Water line, storm drain improvements create backups on Yelm Highway

Stefen Hagglund, 33, of Olympia waits for his bus Friday on Yelm Highway. Meanwhile, single lanes back up traffic.
Stefen Hagglund, 33, of Olympia waits for his bus Friday on Yelm Highway. Meanwhile, single lanes back up traffic. The Olympian

Yelm Highway work creates backups The Yelm Highway widening project between Henderson Boulevard and Rich Road is causing headaches for drivers and worry for business owners, and things could get worse before they get better.

Water main and storm drainage construction has created one-way traffic and delays on stretches of the highway, said Theresa Parsons, a project coordinator for Thurston County.

Parsons warns drivers to expect similar lane closures for the foreseeable future. Sections of the highway affected by delays will be even more in the coming weeks as work begins on the sewer system.

“The sewer essentially goes in the middle of the road, and that really affects the places people can drive,” she said.

Public transportation is also taking a hit. Intercity Transit Route 68 saw declines in weekday ridership last month at the 10 stops in the construction zone, said Meg Kester, Intercity Transit communications manager.

An average of 20 people daily came and went in July using stops along the construction zone, 11 fewer passengers than last July, according to Intercity Transit data. However, weekend traffic increased by two people daily.

Bus stops have been removed and replaced with temporary poles that allow for location flexibility, Kester added.

Upon completion in fall 2011, the 11/4-mile stretch of highway will have two travel lanes in each direction, roundabouts at Boulevard Road and Brassfield Road, center medians, sidewalks and bike lanes. The improvements will relieve the final bottleneck on the urban stretch of the east-west corridor, Parsons said.

Crews recently completed grading for the width of the road improvements and digging out swale ponds in several locations.

Backed by a combination of funding sources including state and federal dollars, the county awarded a $10.78 million construction contract in May to Tacoma-based Woodworth & Co.

Work includes infrastructure improvements for the City of Olympia, including installing gravity sewer lines. The city is reimbursing the county for upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure and for a portion of the road, says Jim Rioux, a project manager for the City of Olympia.

Those upgrades are necessary for future growth in the corridor, Rioux said. He added that recent contractor estimates have water main extension and replacement complete by October and the $3.9 million sewer system live in April.

As construction picks up, property and business owners are also preparing for backups and access issues.

Robert Farster, owner of Victoria Square near Yelm Highway and Boulevard Road, says construction is a tough but necessary reality.

“It’s gonna be inconvenient,” he said. “That’s the way it is.”

One of his seven tenants is Olympia Smiles, owned by dentist Yathi Lingam.

Lingam says things could get worse as construction nears his business just as school begins this fall. Backups haven’t reached his business, but he knows it’s only a matter of time.

“I know that it’s going to be a major deal,” Lingam said.

Construction updates are posted on the project’s blog at www.yelmhighwayinfo.blogspot.com. Residents also can call 360-754-4580 or send an e-mail to roadsweb@co.thurston.wa.us.

Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 nhulings@theolympian.com