Kent City Coucilman Dennis Higgins helps celebrate the extension on Wednesday of 72nd Avenue South from South 196th Street to South 200th Street. Mark Klaas/Kent Reporter

Kent, Puget Sound Fire celebrate 72nd Avenue South extension

A long-awaited, missing roadway connecting businesses and vital services in industrial north Kent was finally realized Wednesday with the celebrated opening of 72nd Avenue South.

City, state and federal officials joined business leaders in dedicating the freshly paved and striped avenue – a short extension project that completes a 3-mile route, connecting 72nd Avenue South, from South 196th Street just south of Mill Creek to South 200th Street.

The enhanced street now stretches north to South 180th Street and weaves south to South 228th Street, allowing regular and emergency traffic to travel north and south in a more direct route rather than using congested West and East Valley highways.

“It’s awesome, just awesome,” said City Councilman Dennis Higgins, chair of the council’s Public Works Committee who helped marshal the project. “This is definitely in the top five (moments) for me in my eight years of council work. … I’m going to be driving this road for 30 years with a smile on my face.”

The collaborative project cost about $3.7 million with the state’s Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) providing $1.3 million, the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority contributing $1.2 million and the city adding $745,000 from its transportation impact fees that come from a storm drainage fund and local development.

TIB, a state-funded agency that provides grant opportunities to communities to improve roadways, awards approximately $120 million each year to transportation projects throughout the state. The TIB generates its revenue from state gasoline taxes.

The Kent project is unique in many ways, said Ashley Probart, TIB executive director, especially with a fire district financially supporting the new link.

“My hat’s off to you. That’s fantastic,” Probart told Puget Sound Fire representatives at the reception and ribbon cutting ceremony. “It’s just a gift that everybody came together for this project.”

For Puget Sound Fire and King County Medic One, the new connection is important. The completed roadway will reduce distance and emergency response times to more than 400 businesses in the northeast part of the Kent Valley, said Puget Sound Fire Chief Jim Schneider. It will improve efficiency in the authority’s commitment to saving lives and property, Schneider added, and avoid the possibility of building another fire station in the north end of the fire authority’s service area.

Also, fire crews have a quicker route north to South 196th Street, where they can turn right and use the overpass to cross railroad tracks.

Fire Station 76 operates farther south of the completed roadway along 72nd Avenue South.

“I guarantee you today, two years from now, five years from now, it’s going to save somebody’s life,” Schneider said of the connection.

Added Mayor Suzette Cooke: “This truly is a life-saving change.”

The project was a long one in the making, its roots traced back to 1991. Environmental issues and other problems slowed the project, which stood adjacent and on the west side of the Western Processing Superfund site, one of the most contaminated spots in the valley. The federal toxic cleanup site was under the jurisdiction of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Since the 1990s, city public works has been working with the Western Processing Trust, which is administered by The Boeing Co., to clean up the site and clear the way for the project.

“The site was shut down in 1983 (by the EPA), and EPA has overseen the cleanup operation, and along with the liable companies, including Boeing, spent more than $200 million to clean up the 17 acres,” Tim LaPorte, city public works director, told the City Council in a report early last year.

Construction began last year, full completion came last week.

The project required a new bridge over Mill Creek, storm drainage, curbs, sidewalks, street lighting, traffic signal modifications and mitigation planting, officials said.

In addition, as Higgins pointed out, King County Drainage District 1 provided the city with the roadway easement and construction permit to cross Mill Creek and agreed to mitigation planting. The state Department of Ecology also was helpful, he said.

Kent-based Scarsella Bros. Inc., whose main office is at 8404 S. 196th St., just down the road from the project, received the construction contract.

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