Rampant East Pierce County growth requires traffic-planning creativity

John C. West is the Position 5 Edgewood City Council member.
John C. West is the Position 5 Edgewood City Council member. Courtesy photo

Growth at higher-than-expected rates in the Puget Sound region has created a traffic nightmare, and no region feels that impact more than the tri-city communities of Edgewood, Milton and Fife.

These small cities have seen density rapidly increase thanks to the state’s Growth Management Act, which has placed our oasis of open space in the cross hairs of development.

While managed growth is good, unmanaged traffic poses a real safety risk and degrades quality of life.

Our corner of the commute connects the region’s industrial centers with the largest residential communities of the South-Central Sound. It is where Interstate 5, State Route 167, SR 99 and SR 161 South collect and collide with Port of Tacoma traffic.

It also happens to be the last stretch in the state DOT’s traffic-relief plan.

On a given weekday afternoon or evening commute, residents need to pack a lunch just to go to the market.

Taking a child to sports practice is a test of wills, with average travel times near 45 minutes between North Hill and any of the three high schools serving our community (Fife, Puyallup and Sumner), all within a six-mile radius.

The added pass-through traffic volume brings increased safety risks for vehicles and pedestrians.

Blocked intersections, unauthorized semi-truck traffic on side roads, reduced visibility, uncoordinated construction zones, impatient commuters making U-turns, vehicles driving on shoulders, pedestrians walking on roads without sidewalks ...

Add these up and and you have an increasingly dangerous situation.

I asked at a recent Edgewood City Council meeting: “What more can we do?” The answer: “We’re doing it.”

We have shared our traffic concerns with DOT and Puget Sound regional committees.

We have reduced cross-town speed limits in zones where pedestrians and commuters intermingle.

We’ve increased traffic patrols, improved signage, added cameras and established parallel road networks.

But is that enough?

A constituent asked me: “What will you do about traffic congestion on Meridian Avenue East when the Milwaukee street bridge in Puyallup closes for a years-long replacement project?”

Another asked: “What about when the 70th Street bridge in Fife closes?”

And: “With the SR 167 project not happening fast enough, what about that semi-truck traffic cutting through town wearing out streets, blocking traffic and knocking over utility poles?”

My answer is simple: We need to do more. Population growth is not waiting for infrastructure.

I’ve identified some opportunities we should explore together, and the time is now.

* Smart routing, coordination and stricter enforcement of traffic and semi-truck flow on parallel road networks operated by the cities, Pierce County, Port of Tacoma and the state. That includes fines, peak times, signage and speed limits.

* Coordinated communication and oversight via social, broadcast and print media about parallel road networks, including restrictions and obstructions. That includes use of mobile traffic navigation apps like Uber, Waze and MapQuest.

* Government incentives for employers to encourage telecommuting (working from home).

* Discounted Sound Transit use for citizens of impacted communities.

* Joint effort with Chamber of Commerce, local retailers and media to promote special deals aiming to get more people off the road during peak times.

I hope to inspire county, state and Port officials to join me in forming a new traffic task force to address our raging traffic problem.

Because it will not get better if we do nothing new.

John C. West is an Edgewood City Council member. Reach him by email at jwest@cityofedgewood.org