A major Kent infrastructure project has traveled far in its quest to connect a major roadway, east to west.
And now a new bridge runs through it.
The mega project – authorized by the Kent City Council 35 years ago as a corridor project – reached a milestone Dec. 11 with the official opening of the $35 million South 224th Street extension from 84th Avenue South to 94th Place South. Completion of the second of a three-phase extension project features a wide overpass that stretches over the Valley Freeway (State Route 167), connecting East Hill to the Valley.
The connection is critical as city and state transportation officials work to open new, alternative routes for commuters and commerce to reach downtown Kent, Interstate 5 and other destinations. The ambitious corridor, a three-lane roadway, will ultimately connect East and West hills that bookend a busy, growing Valley.
Construction also is ongoing for the South 228th Street overpass over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, an estimated $40 million project that is part of the 228th/224th corridor. That work could be done by late 2020.
Elected officials, funding partners, project team and community members gathered Dec. 11 to celebrate the grand opening of the 224th extension on a damp, gray morning. City and project partners huddled for congratulatory speeches and participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on South 224th Street before dignitaries took a maiden drive over the bridge.
“I’m so excited that this road is open,” said Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. “It’s such a lot of work by so many people, and it gives us one more east-west connection that we desperately need. … (It) is an amazing project that is going to change the face of transportation for the city of Kent. There’s no question about it.”
Ralph acknowledge and lauded the effort – a project that took years of planning, review and construction. The South 228th/224th corridor was one of three east-west corridors planned by the city in the 1980s to move traffic between the West Hill and East Hill through the Valley. The other corridors include South 277th Street and South 196th Street.
Kent-based Scarsella Brothers, Inc., led the project as prime contractor for the extension and new bridge.
Cost of the overpass is estimated to be $22.6 million, including the bridge and all the elements necessary to support it, according to the city. All told, Phase 2 will cost approximately $13 million upon completion.
The project’s next phase, projected to cost about $20 million, will complete the task of connecting the roadway up the East Hill to the Benson, aka 108th Avenue Southeast. That phase will widen South 218th/216th to a three-lane road from 94th Place South to Benson Road.
To complete the third phase, the city – like other steps in the ongoing project – will need funding partners. One possible source of funding, the city said, is the Washington state Transportation Improvement Board (TIB). The state Legislature could be another potential source.
Ralph said the project will be a city-declared priority for the Legislature when it convenes in 2020.
“Timing will depend on funding from state agencies, but we hope to complete phase 3 in the next several years,” said Dana Neuts, city Public Works public engagement coordinator, in an email.
Even without the upper extension improved, city officials expect the new bridge to help.
“The completion of phase 2 creates an east-west corridor that connects the East Hill to the Valley,” Neuts said. “This will improve traffic. The completion of phase 3 will further improve traffic.”
The new extension, however, could further impact traffic problems around Panther Lake Elementary, 10200 SE 216th St.
“Yes, there is a traffic problem near Panther Lake Elementary,” Neuts said. “We have been working with the Kent School District on the issue to try to identify possible solutions.”
The second phase – a public-private partnership – received significant funding support from the TIB and Legislature, along with Local Improvement District funds and traffic impact fees from developers.
Among the project benefits:
• A new bridge over State Route 167, connecting East Hill to the Valley
• Replacement of a narrow bridge with a fish passable culvert over Garrison Creek
• Riparian enhancements
• Traffic signal improvements
• Street lighting
• New three-lane roadway
• Water quality, detention and wetland mitigation