Friday, November 04, 2005

King County DOT continuing to ignore miles of congestion to help Weyerhaesuer approve more development

On September 26, 2005, I received the findings from the King County Ombudsman to one of my complaints alleging the willful refusal by King County DOT to enforce a critical Redmond Ridge and Trilogy permit condition. My complaint, available within this blog, alleges that King County has refused to enforce a critical Redmond Ridge and Trilogy permit condition. That condition stated that if volumes traveling east in the PM commute ever reach 1,350 vehicles per hour (vph) at a point just east of the intersection of Novelty Hill Road and NE 208th, that no new permits could be issued to these developments. Despite the authority and responsibility to adjust this trigger if it was found to be too high or in error, or to increase the intervals betweens counts if the threshold came close to being triggered, King County did nothing. In April 2004, the volume at this location reached 1,340 vph one afternoon, and averaged 1,331 vph over a 3-day period.

King County planners and their managers didn't even blink!

Since May 2004, King County has issued over 600 permits to these developments and received in excess of $1.2 million in permit fees, demonstrating a clear conflict of interest and strong disincentive for King County to act on this permit condition.

In the Ombudsman’s September 26 report, Deputy King County Ombudsman John Stier stated, while referring to my charges, “while you make the very serious suggestion that such a count (October 2004) may exist but is being covered up, you have provided no evidence that either is the case.”

While I did not have evidence that such a count existed or that it was being covered up at the time, I did have two responses from DOT to Public Disclosure Act requests that had failed to provide any evidence that this October count existed. Given Mr. Stier’s suggestion that DOT had provided him a “report” suggesting such a count had been done, I submitted another PDA request last month and specifically asked for this October 2004 traffic count data from King County DOT. No such data was included in the ombudsman’s findings, only hearsay that DOT had claimed to have such data.

I’ve now just received the response to that request. Once again, while I received the detailed April 2004 data and the new detailed October 2005 data, I received no data identified for the alleged October 2004 count. The only reference to a possible count done in October 2004 was a single row in a table, identified in a row labeled only as “2004”, in a memo from Quadrant’s traffic consultant to King County. The values in that row differ from those from the April 2004 count, so I am only making an assumption that these numbers are from October. Except for these unidentified numbers, there is no data to support these numbers like the data received for April 2004 and October 2005, or even evidence that they are from October or any other period during 2004.

In this latest information for the October 2005 traffic count, the data shows, remarkably, that traffic volumes eastbound from the intersection at 208th have decreased since April 2004. The likelihood of this occurring defies all logic and common sense given the hundreds of homes constructed since then. How could measured volumes decrease with hundreds of new homes constructed since April 2004? Once again, though, King County DOT is hiding behind a convenient explanation provided to them by Quadrant’s traffic consultant.

In that same memo referred to above from a James Webb, who works for Quadrant’s traffic consultant, Transpo, Webb attempts to explain the decrease as the result of the “back door” connection between Trilogy and NR 133rd that was opened in July 2004. As is typical for every assumption made out of convenience to help Weyerhaeuser, this claim is equally flawed. Webb even admits that the roadway was being used only “sparingly” in October 2004, three months after its opening, as it should given its lack of benefit to commuters in the PM commute. That roadway is an illogical path for PM commuters. Only southbound Avondale Road commuters would even consider using it, by turning east onto 132nd, working their way to 133rd, then driving south through Trilogy, and then turning east onto Novelty Hill Road. But this route is not logical for southbound commuters and is likely not being used by anyone to go east.

Northbound commuters, which represent the “primary” commute direction on Avondale Road in the afternoon, would never use this back door! It would require a drive of several extra miles to the north, with a several mile drive south back through Trilogy before turning onto Novelty Hill Road. This excuse is just another convenient diversion, in a long history of convenient explanations, from the real reason for the reduction in volumes east of 208th. That reason is simply that there are too many westbound cars turning south onto 208th, and too many cars turning west from 208th onto Novelty Hill Road to allow 1,350 vph to occur eastbound out of that intersection.

Simply put, the increased number of cars heading “west” on Novelty Hill Road that are turning south onto 208th are causing the light at Novelty Hill Road and 208th to restrict eastbound traffic more today than in April 2004. Additional northbound cars on 208th turning west onto Novelty Hill Road have also increased, again increasing the amount of time eastbound cars are sitting at that light and unable to move east through the intersection. If eastbound cars can’t get through the intersection, the volumes sufficient to trigger the threshold can never occur. Given the increasing back-up of those eastbound cars to the west of that intersection, which is now regularly more than one mile, and on some occasions all the way back onto Avondale Road, that intersection is not only saturated, but failed a long time ago.

Should this be a surprise to King County DOT? No! It was King County that insisted on a threshold that was roughly 130% of the NoveltyHill Road design capacity over the objections of project opponents. When DOT inserted the new stoplight at 208th into their plan, opponents discovered that King County had failed to adjust volumes and capacities impacted by the stoplights. When challenged what did the county do? Nothing. If the mistake was an accident, their refusal to correct their major mistake proves they cared more about helping Weyerhaeuser than helping thousands of county residents avoid what would become massive traffic congestion on Novelty Hill road.

