Valley officials concerned about proposed delay on SR 18 construction
A proposed transportation budget released by Gov. Jay Inslee last month has Snoqualmie Valley officials worried that planned improvements to State Route 18 could face a multi-year delay.
The governor’s proposed budget, released before lawmakers reconvened for the annual legislative session in Olympia this month, delayed funding that had been earmarked for construction along a 5-mile section of SR 18 near Tiger Mountain.
After the state awarded funding last year, the plan was to begin improvements near Tiger Mountain as soon as 2025, after construction of a separate project on SR 18 at the I-90 interchange was completed. When both are completed, it will cap a 30-year effort to expand and add safety improvements across the highway.
But under Inslee’s proposal, the project would not be completed until 2035, a six-year delay compared to original estimates by the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Jim Kopriva, a spokesman for Inslee, stressed that the proposal is not written in stone, saying that with so many projects, the governor’s proposed budget was based on existing contracts, legal obligations and interstate projects.
“The proposed budget is just that — proposed,” he said. “Legislators will develop their own proposal, and the governor is eager to work with them.”
Maps of two construction projects on State Route 18. Left: I90/SR 18 interchange project. Right: 5-mile widening project near Tiger Mountain. Courtesy images.
While the proposal does not carry any legislative weight, it has not been well received by members of the Southeast Area Transportation Legislative Coalition (SEAL-TC), a collective of business, citation and tribal leaders along the SR 18 corridor, who have called for improvements to SR 18 for years.
Local leaders have widely viewed the project, which would widen the highway to four lanes and add a median divider, as a critical investment for the regional economy on a notoriously dangerous road famous for its head-on crashes.
“We’re very saddened and hopefully we can change their minds,” said Kelly Coughlin, CEO of the SnoValley Chamber and a SEAL-TC member, who noted that members of the group plan to testify before the state transportation committee. for the proposal of the governor.
Funding for the expansion around Tiger Mountain was earmarked in last year’s $17 billion Washington state transportation Move Ahead budget. It was seen as a major collaborative win for elected officials, business leaders and tribal members along the SR 18 corridor.
Over the past 30 years, improvements to the highway have occurred section by section, each working to make all of SR 18 a four-lane, median-divided highway. In recent years, SEAL-TC was formed to advocate for funding to improve the last seven miles of SR 18, which stretches from Issaquah-Hobart Road to the I-90 interchange.
After funding was secured to redesign the interchange and widen two miles of road, the 5-mile widening around Tiger Mountain represented the final piece to completing the SR 18 puzzle.
At $640 million, the project represented no small investment by the state. It was the second most expensive capital project funded by the state transportation budget last year, behind only the I-5 Columbia River Bridge.
However, officials along the SR 18 corridor point to needed safety improvements and the highway’s relationship with the Port of Tacoma as justifications for the spending.
According to Washington State Patrol data compiled by SEAL-TC, the project area has more than doubled the amount of fatal crashes and serious injuries over the past five years compared to the rest of the highway, which previously received improvements.
The route also represents the most direct connection between the Port of Tacoma and Eastern Washington, with more than 10 million tons of cargo traveling through it each year.
In a statement to Sen. Marko Liias of Everett and Rep. Jake Fey of Tacoma, who chairs the Senate and House transportation committees, mayors from seven cities along SR 18 — including Snoqualmie, North Bend and Carnation — expressed opposition to any late.
“We are writing to collectively express our strong opposition to any postponement of these planned and overdue safety improvements to SR 18 over Tiger Mountain,” the letter states. “[SR 18 is] a treacherous path that has adversely affected many Washington families over the past 30 years.”
State Sen. Mark Mullet, an Issaquah Democrat whose district includes most of the SR 18 corridor, called the delay a “terrible proposal,” citing the need to curb traffic crashes and noting that he doesn’t see a reason for the postponement.
“We have the funds to keep this project on track,” he said. “I think it was very short-sighted of the governor and I plan to use all my political capital to fight the delay.”