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What's next? Auburn must tackle eroding roads

As most people know by now, Auburn's $59 million road bond went down in last week's special election, barely reaching a simple majority when it needed a 60-percent super majority.

In the combined results of King and Pierce counties, the measure garnered 50.27 percent yes to 49.73 percent no as of April 22. In the Lakeland Hills area of Auburn, however, the bond picked up 61 percent.

Political types will no doubt rake the results and scratch their heads to figure out the hows and the whys and what lessons they can learn from it all.

But apart from the political side, there are cold facts on the ground. Auburn's roads and streets, like everything else on the planet, are aging — and there is still no grant money, and no dollars from the county, state or federal government to deal with that problem.

On Tuesday, Mayor Pete Lewis sat down with his engineering and public works staff to consider what steps the City could take to extend the life of the streets out as long as possible.

Here are some of the highlights of that meeting.

1. The mayor has authorized the City's public works and engineering staff to begin chip sealing arterials. Chip sealing calls for laying down an oil mat, dropping fine gravel on top of that and spreading another oil mat on top of that. While such a surface has a tendency to chip, it adds up to about half of the cost of maintaining the more typical two-to-three inch overlays.

"The chip seals don't last as long as an overlay, but they might last as long as four or five years on some of these big roads. This doesn't solve our problems, but we simply need to extend the life of the roads as much as we can," Lewis said.

2. Dropping speed limits on arterial corridors with heavy traffic, for example, on West and East Valley roads and on sections of Lake Tapps Parkway to preserve those arterials as much as possible. This is in accord with National Engineering Standards. Staff are expected to present their recommendations to the mayor at a future meeting.

3. Prohibit large, pass-through, freight trucks from using the corridors, while still allowing local delivery and access.

"We're simply not going to be able to take the pass-through freight truck traffic anymore. It's going to have to go State Route 167 instead of on East and West Valley from here on in. That will mean limiting the freight load to 10 tons. We'll put a weight limit on and prohibit it."

The trucking companies here are considered local delivery and access.

"But someone going from Tacoma to Eastern Washington, coming from Chicago, from Seattle, we simply can't have them on East and West Valley anymore. What we're finding for the most part is that if we allow local traffic for big trucks, that takes care of our people who work here and will work here."

Lewis said the city won't spring any surprises on the driving public.

"...We won't do anything in the dead of night. We're going to give people advance notice, but we're also saying, 'Look, we have to do everything we can to preserve those roads as long as we can for the safety of the citizens. Citizen safety always comes first.'"

Lewis responded in advance to critics who might see the measures outlined above as retaliatory in light of the road bond's defeat.

"My answer to that is I always say exactly what I'm going to do. If it passed, I said we would do one thing, and if it didn't, I said we were going to do another. The City of Auburn is doing exactly what it said it was going to do, and those naysayers can't object to the truth."

Expect to see signs go up within the next 30 days.

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