As a result of their manipulation, or "cooking the books" as we called it, instead of adjusting the design capacities for Novelty Hill Road upwards from 1,100 vph to 1,350 vph for shoulders and turn lanes, they should have reduced it to 980 vph to adjust the capacity to account for a half-dozen new stoplights. Their acts then and now to address these errors are not honest mistakes, but continue a pattern that continues today in their actions for Redmond Ridge East that have been alleged to be both improper and illegal. Ron Sims was even made aware of these glaring errors in 1998, and his response was to join in the cover-up of the continued wrongdoing.

As far as I know, King County DOT could be setting the cycle time on that light specifically to prevent a volume of 1,350 vph from occurring on the east side of that intersection, regardless of the impacts to growing traffic congestion.

In April 2004, volumes reached 1,340 vph on the PM commute, or just 10 cars short of triggering the threshold. 6 months later, if I assume that one reference in my PDA response to be for October 2004, volumes reached 1,343 vph, or just 7 cars short of the threshold. But then 12 months later, according to the data received and the addition of hundreds of new homes and commuters using the roadway, the volume has been reduced to a maximum level of 1,312? This is absurd, if not explained by the restrictive nature of the 208th intersection on eastbound flows.

Here is the count data I have as it applies to the 1,350 vph threshold(vehicles per hour):

Dismissing Transpo’s convenient explanation based on the illogical use of the Trilogy back door by PM commuters is easy, because the facts demonstrate the truth. The decrease that was measured after the back door was opened continued with no evidence that anyone was using that back door at all for commuting.

The intersection at Novelty Hill Road and 208th has now begun to reduce the potential volume of cars that can head east. We know that volumes came within just 10 cars of triggering the threshold in April 2004, and maybe within 7 cars in October 2004. The volume may actually have peaked before or after April 2004 and exceeded the threshold, but we all know that King County was in no hurry to enforce this permit and lose the millions of dollars in permit fees that would have resulted if permits had been halted. (605 permits and $1.2 million in fees between May 2004 and August 2005.)

If King County DOT had properly and reasonably exercised their “discretion”, based on the facts and reasonable and honest judgment, they would have used the authority they were granted in the Redmond Ridge and Trilogy permit to do the honest and responsible thing, which would have been to adjust the threshold to a level that demonstrated a measured volume that indicated saturation and failure of that intersection. Instead they have done nothing but look the other way and defend the continued issuing of permits. They are even trying to defend their approvals of 800 more homes in Redmond Ridge East through even more dishonest manipulation and imagination. This is unbelievable!!!!

Given the traffic back-ups that existed long before April 2004 and that have only increased to date, using what has been proven out to be a volume greater than the absolute peak value of cars capable of navigating this intersection, was a grotesque and disgusting volume level to define failure of this intersection. To hide behind the failure of this trigger to be reached while stop and go traffic congestions reaches back towards Avondale Road is criminal.

This threshold was suspected and alleged 8 years ago to have been concocted as an unachievable level to make the only significant permit condition, aimed at protecting the local road system, only a fa├žade that would leave Quadrant to build every home despite the growing congestion. Given the design capacity of the roadways entering the intersection from the south and west, which are both 2-lane roads with design capacities less than 1,000 vph, establishing this trigger at 1,350 vph was clearly designed by DOT to deceive the community. And again, DOT’s failure to correct the error today, only proves their corrupt intent and determination to continue to defraud the citizens in this area who are now living with the consequences of their corrupt acts.

King County DOT’s continued refusal to address these now-shrinking volumes, which are no doubt the result of the failure of this intersection, is evidence of their bias, conflict of interest, and continued “arbitrary and capricious” actions to help Weyerhaeuser.

As I’ve stated in responses earlier to Mr. Stier’s suggestions that DOT can commit these acts because they are afforded the discretion to do so, I would simply state again that no one in government has the discretion to commit arbitrary and capricious acts.

Finally, I will state the obvious to everyone reading this. There is not a single honest or reasonable person who could look at that traffic congestion in the AM and PM commutes on Novelty Hill Road and justify the approval of a single new home. For every single county employee who does so, I have no problem whatsoever in questioning their honesty and integrity. There is not a person who uses Novelty Hill Road that would agree that the roadway has not long-since failed and that King County is simply working on behalf of Weyerhaeuser and Quadrant Homes to assist them in making money at the expense of our lifestyles and quality of life.

The westbound AM commute on Novelty Hill Road is now backing up 1-3 miles every morning. But King County doesn’t have to care about that at all, do they? They made certain a long time ago that the worst commute period would always be ignored by policy.

I believe that King County DOT, DDES, Ron Sims, and the PA's Office have always worked to advance the agenda of Weyerhaeuser, but the continued efforts now to approve Redmond Ridge East while there is such clear evidence of road saturation and gridlock is moving beyond obsene, to something I can't even describe with words.

Will they get away with it - again?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have come to the conclusion that King County is a banana republic!