Submitted by John Arbeeny.
On 5 March 2020 I attended the Lakewood Open House for the euphemistically entitled “JBLM-North Access Road Improvement Project”. I spoke at length with several City experts on a variety of subjects involving this project and my findings are below. Bottom line: the project is unnecessary, unfunded and if funded would be an unconscionable waste of tax payer money. Indeed it has little if anything to do with ameliorating the traffic heading to or from JBLM. As to the design: it will not perform as envisioned; it overshadows smaller but much more needed transportation needs throughout the city; it is inconvenient for both vehicle traffic and residents alike; and potentially dangerous.
The “need” for roundabouts has been most publically justified by Lakewood as a matter of safety quoting WSDOT and a Kansas State University Study. These sources allege a far lower accident rate involving vehicles and pedestrians where roundabouts are present. Given that this source information is accurate, would it not then make sense to place roundabouts in Lakewood where such accidents occur with the most frequency? Yet that information in justification of this project is lacking. There has been no publicized accident data to support this proposal. Thus it becomes impossible to judge whether the locations proposed for Washington Blvd. and environs make sense from a safety perspective.
However I was able to obtain information of fatal traffic accidents in Lakewood as a stand-in for missing data for accidents of all types. A quick overview going back over 20 years (1996-2017) shows that the total of 78 fatal accidents in Lakewood involving vehicles alone or pedestrians which resulted in 81 fatalities. 35 of these accidents (45%) involved DRUNK DRIVERS! Perhaps it would make sense to spend more funding on law enforcement to reduce the number of drunk drivers if you want to reduce fatalities! There were 32 fatal accidents involving pedestrians or about 41% of the accidents. Perhaps it would make sense to spend more on crosswalks and pedestrian crossing signs to deal with that? If safety is a prime concern then concentrate on the prime problems first.
Now take a look at fatal accidents on Veterans Drive and Washington Blvd. In the last 20 years there have been 2 fatal accidents on each road (total 4), all of which involved only vehicles and accounted for a total of 4 fatalities. That amounts to about 5% of the total fatal accidents and none of the pedestrian fatalities! The city should focus on prioritize the 95% of other locations where fatal accidents occur, especially involving pedestrians, instead of wasting this money on a section of Lakewood roads that aren’t the core problem.
Apart from the actual need for such a roundabout project, there is the funding which relies on about $12,000,000 in federal grants and $6,000,000 in Lakewood matching funds: about 33% of the total. Currently there is neither federal funding nor Lakewood matching funds for this project. Given that Lakewood staff hasn’t established an actual need for this project based on safety the topic of funding is somewhat moot.
Perhaps they have forgotten the Hipkins Road debacle where the City chased after “free” grant money. Lakewood wound up spending in excess of $350,000 in real Lakewood matching funds for a total of $750,000 to make a straight road crooked, complete with chicanes, medians, a few limited sections of sidewalks and now dying vegetation strips which we pay to maintain. Ostensibly the purpose of the Hipkins Road project was for “traffic calming”. Yet there was no need established beforehand and no data collected after completion of the Hipkins Road chicanery to justify the waste of grant and Lakewood matching funding. Wasting other governmental funding is wasting our tax dollars.
If Lakewood is successful in obtaining the federal grant then the question arises of how Lakewood will find the $6,000,000 matching funds that don’t currently exist. There are several possibilities, none of them good for taxpayers. Council can issue councilmanic bonds without a vote of the people and fund it from existing revenues that otherwise would have been used for other necessary services. This amounts to “robbing Peter to pay Paul” in order to score some other government’s funding. That’s bad government. Council can come to the people to approve a bond issue which citizens will wind up paying for. Council could conceivably take it out of the $15,000,000 in the current Transportation Benefit District (TBD) which resulted in an additional $20.00 car tab fee for work that should have been accomplished within the transportation budget. They could increase that car tab fee from the current TBD but that would require a public vote to approve. They could conceivably establish another TBD for this project which would result in another car tab fee increase. There are other possibilities as well all of which would result in a new or increased taxes on Lakewood residents for a project that clearly lacks any demonstrated need either for Lakewood or JBLM.
In addition to establishing a need and financing, it is also important to review the proposed “improvements” which in many ways maybe unnecessary, expensive, suspect, inconvenient and potentially dangerous.
It appears from the plans that properties on both sides of Washington Blvd will lose significant portions of their front yards. This is especially true for those properties located adjacent to the 6 proposed roundabout intersections along Washington Blvd and one plopped down willy-nilly on Veterans Drive and Lakecity. They will lose front and side yards to the roundabouts. This will also have the effect of bringing vehicles closer to homes built on those lots which would increase the noise from traffic. It may also increase the danger of vehicle-to-house collisions should someone speeding in the roundabout lose control of their vehicle.
