(Corey Morris | The Vidette) A sign on the corner of the Montesano intersection where the Highway 12 westbound off-ramp meets State Route 107 and the Monte Square parking lot.

(Corey Morris | The Vidette) A sign on the corner of the Montesano intersection where the Highway 12 westbound off-ramp meets State Route 107 and the Monte Square parking lot.

Monte roundabout discussion circles back again

The conversation about a potential roundabout in Montesano has circled its way before the city council again.

During its Feb. 27 meeting, the council was asked to authorize the mayor to sign an agreement for an intersection control analysis. The analysis will look at the intersection where the off-ramp of westbound Highway 12 and State Route 107 meet. The parking lot for Monte Square has its entryway there.

In the past, a conceptual drawing showed a roundabout in the intersection with a rest area to the east near downtown.

The city now maintains that a traffic revision at that intersection wouldn’t necessarily have to be a roundabout. It could be any one of several possible solutions (a traffic signal, an intersection realignment, for example).

In late October 2017, the city hosted a public open house with representatives from SCJ Alliance (a consultant that had drafted possible traffic revisions for the intersection), a representative from the state Department of Transportation, and city officials all on hand to answer any questions from the public. The public was encouraged to fill out comment cards and return them for consideration. The city did not allow for outspoken public comment as was expected by some citizens.

Former mayor Doug Iverson, an adamant opponent to the roundabout idea, has repeatedly referred to the open house as a “dog and pony show.”

The city received 52 comment cards from that meeting. Of those cards, 17 respondents said the city should opt to do nothing. The compact roundabout received 15 votes and three other suggested intersection improvements received eight or fewer votes.

Mayor Vini Samuel has repeatedly noted that the comment cards favor doing something over doing nothing. However, “doing something” was not an option that could be chosen on the comment card, while “doing nothing” was an option that could be selected. Samuel’s contention stacks the results of one option up against the results of all the other possible options combined.

During the Feb. 27 meeting, the traffic revision again was a contentious topic, with members of the public and members of the city council stating their concerns.

Iverson had asked the council to not take action on the intersection control analysis agreement until the council heard directly from the state Department of Transportation.

“Allow a representative from DOT to come down so you can get first-hand information from DOT as to how this project unfolds and whose responsibility is whose,” Iverson said.

In its zest to fund the project, the state funneled the funding through the Department of Transportation.

“It essentially bypassed the local efforts of trying to put a stop to this by fast tracking it,” Iverson said.

Iverson also said the funding was approved at the state level with the understanding that the project was included as part of an overall rest area project.

Samuel said the language of the project at the state level has been corrected and it no longer focuses on a roundabout, but instead focuses on a “best possible outcome.”

Councilman Robert Hatley said he was worried the project would lack local control, and Samuel said that fear is a reality.

“We have input, but we don’t have control. We are middle management. We’ve been middle management,” Samuel said.

When asked, Samuel agreed that if a roundabout is recommended for the intersection, a roundabout will be constructed. Councilman Dan Wood asked what would happen if the council voted against a roundabout, “it’s still going to happen, right?”

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Samuel said. “I’m going to say yes, because that makes sense and because that’s inherently consistent.”

That not exactly accurate, according to Claudia Bingham Baker of the state Department of Transportation. Bigham Baker said the city is the agency with authority over the project, and the funds are simply being routed through DOT, which is typical for a project in a city the size of Montesano.

“What you’re going to be looking at is a cooperative effort between DOT and the City of Montesano. We’re asking them to come up with some ideas and some studies to support their preferred idea. Our interest is (Highway 12) and how (Highway 12) functions,” Bingham Baker said in a brief telephone interview on March 5. “We’re not going to dictate to that city what will be done out there. We will wait for the city to propose ideas to us with supporting studies. We won’t tell the city what to do, they come to us.”

During the Feb. 27 council meeting, Samuel reminded the council that more of the comment cards suggested doing something over doing nothing, however Hatley was not sold.

“Some of the solutions, I’d rather have nothing than some of the things,” Hatley said.

Samuel noted that the council had accepted the funds for the project in the early summer of 2016, and she cautioned against not moving forward with the project.

“It would be very difficult for this council or I to go ask for more funds for anything if we accept funds and then choose to say ‘Oh, we didn’t get what we wanted specifically so we’re going to give it back,’” Samuel said.

Both councilmen Wood and Hatley voted against authorization. They were outnumbered. Councilman Tyler Trimble was absent from the meeting.

Before any work begins, the council again will have an opportunity to weigh in on the traffic revision, and another public meeting will be scheduled.

Later in the council meeting, Wood said the council should “express collective input” to DOT. Wood said the council could create a list of concerns and submit it for consideration. Wood suggested an initial list stating the council is opposed to eminent domain, the solution must be navigable for semi-trucks and must allow traffic to flow in other directions if trains block northbound traffic.

“We may not all agree whether it should be round or a right turn with arrows, but I think we ought to be able to agree that there are some things we do and do not want in the outcome,” Wood said. “I’m hoping that the council will have other ideas to add to this.”

That was suggested to be approved as a letter or resolution. First, however, the council will send the matter through a committee to draft a list before the council approves it. The council does not need to rush, Samuel said, as the traffic analysis is expected to take 6 months to complete.

Former mayor Ken Estes also stated his opposition to the traffic revision and the process that’s been followed to date.