Exterior of Kirkland City Hall. Photo courtesy City of Kirkland

Exterior of Kirkland City Hall. Photo courtesy City of Kirkland

Kirkland looks at Totem Lake area traffic study

Transportation Solutions, Inc. recently revealed the findings of the study.

Transportation Solutions, Inc. shared results from its EvergreenHealth/Totem Lake traffic study at the Aug. 7 Kirkland City Council meeting.

The study is a collaborative effort between Transportation Solutions, the city of Kirkland and EvergreenHealth. It began in the fall of 2017 after EvergreenHealth approached the city that summer about collaborating on a multi-modal traffic study for the Totem Lake business district.

Because its hospital campus is located there, there was an interest in looking more closely at how increasing development in the area was having an impact on traffic.

Currently, EvergreenHealth is the No. 1 employer in Kirkland. It additionally has plans for renovation, which made the traffic study more crucial.

The study is in line with council’s 2017-18 City Work Program, which funds capital investments catered to foster growth in the Totem Lake urban area, according to the meeting’s agenda.

It cost about $38,500 to bring the study to fruition. EvergreenHealth and the city each contributed about $19,250.

The overarching purposes of the study, as shared by Transportation Solutions principal and owner Victor Salemann, were to understand the traffic situation of the viewpoint of the city and EvergreenHealth, the implications of employment growth, provide higher-level planning recommendations for motorized and non-motorized transportation in the area, support service expectations of stakeholders and organizations and inform independent initiatives within the scope of the two organizations.

One of the primary findings from the study was that area growth is happening at a much faster rate than anticipated in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“It’s not uncommon,” Salemann said. “Most comprehensive plans assume a straight-line growth, kind of even out over the years. But [Kirkland’s] growth is actually being concentrated there, particularly residential growth.”

Salemann said that, in an ideal scenario, the rate of transportation-improvement implementations would be consistent with the rate of new development. But after the study, it’s been concluded that projects slated for the Totem Lake subarea need to happen earlier than initially planned.

To keep up to pace and be on top of development in the Totem Lake subarea, including in and around the EvergreenHealth campus, councilmembers recently decided to move forward with project development through debt financing to ensure the timeliness of transportation improvements.

Debt financing entails the city taking on a small amount of debt to proceed with unfunded but pertinent projects.

“EvergreenHealth especially appreciates the decision council made to accelerate some of those projects with debt financing,” Salemann said.

An area found to need improvement is the intersection of Northeast 128th Street and Totem Lake Boulevard. According to the study’s findings, it would be beneficial to allow left turns onto the latter road, an option that does not currently exist for drivers.

“There are actually people making that restricted left now,” Salemann said. “That’s how much demand there is for it.”

Salemann added that this proposed improvement has support from the Kirkland Transportation Commission and council, and that the former group and EvergreenHealth are calling for additional analysis.

The study further identified two high-priority projects. Transportation Solutions also looked at where EvergreenHealth employee traffic comes from and found that distribution comes primarily from the northern direction. Because of this, a potential new interchange between I-405 and Northeast 132nd Street is being proposed.

“It would create a new opportunity so employees aren’t commuting past the facility and then going back north to get to their job,” Salemann said. “They’ll be able to go straight there.”

It was found, however, that the planned interchange, which is scheduled to open in 2023, will bolster area growth but is not enough “in itself,” according to Salemann.

The other high-priority project involves the southbound right-turn lane between Northeast 124th Street and 116th Avenue Northeast, which would alleviate congestion for vehicles and transit accessing I-405. At the moment, both projects are funded and in the design phase.

The Northeast 128th Street corridor between 120th Avenue Northeast and 116th Avenue Northeast is EvergreenHealth’s highest priority, which has led the city and EvergreenHealth personnel to push for the funding of a potential Northeast 128th Street corridor study, as well as a preliminary design. According to the meeting’s council packet, the recommendation is based on the 2019-20 City Work Program, specifically the elements that state “continue capital investments to support growth…especially in the Totem Lake Urban Center.”

Councilmembers were receptive to the updates.

“I really appreciate this opportunity to work together,” Deputy Mayor Jay Arnold said. “I think the community expects that the hospital and the city are working together for this very important neighborhood. This is an example of this.”

It is anticipated that the city will continue to deliver funded projects and pursue the funding for remaining priority projects, which includes non-motorized improvements. It is also expected that EvergreenHealth support relevant city grant applications and advocate for the westbound left-turn project development at Northeast 128th Street.

“This is currently not in your plan, so we need to get there,” Salemann said.

City staff will give another presentation to the council once the proposed scope and budget as part of the 2021-22 budget and capital improvement program process.

“We’re glad to be your partners,” Mayor Penny Sweet said of Transportation Solutions, Inc.

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