State to identify possible improvements for Aurora Avenue North corridor; neighborhood concerns to be included

According to Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) projections, that section of the State Road 99 corridor, as it's also known, will deteriorate to a Level of Service (LOS) of F at peak travel hours for most of its length within the next 13 years.
LOS F means gridlock, explains Nytasha Walters Sowers, a DOT project manager in charge of a $500,000 study designed to come up with recommendations for improvements to safety, mobility and even the appearance of the corridor.
Speaking at a recent meeting of the Transportation Committee of the Queen Anne Community Council, Sowers said SR-99 already has some serious safety problems.
The section of the corridor between the Battery Street Tunnel and North 59th Street was the third-worst, most-hazardous accident corridor in the state in 2000, she said. "That's pretty significant."
According to DOT statistics, that section of the north-south arterial also had the highest number of both total accidents and disabling accidents in the central Puget Sound region last year.
The DOT has divided Aurora Avenue North into seven segments for the purpose of the study, and the state agency already has identified some specific problems for each area.
Vehicles travel an average of 10 to 15 mph over the speed limit between the Battery Street Tunnel and Raye Street, and 10 to 20 mph over the limit between Raye Street and just north of the Aurora Bridge at Bridge Way North.
Both of those segments also have what DOT considers to be narrow lane widths. So do the third through seventh segments between Bridge Way North and North 145th Street.
A stretch of SR-99 between Bridge Way North and North 115th also presents problems for drivers because of on-street parking, according to the DOT.
With the exception of the Aurora Bridge itself, all segments of SR-99 in the study also have a problem with trees, signs and telephone poles being too close to the roadway.
"Somehow there are quite a few accidents where cars and trees hit each other," Sowers said.
Safety is also impacted between North 115th and North 145th streets because there are sections next to Aurora Avenue that don't have sidewalks, according to the DOT study.
Sowers said the DOT is coordinating its study with the Seattle Transportation Department and with Metro Transit, as well as with the study about the Alaskan Way Viaduct, although the proposed fixes for the viaduct are "changing by the minute," she added.
The DOT study also is consulting with various neighborhood organizations along SR-99.
"Whatever is proposed has to be sensitive to neighborhood concerns," Sowers said.
The DOT study also will include business concerns, so the Aurora Avenue Merchants Association is part of the mix, as well. The Merchants Association represents more than 500 businesses between North 65th and North 145th streets, said Faye Garneau, the association's executive director.
"Traffic mobility on Aurora Avenue is crucial to Seattle," she said. But Garneau doesn't think DOT could make many changes without buying land along the corridor.
Garneau likes the idea of filling in the missing sections of sidewalk along Aurora in North Seattle, but she objects to a proposal for including dedicated bus lanes in her area.
That would reduce traffic flow by around a third on Aurora Avenue and force vehicles into surrounding neighborhoods, Garneau said. "We don't think that's a very good idea."
Sowers said the DOT will develop a range of options in the next seven months for improvements to Aurora Avenue. DOT officials anticipate preferred alternatives will be presented to the public during the second half of next year. The final report and recommendations for preferred alternatives will be released at the end of 2002 or the beginning of 2003, according to Sowers.
She pointed out that other sections of SR-99 in the region, such as the ones in Des Moines and Tukwila, already have plans that address safety and mobility along the corridor. And Shoreline is working on one now, she added.
The study of Aurora Avenue between the Battery Street Tunnel and North 145th Street will fill in the last gap, Sowers said.
Sowers conceded that major fixes to the Aurora corridor are unlikely, but she said some improvements such as new signage could be made that are not capital-intensive.
"We have a local and regional economy we have to be aware of," Sowers noted.
But if money became available in the future, the DOT would have a plan in place to use it, she said.
"This is a long-range plan," Sowers added. "It's not just for tomorrow or next year."
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