Ed Wiltsie was the only speaker to make a public comment at the Oct. 24 City Council meeting regarding Ordinance 858 amending the Yelm Comprehensive Plan. He spoke brilliantly about traffic and water issues.
Regarding traffic, the points he made are as follows:
A. The major thoroughfare through town (SR 507) carries
school traffic, emergency responders to medical treatment in Olympia and serves as the
only alternate route around I-5 closures between Tacoma & Olympia.
B. Since 1992, major intersections of this road have been graded level of service (LOS) F,
the lowest grade possible. There is no lower threshold and there is not a method for measuring or establishing how far below the LOS F threshold the system can go. Considering the full scenario in Yelm, a LOS F means the road conditions need to be immediately improved because of safety issues while development adding to a LOS F road needs to be kept to a minimum until the road is improved to a higher threshold.
C. Yelm has laudably performed all of the improvements that are possible along the Commercial Corridor, Yelm Avenue, which partially offsets the impact of modest development. However, the recent approval of mega developments (i.e. Wal-Mart, Tahoma Terra) and consideration of Thurston Highlands (which has been noted as one of the largest residential development projects in the United States) does not seem to be consistent with the intent of the concession granted by the language in the Comprehensive Plan. This size of development will lead to unsafe conditions on Yelm Avenue and the numerous side streets that will experience more and more bypass traffic as congestion increases.
D. Mr. Wiltsie was asked if the City Council should shut off development. He said no because funding to support the construction of traffic improvements is derived from such development. Mr. Wiltsie did suggest the city council should not be considering mega-developments (i.e. Thurston Highlands) until the Y3 Loop is in place, as it will add too much additional traffic, creating a more dangerous situation and more safety issues. The city at this point needs to look to improving the SR 507 conditions or reconsider approving further development until such time that SR 507’s LOS F is improved.
The implication was clear in this listener’s mind: the City of Yelm is going to be liable in lawsuits from traffic deaths because of its acceptance of LOS F intersections all-the-while adding development and worsening the conditions for 15 years.
E. Mr. Wiltsie stated that a city can temporarily approve development with a major road graded LOS F as long as there is some remediation to improve that LOS F roadway, such as a bypass. He stated that when (and if) the bypass is open approximately 2015, almost 25 years will have passed with SR 507 being graded LOS F (1992-2015). Mr. Wiltsie said that means this is not a temporary condition, since this road has been graded LOS F since 1992 and the City Council & Planning Commission have deemed this LOS F acceptable.
F. Even the city’s own Development Director, Grant Beck stated in his staff report:
“The City Council should carefully consider the points raised by Mr. Wiltsie in which he indicates that the establishment of a level of service F in the downtown core is not being used as intended by the 2001 Comprehensive Transportation Plan as adopted by the Yelm Planning Commission and the Yelm City Council, as the intention of the City Council is ultimately determined by the City Council. If the Council’s intention is correctly expressed by Mr. Wiltsie’s comments, it should clarify that for the record.”
G. Mr. Wiltsie outlined groundwater issues for the city, as well, which raised several questions, in particular about his findings that 3 culverts under SR 507 by Hawk’s Landing have been covered by the developers, impeding water flow that caused flooding last year.
H. Bottom line:
The City approved the Comprehensive Plan revisions unanimously anyway, even with all of the questions of Mr. Wiltsie plus Mr. Beck’s suggestion to consider Mr. Wiltsie’s comments. While the respect and admiration was noted from the City Council towards Mr. Wiltsie and his report, not one member of the City Council raised their hand to say they would like to table the adoption of Ordinance 858 amending the Yelm Comprehensive Plan and do further research regarding Mr. Wiltsie’s comments.
The citizens of Yelm owe Ed a great deal of thanks for his constant efforts on their behalf at bridging these understandings for the Planning Commission and City Council.