Kent drivers will be going in circles within the next few years at the Willis Street and Fourth Avenue South intersection.
City officials approved acceptance of a $3 million state Department of Transportation (DOT) grant to pay for a roundabout at the intersection, which is along State Route 516, and remove the traffic signals.
City staff has worked with the DOT to improve access to the city-owned Naden property that sits just west and south of the intersection. City leaders want improved access to the property to make it more marketable to developers, with hopes of bringing a hotel and possibly apartments to the 7.7-acre site, north of Willis Street and east of State Route 167.
The DOT gave preliminary approval to the city for right in/right out traffic access from the Naden site to Willis Street, provided Kent pursue the installation of a roundabout at Fourth and Willis. The only current access to the Naden land is from West Meeker Street to the north.
“The project is just getting started and given this intersection is part of SR 516, coordination and approval from WSDOT is required,” said Kelly Peterson, city Public Works special projects manager, in an email. “Construction is anticipated to begin in two to three years, depending on approvals.”
Crews will construct a dual-lane roundabout at the intersection. Many drivers go north on Fourth Avenue to access downtown, including Kent Station and the accesso ShoWare Center.
“A roundabout makes an incredible amount of sense to help move traffic through this intersection,” City Public Works Director Tim LaPorte said to the council’s Public Works Committee at its June 18 meeting. “We have done a lot of analysis with DOT staff.”
LaPorte said staff will return to the committee later with specific design plans.
“It’s a gateway to the city,” LaPorte said. “We will have a lot of room for greenery to make it a very attractive entrance to the city. In addition, it will make it safer for pedestrians and improve circulation overall.”
LaPorte said city staff will set up meetings with residents about the planned roundabout.
Perry Sobolik, who lives a few blocks from the intersection, had several questions for staff and the committee at its meeting.
“It’s being done for concerns about the Naden property, but that’s a block and a half away,” Sobolik said.
Councilman Dennis Higgins, chair of the Public Works Committee, responded to Sobolik.
“There is a desire to develop that property – for the city to sell it,” Higgins said. “The state will not allow (direct access from eastbound Willis traffic), but if you go to the roundabout, you can come back the other direction.”
Sobolik also raised concerns about heavy traffic getting through the roundabout after large crowds from hockey games or concerts at the accesso ShoWare Center; the traffic backups waiting for trains; and that it could be a challenge for pedestrians to cross at a roundabout.
Higgins replied that similar questions were raised about heavy traffic and pedestrians in Covington prior to a roundabout being built near Kentwood High School at 164th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 256th Street.
“It’s not in the city of Kent, but people had many of the same concerns. … and thinking it’s a step backward,” Higgins said. “But it’s a godsend from sitting at a stoplight for half an hour to getting through in a few minutes.”
Sobolik also wondered about impact on response times by Puget Sound Fire through a roundabout from its nearby station, south of Willis Street.
Peterson responded in an email that staff has worked with Puget Sound Fire about plans for a roundabout.
“Staff discussed this roundabout with the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority prior to seeking funding,” Peterson said. “The RFA will continue to be included as the project proceeds through design.”
Higgins expects people will like the roundabout.
“I have confidence it will improve traffic,” he said.