Front Street traffic study heads to Issaquah city council

A new traffic study examines traffic congestion on Issaquah’s Front Street.

Even when it’s not rush hour, traffic passing through Issaquah’s Front Street can be heavy.

The narrow, two-lane road has become a major arterial for commuters traveling to Interstate 90 from the communities of Maple Valley, Hobart and Mirrormont and has led to ever-increasing congestion. Consequently, a traffic study on the 8.2 mile segment of road stretching from Highway 18 in the south to I-90 in the north has been completed and will be presented to the Issaquah City Council during its April 24 meeting.

The study examined traffic patterns on the road in two portions: the roughly two-mile stretch in Issaquah known as Front Street, and the remaining length in King County known as Issaquah-Hobart Road. Roughly 90 percent of the morning traffic heading north to I-90 through Issaquah originates from outside the city.

Two peak rush hours were identified in the study, with the first ranging from 6-9 a.m., which sees heavy traffic going north through the city. The second is the return southbound commute stretching from 4-6 p.m. In its most heavily traveled segments, the corridor accommodates more than 20,000 vehicle trips daily, with weekday traffic being heaviest between the southern city limits and May Valley Road.

However, the study found that nearly half of all crashes happened within the two-mile corridor inside Issaquah city limits. These largely include rear ends, angled crashes and vehicles hitting pedestrians, likely stemming from cars parking, pedestrians crossing the street at one of the many walkways and vehicles making turns without dedicated turn lanes.

An average weekday morning commute traveling north along the length of the corridor clocks in at 38 minutes. Southbound drivers navigating the stretch of road in the evening can expect to spend a few minutes more getting to Hwy 18.

Wait times at intersections was measured too. The intersection at Cedar Grove Road costs drivers around two minutes heading north in the morning with the Sunset Way intersection tacking on 133 seconds in delays during the southbound evening commute. Traffic travels at an average speed of 2 mph between Gilman Boulevard and Newport Way.

Without intervention, the traffic will only get worse as the population using the corridor is expected to grow by an estimated 9,000 households by 2040. The study anticipated Issaquah would add more than 16,000 jobs by the same year.

The impacts of heavier traffic has been felt by Daniel Przybylski who owns Front Street Dry Cleaners, only blocks south of the I-90 interchange. He said the city hasn’t done a good job managing growth, which has lead to increased traffic.

“My customers all agree, nobody says the city knows what they’re doing,” he said.

Przybylski said the city could have looked at diverting traffic from Front Street through larger roads.

Issaquah already limits some vehicles from passing through the city’s portion of the road following a 2016 ordinance banning commercial truck thru-traffic. Commercial trucks not making a delivery in the city must bypass Front Street by going down State route 900, turning onto May Valley Road and then reconnecting with Issaquah-Hobart Road.

Other business owners don’t mind the traffic as much, like Terri Thorne who owns Revolve Consignment on Front Street.

“It’s not always bad for us,” she said.

When traffic backs up, it can push customers through her doors. Thorne was more concerned with other issues, including a rule that prohibits businesses from leaving signage on the sidewalk overnight.

Several solutions were proposed in the study. However, none of them on their own will fix congestion on the entirety of the corridor. Currently planned projects include reconstructing interchanges at I-90 and Hwy 18 and widening the Issaquah-Hobart Road from the city to Deep Creek to four lanes by 2040. The Sound Transit 3 light rail station will be coming to Issaquah in 2041, which could help with congestion.

These solutions are squarely in the long-term category. The study proposed many shorter-term solutions dealing with infrastructure improvements. Some included adding dedicated turn lanes, improving traffic signs, creating roundabouts and promoting mass transit use.

Tolling vehicles passing through Issaquah is also an option and could be applied only to vehicles driving from a meter on the southern section of the road and exiting north of the city.

City staff, in a March 15 presentation to the Issaquah council infrastructure committee, recommended making improvements at the Sunset Way intersection, connecting a trail at 2nd Avenue, left turn restrictions at Holly Street and Alder Place, among others.

Options will be presented to council for discussion on April 24.