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Monday, December 17, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State Looks Again At Extending Highway 509

Highway 509 is about to navigate a new turn - one that finally could decide if an uncompleted freeway portion should be extended, or left alone.

For the past few months, the Department of Transportation has been negotiating with the Port of Seattle and the cities of Des Moines and SeaTac to pay for and coordinate a new study on the much-maligned freeway.

It will focus on various routes for lengthening Highway 509 south from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Des Moines, SeaTac, or both cities, as well as determine whether an extension should be built at all. Unlike previous studies, it will also assess the environmental ramifications of each alternative.

In addition, it will look at a proposed south access route, or ways to link the airport more directly to southbound Interstate 5.

The Port of Seattle is involved because it operates the airport, a major traffic producer, and owns land to the south.

At stake are many issues, including how an extension could affect the communities it would pass through, whether better methods exist to deal with South King County's growing traffic woes, and what would be the repercussions if no action is taken.

``It's a difficult project,'' said Jerry Schutz, a long-range planner for the state Department of Transportation. ``We'll have to go about it very carefully, and wait to see what happens.''

The study is coming nearly 30 years after the highway was

conceived, 21 years after it was partly built, 15 years after its plans were revised, and two years after yet another revision.

The 6-mile span now runs from the First Avenue South Bridge in Seattle to South 188th Street at the southwest corner of Sea-Tac Airport. From there it turns into a road that meanders south under various names.

Schutz said he hopes the cities and Port of Seattle will agree by mid-February on sharing the study's cost with the state and federal governments. No cost estimate has yet been given.

A consultant would then write the so-called joint environmental impact statement, which will include public concerns. The final report is expected to be completed about December 1993.

As part of the process, federal and state laws require that the study's backers remain unbiased. The city of SeaTac has remained neutral, Schutz said, but the Des Moines City Council has over the years passed resolutions that have variously supported and opposed Highway 509 extensions.

To clear the air, the council was set to vote Thursday night to rescind all its former positions, thus allowing it to appoint a representative to help administer the highway study.

However, Mayor Frank Jovanovich pulled the action from consideration, saying he wanted to introduce the resolution several weeks later to give the public time to better understand the issue.

``A lot of people just don't know what's going on about it any more,'' he said.

Still, citizens in Des Moines and elsewhere hold strong opinions on the subject.

``You could rest assured that if a freeway went through Des Moines, we would cease to have a single-family neighborhood here,'' said Susan Schlaitzer. A Des Moines resident, she is with the anti-freeway group Stop.

Taking the opposite viewpoint is Don Wasson, a councilman who ran for office a year ago arguing a longer freeway was needed to unclog Des Moines' traffic tie ups.

``My feeling has been for many, many, years that we need to have that freeway completed,'' he said.

Highway 509's bumpy history began in the early 1960s, when state highway planners envisioned it as a connector between South Seattle and the Port of Tacoma. The idea, Schutz said, was that the freeway not only would serve commuters living and working along Puget Sound, but relieve anticipated congestion on just-completed I-5 as South King County grew.

However, plans to bring it all the way to Tacoma were dropped when residents in then-unincorporated Federal Way, midway along the route, voiced concerns. Instead, the state built Highway 509 only from the First Avenue South Bridge to South 188th Street. That span opened in 1969.

By the early '70s, the state bought a 4-mile right of way to complete the highway to Kent-Des Moines Road, or Highway 516. But federal and state belt-tightening scuttled that option.

Little happened between then and 1988, when the King County Department of Public Works recommended the extension go southeast to I-5 at South 210th Street.

Again, lack of money left the idea in limbo. That is until this year, when the Legislature increased the gas tax by 5 cents a gallon. That kicked off plans for this study on alternate extensions and their environmental effects.

Even if an extension is built, it will be a long time before it can be used.

Schutz said construction probably couldn't begin earlier than 1999.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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