Officials with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) came to the Sept. 7 Yelm City Council study session to give an update on phase two of the Yelm Loop Project.
The Yelm Loop’s purpose is to alleviate traffic congestion along Yelm Avenue by redirecting regional traffic to a bypass of the city, starting at a roundabout northwest of Yelm at Highway 510. The bypass would loop through Cullens Road and eventually connect to Highway 507 near Walmart.
Phase one of the project, the Highway 510 roundabout to Cullens Road, was completed in 2010. The rest of the loop is planned to be constructed along with the project’s second phase.
“This is something that we’ve been working on for quite a while,” said Mayor JW Foster. “Most of you know that this is a project we have been interested in for many years. In fact, my first public meeting I attended in Yelm in 1996 was on the three alternate selections for bypass. This is the one that we decided on, and it has taken this long to get to where we are, but we are very excited to see that the project is nearing its expected completion.”
Bill Elliott, who is the design engineer for the WSDOT Olympic Region assigned to the Yelm Loop phase two project, presented a timeline of the project’s completion to the council.
Right now, Elliott said WSDOT is concluding the supplemental environmental assessment for the project, is purchasing right-of-way for the corridor and is working on final design, which will be concluded in 2022.
Since funding was secured for the project with the approval of the 2021-23 Washington State Legislature biennial budget, the project will be able to go into the permitting process during the second half of 2022, Elliott said.
In 2023, he said WSDOT will begin advertising for bids, which will lead into the contract-bid period.
Once a contract is awarded, construction on the project will begin in mid-2023 and continue to mid-to-late 2025, Elliott said.
Most of the Yelm Loop’s phase two will be considered a “limited access” corridor, which works to benefit traffic by reducing the number of intersections and eliminating driveways to shorten travel times, reduce collisions, and increase roadway capacity, he said.
Because it is going to be “limited access,” existing cross streets at Crystal Springs Road, Canal Street and Railway Road will become cul-de-sacs without direct access to the loop.
Near Walmart, Elliott said the road will be considered “managed access,” which does allow for driveways.
Part of the loop’s construction will include a non-motorized bike and pedestrian lane to the side of the corridor.
Phase two of the project will include six intersections: Cullens Road, Rhoton Road, Wilkensen Road, Flume Road, 103rd Avenue and Highway 507.
“Of course there are already intersections at Cullens, 103rd and 507, but we are going to reconstruct those,” Elliott said.
Part of the intersection construction will include roundabouts at Wilkensen Road, 103rd Avenue, and Highway 507.
Elliott said those coming from 103rd Avenue to Walmart along the loop will not be able to turn left into Walmart. Instead, travelers will need to go to the planned roundabout on Highway 507 and turn around to then take a right turn into Walmart, because WSDOT plans to have a raised median on the road, blocking left turns.
Councilmember James Blair was not a fan of that part of the proposal.
“That’s a terrible idea,” Blair said. “You’re shoving extra traffic onto that roundabout that doesn’t need to be there. There’s really not that many people coming through there, waiting to make a left turn, that’s it’s going to be impactful. I think it’s just going to put more people onto that roundabout than (there needs) to be.”
Elliott explained that traffic models resulted in the proposed method, but that after the road “goes operational, and it is proven to be problematic, the raised median applications are not irreversible.”
Blair said it would be a waste of money at that point to tear out the medians after the fact.
Elliott stuck to WSDOT’s findings on the median.
“Well, our assessment along with other stakeholders has concluded that this is the best solution for the location from both a mobility and safety perspective,” Elliott said. “I appreciate that not all share that perspective, but we believe this is the optimal scenario.”
Elliott noted the city of Yelm was actually the entity that suggested the median in the first place, to which Blair said he would like to discuss the matter further with the council at a later date.
“If the city were to take the position that they want the (traffic) configuration to be altered here, we would certainly be open to that input,” Elliott said, adding the council would have to decide what it wanted to do by the end of the year to avoid design delays.