Questions remain after traffic revision open house

While a traffic revision open house at Montesano City Hall arguably answered several lingering questions, one important question remains surrounded in confusion — Whose project is the traffic revision?

In 2016, the city funded a traffic revision design that produced a drawing of a roundabout and a rest area. The roundabout would be for the intersection of the westbound off-ramp of Highway 12 at State Route 107 at the Monte Square parking lot entrance.

Following several months of vocal opposition from members of the public, the rest area conversation had been all but abandoned, while the roundabout remained.

Earlier this year, the city changed its vocabulary choosing to refer to the potential project as a traffic revision — not a roundabout — because, the city said, the revision didn’t have to be a roundabout, it could be anything to mitigate traffic issues at the intersection.

The project then received state funding through the state’s transportation budget. At that point, the city said the project is a state Department of Transportation project, not a city project.

On Oct. 30, an open house was held at Montesano’s City Hall. It was implied that the meeting was a DOT-led meeting.

In a press release from the city received by The Vidette on Nov. 3, the city clearly referred to the meeting as being led by DOT: “…at the Oct. 30 meeting by the Department of Transportation and a traffic engineering firm.”

But that’s not the case, says the Department of Transportation.

“That meeting was not a Department of Transportation meeting,” DOT spokesman Doug Adamson said on Nov. 6. “The entire process is from the city so far.”

Adamson did note that DOT has ultimate approval authority, however, the open house was city-led.

“The city hired a consultant, which is required to do a study — DOT recommended to the consultant that they do the public outreach, which we think may have led to the open house,” Adamson said.

The consultant was engineering firm SCJ Alliance.

City CFO Doug Streeter said the city simply held a required DOT meeting sooner than recommended.

“From what I know, a public scoping meeting is required for all DOT led projects. DOT was willing to hold a meeting in early 2018, however the city felt this was not practical as people wanted to have input, so the sooner the better,” Streeter wrote in an email. “The consultant worked with DOT to coordinate the format of the meeting.”

The format of the meeting is another point of contention with some members of the public. Rather than having a regular meeting with a presentation and an opportunity for public comment, it was an open house format where there was no presentation and public comment was received as written comments on comment cards provided by the city.

That format was similar to formats used by DOT at meetings in the past.

“This is a city-led project with DOT being a major project stakeholder. WSDOT will determine the appropriate type of intersection control that will be implemented,” SCJ Alliance senior principal Bob Jewell said on Nov. 7. “Public Engagement is typically required by DOT as part of determining the type of intersection control. DOT stated the format followed at the Oct. 30 meeting followed a format used for similar types of DOT-led projects.”

Comment cards

Four alternatives were presented during the meeting.

The four alternatives are:

• Realigning the off-ramp, which would basically widen the off-ramp and stripe the off-ramp for how drivers currently handle the intersection. The cost of this alternative is estimated at $350,000.

• A traffic signal where the off-ramp meets State Route 107 at Brumfield Avenue. Estimated cost: $1 million.

• A compact roundabout that allows semi trucks to drive over it. Estimated cost: $307,000.

• A large roundabout that’s offset to allow semi trucks to cut the corner. Estimated cost: $1.5 million.

Another alternative is to do nothing at the intersection, and the comment card allowed for residents to suggest their own alternative.

The city received 52 comment cards from citizens who attended the meeting.

Of the 52 comment cards, 17 said the city should opt to do nothing at the intersection. The compact roundabout received 15 votes, and the rest received eight or fewer votes.

City Councilman Dan Wood has announced that the Nov. 14 City Council meeting will have a specific agenda item for public feedback on the traffic revision. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.