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Friday, April 24, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Is Freeway The Way? -- Proposed New North-South Interstate On Eastside Has Some Mountains To Climb

Seattle Times Eastside Bureau

EASTSIDE

If state Highway 18 were to become a freeway extending north from Interstate 90, it would pass close to Lake Alice, where Ray McSwain runs an antique shop on a dead-end road and commutes daily to Bellevue.

McSwain is nonchalant about the prospect of a freeway next door.

"Well, they're going to have to do something with this traffic," he said. "As long as it didn't run right through my property. A freeway would actually be an improvement, with this area growing so fast."

Those words sound sweet to state Sen. Jim Horn.

"I think you have to look out in the future and say, `How are you going to serve this population?' " said the Mercer Island Republican.

To Horn, the answer is Interstate 605, a north-south freeway proposed for more than 30 years in various locations: along Lake Sammamish, through the Snoqualmie Valley or east of the Cascades.

Horn has gone beyond talking about such a freeway and this year got $500,000 appropriated for a state study that is expected to be completed by summer 2000.

"If that study shows I'm all screwed up, that there isn't a need out there, that's fine," he said. "But I think there is a need out there."

To highway opponents, the mere mention of I-605 provokes outrage.

"We'd fight this tooth and nail," said Steve Clagett, executive director of 1000 Friends of Washington, a growth-management group.

"We believe it is a waste of limited transportation revenue," wrote Virginia Gunby, 1000 Friends president, in asking the state Transportation Commission to stop the study. "We believe a new north-south corridor would devastate . . . the entire concept of integrated growth management."

"It would just be terrible in terms of increasing sprawl," said Jemae Pope of Alt-trans, which promotes alternatives to cars. "It would do nothing to reduce congestion."

None of that deters Horn.

"It's OK to love your car," said the retired Boeing engineer, who as a former Mercer Island mayor helped negotiate agreements that led to I-90 being built across the island. "You don't have to feel guilty because you love your car."

Dismissing the argument that roadways promote growth as "poppycock," Horn said, "If that's the case, all the people would live in Eastern Washington and Montana."

He says the regional emphasis on public transit over highway expansion is similar to the fable of the emperor's new clothes.

"We've come to that point, like the little kid who finally looks at the king and says the king has no clothes on, and people are looking at this plan and saying, `Hey, it ain't working. I'm stuck in traffic,' " said Horn.

The truth, he said, is that people are driving more than ever, buying more cars, clogging the metropolitan area's two north-south freeways - Interstates 5 and 405 - and spilling over onto already choked local streets.

With 1 million more people expected in the region in 10 years, new freeways are the only answer, he believes.

"Freeways, I think, are very environmentally sensitive," he said. "They're higher-capacity, carry more cars. So if you build your backbone system properly, you have less cars on local roads."

Horn refuses to recommend a precise route for I-605 but mentions two long-discussed possibilities: an extension of state Highway 900 along the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish or an extension of Highway 18, into or alongside the Snoqualmie Valley, and connecting with I-5 near Everett.

Horn thinks various objections to the highway could be overcome. Urban-growth boundary lines, required by the state Growth Management Act, can be moved, he says, and lawsuits could be resolved as the population turns from opposing such a route to making the best of it.

Using federal gas-tax money, a new freeway could be built for $1 billion - about a quarter of what's being spent on a new regional transit system, Horn contends.

Horn says some people think a highway could be built in one or two years, but more realistically, "if things really got accelerated, you could punch one through in 10 years.

"You reach this through analysis and public debate. What I'm trying to do is get the debate started. I think it's healthy." Peyton Whitely's phone message number is 206-464-2259. His e-mail address is: pwhi-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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