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Here’s what you need to know about the widening of College Street

North Thurston school district officials discuss upcoming College Street construction project

North Thurston school district transportation director John Suessman and Mountain View Elementary School Principal Heather McCarthy discuss adjusting to the upcoming construction project that includes a new roundabout at 22nd Avenue Southeast.
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North Thurston school district transportation director John Suessman and Mountain View Elementary School Principal Heather McCarthy discuss adjusting to the upcoming construction project that includes a new roundabout at 22nd Avenue Southeast.

A long-awaited project to improve College Street Southeast in Lacey — a project that could ultimately take decades to complete — is about to begin with a first step: widening the street between 18th and 25th Avenues and adding a roundabout at 22nd Avenue.

The ultimate goal is to widen College Street between Lacey Boulevard and 37th Avenue, so it has the look and feel of what drivers are already familiar with between 37th Avenue and Yelm Highway. That stretch has more room for traffic and pedestrians.

“We are setting the foundation for the future corridor,” City Manager Scott Spence told The Olympian about the first phase of work, which is expected to be complete by the fall or winter of 2020.

Construction will disrupt traffic on the busy street, and with thousands of vehicles already traveling on it daily, some might question whether the disruptions are worth it. The problem? College Street isn’t getting less busy, city data show. By 2020, the street is expected to be used by 32,000 vehicles per day, up from 21,000 in 2005.

Some welcome the work, such as Mountain View Elementary School Principal Heather McCarthy, who believes the new roundabout at 22nd Avenue will slow traffic and make it safer for her students.

The speed limit on College Street is 35 miles per hour, but twice an hour every day, she sees vehicles driving at least 50 miles per hour.

“We see accidents all year long on this road,” she said.

At the end of March, Lacey City Council awarded a $5.9 million contract to Active Construction of Puyallup for the work between 18th and 25th, as well as the roundabout.

Active has a track record in Lacey. In 2011-12, Active did the Carpenter Road improvements between Pacific Avenue and Martin Way, which is now one of the smoothest rides in the city. In 2015-16, they installed the roundabout on Willamette Drive at 31st Avenue.

City officials are set to meet with the contractor on Tuesday. Once that meeting is over, public works director Scott Egger said the contractor could begin the project at any time — even as early as the following week.

How will it work?

College Street will be widened by 22 feet, Lacey transportation manager Martin Hoppe said. And the overall design is asymmetrical, he said.

For example, College Street south of 22nd to 25th will be widened on the east side of the street, but north of 22nd to 18th will be widened on the west side of it. And from Lacey Boulevard to 37th Avenue, the widening will follow a west, east, west, east pattern.

Why?

That was the recommendation made by a consultant to “minimize (the city’s) right-of-way acquisition costs,” since the road will need property that is now privately owned.

However, that doesn’t mean drivers will zig-zag their way down the road.

That’s because College Street will not only get a new roundabout at 22nd Avenue, but also at 16th and 29th, public works director Egger said. And around each traffic circle, traffic will be redirected slightly east or west, although it will remain a north-south corridor.

The asymmetrical design might minimize the city’s acquisition costs, but the first round of acquisitions took some time.

City attorney Dave Schneider spent five years acquiring property rights from 21 owners between 18th and 25th. Fourteen of those deals were right-of-way acquisitions, giving the city the right to use the property in perpetuity, and seven were temporary construction easements.

One reason it took so long is that there were some unforeseen setbacks, he said. For one, former city attorney Ken Ahlf died in 2014 before any offers were made. And the negotiation process wasn’t always smooth, The Olympian reported in 2017.

Still, the city and those owners came to an agreement on every parcel and “property owners were justly compensated for their property,” he said.

Mountain View Elementary

School officials haven’t worked out all the details about how the school, which has about 600 students, will adjust to the impending construction, but they do know this much: the new roundabout will encroach on school property and that will lead to some permanent changes.

Mountain View has its own roundabout, which allows parents to drop off their children, circle around and exit the way they came in on 22nd Avenue. But the new roundabout will extend into the school’s own traffic circle, which means a new parking lot will be built on an existing ball field, Principal McCarthy said.

Although one ball field will be lost, the school still has two more baseball/softball backstops for public use, she said.

There’s also a proposal that would create bus stop parking near a covered play shed where many students now are dropped off and picked up. McCarthy has concerns about that proposal because that’s the one location where students are protected from the elements.

If the pickup and drop off location has to move, there isn’t a place for a child to stand out of the weather, she said. And that’s a problem during a typical Northwest January when it might be 30 degrees and pouring rain.

Still, she is supportive of the roundabout.

“I want my kids to be safe and a roundabout will help that,” she said.

Water main repairs start Tuesday

Separate from the widening work, a water main repair will disrupt traffic on College Street near Sixth Avenue starting this week. Crews are scheduled to replace broken water main valves from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and Friday and overnight April 28 to 29. During those times, the northbound lane will be closed.

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