As cars pass on adjacent State Route 18, Snoqualmie Tribe President Robert de los Angeles asks the public for a moment of silence to remember those whose lives were lost on the road.
Standing on gravel ground just south of Snoqualmie Ridge, de los Angeles is joined by Governor Jay Inslee and almost every elected official and official with ties to the Valley to break ground on the highly anticipated construction of the State Route 18 interchange and Interstate 90 project.
After nearly a decade of work, construction of the interchange is set to begin in November – and will ultimately bring congestion relief and safety improvements to one of Europe’s most dangerous and congested highways. State.
On September 8, the elected officials gathered to solemnly move the first ground of a coveted project and celebrate their collaboration. But the celebration of the day also has a dark background. With construction months away, it’s hard to forget the tragedies that made the $188 million project a top priority for local and state leaders in the first place.
“Our tribe hopes we’re at a turning point today,” de los Angeles said during a speech. “As we look forward to a safer future, we also take time to remember all the tribal family members, employees and community members we lost on State Route 18.”
“We are proud to see Washington State taking the necessary and urgent action to protect our people and all who travel to our ancestral lands,” he said.
In prepared remarks, Inslee cited the celebration as a moment of optimism for the state. He also acknowledged the project’s benefits to wildlife and touted that the state will have a greater proportion of electric vehicles by the end of the project.
“We are optimistic that traveling on (Highway 18) will become safer, traveling on I-90 will become faster, and that we will better protect our environment,” he said. “We deliver on all of these pistons.”
Along with the safety benefits, officials also highlighted the economic benefits of the road.
Secretary of State for Transport Roger Millar cited the need for safety on SR 18 and the resulting economic impact.
“This project is about security. Lives have been lost, families have been devastated,” he said. “The individual tragedies on this highway speak for themselves, but when you add them up statewide, the crashes represent a $16.5 billion a year blow to Washington’s economy. C is huge.”
U.S. Representative Kim Schrier said voters in every part of her district, including eastern Washington, are talking about the importance of SR 18 to state connectivity. She also pointed to the highway’s importance to freight trucks, which account for about 20 percent of current traffic and deliver cargo from eastern Washington to the Port of Tacoma.
“Their ability to get to port safely and efficiently is vital to our state’s entire economy,” she said.
For the estimated 4,000 workers in Snoqualmie and North Bend, including teachers and hospital staff, who travel on SR 18 daily for work, improving the interchange could provide much faster and safer journeys. It could also help businesses in the city struggle to hire and retain workers.
Work on SR 18 has long been a priority for Valley leaders, who joined leaders in Issaquah, Maple Valley and Covington as the Southeast Region Transportation Legislative Coalition to advocate in favor of improvements along SR 18 as a top priority.
“It’s that single-minded determination and focus – which really comes together – that really brought this [forward]State Rep. Lisa Callan said of SLTC’s efforts.
It was this local momentum that enabled the Heads of State to seek funding for the project. State Sen. Mark Mullet said it took years of working together and needed those outside of the Highway 18 corridor to see the benefits of the project across the country. State.
Mullet said he held his first meeting on SR 18 in 2013. Although the project received funding under a 2015 public transport scheme, Mullet said it wasn’t until 2017 that they were able to move the project forward.
“We can’t give birth to a carrier baby without a lot of help from people who don’t live here,” he said. “It helps pick out a route for elected officials from eastern Washington to take to get to Olympia, and I was extremely grateful for that.”
The SR 18/I-90 interchange project is scheduled to begin in November and be completed by 2025. It is expected to result in four weekend closures near the intersection as well as occasional lane and speed reductions.
The construction will build a divergent diamond interchange. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said this type of swap would reduce the number of traffic lights and reduce the number of conflict points between vehicles from 26 to 14. According to the WSDOT, this means up to 15% reduction in accidents and a 36% reduction in fatalities.
In addition, construction will widen the freeway by an additional lane in each direction for two miles south of the interchange. Combined with the expansion of the Issaquah-Hobart Road at Deep Creek that received funding last year, the entirety of SR 18 will eventually have two lanes in either direction.
It’s something that took nearly 30 to 40 years to complete, State Representative Bill Ramos said, noting that the highway was expanded in several pieces.
“This piece and another after and we will have a four-lane divided road,” he said. “It’s going to make it safe for all of us and our workers who drive it every day.”
The interchange project will also add new bridges at Deep Creek and Lake Creek to allow wildlife, such as deer and elk, to cross under the highway. The project will also remove fish passage barriers to restore access to 13 miles of blocked salmon habitat.
The majority of the $188 million project was funded by the state’s gas tax, while $5 million was contributed by the state’s 2015 Connecting Washington Transportation Package.
Construction of the remainder of the highway, as part of the $640 million Issaquah-Hobart Highway Expansion Project at Deep Creek, is expected to begin no earlier than 2025. If the WSDOT reaches its early projections, the entire highway could be four lanes wide by 2029.