and vote at the Oct. 6 City Council meeting was unusually heated.
Whitten protested not only the process but the absence of discussion about the design before bring the scoping to a vote. She advocated for a truck climbing lane southbound on Sahalee Way from SR202, despite staff recommendations that none be provided.
City Manager Yazici, who normally is very measured even when clearly irritated, couldn’t contain himself. He said he was “appalled” Whitten would try to substitute her belief for engineering conclusions.
The discussion went downhill from there.
Yazici said traffic simply didn’t demand a climbing lane, which would cost the City nearly $6m because the County would not contribute any money to the project. Trucks account for 3.7% of the traffic and delay traffic only 50 seconds, according to studies. Whitten was not mollified, comparing Sahalee Way to SE 43rd Way from Issaquah up the hill to 228th Ave. SE in Sammamish. There is a third lane across the road, with two of them northbound and one serving as a slow-traffic lane.
Whitten also wanted right turn lanes in selected locations, another design feature not recommended by staff.
During the Transportation Committee meeting October 14, it was suggested by a member of the public that the City consider creating a dual purpose southbound shoulder uphill from SR 202 that could serve as a slow-vehicle lane on the rare occasions when a heavy truck or bus needed it. According to the City study, trucks climbing the hill at 25 MPH occurred only 3.7% of the time, delaying traffic 50 seconds. It was on this basis no truck climbing lane was recommended.
It was also suggested that the proposal for an eight-foot wide painted median (essentially striping to signal to vehicles not to enter) between 25th and 28th streets, a distance of 0.4 miles, be eliminated. There is no place to turn right or left in this area from either direction. Eliminating the additional pavement that serves no purpose would save money and reducing impervious surface would be an environmental benefit.
Staff was directed to examine both options.
Later, Valderrama told Sammamish Comment upon hearing of these suggestions that he considered these “major” changes, not tweaks, and was pleased to hear of the potential flexibility.
What neither Staff nor Yazici told the Council during the October 6, October 13 or October 14 meetings but which was revealed in the emails is that a climbing lane on Sahalee would require a 23 ft tall retention wall along the west side to protect the road from potential hillside slides.