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Thursday, December 14, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Highway 522 lanes to open

Seattle Times Eastside editor

It's only a 3-1/2-mile-long piece of roadway, but to local commuters the opening Saturday of two more lanes on a long-troubled stretch of Highway 522 is a cause for major celebration.

The busy 11-mile route between Woodinville and Monroe links Interstate 405 with U.S. 2. The roadway carries heavy traffic in winter when thousands of skiers use it to reach Stevens Pass and some other Cascade Mountain ski areas.

The road-widening project--a rarity in these days of HOV-lane emphasis--is the result of a hard-fought citizen-lobbying effort that persuaded the legislature to move ahead following a series of fatal accidents and increasingly heavy traffic.

The road will eventually be widened to four lanes all the way to Monroe, with two new interchanges and a new bridge scheduled for construction in the next few years.

The stretch of highway was the subject of some notoriety several years ago after a number of crashes brought out community activists demanding that something be done. Locals dubbed it "the highway of death" and began placing dozens of white crosses along the roadside to mark where people had died.

According to state highway statistics, more than 1,400 accidents --including 48 fatalities--have occurred on the route since 1977.

"The numbers are going up because the volumes are going up," said Pat Foley, accident analysis engineer with the Department of Transportation.

Volume on the roadway ranges from 13,000 to 21,500 cars per day, with the

greater traffic occurring near Woodinville. A four-lane section of 522 from I-405 to Highway 9 carries 36,000 vehicles per day.

The route was planned decades ago as a four-lane highway, but budget restrictions kept the work from being completed.

DOT officials say the accident rate is actually below state averages for similar roads. In 1996, Highway 522 had an accident rate between 1 and 1.4 accidents per million vehicle miles driven (depending on the section of roadway) compared to a statewide average of 1.48, said Foley.

The highway gives motorists the sense of driving on a four-lane highway, but it has no collision barriers and several road crossings.

Local residents rallied again in 1995 when the legislature proposed paying for improvements by making it a toll road. The proposal was eventually killed.

The new stretch opening Saturday includes a 40-foot grass median dividing the two eastbound and two westbound lanes. Workers are still busy completing concrete barriers, adding striping and grinding out a "rumble strip" added some years ago to alert drivers when they crossed the center line. Construction began in June 1999.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. in the two new lanes at the intersection of Paradise Lake Road.

Plans call for building an interchange, with a bridge over 522, at Paradise Lake Road and Maltby Road and a second interchange at Fales Road and Echo Lake Road. Both projects are scheduled for completion in 2004. The final stage of the project, still unfunded, is construction of a new bridge across the Snohomish River and widening the road to Monroe.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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