Supposedly a roundabout (singular) slows traffic down but not as much as a signal light. The problem is that there are 6 roundabouts in a row on Washington Blvd and another at Northgate Rd which will slow traffic immeasurably more than a 4-way signal light on Vernon or and 3-way signal on Edgewood Ave. If the signal lights were properly synchronized there would be little if any delay between lights regardless of time of day. The staff I spoke too at the open house stated that there were traffic flow studies that supported faster traffic flow from this project. Unfortunately they didn’t have it available; I have never seen these studies; and I doubt that they are readily available to the public. Again we’re back to proving a need.
Inclusion of “JBLM” in the project’s title appears a “sweetener” in the project description. I suspect that this federally supported project has somewhere in its description an objective to reduce the traffic snarls caused by JBLM mornings and evenings. This project will do nothing to ameliorate that situation. Washington Blvd is a relatively minor arterial leading into JBLM North Fort Lewis with some traffic continuing along the Dupont-Steilacoom Road to the JBLM Dupont gate. Veterans Drive is primarily used by local traffic and with much of it to and from the Veteran’s hospital. Major arterials into JBLM are Gravelly Lake Drive leading on to I-5 and Steilacoom heading to the Dupont JBLM gate on Dupont-Steilacoom Rd. Washington Blvd takes on a greater role in spill over traffic coming from or headed towards Dupont along East Drive into or out of Lakewood, in order to bypass a jammed up I-5 adjacent to JBLM. Faced with all the impediments that 6 roundabouts pose on Washington Blvd, traffic most likely will shift to other less encumbered roads. The most likely impact is traffic will avoid Washington Blvd and chose rather to use Veterans Drive with its only roundabout. Thus this project will manage to create a traffic problem on a current 2 lane street that is not now a problem on a 3 lane street.
Roundabouts coupled with elimination of the left turn lane in both directions and median strips will actually increase traffic in roundabouts due to people unable to make a direct left turns to their homes. They will have to drive to the next roundabout, go 180 degrees in the opposite direction to effect what would have been a simple left turn. There is also the inconvenience that will result in the removal of all private mail boxes along the sidewalks and installation of common shared “community mail boxes” to replace them. No longer will you be able to walk the few feet from your front door to your mail box. Rather you will have to walk to where ever the community mailbox is centrally located. The added problem is the maintenance of the mail boxes and keys which may become lost, stolen or require change every time an owner or tenant moves in or out.
The median and vegetation strips proposed are just an added operating expense with maintenance, arborist and utility (water) costs added indefinitely to the cost of the project. Based upon the poor maintenance of such strips on Hipkins Road for instance, these much more massive strips will suffer the same fate. The inclusion of trees in the median and vegetation strips may result in root invasion of the areas under the road and lift the road surface in a few decades. Additionally tree leaves will cover the roadway in the fall just as it starts to rain and create an incredibly slippery surface which degrades steering and braking control.
The intersection of Interlaaken Dr and Washington Blvd is perhaps the most dangerous intersection of Washington Blvd and a roundabout is planned for it. However this doesn’t solve the problem as vehicles headed south on Gravelly Lake turning off on to Washington Blvd or left turns headed north from Gravelly Lake making left turn on to Washington Blvd will both feed into the same roundabout coming from a serious blind spot behind Interlaaken Dr that will not be eliminated. What’s needed at this intersection is a 4 way stop light that will have to be synchronized with the Gravelly Lake signal to ensure that backups don’t occur. Right turns and especially left turns from Interlaaken Dr on to Washington Blvd are quite dangerous. Perhaps a “right turn only” and center line barrier preventing a left turn would help solve this problem for a lot less than a roundabout.
Emergency vehicles may have a hard time of it since they and the cars trying to pull over out of their way will be sandwiched between the curbs, gutters and sidewalks on the one side and median on the other in both directions of travel on the street. This will also create traffic blockages from other vehicles, such as mail delivery, garbage trucks, delivery vans, moving vans, road crews, buses etc. that must spend some time stationary in the only lane of traffic. There is no way to bypass a stopped or stalled vehicle as there are no shoulders or turn lanes. There’s also some question whether emergency vehicles and trailer trucks will be able to negotiate roundabouts without having to run over curbs and sidewalks to do so. I think this is/was a problem with University Place’s roundabouts. Of course you could limit heavy truck traffic on Washington Blvd but that only pushed such traffic on to secondary roads even less capable of handling such traffic.Print This Post