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Showdown over Camp Murray gate permit set for Friday

Post by Christian Hill / The News Tribune on Jan. 31, 2012 at 10:44 am with 4 Comments »
January 31, 2012 10:44 am

A group of Tillicum residents will ask a hearing examiner Friday to overturn the permit the city of Lakewood issued to allow the state to open the main gate serving Camp Murray in their neighborhood.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. in the council chambers of City Hall, 6000 Main St. SW.  Residents can watch the proceedings but no public testimony will be allowed.

The Tillicum Action Committee appealed the right-of-way permit the city issued on Oct. 10 so the Washington Military Department can connect the new gate at the intersection of Portland Avenue and Boundary Street to public streets.

Their case turns on three arguments. They contend the city’s and state’s reviews failed to consider the safety of the residents in the neighborhood and traffic safety on Portland Avenue and North Thorne Lane. They also fault the agencies for not adequately considering that motorists waiting to get into Camp Murray during periods of high security could block access to and from the Eagle Point gated neighborhood.

Ross Tilghman, a Seattle transportation consultant hired by the group, concluded that the state’s estimate of how much traffic the new gate will generate on Portland is low. He estimated between 3,700 and 3,800 vehicles would use Portland each day compared to the state’s estimate of 2,600.  A projected 1,600 vehicles drive the route each day now

He also wrote the reviews fell short in estimating how far vehicles would back up onto Portland if security is tightened and what residents of Eagle Point would do to reach or leave their homes in those events.

Tilghman said the traffic increase endangers children walking to nearby Tillicum Elementary School, especially during periods of darkness or low levels of light.

“Adding substantial volumes of traffic not related to the neighborhood or school during those hours poses additional risks to those children,” he wrote.

City Attorney Heidi Wachter countered in a written brief that school data shows just 37 of its 332 students walk to school and the corridor is well-lit with 30 streetlights on Portland between Boundary and Thorne.

She continued that the city is aware of just one “high security” event in the last decade — the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Wachter said a planned roundabout and two other available gates would prevent long lines of motorists from blocking residents’ access.

Wachter acknowledged more vehicles will use Portland once the new gate opens. But she argued the maximum daily traffic allowed on the street is far more than even the appellent’s estimates of use. Portland from Berkeley Street and extending onto North Thorne Lane is classified a “collector arterial” and can carry up to 8,000 vehicles a day.

“Taken a [sic] face value, because the projected changes in traffic usage – under the numbers proffered by any party – do not exceed the ADT (average daily traffic) for the affected roads, a valid argument could be made that no mitigation would have been required under any set of circumstances.”

Instead, the state has agreed to spend millions of dollars on traffic improvements to meet conditions of the city’s permit. The conditions are intended to dissuade motorists headed to the gate from using local streets and slowing down those who do. Projects include constructing raised crosswalks on Portland and installing signs to designate Berkeley and other streets away from the neighborhood as the designated route for Camp Murray traffic.

Officials at the military department have said the gate’s current location near Berkeley Street and Union Avenue is unsafe because the busy intersection, an antiquated Interstate 5 interchange and a rail line that may see more traffic are too close.

The group did not appeal the permits issued by Pierce County to build the gate, which is now under construction.

The hearing was scheduled for Dec. 7 but was postponed as both sides narrowed the issues that would be argued during the hearing.

The group has vowed to exhaust their appeals. The next stop would be Pierce County Superior Court if the hearings examiner, James O’Connor, finds in favor of the city. He has 10 days from the hearing date to issue his decision unless he seeks an extension.

I will be live-tweeting the hearing for those who are interested @TNTchill.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. DavidAnderson says:

    “Just 37 of its 332 students walk to school.” Even if this statement were accurate, what do the children do then? In the summer they don’t walk anywhere?

    I received a call from a fellow who owns business property on Union Ave. He had just come from a meeting with some Lakewood City Council members. He was livid about our opposition to this project. He said, “I don’t give a _____ about the poor people that live in Tillicum. This (Camp Murray gate relocate) is a totally business driven decision.”

    Then there is the Environmental Assessment provided by Camp Murray, page one (of nearly 300 pages) states that the purpose of the gate relocate is to provide for a pedestrian friendly campus (for Camp Murray). What are we then to make of the next 299 or so pages? Sales. Marketing. Everything that follows is rationalization, justification for a preferred outcome. The typical tell-and-sell approach of government. ‘We’re going to tell you what we’re going to do and we’re going to sell you on why we’re going to do it.”

    “The intersection is unsafe” is a bulleted case in point. There hasn’t been an accident there since 1976 and it was a fender bender.

    Five speed bumps will slow down traffic on the new preferred route? It’s already posted 25 mph. Can’t Camp Murray employee traffic read? And if you knew five speed bumps – the penalty assessed Tillicum residents – lay between you and your destination what would you do? Rat race down a side street. Which is? Grant Ave. The one the school sits on.

    Representation on this from elected representatives? Didn’t happen.

    Fender benders? All of this and more is why we’re bent out of shape.

  2. briandenne says:

    Well here we go again. Even our City Attorney, wages paid by us taxpayers in Lakewood, has now weighed into the middle of this and offered her opinion which was not called for. Heidi you are supposed to be a civil servant of the city and I really don’t think you should be offering your legal opinion and unfounded statistics, especially at this time. Tillicum has an argument with the Washington State Military and its legal staff is representing it. Now we have you fighting us also. Since you have seen fit to jump in and represent the state and render particular information on the states behalf, I consider your actions to be a direct conflict of interest. We will take care of your situation after the hearing this coming Friday. You for a fact have now tainted our arguments against the permit and have possibly tainted the opinion of the hearing officer. Shame on you! Such a smart individual should know better. A direct conflict of interest.

  3. Wrapper98439 says:

    Where do these numbers come from? I have seen 3 accidents at the intersection in the last year, and I don’t go there more than a dozen times a year. Obviously 1 crash since 1976 is a crock.

  4. DavidAnderson says:

    Correction noted. Last accident at the Berkeley-Union intersection in Tillicum was 2006 according to documents requested by the City of Lakewood from Camp Murray in 2010 such that the latter could support its gate relocation safety-hazard rationale. There have been in fact five accidents fronting Camp Murray’s existing gate since 1976. These findings led Lakewood’s Assistant City Manager of Community Development Dave Bugher to write, “While we recognize that the current situation is messy and congested, there is no data included, such as longitudinal accident rates and locations to suggest that it is patently unsafe.” Bugher goes further: “the primary impetus for the new main gate is convenience.” – Eleven-count indictment in a 12-page single-spaced letter from Bugher to Thomas Skjervold, Environmental Programs Manager, Division of Facilities and Grounds, Washington State Military Department, Camp Murray, September 16, 2010

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