Things associated with Sumner: Rhubarb pie, the Daffodil Parade and, increasingly, traffic.
That’s right, traffic.
Rush-hour congestion on the main arterial connecting the small Pierce County city to points beyond, the aptly named Traffic Avenue, has gotten so bad city leaders have embarked on an effort to get the Legislature to do something about it.
They’ve started a campaign on Twitter, #SumTraffic, to try to “gather the voices” of commuters fed up with a three-block drive taking 10 minutes or more at certain times of day.
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They’ve made securing money for the Traffic Avenue/East Main Avenue interchange with state Route 410 the top priority of their legislative agenda for 2016.
Locals blame commuters while commuters blame trucks, cut-through traffic or few options. The truth is we all need that interchange, and, in fact, we all need each other.
Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow
They’ve enlisted other local governments, including Puyallup, to support the cause.
What they want, at least for now, is money to design and engineer improvements to the interchange.
“That one little interchange affects so many people,” city communications director Carmen Palmer said last week.
How much can be done and how soon remain to be seen.
How did traffic get so bad in the Rhubarb Pie Capital of the World?
It’s been a combination of things.
Since Route 410 opened nearly 50 years ago, the population of Sumner has more than doubled to today’s 9,100 or so residents.
9,200 The average number of cars per day taking the exit onto Traffic Avenue/East Main Avenue from eastbound state Route 410.
An industrial park called the Sumner-Pacific Manufacturing/Industrial Center opened north of the city. Nearly 10,000 people work there, and scores of semitractor-trailers stream in and out of the park each day.
Sound Transit opened a regional transit center right off Traffic Avenue. The Sounder commuter train stops there 10 times a day. Two express buses also pick up and drop off commuters there. There are nearly 400 parking stalls in and around the station.
That adds up to a lot of vehicles.
The state Department of Transportation reports that an average of 9,200 cars per day pull off eastbound Route 410 at the Traffic Avenue interchange. Another 8,700 take the Traffic Avenue interchange onto westbound Route 410.
City leaders complain they’re dealing with 2016 traffic problems using 1967 infrastructure.
The Traffic Avenue/East Main Avenue overpass is a two-lane road.
During the morning and evening rush, traffic backs up on both sides as commuters try to get to Route 410 to head home. During the morning commute, cars waiting to exit sometimes back up onto eastbound Route 410.
“It’s crazy,” said Bonney Lake resident Laura Wampler, who drives to the transit center five days a week to drop off her friend.
Wampler said it can sometimes take 10 minutes or more to drive the three blocks from the transit center to Route 410 during the evening.
I think it would help big time.
Commuter Laura Wampler on improving the state Route 410/Traffic Avenue interchange
In a recent city newsletter, Mayor Dave Enslow wrote that some commuters trying to catch the Sounder train to Seattle are forced to sit in traffic “watching their train go by from the backup.”
Adding lanes to the overpass would go a long way toward easing congestion, said Andy Steers, who manages the Washington Tractor store in Sumner. The business fronts Traffic Avenue.
“Four lanes would be tremendous,” Steers said.
During Thursday’s evening commute, cars were stacked up on southbound Traffic Avenue in front of his store at 3:50 p.m. It stayed that way until after 5 p.m.
Legislators representing the 31st District, which includes Sumner, are sympathetic.
“It’s definitely a choke point,” state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, told The News Tribune last week.
Stokesbary said he tried to get some funding into last year’s state transportation package for design and engineering work for the interchange, “but it didn’t quite make the cut.”
State Sen. Pam Roach, a Republican with homes in both the Auburn area and Sumner, called that a shame.
“I drive those roads. I know they get backed up,” Roach said. “It’s salt in the wounds for people who pay the gas tax but don’t get anything built near their homes.”
Neal Campbell is a local programs engineer for the Department of Transportation.
Campbell told The News Tribune he, too, is sympathetic to Sumner’s traffic woes and conceded the overpass is inadequate.
Still, he said, improving the interchange is not in the department’s plans for the foreseeable future.
“It’s not really a bottleneck for our system,” Campbell said. “It’s not as big a problem for us as it is for the city.”
That said, the department is supportive of Sumner’s efforts to secure funding for an improvement project, he said. Some have estimated construction could top $15 million.
“We build what the Legislature funds,” DOT spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker said.
Stokesbary said he’s spoken to city officials, business leaders and others who are interested in presenting a united front and maybe raising some money themselves to get things rolling.
“Even if you can shave off 5-10 minutes that you’re sitting on Traffic Avenue waiting to cross the bridge, that’s a lot of extra time to spend with your family,” he said.
Enslow, in his newsletter entry, implored commuters and Sumner residents alike to join the campaign.
“Tell us if you can’t get your products through for your business. Tell us if you sat in traffic unable to get to work or watched your train go sailing by. Tell us if you live in the area and can’t easily access your house for hours out of every day,” he wrote. “Together, we’ll let the region — and legislators — know why fixing this interchange is important to the region and the state.”