No good solutions forces City Council to rethink transportation projects plan

By Miki Mullor

  • No real solutions to traffic congestion
  • Phantom traffic projects used to approve developments 
Transportation Improvement Plan without improvements

The Sammamish City Council on June 18 reluctantly adopted a required 6-year transportation capital improvement plan(TIP) as a placeholder with a 4-2 vote after several failed attempts to reach a majority vote. 

The Transportation Improvement Plan (“TIP”) is a planning document the City must adopt by July 1 to satisfy a State law requirement.  The document lists all transportation projects (roads and safety) the City is considering, the total cost of each and the spread of all the costs of at least over the next six years. 

Historically, since at least 2005, City Councils have not used the TIP to guide road projects. The following table tracks all the road projects that were placed on the TIP since 2005 and it shows that about 70% of the projects identified on the prior years’ TIPs were never done. 

This year’s TIP is the first one following the adoption of the new concurrency rules that have effectively blocked most new development, including the 424 units Town Center Phase I, because Sahalee Way is considered failing concurrency. 

Staff proposed a $54 million project to add safety features on Sahalee Way: a median, left and right turn lanes, sidewalks and bike lanes. The project, if was built, would have added a small capacity of 32 more car trips per hour – not enough to allow the Town Center to move forward. 

Council Member Tom Hornish

Council Member Tom Hornish moved to clear any non-concurrency transportation projects from the TIP in order to provide funds to fund the Sahalee Way project. Hornish proposed removal of Issaquah-Fall City Road Phase II given that the road is not failing concurrency. He also suggested a bond of about $50 million to be paid by profits generated by the Community Center, operated by the YMCA.  (We reported that the Y has been using questionable accounting methods to direct the surplus to Seattle).  

Hornish could not get a majority vote. The council voted to adopt the current TIP as a placeholder and give staff time to come back with more options. The next discussion is scheduled for July 16.

Council Members Chris Ross, Ramiro Valderrama, Jason Ritchie and Pam Stuart voted for adopting the proposed six-year TIP with the understanding that it will be discussed again during the July 16 council meeting. Hornish and Mayor Christie Malchow objected. Deputy Mayor Karen Moran,  was absent at the late vote. 

Development approved with phantom projects 

During the four hour discussion, it was revealed by staff that the city has been approving development under the assumption that projects on the TIP will be completed within that six year period, regardless wether those projects are built or not.

Concurrency is defined in The Growth Management Act (GMA) as:

“Local​ ​jurisdictions​ [cities] ​must​ ​adopt​ ​and​ ​enforce​ ​ordinances​ ​which​ ​prohibit​ ​development​ ​approval​ ​if​ ​the development​ ​causes​ ​the​ ​level​ ​of​ ​service​ [LOS] ​on​ ​a​ ​locally​ ​owned​ ​transportation​ ​facility​ ​[road] to​ ​decline​ ​below the​ ​standards​ ​adopted… unless​ ​transportation​ ​improvements​ ​or​ ​strategies​ ​to​ ​accommodate​ ​the​ ​impacts​ ​of​ ​development​ ​are made​ ​concurrent​ ​with​ ​the​ ​development.​

“Concurrent with the development” means that improvements​ ​or​ ​strategies​ ​are​ ​in​ ​place​ ​at​ ​the​ ​time​ ​of​ ​development,​ or that a financial commitment is in place to complete​ ​the​ ​improvements​ ​or​ ​strategies​ ​within​ ​six​ ​years​.”  
(RCW 36.70A.070 (6) (b)) (our emphasis)

But the city knew the TIP is just a planning document and not a commitment to complete road projects within six years, yet allowed development to continue based on it. 

In this example of a concurrency certificate issued for a development, the certificate states a future “Six-Year Committed Threshold” being used to make the test pass – assuming future improvement even though those were not committed to.

Later in the meeting City Attorney Mike Kenyon indeed clarified that TIP and concurrency are not synonymous and in order to pass concurrency improvements to roads must be in place within six years and the TIP cannot be used to approve development.  

Attempts to exempt the Town Center from concurrency fail
Ramiro Valderrama

As the meeting extended into late hours, Valderrama moved to rename two “study” items on the TIP to “strategies” in order to pass concurrency, referring to the “unless​ ​transportation​ ​improvements​ ​or​ ​strategies​ ​to​ ​accommodate​ ​the​ ​impacts​ ​of​ ​development​ ​are made​ ​concurrent​ ​with​ ​the​ ​development“ language in the state law (as cited above).  

The study items were added to measure traffic and propose improvements – and wouldn’t have accommodated more traffic.  Staff opposed Valderrama’s motion on the account that studies don’t add capacity. City Attorney clarified that the law allows development only if measures to handle the impact of development are built within six years.

Valderrama’s motion failed with a 1-5 vote.

Council Member Pam Stuart

During the May 23 Council meeting Council Member Pam Stuart moved to exempt Phase I of the Town Center from concurrency on Sahalee Way. Phase I is a 424 homes and 31,00 SF commercial space project owned by STCA LLC.   The motion’s legality was at question therefore Stuart amended it to exempt the Town Center sub area from Sahalee Way concurrency – which would have allowed the entire 2,200 homes project to move forward without any improvements to Sahalee Way.  

The motion failed with only Stuart, Ritchie and Valderrama voting for it.

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4 thoughts on “No good solutions forces City Council to rethink transportation projects plan

  1. Ritchie has been a failure from day one. Should have never been elected to be on the Council.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  2. Sure will be nice to have the ‘big’ projected Y surplus from the Community Center albatross (sarcasm). Not like anyone foresaw that gilded boondoggle would never generate a payback.

  3. The traffic solution is patently obvious and two-fold.

    1. Two Lanes in each direction for sahalee way, with a center turn lane, and signage to encourage proper use of the road.

    2. Widen Inglewood hills Rd to two lanes each direction, ENDING IN A TOLL BRIDGE to NE 24th St in Bellevue.

    Then you can approve all the additional growth you want for decades to come.

  4. The cheapest solution is to get schools to bus kids that are within a 1 mile radius of their school, and offer good after school activity busses.

    Those “choice” schools might be great academically, but they draw students from all over the district. Guess what – that generates many trips off and on the plateau. Districts should be offering better transportation options for these kids outside of having their parents drive them to and from school. Why are building use changes like this not examined from a concurrency perspective?

    Get Eastside Catholic to bus more of their kids. That school alone generates a ton of trips on and off the plateau given the lack of any geographical boundaries for their student body.

    [ edited ]

    Minimizing these trips would have the biggest impact on traffic in Sammamish, no question. It’s also not particularly expensive relative to the other options, either. It doesn’t solve the traffic issues outside the city, but in terms of the leading cause of traffic inside the borders of the city, it’s the school traffic, without question.

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