Camp Murray will open its new gate Friday as some residents in neighboring Tillicum wait to see if their worst fears about the increased traffic are borne out.
Officials at the headquarters of the Washington Military Department said they’ve invested about $1 million in off-base traffic improvements required by the city to ensure the neighbors’ concerns aren’t realized.
“The new Camp Murray gate will provide a safer avenue to work for our employees, and will lessen some of the current traffic challenges in the surrounding community,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, director of the Washington Military Department. “We believe the new gate serves the overall best interests of Tillicum and Camp Murray.”
One neighbor who fought the project said Wednesday the verdict is still out, but the state agency’s investment hasn’t lessened his worries about hundreds of additional cars each day driving through his neighborhood.
“Now we’ll just try to make lemonade out of lemons,” said Pat O’Brien, a Tillilcum resident for 40 years.
The gate’s opening combined with Monday’s announcement of federal approval of a project that would send Amtrak passenger trains speeding along Tillicum was a “double whammy” for the neighborhood, O’Brien admitted.
David Bugher, the city of Lakewood’s community development director, said the city will closely monitor the traffic flow once the gate opens. The military department has made a good-faith effort to meet the terms of a permit the city issued so it could complete the project, Bugher said, but city officials may require it do more work if problems arise.
“The proof is in the pudding whether or not this is going to work out,” he said.
The city has the authority to rescind the permit and shut down the gate if officials determine the military department is not meeting its terms, Bugher said.
The new gate is located at the intersection of Portland Avenue and Boundary Street, a quarter-mile north of the existing one. Officials at the military department said the current gate near the intersection of Berkeley Street and Union Avenue is unsafe due to its close proximity to a congested Interstate 5 interchange and the rail line.
Neighbors opposed the move because it would divert hundreds of more cars on Portland Avenue, Tillicum’s main residential street. A consultant hired by the military department during the appeals estimated an increase of 900 vehicles a day down a key stretch of Portland; the neighborhood group’s consultant projected more than twice that. Residents in the gated Eagle Point neighborhood north of the new gate worried backups would block them in. The military department said the gate will be built with enough space so vehicles won’t be backing up onto public streets.
Neighbors appealed the permit the city granted the military department could it could connect the gate to public streets. They gave up the fight in July following the dismissal of their last appeal in Pierce County Superior Court.
There’s still some loose ends, but Bugher said the military department has met the conditions imposed by the city to deter motorists from using Portland and slow down those who do.They include construction of a new roundabout at the front of the gate and other road improvements, installation of signs and submittal of various studies. The military department was required to deposit $100,000 with the city for future improvements that may be needed.
The permit required up to four raised crosswalks to be installed on Portland to slow motorists. City officials allowed one raised crosswalk to start with, and more may be built, if needed, Bugher said.
The permit also required the workers who repair the Washington Army National Guard’s wheeled vehicles to move to Joint Base Lewis-McChord from Camp Murray. The move is underway and affects about 50 full-time employees, the military department said.
Crews are still finishing a paved biking and walking path on North Thorne Lane, which connects I-5 to Portland Avenue, from near the interchange to Harry Todd Park
Heavy truck traffic will continue to use the existing gate.
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