The new city council majority ended a years-long effort to tighten the city’s traffic standards that were aimed at stopping development, including a planned town center in central Sammamish.
During the study session on May 10, the council voted 4-2 to revoke Alternative 4 in its recent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Then-deputy mayor Kali Clark and councilmembers Pam Stuart, Amy Lam, Karen Howe supported the motion, exercising the power of a new majority after Stuart was appointed to the council.
This means the city will keep the current transportation concurrency Level of Service (LOS) standards and concurrency program requirements, opening the door for future development once again.
The concurrency Level of Service (LOS) standards measure the performance of a city’s streets, segments, and corridors in the Comprehensive Plan. It defines the level of traffic volume by which a road would be considered “failing,” which means no development would be allowed until either traffic is reduced, or that roadway is expanded.
Since 2018, an anti-development majority on the council attempted to tighten traffic standards by measuring LOS for not just intersections, but also road corridors and segments. This would have made it easier for the city’s roads to fail concurrency at more locations, thereby allowing the city to stop issuing concurrency certificates, which are required for new development.
The new council majority effectively ended these efforts to tinker with concurrency.
After lengthy litigation with the state’s Growth Management Hearing Board over the tightening of LOS standards, the city was ordered in April 2020 to follow procedure by conducting a Balanced Land Use and Mobility Analysis (BLUMA) and creating an EIS, which would guide changes to the Comprehensive Plan.
The BLUMA EIS was initiated in July 2020 and issued in March 2022. It came back with four alternatives, including one that keeps current standards and three that make concurrency LOS more stringent, and subsequently increasing infrastructure costs significantly for Sammamish to fix the newly created concurrency failures.
Back in Nov. 2021, the anti-development council chose Alternative 4 for the EIS. This was the most expensive option and would have cost $290 million to $387 million in infrastructural improvements for intersections, corridors, and segments to meet the new LOS standard. The needed improvements included widening 14 roadways, modifying and adding traffic signals at two intersections, and constructing two additional turn lanes at one intersection to increase capacity.
Among the projects, both Issaquah-Pine Lake Road and Sahalee Way to 228th Avenue NE would have been widened to two lanes in each direction, with a 12-foot center turn lane, 5-foot bike lanes, 6.5-foot amenity zones, and 6-foot sidewalks.
Given the high cost, it would have effectively ended development across Sammamish, as the city would struggle to find funding to make these improvements.
Yet, with Pam Stuart’s appointment to the city council in May, the council’s focus shifted towards a less expensive approach to managing traffic.
On July 5, after nearly two months of deliberation, the council officially voted to switch to Alternative 1. This choice lays out only $6 million to $8 million in improvements, mostly for three intersections, to maintain intersection LOS standards through 2035.
During a lengthy debate on this issue at the May 10 study session, Councilmember Amy Lam advocated for switching to Alternative 1, arguing that the traffic congestion was only during school bell times and did not warrant the exorbitant cost of implementing Alternative 4. She also said that the capacity calculation seems flawed, and thereby cannot guide appropriate policymaking.
Councilmember Karen Howe agreed and pointed out the city did not have the funding to adequately support Alternative 4.
“This was an idea that we could potentially have some funding because we are going for such an aggressive target. But I haven’t heard any mention of exactly where we are in that process, so I’m concerned that we could be starting on a path that is unsustainable and unsupportable,” said Howe.
Councilmember Stuart concurred with possible alternative solutions such as updating the traffic model to account for transit. She also raised the concern that the BLUMA EIS was based on a wrong capacity calculation, and might not support the current Comprehensive Plan, which would incur legal trouble for the city.
Then-mayor Christie Malchow and Councilmember Kent Treen both opposed the move.
Malchow argued that new infrastructure is necessary to serve Sammamish if the city proceeds to hit its growth target for housing.
“We are going to have to put in some infrastructure. We are not going to be able to support it,” Malchow said.
Although Alternative 1 maintains the current LOS standards and concurrency program requirements, some amendments to the Comprehensive Plan are still needed to make it consistent with these standards, and with the Sammamish Municipal Code.
This work will be done as part of the major Comprehensive Plan update that is slated for completion by the end of 2024.